Borderlands 2 is vast, encompassing and deep game. You literally can spend easily 100 hours and more completing the game on “True Vault Hunter Mode” which becomes absurdly difficult as you will fight numerous creatures, Hyperion Robots and Bandits scattered all over Pandora to complete your missions. And to give the player the ultimate power of choice, you can freely choose which missions you want to play, when you want to play them and who you want to play them with. There is no linearity in Borderlands 2. Sure, you could essentially only play the “Story Missions” (objectives that need to be completed in order to further the games story and ultimately lead you to the story’s grand finale), but then you would be missing out on A LOT of the memorable characters, extra loot and upgrades that only come with the optional side quests. Borderlands 2 takes everything that made Borderlands successful, removed the heinous glitches and improved upon the original in every conceivable way to fashion the ultimate sequel. All the key ingredients remain simmering in the pot: The thousands of varieties of guns, the upgrade system for each character class, the open-ended world and all the cool baddies. Gearbox literally just added extra spices to all the aforementioned ingredients to make it oh so much better, now were left with the ultimate sequel: Borderlands 2. To be quite honest, I completed this game nearly a year a go but after unlocking True Vault Hunter Mode and seeing that the game was even more challenging and allowed me to respec my skill tree in a different way, I decided it was worth a second play-thru. Also, it didn’t hurt that their were many additional side quests I didn’t complete on my first journey through Pandora, so a second play-thru is almost warranted. Not to mention that since the release of Borderlands 2, Gearbox has released FOUR additional DLC packs that add to the single player campaign, two more playable character classes (Gaige the Mechromancer and Kreig the Bandit) along with an updated patch that allows for a raised level cap, more backpack space to carry more weapons, mods, relics etc. So now all the additional content has been made available, I felt that BL2 finally deserved a comprehensive review.
Jumping into the world of Pandora is quite simple, thanks to the games intuitive interface. You select your character class, each that comes with it’s own kind of de facto difficulty because of their play style: Axton the Commando, Salvador the Gunzerker, Maya the Siren and Zero the Assassin. On both my play-thrus I choose the Assassin, whose special abilities revolve around using stealth and deception. The Assassin has a whole skill tree dedicated to improving his sniper skills. The Assassin’s special ability, Deception, allows you to cloak yourself for a period of 5-6 seconds so you can escape a tense battle or maneuver around your enemy. If you have the right skill tree leveled for the Assassin, you can press a certain button while in Deception to perform a devastating melee attack, killing or nearly killing your foe and regaining your health at the same time. Each character class has three different skill trees that focus on a different aspect of that characters strengths and overall skills. For example, the three skill trees for the Assassin class are Bloodshed (improving your skills for causing the most damage with the most variety of weapons and abilities), Cunning (improving your stealth tactics) and Sniping (improving everything and anything that can make you a better sniper). The other character classes also have three different skill trees and also a different special ability. For instance, the Commando class can setup automated turrets, the Siren class can home on to enemies and perform a phaselock allowing her to suspend her attackers and immobilize them and the Gunzerker can rage into a “Gunzerking” mode and weld two weapons at the same time. The two downloadable characters that are playable are the Mechromancer class, which can deploy a robot hellbent on killing baddies and protecting her and Krieg (the most recently released character) who is a Psycho Bandit-turned-Vault Hunter that can go into a fit of rage using his Buzz Axe in melee style attacks and with each kill completely restores his health.
