Borderlands 2 – bigger, better, lootier

The original Borderlands was a game no one really knew what to expect of. The idea of it being a ‘Diablo, with guns’ got everyone interested, however delays pushed the game back. After it returned it had undergone a radical art style change which appeared to be in response to comparisons to Fallout 3 and the still in development RAGE. Still, people were curious.

Finally, on release in 2009 we got to see it in action. The game’s gunplay was spot on, the loot system addictive and co-op made it worth playing with friends. Downsides were the underwhelming endgame and the lack of story driven quests. In a world that looked so interesting and darkly humorous, it was missed.

At this point a game’s story ends once it hits the shelves but in Borderlands case not so. Word of mouth spread around and the game developed a “long tail”, selling for much longer than expected. In addition, the clever timing and use of DLC pushed the game’s relevance well into the following year. A good indication of that long success would be when Giant Bomb referred to the game as their “2009 Game of the Year, for 2010”.

So, now we’ve hit 2012 and a sequel to the game has arrived… How does it stack up to its predecessor?

First impressions are great. From the get-go, the game invokes the same attitude and style of the original but this time around it really does feel like the developers are far more confident in their approach. That the game’s opening cinematic is prepared to make fun of where Borderlands was found lacking shows guts. I like that.

Once again your character is a new arrival to Pandora – a world attractive to “Vault Hunters” searching for fame and fortune. Well, mostly fortune. There are four character classes to choose from: the Commando, Assassin, Siren and Gunzerker. These bear some resemblance to those from the original game but new abilities help to differentiate them, for example the Gunzerker can dual wield weapons. Don’t feel like you’ll be tied to one character though; you’ll still be able to play through the game with multiple character profiles.

At his point you’re introduced to Handsome Jack, a guy who has taken a bit of a dislike to you which results in your character waking up from the remnants of an exploding train. From here the in game tutorial begins, leading you through the basic mechanics of the game. Handsome Jack is a talkative chap, as are most of the characters in Borderlands 2. Even when you’re not face to face with them expect a lot of comms traffic from in game characters. It’s a nice touch that lets the humour play out whilst you are working your way through the game.

The gameworld itself is huge: a single zone would give some of the biggest Battlefield 3 maps a run for your money but these are all interconnected to make a large world with a variety of vistas. They’re big enough to require a few minutes of travel but not so much that you can lose sight of objectives. Vehicles can help to reduce that travel time further but they in no way feel like they are confined on these maps.

As you discover new areas, the option to fast travel between locations helps to mitigate any boredom in transit. Mission objectives help to encourage the player to explore as much as possible, so you will find yourself discovering many new locations during the natural course of the game.

Combat is straightforward and effective it sits nicely amongst games like Halo and Call of Duty. The game provides a lot of mechanics that encourage the players to stay in the game as long as possible, the best and simplest being how the game gives downed players a last chance to score a kill which can launch them back into the game without dying. It’s a nice little trick that keeps the game moving.

The biggest thrill in the game is of course the loot system. There’s an abundance of cash, ammo, equipment and of course guns around every corner, dropped by every enemy. Randomness plays in what the player will receive but it seems that this time around the odds of sweet loot earlier has increased. Getting a nice shield at the start of game really got me excited to see what else I could find.

The abilities and construction of the weapons are more varied, some guns can be thrown like grenades when the ammo runs out, but occasionally you do run into duplicates in either name or ability. It’s a shame because the system is a lot better but when problems arise they now seem more obvious. But that is a small gripe.

Graphically the game is fantastic – it still adopts the cel shaded art style but the detail and quality has improved substantially. Much like the visual upgrade between Crackdown and it’s sequel, the improvements really do the art justice. Audio has also been given top treatment. The amount of dialog and music in the game really helps to add to the atmosphere.

One area that may be frustrating to players is the game’s fascination with its “floating” pages – point at a weapon in the gameworld and a detailed description appears above it, allowing you to decide whether to pick it up or not. Most times it works fine but occasionally you can be in a position where no matter how you move you just can’t seem to see it clearly. In game menus also don’t take advantage of screen real estate which seems to force players to make use of a cumbersome system of button presses to assign weapons and equipment. The problems also appeared in the first game so it was disappointing to see them still there.

Online co-op works a treat and having a list of available players on a main screen, like Halo Reach, really helps to reinforce that this is a game to play with friends. All your profiles are accessible so it’s a great way to test out different characters in a group situation.

There is a lot to this game – I’ve played well past eight hours now and I’ve only scratched the surface. Which makes it hard to judge how the endgame plays out (especially for a review) but it’s promising for players wanting long term value. In a time where we have $100AU games with a six hour campaign, this makes for a great deal.

Borderlands 2 is a game that shows that the developers, Gearbox Software, have an increased level of confidence in their product and are fully prepared to run with it further than ever before. This is a polished, enjoyable game that will provide players with hours of entertainment.

Presentation Brilliant main screen with multiplayer integration is let down by a fiddly UI in the game. 8.0
Graphics The cel shaded art style looks better than ever. 8.5
Sound Plenty of music and voice acting to complement the game nicely. 8.5
Gameplay Fun single player… check. Co-op just like single player… double check. Fun no matter how you play it. 9.0
Lasting Appeal A lot of hours will be spent playing through this game and the promise of DLC extending it further will keep players satisfied. 9.5
Overall A superior sequel. 8.7

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