When Borderlands released three years ago, it raised expectations for what gamers should expect from co-op RPG shooters. Embracing a cel shaded art style and giving players the freedom to travel where they desire with tons of weapons to toy with, Borderlands helped define the "looter shooter" genre, easily earning a lot of praise, a lot of money and of course, a sequel.
With Borderlands 2, Gearbox Software aims to maintain what fans loved from the original and improve upon its faults. Have they succeeded? Read on to find out!
Borderlands was a big game. Borderlands 2 is even bigger. Much bigger. While it's not designed as an open-world sandbox, the world of Pandora this time around contains a larger variety of open environments that players can traverse to via fast-travel stations or paths on the borders of each map. Within the environments themselves, most areas contain vehicle stations where players can digitally spawn one of two rides that can carry two or more players. They aren't that much different and there's a missed opportunity there, especially considering some of the enemy units in the game (i.e. the flying Buzzards).
Like the first game, one of the main selling points of Borderlands 2 is the four-player cooperative gameplay it offers, and again like its predecessor, there are four unique playable characters to choose from. Each character has a unique character-defining ability, from placing a gun turret to dual-wielding any pair of weapons, and each comes with three skill trees for players to progress towards. The characters from the first game are replaced by new faces Axton, Maya, Salvador and Zer0 - who can all be customized with unlockable skins - but the originals all play important roles in the game's story, often serving as quest givers.
Not only is Borderlands 2 bigger, but its campaign is much longer, clocking in at just under 60 hours for players who pursue most of the side quests. In that respect, the game's narrative is divided into chapters, each with one main story-based quest. Within each chapter there are plenty of side-quests to accomplish, and this part of the game is still lacking. Many of those 60 hours can be justifiably removed as many of the side quests involve fetching and retrieving items or killing a certain amount of this and that. If the game didn't often require so much back-and-forth travelling, many of the quests wouldn't feel like chores or obstacles. This issue is made worse mid-game when the story drags a bit and where players can pile on side-quests only to realize that after completing a few, the others don't offer rewards or amounts of experience worth working towards.
Borderlands 2 holds true to its looter shooter origins, continuously and consistently rewarding players with loot piles after loot drops after loot piles - most of which scales as the players do. You'll quickly find that most of it isn't worth picking up due to its low value or obsolete stats though. This acquired junk instead will be used to trade-in for cash, but Borderlands 2 doesn't do much to give players an incentive to save up. With money, players can go to stores and vending machines, only to find items not as good as what they already have after a few hours of gameplay, or they can blow it on the slot machines. The slots are the game's way of giving players a fun chance at earning more valuable loot, the most valuable of which are the super-duper-rare orange items and Eridium, the latter of which can be used on the Black Market to buy permanent player inventory upgrades (i.e. more ammo storage or inventory space).
Eridium is the plot-driving element (literally) of Borderlands 2. The story of the original game followed four Vault Hunters searching for a legendary vault rumored to be full of alien technology with the help of the mysterious Guardian Angel and the hilarious Claptrap robot - only to find something much, much worse, before sealing said vault for another two centuries. The sequel picks up five years later where the events of the first game's vault battle have littered Pandora with the valuable Eridium mineral. Evil Handsome Jack is harvesting it and as a result, has exponentially expanded his power, allowing his Hyperion organization to practically takeover Pandora. He aims to use the key that opened the original vault to open a second, equally as problematic vault, and it's up to the Vault Hunters, new and old, to put an end to Jack's reign of terror.
The story is serviceable and fans who enjoyed the lore behind the first game will be satisfied with how it evolves in the sequel. In terms of gameplay however, the story quickly is pushed aside in favor of open-environment gunfights against hundreds, if not, thousands of bandits, creatures, mini-bosses and a variety of whacky characters. It's a very simple formula, held higher thanks to creative and entertaining characters, both good and bad.
Borderlands 2 may feel extremely similar but it does make improvements to weapons, offering smoother gameplay, improved AI on enemies and far more varied environments and creatures. That being said, the environments - despite being presented in a wider range of aesthetics - are still mostly dull and empty, serving only to offer players interesting set piece battles, loot, and loads of fun Easter Eggs including pop culture references and shout-outs to other games (see: Minecraft mine).
As an obviously console-focused game, the inventory menus on the PC are not well designed for the mouse or screen resolution in mind. There are a few graphic glitches in organizing inventory, as there are with texture pop-in and obstacle clipping, but for the most part, Borderlands 2 is a cleanly designed followup. If you loved your time in Pandora the first time around, you'll absolutely love Borderlands 2. It's more of the same with enough changes to offer something new and special. We recommend you play with friends, as that much time alone in Pandora may not be as rewarding (we're not just talking the obvious social implications but the game itself) since it raises the challenge level and quality of loot depending on how many players are partied up.
The game also features one of the coolest intros of any game in recent years, so that's an easy hook if you're unsure and want to try it out. And you should. It's a loot chest worth of fun.
Borderlands 2 is available for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360. Game Rant played the PC version for this review.
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