Once you’ve selected you’re character class, your journey into Pandora begins. One of your first real missions, entitled “My First Gun” appropriately enough, acquaints you with the operation of your specific character class with a chirpy little robot named “Claptrap”. At the onset of your foray into Pandora, Claptrap will be one of the first characters you will have to perform simple tasks for and in return, he’ll kind of become your initial go-to guide of Pandora. Each character you subsequently meet along the way adds to the overall charm of this forgotten wasteland, but they also serve a dual purpose: providing you with missions that you can take on for them to gain XP, cash and weapons. Their are plenty of characters in BL2 that provide you with new side-quests and main “Story Missions”, so many in fact that it can be daunting at times. Thankfully, none of the missions are timed and you can go at your own pace. For instance, if you want to help Sir Hammerlock hunt down some creatures for data he’s supposedly writing about in his book before taking on the next big Story Mission, then BL2 does not impose any restrictions on the order in which missions should be completed. However the more Story Missions you complete, advancing the games main quest further the more new characters you will meet and likewise the more side quests open up. Also, the further into the game you get the more of Pandora you will get to travel to. The variety of levels is astounding and it’s always a welcome change of pace after you have been fighting in the ice ridges of Frostburn Canyons (correct me if I’m wrong on this one) to see a completely new environment and ecosystem, such as in Caustic Caverns were the creatures of Pandora have reclaimed what the mining corporation took away, making it an especially dangerous place to venture through. Levels like these are also great for leveling up your character, as the tougher the enemies the more XP gained per kill. You’ll notice every time you fire upon a foe, you will see a number representing the damage caused by the particular weapon in use. The higher the damage number, the better off you are using that weapon. Also, any shots fired off that render a “Critical” hit will instantly notify you of an enemies weak spot. For Bandits, this is usually indicative of a headshot but for the creatures of Pandora it can be a number of places on their body. Their are numerous weapon types, and all types can be used by all character classes. You have your SMG’s, Sniper Rifles, Assault Rifles, Pistols, Shotguns, Rocket Launchers and Grenades. Each category of weapon has literally millions of weapon types, and typically the higher level your character is the more stronger weapons you will find. Weapons are also rated on strength by the color they are. For instance, Orange weapons and shields (shields play an integral part of your characters survival, selecting what type of shield that fits your character is all part of a balancing act that runs deep in BL2) are the rarest, purple/pink are the second rarest and then there’s blue, white and green. Weapons also come in elemental formats, ie: Fire, Electrocute, Corrosive and Slag. Each elemental weapon is designed to be useful for a specific enemy type. Successive shots from an SMG weapon that has the elemental properties of Fire are good against enemies of flesh and no armor. Dealing enough successive shots from an elemental weapon against your enemy, the better chance of turning them into ashes, melting them into a puddle of acid or electrocuting them to death. Slagging enemies is the most interesting type, because it’s obviously a elemental type unique to BL2. Slagged enemies have the unfortunate aversion for catching double the amount of damage from a normal weapon type after being slagged for so long. Besides the weapon types mentioned above, you also have different class mods, relic mods and of course shields that you should definitely equip. Each class or relic mod adds more or less to a specific skill. While some class mods will regenerate your health and add +2467 points to your shields, others will offer more offensive capabilities like adding 20 percent more chance of critical hit damage while using a pistol. The same can be said for relics, adding more potency to certain abilities for your character class.
While the story of Borderlands 2 might not be it’s main attraction, it certainly helps provide more functionality to the leveling and skill tree systems. Throughout the 20 or so Story Missions, you will be presented with various tasks assisting the Crimson Raiders, led by previous Borderlands characters who are now in a supporting role such as Lilith, Roland and Mordecai to help end the reign of terror from Pandora’s ultimate villain, “Handsome Jack”. Jack is a sadistic, power-hunger and egotistical man who has the entire planet of Pandora under siege by his army led by Hyperion baddies. You will frequently intercept echo transmissions and audio logs depicting Jack’s unrelenting cruelty among the citizens of Pandora. Jack has somehow summoned the power of the Vault and is about to unleash a powerful, ancient weapon to gain total control over Pandora. As a Vault Hunter, it is your task to stop Jack at any and all costs and lay the fury within the Vault dormant. Jack is a persistent bugger, and will send his best bots to try and kill you. These usually involve absurdly large, albeit fun, boss fights. The bigger the boss you take down, the more XP you gain. And the more missions you complete, whether Story or optional, the more loot and XP you gain. It’s a system that works hand-in-hand with the games non-linear approach to letting you pick and choose your battles. But in reality, the best part of Borderlands 2 isn’t it’s story or leveling system (don’t get me wrong, they are integral and great elements that add to the overall experience) but the cooperative online gameplay.
