Review by Raganork10
"This, ladies and gentleman, is how a sequel is made"
In a genre overpopulated by simplistic military shooters that get slight upgrades with each yearly installment, one company decided to stray from the norm and release their surprise hit Borderlands. Borderlands was a fresh take on the FPS genre, infusing RPG elements into what would normally be a generic first-person shooter. What resulted was a fantastic game that broke the norm and offered players a unique co-operative experience not found in many other shooters. Granted, there were a great deal of flaws with the game, but not enough to mask the otherwise enjoyable experience. It was a great game, and we were all excited for the sequel to up the ante.
And here comes Borderlands 2.
As a sequel, Borderlands 2 does exactly what a sequel should do: improve upon the mechanics of the previous game. Borderlands 2 does not try to change the core mechanics of its predecessor, which is something many developers do in this day and age. Gearbox stuck with their already-winning formula and sought to find ways to improve on the imperfections present in the first game. They made a large number of improvements, which can basically be summed up as 'they took what was good and made it better.'
For starters, Borderlands 2 includes a minimap now, something that was blatantly missing from the first game. You no longer have to pause the action every couple of minutes just to see where the hell you're going. The minimap even marks new quest locations for your convenience.
A rare new element can be gathered, called Eridium, which is used to upgrade your ammo capacity for different gun types. It can also be used to upgrade your inventory space and item storage slots.
Oh yeah, there's a safe now, which you can use to store equipment that you don't want to carry around or sell. There's also a locker where you can transfer equipment across your different character saves. If you're playing as a Siren, and find a gun that you want to give to your other character, you can easily accomplish this task by placing the weapon in the locker.
Sidequests are actually enjoyable and rewarding this time around. Borderlands 2 takes the standard "gather X object in Y location" quests found in most RPGs, and injects a bit of creativity and humor into each and every one. The traditional "kill X number of enemies" quest doesn't feel so stale when the enemy's name changes into hilarious (and inappropriate) names with each successive kill. In addition to these types of quests, there are also some genuinely unique sidequests to be found as you explore the world. You can partake in a gang war, hunt down a cursed weapon, and even celebrate someone's hilariously-awkward birthday party. And there are nearly a hundred optional missions, like these, for you to partake in, offering upwards of 15-20 hours of additional content.
In addition to some of the familiar faces you'll recognize from the original Borderlands, you'll be greeted with a new cast of quirky and funny characters. A 13-year-old demolition expert living in isolation, and a 600 pound auto worker are just some of the unique characters you'll meet throughout the adventure.
And who could forget the main focus of the game: guns. Not only did Gearbox include more guns in Borderlands 2, they made the guns better. There are countless unique variations on each type of gun, making it incredibly difficult to find two similar guns at once. Some guns have moving parts, others have different-sized scopes, some explode when you reload them, and others have absurdly large magazine sizes. Each gun manufacturer is known for creating specific weapons: one focuses on elemental guns, one focuses on being able to fire the trigger as fast as possible, and one focuses on tossing the gun to reload it, causing the gun to explode. Also, rocket launchers are the most powerful weapons in the game, as opposed to being pea-shooters like in the first game.
The landscapes are more varied and interesting this time around, allowing you to explore icy mountains, hilly deserts, futuristic cities, and toxic caverns. The game makes a smooth transition between these locations, starting you off in the tundra and gradually introducing you to the more colorful environments.
Enemy variety is so vast and varied, that you probably won't see certain enemy types until you are over a dozen hours in. Almost every enemy from the first game is present in the sequel, with the addition of dozens of new enemies. There are Goliaths, who go into a frenzied rage-mode state when their helmet is shot off, half a dozen mechanical war machine variants, three-legged crystal behemoths, grasshopper-like creatures that evolve into stronger versions of themselves if not killed quickly enough, and more.
The most obvious improvement, though, has to deal with Borderlands 2's story: there actually is one this time. Granted, the story basically amounts to 'bad guy wants to rule the world,' but the eccentric villain helps to keep things interesting during the entire ride. The game's antagonist, Handsome Jack, hurls many hilarious insults at you at various points in the story, and commits dastardly deeds that will certainly shock you at times. His narcissism is beyond ridiculous, just like every other aspect of the game, and it fits the game perfectly.
