Borderlands 2, the game that Vault Hunters have been waiting for since the conclusion of Claptrap’s New Robot Revolution in August 2010. It’s finally upon us, and frankly, it’s fantastic. Playing it is like seeing your favorite band during a new world tour after releasing a great second album: it feels familiar to those who know the old work, but even for them it’s still a breathtaking new experience…and this concert has loads of crazy guns, bosses that are unmistakably badass, plenty of fan service, and other additions that make this game a must-have.
I noticed while playing this game that I always felt good about playing it. That might seem like a weird statement, but the game was satisfying in everything ranging from fan service to story development and dialogue. Borderlands 2 takes the aspects that gave the original game its identity and pushes the envelope, deepening the experience. Pandora is still an intimidating, harsh environment, but now icy landscapes also exist amidst the bland deserts. Sanctuary, a large city populated by the resistance against Handsome Jack, is a vibrant town filled with colors and sound and vocal characters. Even the random nonsense statements yelled by Psychos running at you with murderous intentions are more varied and insane, and the whole atmosphere of the game feels turned up to 11.
The story in this game is much stronger than Borderlands. The first game simply had you searching for The Vault, a mystery treasure trove, but this game centers around a central antagonist, Handsome Jack. From the onset he makes it his mission to destroy you and any other Vault Hunters that step foot on Pandora, but obviously you don’t plan on letting that happen. You’ll quickly find yourself swept up in the style of chaotic combat of the last game, but with brand new personas and powers. Axton, the new Commando, can deploy a Sabre Turret similar to Roland’s but more directed towards straight damage. The new Siren, Maya, wields her Phaselock ability to hold even the strongest enemies in stasis while providing healing and other boosts. Salvador, the Gunzerker, can dual-wield any two weapons in the game…minigun and shotgun? Completely doable. And Zero, the Assassin, can vanish using his Decepti0n skill, drawing enemies towards a hologram of himself while he slips around for the stealth kill. Each character has a gigantic skill tree with so many potential skills that the number of possible builds is almost endless, and no skill feels like it would be useless or a waste of skill points.
Each new addition feels completely natural to the series and only adds to the addictive, strategic, hectic nature of the Borderlands. Guns, grenades, class mods, and new relics can be equipped to power up your character. Slag weapons, a type of elemental damage which augments the power of other weapon types, joins the explosive, corrosive, incendiary, and shock weapons from the last game. One of the most significant additions to the game are ladders: instead of just jumping from building to building, you’ll now have to climb ladders to reach multi-tiered levels of bandit camps, steam pumps, and more. In exchange, the game has removed fall damage, so you don’t have to worry about climbing up somewhere just to end up falling to your death. Another large addition is Eridium, a rare substance used to purchase storage deck upgrades and ammo capacity upgrades. If you thought you could just stockpile cash to pick up everything you need and breeze through the game, think again…this is a new Pandora, and challenges await you.
Borderlands 2 is definitely more challenging than its predecessor. Though I loved the original Borderlands, I didn’t find myself having a very difficult time completing the game. From early on you’ll realize while playing the sequel that you’ll have to think a bit more when taking on hordes of enemies. You’ll take cover, switch weapons more frequently, maybe respec your character to use a skill you hadn’t planned on. Sure, Borderlands 2 is still the high-octane FPS it was before, but you’ll be playing more of it with your head than the last one, and that’s a FANTASTIC thing. The Borderlands franchise has plenty of style and flair, but they increased the game’s finesse by making you work harder to achieve success. When you do though, they find plenty of ways to make it worthwhile.
If there’s one thing this game does completely right, it’s rewarding players for playing the game whenever and however they want. The True Vault Hunters Mode accessible after completion of the game gives you a scaled-up difficulty with massively amazing weapons. Participating in the Gearbox Shift program can give you Golden Keys used to get special items from a golden loot chest. One of my personal favorite additions is Badass Rank, a global stat attached to your XBox Gamertag/Playstation Network ID that tracks your in-game achievements. Badass Rank can get you tokens which can be spent on stat upgrades like increased grenade damage or weapon stability, and those perks carry over to every character attached to your profile. These kinds of goals mean that no matter when you’re playing, with what character or when you’re playing it, you’re working towards some sort of overall benefit.
Borderlands 2 isn’t without a couple faults, though. The new menu layout is sharp, but there’s no way to tell what the zoom is on a gun without actually using it. I also encountered a couple heavy glitches: I tried to drop a gun I wanted to give to my friend instead of using the in-game trading mode; the gun simply vanished. This happened on more than one occasion but not every time, and I can’t imagine how I’d have felt if I were more than a couple hours into the game and lost a rare find. I also had a quest break on me after I killed its boss; I was supposed to search the body of the guy I just killed for a new weapon, but the objective marker directed me about 500 feet away from the body itself. It also wanted me to somehow dig underground the barren desert I was standing in to find the weapon, so the only way I was able to complete the quest was to leave the area, resetting the body. By the time I came back to the reset location, the bandits I was supposed to kill with the new weapon had left the area, leaving me to rummage around the wastelands in search of random enemies to tear into. But those problems pale in comparison to the great times I’ve already had in the new Pandora.
To explain all the things that make Borderlands 2 great would take much more time than I’ve got in this space. But more than any other game I’ve played, this one does a great job of showing how a franchise can grow up while still remaining just plain fun. The game’s a much stronger single-player experience than it used to be, but there’s still nothing like grabbing a couple buddies and taking on hordes of boulder-hurling Bullymongs or watching your powers combine in crazy ways to dole out massive damage. You’ll see plenty of old friends from the original game including Patricia Tanner, Scooter, and the original Vault Hunters themselves in one way or another, while there are plenty of new experiences to be had with brand new characters like Scooter’s sister, Ellie. Also, expect to laugh your ass off plenty of times while going through the game; whether it’s talking with Claptrap and hearing him spew nonsense or finding an inappropriate sign on the side of a Port-a-Potty (if I’d been drinking anything when I saw that sign, I’d have spat it all over the place).
Whether you’re new to the franchise or a seasoned veteran, Borderlands 2 will definitely deliver a great combination of FPS and RPG that will keep you gaming for hours. A couple glitches aside, the game knows what its audience wants, and the folks over at Gearbox have put together a great game that is exactly what a sequel should be: both comfortable and shocking, familiar and fresh, but pure fun on top of anything else.