With Borderlands 2, Gearbox Software releases a sequel to its popular FPS RPG that improves in many ways on the original. The original was successful largely due to its stylized look and irreverent sense of humor, and there’s much more of the same here.
The game opens with a narration explaining what’s happened since the original Vault Hunters from the first game opened the vault to reveal the less than pleasant secret within. Apparently the opening of the vault had an unforeseen side effect, seeding the planet of Pandora with a valuable element known as Eridium.
This heralds the arrival of the Hyperion corporation who start mining the planet for the element and searching for another vault, after hearing rumors of its existence. A group called the Crimson Raiders acts as the last resistance against the tyrannical actions of Hyperion.
As we progress we are treated to the voice of the giant evil corporation via a man named Handsome Jack, who wears a mask over his real face and has a nasty tendency to deride everything you do throughout the game. He’s an effective villain if for no other reason than you absolutely love to hate him. His personality is established pretty early on when, after already having attempted to kill you, he’s talking to you about a diamond pony he bought which he named “Butt Stallion” in honor of you.
Generally the world feels more alive in this game than in the original, in no small part due to the fact that there is more actually spoken dialogue in this one. You feel more invested when you have an antagonist that’s constantly tossing insults at you and the people you meet actually talk to you about the missions you receive, instead of you just reading about them. My favorite part is actually meeting the vault hunters from the first game, seeing how they ended up after opening the vault and seeing more of their personalities be fleshed out.
I do wish that there was more of a back and forth with the player’s character though. There’s something so awkward about the fact that as you’re in the midst of a fight, the character you’re playing shouts out all these badass one liners yet doesn’t respond at all when spoken to by npcs.
The over the top humor and violence is taken up a notch in this game. You look forward to meeting every crazy denizen of Pandora just to hear the insane ramblings during their missions. Tiny Tina, voiced by Ashly Burch of the web series “Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin’?”, is probably my favorite character because of how utterly bizarre she is.
Even some of the missions have cute little references that garner a chuckle, such as a mission to find and kill 4 mutants who have an enormous love of pizza obviously a play on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
As far as the difficulty goes, the game is a beast to be reckoned with. This is a game that clearly wants you to play through it on co-op, even more so than the first game. If you plan to solo the game as I did, be prepared to be beaten like a red headed stepchild and lose a lot of money funding Hyperion’s goals every time you’re resurrected by the New-U station.
It is incredibly easy to be overwhelmed by enemies while in a fire fight, especially when psychos are thrown into the mix. Suicide psychos in particular caused many a death in the confusion of a fight. As annoying as it may be, grinding levels is the best way to handle some of the biggest challenges you face, making side missions less optional and more of a must for survival, at least early on.
The actual gameplay hasn’t changed much since the first one. There are different classes that have specific abilities, but the core mechanics are the same. I will praise that there seems to be a lot more customization of stats to suit your play style.
First there’s the ability tree which you can spend points in as you level up, getting special tactical advantages or making your character better at a specific part of their class combat style. I played as Zer0, who specializes in both melee combat and sniper rifles and I spent most points beefing up the damage I did with either.
There are also badass tokens you earn through accomplishing challenges as you play, like killing a certain number of a specific enemy or killing enemies in a specific way. You can expend these tokens to beef up anything from reload speed, to health/ shield capacity, to damage dealt from guns, etc. It’s nice having so many options to strengthen your character and mold them to your way of playing.
As Gearbox promised, Borderlands 2 in general just seems to have a lot more of everything. More guns, more enemies, more interesting characters, so on and so forth. Everything feels much more grand in scope, which is impressive since the first felt like a pretty big adventure itself.
Unfortunately, another thing that Borderlands 2 seems to have a lot more of are bugs, some of which go a long way in almost ruining the experience. When I had just started the game, the opening cinematic spent every 10 seconds or so freezing for a little while, eventually making it so that the audio was ahead of the video with some screen tearing here or there just for a little added bonus. I could already tell I was in for quite a time.
First, I cannot count how many times a mission specific item either failed to materialize or fell through the map and could not be reached. There were many times that, because of this, I had to exit the game and reload it just in hopes to actually progress. However, the biggest rage I had was at a scripting issue during a mission where, at the very end, I was supposed to use a fire-based gun to set a volleyball net on fire.
I had such a weapon, but no matter how many bullets I unloaded on the thing it wouldn’t set the net on fire. Then I tried my grenades with a fire mod on them… still no dice. I even tried reloading the game from the last save to see if it was just a glitch.
I ended up having to leave the mission with the last bit not finished, find another fire based weapon, fight my way back to the net and finally was able to set the stupid thing on fire. My favorite part of this is that there is a mission a few levels later that requires you to use a fire weapon to set effigies on fire and the weapon I had that would not set the volleyball net on fire, had no problem setting the effigies on fire. Not going to lie, I nearly threw the game out the window at that point.
The signature stylized presentation is just as beautiful to look at as it was before, the character designs in particular being the source of most of the appreciation I have for it. Everything looks really cool, cartoony and twisted, which serves to amplify the absurdity of the events that unfold around you.
The audio of the game works for the atmosphere, switching between twangy banjo, dubstep and other interesting musical choices depending on situation. Each character is voice acted really well, putting some genuine feeling behind the already funny lines.
There’s definitely a lot of value here. Just playing through the game once can take a great deal of time, but trying out the different classes or even doing the more challenging playthrough after you’ve hit the level cap adds a great deal of replay to an already enormous game.
Borderlands 2 is an amazingly fun and hilarious game to play, definitely worth the price. If it were not for some of the stupidly frustrating bugs I’d probably rate it higher. Hopefully these will be addressed in a patch soon but as it stands it’s still a great game and an impressive improvement over its predecessor.