As for coop, what's there to say: it's magnificent. Not many developers these days feel compelled to add local coop for their games, which is both a shame and an insult to gaming industry at large. Ever since the introduction of online multiplayer, developers have slowly strayed away from including local multiplayer in their games. Borderlands 2, however, has both fantastic online and local multiplayer. The multiplayer has been improved dramatically from the first game. You can drop-in and drop-out of each game, trade equipment with other players (including dueling them for their equipment), and share ammo pick-ups. Simply walking over money and ammo will give each player a share of the money and ammo. That's right, you don't need to manually pick up money and ammo any more; just walking over them will suffice.
The most significant change, in regards to coop, comes with how quests are handled. Joining a friend's game will influence the progress of your single-player game. If you complete a quest with a friend, and then decide to play by yourself, the game will give you the option of skipping over certain quests you completed with your partner. Helpful? Extremely.
Fortunately, Gearbox didn't really make any egregious errors in this sequel. There's actually very little to complain about in terms of what they did wrong.
For starters, gun and shield vendors are not very useful this time around. Gun vendors don't really sell weapons that are noteworthy, and are rarely better than the guns you found in chests/dead bodies. The same goes for shield vendors. One would be better off spending their money on slot machines, which is the only real use for money (aside from buying ammo).
Vehicles still control rather poorly, and you'll find yourself driving all the time just to traverse the huge locations that you get to explore. It can get monotonous at times.
Remember weapon proficiencies from the first game? When you use a certain weapon type, you get better at using weapons of that particular type. Use a sniper rifle long enough and you'll be able to use every sniper rifle a little bit better. Remember that? Well, that's completely absent from the sequel. Ripped right out of the game.
The new classes are all very fun to use, but it takes a while for each class to differentiate themselves from the rest. For the first 10 levels or so, each class plays similarly, and are only really unique in the one special power they get to use. As you gain more skill points, you get to unlock the more interesting an unique abilities for each character. This system makes it so you don't get to use the really cool skills (like doing a lunge at an enemy's back while cloaked, causing massive damage) until you're quite a few hours in.
Slow texture loading was an issue with the first Borderlands, and it still remains an issue in Borderlands 2. I've had textures refuse to load completely, and I've seen textures take over 10 seconds to load.
The game lags in some areas (particularly the Caustic Caverns) and it can lag a bit whilst in the middle of the more intense fights.
Also, some genius over at Gearbox thought it was a good idea to fail missions this time around. You can retry failed missions, but you have to go all the way back to the quest giver to restart the quest. And it just so happens that these failable quests are some of the most obnoxious ones in the game, some of which require you to deliver/retrieve objects in a limited amount of time.
Some design decisions Gearbox made are also quite questionable. Like, why are revolvers and pistols clumped into one category now? What's the point of the slag element, when its far more efficient to use just a single gun to take down most enemies? Why is there a severe lack of weapon chests, when they were almost everywhere in the first game? Why are the major bosses often easier than mini bosses?
If I haven't made it obvious yet, then listen carefully: Borderlands 2 improves on everything from the original game. Better weapons, characters, coop, missions, story, locations, enemy variety, and more. It's all better in this sequel. Gearbox didn't aim to release a half-assed sequel, or a game lacking in content, or a game that is inferior to the original (which is how most sequels end up). Gearbox made a game that makes it so you don't want to go back and play the original. You're not gonna want to use the crappy rocket launchers, or do the monotonous fetch quests, or play through the bland story from the original anymore.
So, yeah, you need to buy this game, if I'm still not abundantly clear. Even if you don't have friends to play with, even if you haven't played the first game, even if it's the only game you buy all year. Borderlands 2 is not only a great sequel, it's a fantastic game that should be experienced by everyone.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 10/03/12
Game Release: Borderlands 2 (US, 09/18/12)
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