Gearbox seemed to spend forever and a day getting the first Borderlands developed, thankfully it launched to find a big audience and devoted fans. Luckily the wait for part 2 hasn’t been nearly as long and Gearbox proves again why combining a real time RPG with a first person shooter is a fantastic idea.
Borderlands 2 uses the same comic book style cell shading for its graphics as the first title and it certainly gives off a much more timeless look. It is interesting to see cell shading on the Unreal 3 engine, if only to notice the texture loading even more so then usual. Having played both the XBOX 360 and PC version I have to say if you have the means to play on a high end PC, go for that. Not only can you get a much smoother framerate, you will notice far less “seams” in the textures as well. Musically you will probably not remember much, Borderlands is a series that seems to make its trailers music more memorable then the in game soundtrack. That isn’t to say it’s bad however, This is a game where you will be spending dozens and dozens of hours traversing large landscapes over and over so having less is more here. One area that is really good is the voice acting, you can just tell the actors were likely having a blast with some of the dialog here and it really shines through.
Rather then reinvent the wheel, Borderlands 2 is more of a refinement of the first game. Gearbox has wisely decided not to fix what isn’t broken here and keeps the core gameplay simple but engaging. The game is still a class based first person shooter RPG. You pick a class that suits your play style, and go forth to shoot everything that moves as well as take on the hundreds of random quests along with the main campaign across large zoned off areas of the world map. You will see many familiar layouts to other real time RPG games such as Skyrim, Amalur, and Dragon’s Dogma such was mini maps, and exclamation points over NPC characters with quests. The actual combat however is pure first person shooting with controls nearly identical to Call of Duty. Still blasting an enemy isn’t automatic death, instead a number of hit points flys above their heads with each shot, they still will react to a big chunk, but be aware that tackling high level monsters can be about as effective as throwing pebbles into a hurricane. The structure of the game world is laid out so that as you progress through the game world, enemies levels will gradually increase. This means that enemies do not level with you and the starting area enemies will remain low level if you go back after some time. Some may not like this, but it does help extenuate your progress.
Unlike other mentioned RPG games, Borderlands 2 is multiplayer, in fact the whole game encourages you to play in a group. The individual classes and special abilities with them seem tailor made for a team of players. For example the siren class has a freeze bubble that sucks in and traps enemies where you cast it, this can be used with an engineer class who lays down turrets who can then have them pummel trapped and frozen enemies, leaving you and the other player free to fire on someone else. The levels and hit damage ratio scales in the game world depending on the number of players in a game. While the entire campaign is entirely feasible solo, it certainly isn’t as fun. Gearbox makes such a case for co-op gameplay within the RPG structure it really makes you wonder just what is Bethesda and Capcom’s hold up with their titles. One slight problem with the multiplayer is getting to far apart from your buddies. The warp points in the game are a little to few and far between and sometimes leaving your partners game and re logging into it can be more effective then simply waiting for a buddy to run and catch up or drive a vehicle.
Another nice part of the Borderlands series that sets it apart from other titles is the writing and humor. Borderlands 2 features a more story focused campaign then the first game, but never to the point of obstructing the player from actually playing the game. Due to the unlocking of the vault in the first game, the mega corporation Hyperion has come to the planet of Pandora in hopes of finding an even bigger hidden vault, however they have no love for any vault hunters that would stand in there way, so while not fighting the local flora, fauna, and crazed psychos, you will have to deal with Hyperion robots lead by their douchebag CEO, Handsome Jack. Jack will constantly bug you throughout the course of the adventure with a venom dipped tongue of wit. What is most surprising about the title is that it was mostly written by Anthony Burch, co-creator of the amazingly unfunny “Hey Ash, Whatchu Playin?” It seems that despite writing one of the most dull and lame video game web series had no impact on his ability to write a clever and witty video game itself. One of the best examples of humor actually comes from human enemy dialog. As you come across bands of insane wasteland dwellers you might have to stop a chuckle for a bit at some of their banter both to you and among each other. Another notable point of enemy characters is that Gearbox actually took the time to physically show where enemies come from rather then just randomly be loaded into a level. You will see bugs and monsters come crawling out of nests and holes in the ground and you will see humans come bursting out of tents, buildings, and crawling through pipes. It adds a bit of polish and effort to building a real world and eco-system for Pandora and it is very much appreciated here.
In the end, your time with Borderlands 2 will depend on a few key things, do you like shooting a lot of things in first person? Do you enjoy real time RPG questing and looting? Do you have a couple friends willing to spend a good 50 hours minimum with you? If you answered yes to all of that then I find it really hard to imagine you not having a good time with Borderlands 2. There are a few issues to be sure, zones can be a little big and on the empty side sometimes, warping could be improved, and the final boss is a bit underwhelming and predictable, but on the flip side a game like this is not about the ending but about the journey there. If you got the time, Borderlands 2 will fill it up very nicely.
Final Verdict: BUY
Borderlands 2 offers more of the same great hybrid gameplay of the first title, making this an easy choice if you were a fan already. If you got the time and friends this is an easy recommendation, but solo riders may want to give it a test drive first.