Sometimes the mixing of two video game genres can be a bad thing, producing a poor product that loses it’s focus and is neither one or the other. Then there are the exceptions, that perfectly meld genres to produce a new unique product that can stand on its own. 2009’s Borderlands is a perfect example of the latter, as it took two beloved genres, the dungeon-crawling RPG and the First-Person Shooter, and mixed them together to produce one of the best games of that year. Critically acclaimed by critic and player alike, a sequel has been eagerly awaited for and the hype has been massive, and finally it has arrived. The question, however, is if Gearbox Software’s Borderlands 2 is as great as the first, or does it die in the wastelands like a bandit?
Borderlands 2‘s story is a direct continuation of the events that took place in the first game. After the disastrous opening of the Vault by the four vault hunters, a man named Handsome Jack has claimed Pandora for his own, and has invited Vault Hunters far and wide to help in unearthing another vault. Newcomers Axton the Commando, Salvador the Gunzerker, Maya the Siren, and Zero the Assassin step up to the challenge seeking fame and fortune. Set to arrive in Pandora by train, the crew is surprised by the revelation that Handsome Jack, leader of the Hyperion Corporation, has actually set them up and planted a bomb in the train to rid them all in one fell swoop. After a heavy explosion derails the train and the new arrivals survive the terrifying ordeal, the vault hunters set out on their mission take down the dangerous tyrant.
The story, an improvement over Borderland’s somewhat vague plot, is pretty well done and thorough. Not only are most plot-holes from the first title answered, it’s much more involving story than before, with more character development, fantastic dialogue between characters and NPCs and action-packed set-pieces. Handsome Jack is also a well-crafted villain, as he’s multi-faceted, well-written and pretty downright evil.
Voice acting is just as solid as the first entry of the series, breathing life into the multitude of characters featured in the story. Most of the voices are a perfect fit, and a few returning voices still sound as strong as ever. Enemies also spend most of the time taunting and howling, and the lines they come up with are comedic gold.
Borderlands 2‘s visuals are also fantastic, and Gearbox has definitively taken the cel-shaded graphics to a whole new level. Everything is crazily detailed (more so than before), be it the crazy weapons, awesome character models, and beautiful environments that are filled to the brim with awesome things to find. Not only are there new environments to gaze at, but there’s also a load of new creatively-designed bandit types and creature racess that speak volumes with their details, and the new character customization options, like new skins and head types, are great. The bottom line is that the game is absolutely gorgeous to look at.
The game isn’t all about the visuals and story though, as we all know, and as the game before it, Borderlands 2‘s gameplay is where it really shines.
For the uninformed, Borderlands 2 is a shooter/RPG hybrid where players can choose from one of four main characters and guide them through a large variety of environments and partake on all sorts of quests with underlying objectives. Players must run and gun their way through deadly alien creatures, crazed psycho bandits, and Handsome Jack’s robotic minions to uncover the secret of the Vault, and to do so, they’ll have a large amount of weapons – mainly guns – at their disposal.
And by guns, I mean a huge amount of guns.
How much? Millions upon millions of weapons.
Just like the dungeon crawlers that inspired the series, players can collect a butt load of loot – all of which is randomly generated – from fallen enemies, chests, shops and more. Most of this loot is guns, such as pistols, assault rifles, shotguns, rocket launchers and more, and it’s up to the player to sift through the good and the bad stuff to pick out what works for them.
Guns can vary in so many distinct ways that each weapon is unique. From normal weapons with different damage outputs, reload speeds, accuracy, and more, to more powerful and explosive weapons with status and elemental effects like fire, corrosion, lighting and others, there is something for everyone here. The amount and difference of guns in this game is staggering, and it’s always a treat to find a new gun that blows enemies away. Each gun also has different properties, so they all control differently, but each and every one is a blast to play with and each controls responsively. A bunch of new gun types have made their way to BL2, so there’s even more great stuff to play with this time around.
Players also have access to a wide range of grenades as well, and just like the guns, they come in different shapes and sizes, and have a number of abilities. A couple of new grenades have also made their way in this edition as well, like a grenade that shoots elemental bullets, or damages enemies in its range continuously. Just like the guns, the possibilities are endless with all the grenades at a player’s disposal.
Beckoning to the RPG part just like the game before it, players gain experience and levels by completing missions and defeating enemies, and gain points that can be used to upgrade their character. By investing them in three skill threes, each with its set of unique abilities, characters can become powerhouses capable of mass destruction. There’s a greater variety of abilites in the skill trees this time around, so it’s fun to take a chance and experiment with the abilities as they can be RESPECed quite cheaply, so it doesn’t hurt to try.
The quests in this game are amazing. Both the Story Missions and all of the Side Missions are enjoyable, humorous, and varied enough to keep players busy for hours, and are chock-full of spectacular moments that constantly keep gamers in awe and gasping for breath. New to the sequel are Failable Missions, which usually require players to complete the quest in a certain amount of time to reap the rewards. These quests add a thrill to the game previously unseen before, as they have to be rushed through in order to succeed, and I found myself enjoying them more than I should have.
While the single-player is great in this game, with the great plot and excellent set of quests, the game really shines in multiplayer. For each additional player in the party, the game scales up in difficulty, so that means that they’ll be a greater challenge as well as better loot. Not only is the game infinitely more enjoyable with buddies in tow, different classes can complement each other in the battlefield, so it’s great to team up and take on all the badasses in Pandora.
While nearly perfect, the game unfortunately suffers from a couple of problems. First off is the respawning sequence, which shows a wormhole followed by the image of your character being digitally recreated. While I understand the appeal of seeing your character respawn before your eyes, it takes a bit too long for my liking and slows down the action a bit. When I respawn I want to charge into battle as quick as possible, not stare at myself for a couple of seconds.
Second, when the action gets intense, the game seems to suffer from a bit of slowdown every so often. It understandable because there is often so much happening on screen at the same time, with bullets flying everywhere, but its still a problem, however small it might be.
Finally, it is actually possible to get trapped in the stage itself. Being a game with huge environment and hidden loot just begging to be found, players must explore every nook and cranny to find stuff. On occasion I’ve trapped myself in corners or behind boxes looking for loot, and while I did manage to find my way out, it took me some time. Still, it’s not really that big of a deal.
Overall, the return trip to Pandora is a excellent one, full to the brim with a fantastic story, beautiful visuals, great sound, and super addictive ( I do mean addictive!) gameplay. If you thought the first game was amazing, then you haven’t seen nothing yet. Borderlands 2 is finally here, ready to shake up the gaming world once again.