By Jay Krieger
You shoot stuff. Stuff dies. Pick up dead thing’s weapons. Go shoot more stuff till it dies. It only takes about twenty minutes of playing “Borderlands 2” to know how the rest of the game is going to play, and normally that would be a terrible thing. Gamers should already have a general idea of what to expect from “Borderlands 2”, but for those who didn’t play, the excellent albeit, flawed original “Borderlands”, you shoot stuff. A lot of stuff to be exact.
2009’s “Borderlands” was essentially mindless fun. Not the type of game you put a lot of thought into while playing. Just aim and shoot, no real story to speak of or important dialogue. 30 hours in, I feel like I’m actually a part of “Borderlands 2” story and more importantly, the universe. I feel like I exist. The antagonist acknowledges you frequently, characters actually have something important and often hilarious things to say, instead of ‘hey go here; do that’ (although they do still say this). If you’re looking for some drastic change to game play from the previous game, don’t be surprised when you realize the game’s core fundamentals have not changed. Players will still be stat crunching and trying to find the most versatile equipment possible and your time spent on Pandora mostly consists of completing fetch quests and assassination missions. And you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way.
A new game brings a new threat to the planet of Pandora and this time the game’s antagonist is that of Handsome Jack, the new leader of the Hyperion Corporation. And well that’s bad news for the planet Pandora, as Hyperion has begun drilling the planet in an attempt to reach the famed vault of the first game. And it’s up to you to put a stop to Hyperion and reap the rewards of the vault yourself. The story is surprisingly more engaging compared to the first game. The writing is sharper, funnier, and I actually cared about the story and the characters. What made the first game feel like mindless fun was that the game play was fun, but it’s like playing Grand Theft Auto as a kid, you run around going on rampages and don’t acknowledge the story. Likewise, “Borderlands” story was so atrocious that dialogue would often be skipped as it got in the way of shooting bandits in the face. The game’s dialogue and characters are also a riot and evoked genuine laughs on multiple occasions. That’s not something I can say a lot of games have done.
A new game also brings “new” classes, though I use the word new sparingly. You have the option of selecting the characters’ classes, and while they may have a new look to them, the changes themselves seem mostly cosmetic. This isn’t a terrible thing, as the selection of classes in “Borderlands” was solid but the differences between the classes offered in “Borderlands 2” are pretty minor. Despite this, between the types of classes and the variety of their abilities, there is a class that will cater to your play style. And that’s one of the reasons “Borderlands 2” plays so well; the choice on how you choose to tackle enemy encounters is solely based on your play style. I was somewhat hesitant when deciding what character to select as I primarily played the game alone, which I’ve been told makes single player much more difficult. Though I’m finding my automated machine gun, turret-touting Commando is an ideal class to play in single player, as when fire fights aren’t going my way I simply deploy my turret. Running into a mixed group of enemies, some human, some robot, and having to switch between, my fire-spewing machine gun ignites bandit flesh and my corrosive shot shotgun chews through Hyperion robot armor and makes combat fast and frantic. Combat is more enjoyable, more challenging and after larger encounters, I feel like I’ve really accomplished something, whereas in the first game I would chew through enemies with little difficulty.
“Borderlands 2” is a first person shooter that is heavily influenced by role-playing game mechanics, and as such is a heavily stat based game. This means that every weapon you pick up has a roster of stats and a large portion of a players’ time is spent analyzing weapons they discover out in the vast areas of Pandora. For those unfamiliar, “Borderlands” is very formulaic in what you’ll actually be doing in the game as it boils down to: “receive quest, travel a predetermined distance, kill X number of enemies or find X number of items, return and receive reward.” Pretty rinse and repeat stuff, however, it’s how you will be fighting enemies, the game’s humorous elements (dialogue and characters) and the game boasting a “just 20 more minutes” mentality.
Usually I’d criticize a game for being overly formulaic, as most games that are repetitive in nature usually don’t compel the player to continue playing. But “Borderlands” differentiates itself by making combat engaging and more tactical, while providing hilarious dialogue during and in-between combat. Let’s start with the enemies you encounter. Pandora is a dangerous place. It’s filled with bandits, mutants, robots, psychotic midgets, bugs (rather large bugs), and even yeti-like creatures. A strategy that worked consistently in “Borderlands” was standing still and shooting at an enemy until it died. But this won’t get you very far in “Borderlands 2”. Enemies are smarter this time around, if only so slightly. Enemies will roll out of harm’s way, take cover and regroup when becoming overwhelmed. This is pretty standard AI mechanics but they seemed to be missing in the original game. You have to be mindful of enemies’ resistances (to such elements as fire, acid, electricity, etc) and more selective in what types of guns you’ll use to dispatch them with.
The first game include a plethora of guns that ranged from standard machine guns to corrosive machine guns, rockets that shoot five rockets simultaneously whilst engulfed in flames and even a midget launcher! Seriously, it shoots midgets. Okay, that last one was a lie, but you get the idea.
“Borderlands 2” features a staggering (unconfirmed) 87 bazillion guns. While the number of those included has increased, the ranging abilities and different attributes they boast has also increased. There are also more grenade and shield upgrades, although I would have liked to see the inclusion of improved melee weapons. While “Borderlands” is primarily a shooting game(as in that’s the only thing you do kind of way) it would have been nice to give more incentive to utilize melee combat a bit more.
The amount of side quests and the main story itself are quite lengthy and as of this review I’ve sunk around 30 hours into “Borderlands 2”, and I could see myself spending another 30 on my next character play-through. Some may find “Borderlands 2” a little too familiar to the original, but that’s what I’m finding enjoyable. It’s also worth mentioning, for the size of the game’s worlds , the game runs well with only slight texture pop ins, but with smooth frame rates throughout. It’s a fun, slightly less mindless shooter that builds upon every fault I had with the first one. “Borderlands” laid the ground work for a great concept but one that didn’t have a whole lot of substance to it. “Borderlands 2” builds upon the first in almost every way possible and provides an enjoyable, albeit familiar, shooter and feels more of an evolution of the franchise rather than a revolution.
Reviewed for PC.