- Publisher: 2K Games
- Developer: Gearbox Software
- ESRB Rating: “M" For Mature
- Genre: FPS
- Pros: Great writing; solid presentation; tons of Easter eggs; lots of content
- Cons: So-so shooting; inventory system; scaling enemies render loot system kind of moot
- Read Borderlands 2 PS3 Review
Borderlands 2 has you return to the world of Pandora (see our Borderlands PC review for story details) with a new set of Vault Hunters. Not only is the cast new and their abilities tweaked a bit from the first game, but the world itself is more interestingly designed and more fun to explore than before. The story this time around is that the Vault in the first game turned out to be a dud, but when it was opened it released a super powered alien element called Eridium that becomes highly sought after. An actual main villain appears in Borderlands 2, an arrogant and egotistical (and awesome) fellow named Handsome Jack, who has found a new Vault and a powerful new weapon inside and it is up to you to - along with help from the cast of the first Borderlands including all of the interesting NPCs - to stop him.
Borderlands 2 is a FPS mixed with RPG elements (stats, levels) that uses MMORPG quest design where you can play solo or with up to four players in co-op to tackle the various missions the game offers. The game is clearly designed with co-op as the intended way to play, but it is still very fun to play by yourself. Certain objectives can be more difficult playing by yourself, but co-op is never a requirement to accomplish something so "forever alone" players can pick it up with no worries.
What Borderlands 2 does have going for it, however, is a crazy amount of guns on offer thanks to a great loot system. There are a bazillion different gun variations - different stats and specialized effects - available here and every container you open or enemy you kill could potentially have some epic amazing randomly generated weapon in it. Unlike, say, Darksiders II which tempted you with loot only for most of it to be worthless, Borderlands 2's loot actually gets better and better as you go. The problem, however, is that there is way too much of it.
Half of your gameplay time is spent comparing weapon stats so you can decide what to keep and what to leave behind (a messy inventory system doesn't help), which gets a bit tiring after a while. Also, the thrill of finding a new weapon kind of fades once you realize the enemies are scaling right up along with you and that even though you might find a weapon that does thousands of points of damage per shot or a new shield that gives you thousands of points of protection, it still takes roughly the same number of shots for you to kill an enemy or an enemy to kill you on level 25 as it did on level 1. Of course, you could always go back to an earlier area of the game with weaker enemies and mow through them if you want to feel powerful, but the XP and loot rewards are so pitiful it isn't worth it. You don't really ever feel all that powerful, or if you do find some weapon that is miles beyond what you already have, the enemies catch up to it pretty quickly.
The way Borderlands 2 makes you feel powerful instead is when you upgrade your skill sets through the unique skill trees for each class of character. You earn a skill point to spend each time you level up and these abilities and stat boosts are the things that keep you ever so slightly ahead of the curve the enemies are on. The commando class skills, for example, give you a sentry turret that you can power up with rocket launchers or special bullets, or you could attach it to walls, or you can super charge your shields or health or a ton of other things. Each class - commando, siren, gunzerker, assassin - has three unique skill trees. The neat thing is that you actually have to specialize here. If you try to dabble a bit in each tree you won't reach the full potential of any of them, so instead you have to pick a skill path and stick with it to get to the last and most powerful skill. Since there are four (soon to be 5 with DLC) classes that all play differently from each other, with tons of unique skills and build opportunities, the replay value is crazy high here since every playthrough will be different.
Missions and World Design
The other way Borderlands 2 keeps you hooked is with interesting mission designs spread around really varied parts of the world. Now, admittedly, the missions are mostly a lot of "go to point B, kill enemy A, return to point A for reward" like the first Borderlands, but there are also a lot of other more interesting missions where you find an enemy robot A.I. core who wants to become friends, or you might be sent to dispatch a set of troublesome mutant ninjas ..., or a dozen other crazy things. Each mission usually brings about some new interesting NPC or a new enemy type or new environment to explore or some new ability. Each area also has tons of hidden stuff to track down and find and there are nooks and crannies in the world you won't even know exist if you just follow the story, but they're there if you're willing to explore. Perhaps the best part is the huge number of references to other videogames or movies and stuff. Borderlands 2 is fun to explore and play through because you never know what awesome reference you'll find next or what neat new enemy design might be around the next corner.
Longevity is Key
And that is what kept me motivated to keep playing. The loot carrot kind of rots after a while, but everything else gets better the more you play. The mediocre shooting gets better as your stats get better - though it takes hours and hours. The missions are interesting and get bigger and more complex and more interesting as the game goes on. The story and the dialogue gets crazier and funnier and more over the top the longer you play. It starts off pretty slowly, but once you get familiar with everything Borderlands 2 is hard to put down.
The presentation in Borderlands 2 is another definite strong point. The Unreal Engine-powered graphics have a cel-shaded look rather than the shiny look of most UE games, but the texture loading problem where textures pop in a few seconds after you enter an area remain. Aside from that, however, the game looks very good. The characters and enemies generally look good and are well designed and the environments are more varied and interesting than those featured in the first game.
The sound is pretty amazing as well. The voice cast is made up of actors you're probably already familiar with if you've watched a dubbed anime or played a videogame in the last 5 years, and they all do a pretty great job. The dialogue is generally very funny as well, though it isn't exactly the most mature humor you'll find. Sound effects are solid. The music is good, if not a little forgettable (as in I can't remember anything specific ...).
In the end, Borderlands 2 is a great sequel that improves most everything about the original game and fans will love it. If you like co-op games, this is one of the best around. It still has some flaws that have carried over from the first game - mainly bland shooting and loot exhaustion - but it does everything else better and is absolutely the better game overall. Kind of the opposite of RAGE (another post apocalyptic open world FPS which had awesome shooting and bland everything else ...) just for reference. I have to admit that I'm not the biggest fan of Borderlands 1 (and I didn't review it because I didn't really "get it" at the time), and Borderlands 2 took time to really gel for me, but once I got over the hump of the bland first few hours I was absolutely hooked. What I'm trying to say is that fans of the series will love it, but even if you didn't care for the first game, give Borderlands 2 a shot as it just might change your mind. Borderlands 2 is a lengthy, highly replayable, very enjoyable game that we highly recommend for a purchase.