The first time I beat Borderlands 2 was with 3 other players and we all played through 6 or 7 Story Missions together to defeat Jack and the final boss. I can sincerely admit that this was the most fun I have had with a cooperative gameplay experience since well… the days of Team Fortress for Half-Life One. It’s a blast to invite friends or allow other random Vault Hunters to join you in your missions and also makes gaining XP and better loot easier, since every time a new player joins your battle the game alters the difficulty to the enemy AI, so essentially the more people playing together the tougher the baddies will be. And they can be really fucking tough when you have a game of 4 people going. As stated previously though, the XP and loot dropped by enemies in a 4-way cooperative joint makes the games extended difficulty worth it. BL2 begs to be played with other people, the game just is nowhere near as fun by yourself. If you don’t have an online connection, the variety of ways that you can play co-op in BL2 are made so that even those without an internet connection can play 4-way over a standard Ethernet connection and router. Or you can do it old-school style and play 2 player split screen with a couch gamer buddy. Any way you go at it, BL2 is a fantastic cooperative gaming experience and will keep you hooked for hours on end.
The visual style in BL2 also cannot be ignored without commenting on it’s reliance on bright, vibrant characters and environments all with outlined heavily in black. It creates a signature look that is distinct to Borderlands, and is another reason to enjoy the journey across Pandora. Each locale that you visit represents a different visual style as mentioned before. “The Dust” territory is covered in hues of sandy brown with scraps of rusted metallic grays and red that accompany the junkyards and race tracks. Locations infiltrated with Hyperion bases, by contrast, contain different shades of yellow and orange that make up the majority of the robot Loaders that you fight against, along with Hyperion troops. Altogether, it’s an interesting mix that never gets bland and always impresses on the variation in the level design. Not only that, but most maps are huge and encourage exploration, which often leads to finding new side quests for the NPC’s that populate Pandora. I own and played through the PlayStation 3 version of the game which looked beautiful on my HD monitor and for the most part, played very smoothly with the exception of having a 4-player cooperative game’s framerate bog down due to excessive amounts of characters on screen. It can be a distraction visually, but also hurts the gameplay. When trying to snipe a baddie and then all of the sudden having the game drop from a consistent 60 fps to below 30 can be problematic, especially while attempting to target enemies from a distance. It’s as if your character has suddenly come on with involuntary tremors as you try to set your iron sights on a baddie but the game keeps skipping about because of the framerate issues is a very unfortunate distraction. I don’t know if this is just an issue unique to the PlayStation 3 version of the game or if it’s XBOX 360 counterpart suffers the same technical issues, but other than this problem the game runs very smooth, even when things do get chaotic on-screen the framerate issue only rears it’s head 50/50. There are also some clipping issues, and many of the NPC’s outside of the major supporting cast seem to rely on the same generic, visually sub-par models but they get the job done and their can be 5-15 NPC’s on screen at any given time in Sanctuary or some of the other townships on Pandora.
