Every once in a while, a game comes along that reminds you of exactly why you love videogames. Borderlands 2 is one of those games.
The pseudo cell-shaded art style, deep RPG elements and hectic FPS action all return from the previous installment. The drop-in/drop-out cooperative play is back too. So are the guns. Oh, so many guns. The original quartet of playable characters even make appearances to aid the four new adventurers and on the surface, Borderlands 2 is very familiar.
Know Your Role
You’ll take the role of one of four characters, each with a different base class and skill tree. There’s a gunzerker called Salvador who can dual-weild any two guns and has similar abilities to Brick from the first game. There’s Maya, a siren similar to Lilith but with the ability to suspend enemies in mid air. Zer0 is an assassin with similar traits to those of Mordecai but he has the ability to create a decoy and inflict critical damage with a sword. Finally, for now at least, there’s Axton. He’s a commando, very similar to Roland, with turrets as his special ability.
It’s slow to start, following an intro cinematic which is the best I can recall since the first Borderlands intro sequence. The usual lightweight missions at the start will teach you a little bit of backstory and get you familiar with the controls and core mechanics. Claptrap is back in all his glorious lunacy and he’ll be your guide through these early quests as well as becoming important again later in the story.
Once you’ve plugged through the opening hour or so, though, the game really opens up. I found that there was a number of reasonably sharp inclines on the difficulty curve at various points but there are plenty of side missions that I had yet to embark upon which would have helped me level up a lot faster and avoid those difficulty spikes altogether. That’s one of the underlying principles in Borderlands 2: you can play it however you like.
Large, open areas between the slightly more confined spaces used for certain missions, give the game an almost open-world feel. It’s not truly open, of course, there are a range of larger areas that you can navigate as you please but they all act as a series of interconnecting hubs that lead to other areas.
The game is huge, too. Not just in terms of the area you’ll be covering or the scale of the landscapes. There are around thirty hours of gameplay here in a single playthrough – and that’s without giving much time to the many and varied side missions which probably would have made the main story missions a little easier to battle through. It’s best enjoyed with a few friends, as you might expect, but it’s also hugely enjoyable as a solitary endeavour, largely thanks to the excellent writing.
Borderlands 2 has some of the most intelligently written, self-aware and funny scripting in the medium. Enemies complaining about losing their equipment as they die, screaming about their hit points as some elemental damage takes its toll or shouting about what unrepeatable acts of unkindness they intend to do if they can catch you. It’s all brilliant. The dialogue and delivery for the main antagonist – Handsome Jack – is a particular high point, often hilarious and regularly surprising. There is an abundance of great characters and brilliant performances throughout Borderlands 2 and everything is done with a confidence and irreverence that is refreshing and engaging.
The new, more complex skill trees and class modifications allow you to tailor your base character in a multitude of different ways. One assassin might end up perfectly suited to sniper rifles from cliff sides while another might end the game having become adept at sneaking in close and using his sword. The upgrade trees aren’t baffling in their complexity but over the course of the game, they offer more than enough variation to ensure that you could play through two or three times with the same class and character without playing the game in exactly the same way.
Minor upgrades are also available via the new Badass Rank system. You’ll earn tokens for completing in-game challenges like finding a certain number of rare loot items, killing a number of enemies in the afternoon, etc. You can then spend those tokens on little incremental upgrades to stats like rate of fire, shield regeneration, gun damage and many, many more.
The guns, too, are nice and varied. Although there are a select range of types and each type will function in a manner reasonably similar to others of that type, there’s enough in the damage ratings, fire rates and elemental effects (shock, explosions, fire, corrosion) to make each gun different enough from any other.
Borderlands 2 is still as much about the loot as it ever was. The colour coding is back and so is the minimum level requirement for certain weapons – meaning that it’s not easy to load up on vastly superior firepower and breeze through early sections. Playing cooperatively will mean you’ll be competing with your team mates to grab the best loot after a fight but there’s a workable trading system and as long as you’re playing with friends, there’s plenty to go around.
- Huge scale – so much to do and see.
- Wonderful sense of humour and brilliantly written.
- Seamless co-op offers a fantastic experience.
- Texture fade-in can be mildly distracting
- Some difficulty spikes if you’re not chasing side missions.
- Vehicles don’t handle well and can feel a tad under-used.
You might need a buddy too, the enemy AI has gotten a little smarter. Even the basic enemies like Skags will no longer simply run straight at you, they stop, dodge and flank you. Gone are the days when you could simply run backwards with the trigger held in. More complex enemy groups will work together to encircle you and some will even give instruction to lesser enemy types during the fight. Unfortunately, they’ll still generally be confused at the sight of a turret and completely ignore you for the duration of its existence but that brief respite – if you happen to playing as the Commando – is usually very welcome.
Vehicles remain an unfortunate low point for the game, with driving controls slightly awkward and uneven surfaces often throwing your vehicle out of control for a brief moment when you were least expecting it. Aside from movement between missions and one or two incidental requirements, vehicles aren’t particularly well utilised and once the fast travel points are set up they can be generally ignored.
Borderlands 2 is a joyful experience, full of humour and character. It manages to walk the fine line between silly base humour and a more intelligent wit too, which is something almost unique in videogames. With a narrative that expands on the original storyline in every conceivable way and so many ways to play, different characters to build and so much cooperative fun to be had, it’s hard to see a downside. While there are occasional issues with enemies clipping into scenery and there is some quite noticeable texture fade-in as you enter new areas, it’s nothing that can’t easily be forgiven in a game of this magnitude. Borderlands 2 is one of the unmissable videogame experiences of the year.