Review by Bkstunt_31
"Take the Borderlands formula and crank it to 11!"
Three years ago the first Borderlands game came out. It of course did very well for itself by taking the first-person shooter genre and throwing in plenty of RPG aspects with a loot system that could easily rival that of Diablo. Its game play was fun and addictive with plenty of funny dialog and re-playability in spades. A blast to play with friends. However it was far from perfect as the graphics were rather bland and uninspired and the game as a whole had a fairly lackluster story.
Still, the game did well enough to sell like hotcakes and spawned a slew of DLC packs. You KNEW a sequel was coming. And after three long years we have our sequel: Borderlands 2. Can it deliver the same entertainment as its predecessor. Could it possibly even do better? Well after spending many sleepless nights with the game let me tell you exactly what you can expect out of Borderlands 2!
Being a Vault Hunter is tough indeed.
Borderlands 2 takes place after the first game, but five years have passed and Pandora has changed quite a bit. After discovering the fabled vault at the end of the first game a new mysterious mineral called Eridium has been unearthed. Shortly afterward, the Hyperion corporation moved in and has essentially taken over the planet while harvesting the new mineral. This is of course of no concern to you initially: you are just a vault hunter/bounty hunter that has arrived on Pandora at the summons of Hyperion's CEO, Handsome Jack. Once you are on a train with your fellow Vault Hunters though, Handsome Jack will try to KILL you. Nothing says "Welcome to Pandora" like Hyperion robots trying to murder you! Luckily for you though you will barely survive and will then be contact by the "Guardian Angel" from the first game who will offer you vague advice like she did for the first batch of Vault Hunters five years ago.
I mentioned earlier that I thought the first game's story was lackluster. It had very little build up and could have used more focus. This shortcoming was apparently noticed as the story in Borderlands 2 was indeed improved upon. You start out nearly dead with a desire for revenge but soon you'll meet new friends and familiar faces alike as you get swept up into something bigger. Handsome Jack and Hyperion make a great villain and provide the focus and story progression that was lacking from the first game. Borderlands 2 is still filled to the brim with humorous dialog as you interact with the world's inhabitants and talk to people over your ECHO device. The game is also chock full of side quests as well, which not only give you a chance to build your experience but often provide interesting distractions to the main story. When you find yourself taking side quests to hear what crazy story you will uncover, you know the game's writers have succeeded. All in all, the story in Borderlands 2 is interesting enough to keep you guessing on what will happen next while simultaneously making you chuckle all game long.
Why fix what isn't broken?
The game play is what really sold the first game to me and thankfully Borderlands 2 is really more of the same when it comes down to it. You pick out one of four new Vault Hunters to play as, all of whom are essentially re-imaginations of the first four Vault Hunters. The first is Axton, who like Roland is a soldier who's special attack puts a turret on the field. The second is Maya who is a siren like Lilith and uses her abilities to take enemies out of the fight temporarily. The third is Salvador who can become a tank much like Brick but his special ability lets him whip out a second weapon and "Gunzerk" with it for a limited time. Very cool. The last Vault Hunter is a mysterious assassin known as Zero who can deploy a decoy of himself while he enters stealth mode and sneaks around/attacks at will. He has abilities similar to Mordecai from the first game.
The game still focuses on obtaining weapons and shooting everything to smithereens. Like the first game you can equip a variety of weapons from pistols, sub-machine guns and assault rifles to sniper rifles and rocket launchers. Each character can pick up and fire any gun. Every single gun has its own set of stats which let the guns level up with you as you get stronger and find better and better weapons, which is good since you will literally pick up thousands of weapons in any given play through. These weapons all fall into a rarity tier and can even include "elemental" variations that add additional fire, shock, corrosive or explosive damage. The previous game had the same system in place but Borderlands 2 also adds in the "Slag" element which makes enemies take additional damage if they are hit by it. Weapons drop from enemies, can be found in storage containers and can be bought in towns and vending machines! The residents of Pandora take their right to bear arms VERY seriously!
Becoming stronger and leveling up is really the name of the game. As you level up you will gain skill points to buy skills for your characters. Each character has their own skill tree which is split up into three branches, giving you a choice on what to focus on. The game also includes hundreds of multi-tiered challenges such as killing so many enemies with certain weapons or selling so many items. Completing these challenges gives you "Bad Ass" ranks that turn into tokens. These tokens can be redeemed for small bonuses for your character such as more health or faster reload times. In a single play-through you'll earn dozens of these tokens but the best part is that all the perks you unlock can also be used by any additional characters you make.
