2009’s Borderlands was an interesting animal back when it released. A mishmash of RPG and FPS with a lot of loot thrown in, it stayed aloft mostly on a wing and a prayer. It was a little bland in its environmental design, the story lacked any real payoff, and it was too easy to break the various classes available to you. That said, it was fresh and unique and had an excellent crop of post-release DLC to keep it in people’s minds.
Three years later, Gearbox is taking another crack at it. With more polish, more PC options and even more guns, does Borderlands 2 hold even more for gamers or does it deserve to be sold as vendor trash?
One of the biggest complaints leveled against the original Borderlands is that is was, well, pretty bland. You had your choice of khaki desert or brown desert, and only in the final chapter did you transition to a different locale. Borderlands 2 tackles this problem by showing you that the planet of Pandora is not just sand-dunes and puts you in diverse locations like an isolated tundra, a vibrant wildlife reserve and a hellish purple wasteland.
Pandora has actually changed significantly since the end of the last game. After opening the box of “tentacles and disappointment” in the first game, as the introductory narration calls it, a substance known as Eridium has sprung up all over the planet. This purple rock is not only used to buy ammo and backpack capacity upgrades for your character, but it also juices up Siren powers. In addition to all of that, it can be used to charge a Vault key which the new villain Handsome Jack will use to unleash an even more powerful creature and control it. So yeah, bad stuff.
After the complete narrative mess that Borderlands turned out to be, it’s nice to see that Gearbox actually strove to have a somewhat good story this time. As well as giving some context to the last adventure, Borderlands 2 actually has a nice arc to it, even though it falls into the video game trap of not really having falling action, and indeed has two climaxes, if you can believe it.
While Borderlands 2 has some great areas to quest around in, the side-missions reek of MMO design, like going and collecting four scraps of Bullymong fur and other menial tasks. While there are some gems (like the quest to find a more appropriate name for the aforementioned Bullymongs, or the TMNT and Top Gun references), there is a lot of grinding to do in this game. One quest even takes you all the way back to the final boss of the starting area, and that’s after a quest chain of running back and forth for a couple hours. In fact, a lot of the questing is retracing old ground, taking you back through areas you’ve already explored and looted, with very little in the way of appropriate rewards.
Another small knock against Borderlands 2 is the fact that the game is always talking to you, sometimes having multiple characters interrupt one another as you rush past their trigger points. If the writing and voice acting weren’t so good this would be a lot more aggravating than it is, but there are times where Borderlands’ omnipresent cast of characters is a little too much.
The Gameplay and the Guns
If it’s even possible, there are even more guns this time around in Borderlands 2, and Gearbox has done a lot to implement a better system than the previous game had. Gun manufacturers each have their own unique trait that applies to their weapons, like Jakobs guns that fire as fast as you pull the trigger or Maliwan that has elemental effects on the guns. It’s nice to see this addition considering the weapons in the first Borderlands were more or less interchangeable
The classes from the first game have also had some reworking, with the Siren returning in name only. The new classes are the Commando, the Assassin and the Gunzerker. I played as Axton the Commando and found his upgraded turret to be immensely satisfying to use, especially after it was leveled enough to have dual rocket pods and double barrels that fired slag rounds. Slag is the new elemental effect that puts a damage modifier on the enemy, so even if you lack a slag-firing weapon, you can still set yourself up from some critical hits.
Gearbox went and expanded the cast of enemies you’ll be fighting as well and tweaked the headshots=criticals mechanic from the first game. In the case of the Goliaths, shooting them in the head will cause them to become enraged, gaining even more killing power and allowing them to level up as they rampage about, smashing their former teammates. The robotic enemies will only take critical hits if you shoot them in the arm and leg joints, and they’re pretty tough to boot. The good news about them is that corrosive weapons do extra damage, which you’ll be glad for later in the game when they become even more numerous.
There’s also a huge variation for all of the old returning enemies too, as even the classic Skagg has new types added to their ranks. The AI has been improved, meaning that melee enemies no longer run in a straight line at you, begging for an easy headshot. Psychos now duck, weave and roll, meaning you need to have a keen eye and quicker trigger finger.
Co-op is back in Borderlands 2, where you and up to three friends can adventure through Pandora together, shooting midgets and collecting loot. One thing that Borderlands 2 didn’t implement this time around is the concept of individual loot, which would have helped greatly in public games or games with friends who are bit to enthusiastic when it comes to pressing that E key. While individual loot is not a very popular concept, Diablo 3 and Torchlight 2 made it work, and there’s always the option of trading. That said, co-op is the way to play this game, so grab a few buddies if you can.
If you loved Borderlands, then good news: Borderlands 2 is going to be right up your alley. Borderlands wasn’t crying out for a complete reinvention, just a tweaking and polishing of the basic tenets and the second game delivers.. If backtracking MMO quests don’t really bother you and you’re a big fan of comparing arrows, then get Borderlands 2. Heck, just get it anyways. This game is super fun.
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