I adored the original Borderlands release, enough for me to rate it as one of my top 10 releases of the current gen. It bought an interesting blend of genres and presented them in a way rarely seen before on Console, with addicting gameplay and a world that was so rich with ramshackle character that even side characters were memorable. Obviously the news of a sequel bought smiles to the faces of loot hungry Vault Hunters across the world, myself included, but I couldn’t help but be concerned as to whether Borderlands 2 would be able to live up to its predecessors’ success and atmosphere while also being a significant enough move forwards to be worthy as a standalone title. Does the game manage to build on the incredible original release? The short answer is yes.
The 2nd release set on Pandora feels a lot like an answer to all of the pleas of fans in regards to the first title:almost all of the glaring issues, flaws and problems with the Borderlands seem to have been addressed in full in this new outing. Giving a few examples, the simplistic AI has been improved by a noticeable margin; enemies will now take cover and group together, attack you more aggressively in groups when you’re weak and attempt to use the environment to their advantage, which is a massively welcome breath of fresh air. A trade interface has been added and it works wonderfully, as well as interface issues having been worked out to make the system quicker, smoother and more enjoyable to play. I also noticed a substantial increase in both the number and quality of boss fights within hours and the same quality remained consistent throughout. I heard a lot of cries for this issues to be fixed when Borderlands was release and it’s genuinely lovely to see Gearbox fixing the issues with the original title in their new content.
We actually start Borderlands 2 with a semblance of plot, a far cry from the original title which began with a cry of “You are a Vault Hunter. Hunt Vaults, shoot stuff” and progressed in the same way. Handsome Jack, the charismatic and enigmatic leader of the established weapons producer; the Hyperion Corporation, has built a base on the moon of Pandora and taken over the majority of its surface. His own personal Gestapo and robotic army prowl the surface, killing anything with a pulse and a weapon (though on Pandora the two almost always come hand in hand) and locking down and form of resistance. Jacks’ goal? A new, and larger Vault hidden underneath the one players fought their way to in Borderlands. Landscapes are now dotted with his various massive drills, boring their way to the new vault slowly but surely.
It’s a massive surprise that we’ve seen such a paradigm shift in the storytelling emphasis in Borderlands 2, the overarching plot is extremely strong and well told, with missions, cutscenes and character interaction moving the story forward at a steady pace. It feels an awful lot more focused than we’ve seen in any Borderlands campaign so far, including the DLC releases, leaving the player feeling like everything they do acts to further the resistance against Jack that they join fairly early on. I’d say this works extremely well for the title as it provides another reason to complete missions and additional objectives other than to obtain “mad loot”.
Speaking of loot, it’s back in a bigger way than ever before. There are still hundreds of weapons up for grabs per cubic metre, with enemies dropping them and the massive supply of chests randomising weapons to expand your arsenal, but this time there are a few differences. The different weapon manufacturers are actually significantly different from one another, providing unique properties to their weapons. Any Tediore weapon will explode on the depletion of a clip of ammo, allowing the wielder to use it as a grenade after expending the bullets and then materialise a new copy of the gun for the next battle, Torgue weapons always feature explosive rounds and Bandit weapons are equipped with drum magazines. There are 9 different weapon manufacturers overall meaning that on top of the randomisation and additional elements that make a return from Borderlands, the weapons feel much more unique from one another. You can tell the difference between one Sniper Rifle and another by the way they handle, not just in their stats.
The elements themselves are all back; fire, shock, corrosion, Eridian and a newcomer in Slag. Slag is an interesting one, coating an enemy in it makes them weaker against other elemental attacks. Enemies are now more noticeably and heavily weak against specific elements and impervious to others. Obviously this adds a large degree of tactical play to the gunfights (which are as fluid and fun as ever), with the player often having to switch between weapons or combining different elements and guns at different stages of the battle in order to emerge unscathed. It’s incredible fun and trumps anything we saw in the original Borderlands on a regular basis, which impressed me to no end.
To match the revamped and much improved new weapon system, Borderlands 2 steps up in a massive way in regards to the world map itself. In the original release we saw the majority of the game taking place in arid desert plains, which may have suited the atmosphere of the title rather well but did very little in terms of variety or the visual aesthetic. From the get-go we see a battle with Jack drop us into a frost bitten snowy waste, a far cry from anything we’ve seen before from the series. The game continues as it begins; beautiful, varied and massive vistas are order of the day as we explore deserts, jungles, mountains, blizzards and cities to name a few. There are more areas than in B0rderlands, with each of the areas being large, complex and packed full of missions and side content to keep even the most dedicated of fans happy for a long while.
Vehicles make a return to aid players in traversing these new environments, but here was where I found one of my major causes for complaint with the title. The vehicles themselves work identically to in the predecessor, albeit with additional weapon and customisation options, but the never feel important. There is very little introduction to vehicles themselves and after they’re bought into the game even less reason to use them. While they may help in getting across the landscape faster, it’s rare that you’d actually want to use them for fear of missing something important or useful, meaning the majority of trips are spent on foot. While a nice addition that was to be expected, I didn’t feel like the vehicles and vehicular combat were anything more than tacked on.
Character Classes also benefit from the layer of polish applied to many aspects of the game, as well as making a comeback in a big way. Four classes are available at launch with a fifth being available in October as a preorder bonus (a move I don’t support at all, but that’s besides the point), all of which being similar builds to the 4 in Borderlands with a few tweaks. The Gunzerker has the ability to wield 2 weapons, the Siren can phaselock enemies into an energy ball, Zer0 the Assassin can create clones and turn invisible and the Soldier can create a customisable turret for defensive purposes. Each of the classes have their benefits and work in tandem together effectively in co-operative games, but I noticed that the character abilities take a big backseat in comparison to their importance previously. Gun on gun is favoured over ability usage in almost all circumstances, which acts to make your class choice less dependant on your playstyle and more on preference.
Each character has a recognisable and well fleshed out personality, allowing players to get extremely attached to their chosen class. To add further emphasis on this, further character customisation options have been added which unlock as random item drops through game progression which allow you to change hairstyles, clothes and colour schemes for your class. It’s a nice touch but it’s a lot more limited than I’d like to see from a title that styles itself with an MMO-esque progression and mission system.
In similar vein to almost the entirety of Borderlands 2, the mission system is exactly like it is in Borderlands, but bigger and better. Quests are activated by either a Bulletin Board or by one of the various NPCs dotted throughout each location, with missions ranging from generic fetch and collection quests to storming an enemy fortress. It’s what we come to expect from Borderlands and it accomplishes its goals well. The humour and memorable NPCs characteristic of a Borderlands title are back in force with their hit and miss humour and original quips, though this time a lot of old characters make a comeback, hitting those nostalgia switches hard.
As you’ve probably recognised by now, I make a massive amount of comparisons to the original Borderlands title in this review, with very good reason. Borderlands 2 isn’t new in any way, it just expands on the original and improves the issues. It gives us more freedom, more customisation and more content, but it doesn’t change the formula in anything but extremely minute ways and surprisingly, I’m okay with that. I may have liked to see it deviate from the original a little bit more, but in doing so it may well have lots the appeal. Borderlands 2 is Borderlands; better.
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