Review by Technician_X

"A Mix of Fun and Frustration"

Core gameplay is still as solid as before
Weapons look and sound great
One of the best video game antagonists ever created
New classes are well balanced and fun to play
Laugh out loud funny at times
Great cast of colorful characters

Many enemies are just annoying and not fun to fight
Too much emphasis on knockback
Loot progression feels toned down
Side quests are mostly boring fetch jobs
Money is nearly useless

Much like the sequels to great Hollywood movies, the sequel to a beloved video game is something I tend to view beforehand with both excitement and trepidation. I could be drawn instantly back into a world that provides many more hours of enjoyment, or I could be extremely disappointed, let down by a lack of developer effort or perhaps simply a victim of my own expectations. And so enters Borderlands 2, the sequel to the one of the biggest sleeper hits in recent memory. In short, Borderlands 2 was a mix of fun, and at times, frustration.

Five years have passed on Pandora, and now you are back in the role of Vault Hunter, a treasure hunter with dreams of alien technology and a knack for extreme violence. This time around, however, your aspirations are crushed before the first shot is even fired. You are tricked by a man named Handsome Jack, and left for dead on an icy glacier while he strips the planet of the mysterious ore called Eridium. So begins your quest to kill Jack, and hopefully find some sweet loot along the way. Thankfully, there is a lot more to see other than rocky desert this time. A frigid glacier gives way to green fields, mountain passes, and a host of other diverse locations. The zany and oddball residents of Pandora are back and better than ever. Random people will comment on current events, or merely drop a humorous one-liner as you go by. Old favorites return as well, along with new arrivals that will at times have you laughing out loud. The voice acting is very well done, and there is no shortage of humorous dialogue. What Borderlands 2 lacks in story complexity, it makes up for with colorful characters, including quite possibly the greatest video game antagonist ever created in Handsome Jack. You can tell a lot of effort was put into making Pandora feel more alive, and it shows.

The core gameplay is largely unchanged. You shoot baddies and pick up loot, both in abundance. The classes are all well defined and fun to play (although Zer0's voice may grate on your nerves after a time). Skill trees are easily understood, and there is a surprising amount of diversity within each tree. Your special class skill can even be modified in new ways that affect how you play, which is a welcome addition. The weapons all look and sound fantastic. From the rapid fire of an smg to the kick of a shotgun, weapons are a joy to shoot. Each weapon manufacturer has different perks this time around, and it really helps to distinguish them from a basic game of stat comparisons.There are also shields, special relics and class mods to be found, each with a wide array of possible benefits. Gear can also be bought at vending machines found all over the world, but veterans may be disappointed to find that they rarely produce anything exciting. This leads back to one of the original Borderlands' flaws, one which is actually made somewhat worse in the sequel... money is nearly useless.

Because the game content is much lengthier as a whole, loot progression has been toned down. Finding that really rare gun or relic will be far and few between, and there is no use for money other than buying gear and ammo. Since there are fewer great guns and gear to be bought, you will likely find yourself with huge amounts of cash on hand at various points in the game. Since the penalty for death is loss of cash proportional to how much you have at that time, having a large amount has no benefit whatsoever. Your only option is to gamble most of it away at a few slot machines scattered throughout the world. Much the same can be said for the new form of currency, Eridium, which can only be used at one specific shop to buy backpack and ammo storage upgrades. Once you max those out, and you likely will before the end of the game, it becomes completely useless.

Your enemies on Pandora are where the title of this review largely comes into play. Many enemies have improved AI mechanics, while others will just flat out annoy you. Bandits and soldiers use cover effectively, homicidal robots have a wide range of zany abilities and tactics, as well as Skaggs and other large baddies. Unfortunately, there are the irritating ones as well. Lots of them. Flying rakks and shield drones will pester you from the air. Insectile Varkid dart in and out of your cross hairs, and invisible Stalkers appear and disappear in front of you, to name a few. Every game has its share of enemies you wish they had left out, but in Borderlands 2, they pile them on in constant waves. Combine this with the game's over-emphasis on knockback, and you can be in for a very nasty time.

Quests can also be a source of frustration. While the main quest line is largely diverse with lots of fun and challenging bosses to fight, side questing is often just plain boring. Most boil down to simple fetch quests which are drawn out by placing the objectives at points all over the map, and the maps in Borderlands 2 are no small thing. An NPC might have you fetch 5 items, and once you return with them, the same NPC will often give another fetch quest which is back on the other side of the map where you just came from. Of course when you go back there, all those same enemies you just slaughtered are respawned and ready for action.

Normally this shouldn't be much of an issue to any veteran of an RPG or even FPS. Killing hordes of bad guys is the point, right? The problem is that the reward for doing so is almost non-existent in many cases. Most of these side quests are scaled below your current level. Enemies that are a couple levels below yours are still very tough, yet yield hardly any experience when killed, and the loot they drop is likely worse than what you have. This becomes increasingly evident the further you get into the game, and you may often find yourself running past mobs to finish the objectives as quickly as possible, instead of spending a half hour killing enemies for, well, nothing.

In many respects, the strengths and flaws of Borderlands 2 are ones of simplicity. They kept a lot of the same mechanics we loved while building upon them, but they also took the questionable content and added a lot more of that as well. Despite its flaws, fans of the original and newcomers alike will find many hours of addicting gameplay either solo or with friends in the never ending hunt for loot.

Score: 7.5/10

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 10/29/12

Game Release: Borderlands 2 (US, 09/18/12)

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