Aside from the myriad of weapons to find and obtain you will also find various shields that can do all sorts of unique stuff for you from protecting you from certain elements to making melee enemies take spike damage. You can also find grenade mods that can drastically alter how your grenades behave. There are also class mod items that enhance a certain attribute of your character such as making them harder to kill or more deadly with melee attacks. Equipping these items actually changes your class name. For example my Zero with a melee class mod is called "Level 35 Lethal Assassin" but with a surviving class mod he could be a "Level 35 Bloodied Survivor". And last but not least you can find and equip relic which further add to your character stats in some way. Customization is the name of the game!
Shooting your way through Pandora is always entertaining but doing it with a friend is even better. Just like the first game, Borderlands supports both local and on-line co-op play so be sure to bring a buddy along for the fun.
Hey, it's not all brown and ugly everywhere!
One of the biggest turnoffs of the first game, intentional or not, was the sheer lack of background diversity. EVERYWHERE was a wasteland. There was more brown and dusty environments than you could shake a stick at. That's a pretty simple generalization but more background variety was definitely called for.
Just like their weak story, Gearbox themselves must have realized this fact and did their best to remedy the issue. This shows right away as you start the game out in an arctic environment. Wha? An arctic environment in Pandora! So you're telling me that it ISN'T dusty wastelands everywhere? Indeed, in fact as you play through Pandora you'll come across a TON of different backgrounds that prove variety is a welcome change.And I do mean a ton. You not only have your arctic fields and wasteland landscapes, but you'll also enjoy plains, corrosive caves and sprawling cities to ensure that you'll always be checking out something new. The game is of course cell-shaded like its predecessor but still has a fantastic amount of background details and thousands of chests and containers to find. Add in this new-found emphasis on background variety and you have the environments you WISH the first game had.
Gearbox didn't stop there though: they made additional graphical improvements! The enemy design in the first game was rather limited, leading to a bit of palette swapping and minor graphical changes to the same enemies. Borderlands 2 features a lot of new enemy types to help add to the variety. And if that wasn't enough, Borderlands 2 also added in a much bigger and better character customization station that allows you to not only change your outfit but change your head shape and style as well! New outfit and head customizations are unlocked as you play the game and either find them or complete challenges and earn them. Borderlands didn't look HORRIBLE by any means but Borderlands 2 sure did step it up!
I'm here for the snappy dialog!
The game starts out with the catchy track "Short Change Hero" by The Heavy, a tune that will quickly work its way into your brain and stay lodged there for weeks. From there the sound track has its moments. There are indeed some catchy tracks in the game. "Ice" and "Bandit Slaughter" are pretty darn catchy, as is most of the combat music. However the rest of the soundtrack is mostly atmospheric pieces which are OK when exploring but not very catchy or memorable at all. Honestly, a lot of the music hear sounds like clubbing music. I'm sure that will resonate with some people, but others like me will just say "meh" and forget about the soundtrack shortly after.
The voice acting on the other hand is completely memorable. Each character will often say dozens of funny quips while fighting. Heck, you even got comments when you do something fancy, find something memorable or just plain don't do anything at all. Most of these sayings will make you chuckle but are repeated often as the game goes on. The character I played as, the assassin Zero, makes all of his comments with haiku's even! The voice acting is so good that I really have to give props to the actors. Their timing is just excellent. And the dialog is fantastic so you know the writers did a good job. So good in fact that the main bad guy, Handsome Jack, has won awards for best voice acting for a male in 2012. Cool!
Ain't no rest for the wicked.
While you probably COULD go rent this game and beat the main story in 2-3 days you'll be missing out on a LOT of content if you do. For starters, there are a LOT of side quests in this game. Just a ton. Every new area you find and almost every time you advance the main story you'll get more and more side quests just begging to be done. If that isn't enough you also have four unique characters to try out. Going through the game again with a new character is a lot more bearable as well with those "Bad-Ass Tokens" we talked about earlier, since you know your new character is going to start off stronger than your first character.
If all of that isn't enough you can also jump online and play with friends. And of course we can't forget about the random nature of loot. If you really wanted to you could farm bosses and enemies until you got some of the better weapons out there. Then there's the trophies and all of the down-loadable content that is out right now, which includes a fifth character to play with as well as two story expansions. There's definitely plenty of reasons to outright own Borderlands 2 instead of relegating it to just a rental title.
Overall Borderlands 2 is really a significant improvement over the original game but even by itself it is just a fantastic title in its own right. Addicting game play comes together with an interesting story and fantastic writing. Add in a wide variety of backgrounds and enemies, a mind-boggling loot system and dozens of hours of re-playability and you have a title that any first-person shooter fan should definitely grab, ESPECIALLY if you have a friend to play with. Hopefully this review has given you everything you need to make up your mind on Borderlands 2. Have fun and keep playing!
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 01/04/13
Game Release: Borderlands 2 (US, 09/18/12)
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