When the original Borderlands was announced, there were quite a few skeptics in the gaming world. The concept was intriguing, but the setting and “wasteland” look made some people criticize the title for being a Fallout 3 ripoff. What we received, however, was one of the best games of the generation that featured the perfect blend of fast-paced FPS gameplay and RPG-like looting and skill-building, not to mention the exceptional multiplayer experience. A sequel was inevitable, and gamers have been wondering as to whether or not Borderlands 2 would be worth another trip to Pandora, or is it simply a rehash of its predecessor?
Borderlands 2 is set on the planet Pandora, a world full of bandits, struggling colonies, hideous creatures, and dancing robots. The planet is known for attracting Vault Hunters, mercenaries who are out to find mysterious alien treasures, which brings about all sorts of interesting characters. However, the hunters are not the only ones looking for the vault, as a suave and dangerous leader of the Hyperion corporation, Handsome Jack, is also search for the vault for his own reasons, putting the planet and its people at risk. There is a much bigger focus on story in Borderlands 2, and tough it may be fairly predictable at times, it is well-written and will make you actually want to finish the main quest line. You’ll meet some familiar faces, as well as the four original Vault Hunters who have all become legends since the events of the first game.
The first Borderlands mostly focused on desert. Lots and lots of desert. There were a few indoor locations and some caves to break up the sandy regions, but for the most part the setting felt stale. Gearbox has expanded the world this time around, offering freezing, snowy regions, underground bandit hideouts, and vast plains filled with skags to kill. You will find yourself visiting some of the dungeons more than once, but there is often a new route to take that will keep the area from becoming boring. There is a lot to see and do, and players will be greatly rewarded for heavily exploring an area. While the first game suffered from forcing players to backtrack constantly, Borderlands 2 introduces the fast travel system very early on to avoid it as much as possible. However, you can still only fast travel to and from fast travel stations, so you will still find yourself running all over dungeon maps to complete certain quests.
For those who have played the original Borderlands, you will be able to jump right into the sequel, and will immediately notice the improvements. Gearbox has somehow managed to improve upon every feature from the first game, from the quest tracking system to the user interface. Before picking up Borderlands 2, I was replaying the original, and the differences are like night and day. Navigating menus, comparing weapons, and finding the next quest location have become much easier, but the real improvements come in the gameplay. Gone are the “go here, kill that, bring back item” quests that were so prominent in the first game. One minute you’ll be defending a generator from waves of enemies, and the next you’ll be tracking down vehicle parts to disguise yourself as a bandit. The variety keeps the game fun, and I never found a quest to be tiring or tedious.
Doing these quests offers many different rewards in the form of new loot and experience points, but the greatest reward is the enjoyment you’ll get from the characters you meet and the situations you’ll find yourself in. Side-quests will bring you to all sorts of unique and interesting people, and this is where the writing truly shines. The game is absolutely packed full of funny dialog and brilliant references, including a great nod to Top Gun and a surprising amount of Ninja Turtles references. Anyone who knows movies and games will be laughing until the credits roll and beyond. Borderlands 2 still features a New Game Plus mode, and even includes additional bosses for the second playthrough.
There are four new characters to choose from this time around; The Gunzerker, an all-out tank built for taking and delivering punishment; the Siren, who can “Phaselock” enemies into a ball, temporarily removing them from combat; the Assassin, who uses invisibility and deception to sneak in and deal incredible melee damage; and the Commando, who has a vastly improved version of the turret from the first game. Each character still has three skill trees to upgrade, but this time around they are much more unique and can be tailored to your specific play style. Maybe you want to play as an Assassin who kills from afar, but you could also play as an Assassin who gets up close and personal. This makes for a better online experience, as two players using the game character class can still have entirely different characters.
Gearbox has also included new challenges in a system called “Badass Rank,” which rewards players for achieving certain goals. Killing a certain number of enemies, killing them with a particular weapon, lighting enemies on fire, all of these challenges will increase your Badass Rank and give you tokens. The tokens can then be redeemed, allowing you to select one attribute from a list of six, which are randomly selected from 20 different attributes, and upgrade it a small amount. While the upgrades are very small percentages, these bonuses carry over between all characters on your account, and each character can complete their own set of challenges as well. It provides a real reason for wanting to use a weapon that you otherwise might not even touch, and is a nice bonus to dedicated players.
All-in-all, Borderlands 2 is one of those rare “must own” titles. Rather than Gearbox simply rehashing the first game in a new setting, they took the time to build upon their original title and delivered an astounding near-perfect experience. There are still a few issues, such as the occasional glitch, and some texture pop-in issues which happens across all platforms, but gamers will not be disappointed on their second trip to the wild world of Pandora.