The one thing that does infuriate me about BL2 is the amount of DLC content and the so=called “patch/update” that fixes some bugs and adds some very important features, like raising the level cap from 50 to 61 (I believe, don’t quote me on that; and if I’m wrong please let me know) and adding extra space to your backpack, which I find to be extremely important because with all the guns and loot flowing in BL2, personal storage space is a premium in this game. Sure, you can always sell some of your lower level weapons or mods/relics that you no longer use, but some weapons and loot can only be attained upon completion of missions, giving them somewhat of a sentimental value. For spending the 40-50 dollars on this game when it originally launched in 2012, I am pissed that such an important “update” costs extra. Did the money I already invested not grant me to free patches and updates for this game, or does Gearbox seriously need to hit up my wallet even more!? It’s like those bums on the street that you throw a couple dollars to so they can feed themselves or whatever then have the gall to say “Hey man, since you gave me like 5 bucks you think you can spare another 10 for cigarettes?” Asinine Not only does Gearbox charge for this so-called “patch” but they constantly flaunt it in your face about all the new add-ons and features your missing out IN GAME! I could grin and bear it if it was relegated to just the opening game menu, but they constantly flaunt their add-on packs like a micro-transaction when you go to change skins, head models or just visiting Sanctuary in general. Not only that, but 2K Games and Gearbox decided to release an Expansion Pack disc that contains about half of the games DLC on a retail disc. Traditionally, I would be all over something like this however as previously mentioned, it contains only HALF of the DLC released for BL2. Why even bother to release an add-on disc until all the DLC has been released? What we are left with is a half-hearted attempt at making all additional content available in one nice package, with the ironic exception that it actually DOESN’T contain all of the games additional content. Also, as with BL2’s predecessor which saw a GOTY re-release that contained all DLC, I have a funny feeling that 2K Games and Gearbox will capitalize on their sequels success by making pushing out a BL2 GOTY edition. If so, it’s just a further slap in the face to all those Borderland faithful fans who put down the $30 for the “Borderlands 2 DLC Add-On Disc”, or whatever the freck (sorry, I am trying to reduce the amount of cursing and that word just kind of flowed from my hands to the keyboard) it’s called. In retrospect, if a GOTY Edition is never released (which is highly suspect) then the retail Add-On disc may be worth the price of admission. However, I’d rather wait to see if the price drops from $30 to 20 or 15 bucks, then I would consider it a worthwhile purchase. After the disastrous release of Gearbox’s licensed Aliens: Colonial Marine game which clearly was not what GB was advertising on hand at certain Gaming Expo’s and conventions, this company is straddling the fine line between a breakout triple AAA developer and a low-end cleanup crew developer for games that other companies couldn’t OR didn’t want to finish. Gearbox must be very careful with it’s next game or IP, because if it’s an abysmal flop like A:CM then they are headed straight to the game developer graveyard.
BL2 is everything a sequel to a videogame should be: it keeps the classic formula and innovation that worked so well in the original while improving on this central formula, adding more content and updating the graphics, design and levels to be even more grand. Borderlands 2 makes it’s predecessor seem like a walk in the park by comparison, and BL2’s real fun lies beneath it’s deep, immerse and addicting cooperative gameplay. The central story and villain are interesting and compelling enough to keep offline gamers engaged throughout the majority of the “Story Missions”, and the game can still be enjoyed via the local 2-player split screen co-op mode. Borderlands 2 is robust enough that non FPS fans can get engaged via the games RPG like elements of leveling up, adding new skills, collecting a crapload of treasures from around Pandora and getting into immense boss battles with 3 other players at your side. BL2 is easily accessible so that casual gamers can get into it’s deep and diverse characters, quests and locales and the hardcore crowd will be pleased to see so much dedication in the number of missions available at your disposal, the sheer amount of weapons and loot to collect and the amount of DLC packs that Gearbox has released for it’s prized franchise to keep the adventure on Pandora going and going and going…..
It’s just unfortunate that Gearbox felt the need to milk BL2’s add-on content to a point of excess. It feels unnecessary and a cheap attempt at getting into gamers wallets. If you don’t yet own Borderlands 2, you may wish to wait another month or two to see if a Game of the Year Edition is announced because that would be the definitive version of BL2 to purchase, hopefully containing all of the DLC and “update patches” instead of the half-assed Add-On Content Pack released by Gearbox when they obviously knew their would be more DLC coming. If you can find BL2 on the cheap (like less than $25), then purchasing it with the add-on disc may not be a bad deal.
FINAL SCORE: 4 / 5
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