Borderlands 2 Review: Reopening Pandora’s Box of Loot
Borderlands 2 Returns You to Pandora on a Freight Train From Hell
When Gearbox and 2K released the original Borderlands in 2009 it received a very warm reception. Borderlands was a first person shooter touting an unheard of variety of weapons, a class based RPG build complete with skill trees, and an addictive cooperative, loot grinding, campaign that seemingly never ends; Borderlands catered to more audiences than you can shake a stick at but suffered from shallow skill trees and a paper-thin story. I’ve enabled myself to put down the controller and stop playing it long enough to review it. Will the successor iron out the wrinkles? Here is the lowdown on the much awaited sequel: Borderlands 2.
Borderlands 2 follows the exploits of four vault hunters who basically inherit the same dilemma as the protagonists of the original: Find the vault, kill the bad guys, and gather lots and lots of cool weapons and equipment. The game begins with a cinematic in which the rookie vault hunters are minding their own business on a train to fortune when they encounter the robot henchman of the games ultimate adversary, Handsome Jack. Failing in his attempt to kill you, Handsome Jack leaves you for dead following an over glorified introductory shootout. As you lay face down in the snow of a glacier you are greeted by two characters, familiar to players of the original, CL4P-TP, or Claptrap and the disembodied guardian Angel who returns to lead you through your trials. Claptrap takes you through a quick romp in the snow towards his hideout where the shells of his product line are strewn. He warns you of the dangers of Bullymongs that will rip your eyes out. Ironically, Claptrap is then forcibly separated from his own eye, which inspires him to claim you as his loyal minion, arm you with a pistol, and accompany you to the town of Sanctuary. Angel gives you the go ahead, informing you to follow Claptrap, and fills you in on the situation and the “lay of the land”. At this point, the introduction has ended, and the inane grinding of loot has begun.
Borderlands 2 is a Group Effort with a Colorful and Familiar Cast of Characters
The story is a vast improvement from the original; giving the player countless memorable encounters with countless individuals that are not only interesting and unique in look, but more importantly in their dialogue and personalities. These characters give life to the story and bring you closer to familiarizing yourself with it. The protagonists of the first game, Roland, Brick, Mordecai, and Lilith (as more talkative NPCs this time) make a return, along with their confidants Scooter, Tannis, Marcus, and Dr. Zed. Borderlands 2 introduces an even wider variety of allies and enemies than the first and even more that will prompt a tear of nostalgia in your eye. The voice acting in this game is not only done well but is often times hilarious and entertaining. My personal favorite is Tiny Tina whose demolition skills and her “main squeeze’s” badonk-a-donks allow you to blow up a bridge. Another fascinating detail of Borderlands is the embrace of popular culture. Claptrap is heard many times introducing his new dubstep song; there are many skins dedicated to many characters, television shows, and internet memes; and some of the quests even put you in situations that will seem similar to cinema storylines.
Environments and Zones That Will Leave You Breathless
The environments are much more diverse in Borderlands 2; the original game began in a desert, and for the majority of the game that is where you stayed, but in its descendant you find yourself fighting through ice and snow, deserts, grassy hillsides, and volcanic mountain regions. Each zone houses different NPCs that will give you quests and reward you with awesome items. These quests vary in difficulty, rewards, and objectives. In Borderlands 2 players are now given optional objectives which can alter your reward or fulfill challenges; Gearbox has made claims saying that these objectives can alter the story but that is unclear. There are also a greater variety of enemies to fight in Borderlands 2 compared to 1. While some zones will simply see a rehash of bandits in skins catered to their environment, you will assuredly find many more enemy races and classes that will challenge you and frustrate you, especially the Stalkers and Threshers. In addition, the weapons company, Hyperion, under Handsome Jack’s leadership, leads to the appearance of robots galore that will mess you up in a cold, calculated, and explosive manner; sort of like if Taken was a Michael Bay film and the daughter was kidnapped by Transformers. The cell shaded presentation is still very attractive and unique as it was 3 years ago and it suits the colorful nature of this game like a three piece suit. The catch-a-ride systems is still “where cars live” and it is still an important factor in transportation around Pandora, but the waypoint teleporter is still the most efficient giving you instant access to each zone.
Guns!!! So Many Guns!!! Like Bazillions of Guns!!!
The original Borderlands was not without the excessive arsenal of weaponry (By excessive, I mean awesome); Borderlands 2 is different, it has even more guns than the original (By more, I mean way more). Borderlands 2 introduces an additional element to their list (which already contains fire, shock, explosive, and corrosive), Slag. Slag coats the enemy in a purple liquid that causes all other damage to increase. Each of these elements is also found in explosive barrels that can blow up to damage nearby enemies. Gun manufacturers take a more prominent role as they each vary in effect and stats. Tediore weapons, for example, are thrown like a grenade when reloaded. Another addition has been made to the gun arsenal, that can stack with elemental effects and that is E-tech weaponry. E-tech is a barrel “attachment” that replaces the Eridian weaponry from the first game and changes the normal weapons to an intense energy weapons. Effects I’ve seen resulting from E-tech include a sniper rifle that shoots like a rail gun, submachine guns that shoot like the Needler from Halo, and an assault rifle that shoots balls of electricity that explode on impact. Elements have become much more important with the nerfing of elemental effects on elemental enemies. The damage done to a Nomad Pyro with a fire weapon is significantly lowered compared to damage done by a different element. This issue creates a scenario that calls for much more strategic approach during battle.
Gun Grinding. A Frustrating, Addicting, and Surprisingly Refreshed Endeavor
Grinding for that perfect weapon continues to be the main goal of Borderlands 2, the hierarchy of weapon rarity also returns with some minute changes. The hierarchy of weapons from least to most rare is white, green, blue, purple, and orange including the addition of E-tech which is a distinct hot pink. The gun efficiency from the original game has been nixed and the revolver and pistol have become one class, as well as the machine gun and the assault rifle. Gaining further skill with a specific class of weapon is possible only through skills, relics, and class mods. Gaining ammo capacity is now only possible through the use of the new currency, Eridium bars. Eridium is used to purchase ammo capacity, bag capacity, and bank capacity; the shortfall of this is that by the end of the first playthrough all upgrades can be purchased and picking up Eridium then has no benefits. The orange weaponry is considered legendary tier; these weapons are the most powerful weapons in the game and base themselves on your character level. These weapons vary in drop rate in location, some can be found in chests while others can be found on bosses and other special enemies. The most powerful of these legendary items and weapons are found on a special raid boss in Borderlands 2, this boss is tough, very tough. According to Gearbox you will need three friends all at level 50 to take him on.
Borderlands 2 is About the Journey… And the Guy Who Wants You Dead
Borderlands 2 follows the usual hero archetype where a hero comes into being through traumatic event, they prove themselves to those around them and embark on a journey that takes them to the top and sends them careening back down, only to raise them back up and overcome the impossible odds. This template is extremely played out but, Borderlands 2 does this with style, grace, and wit. The journey is very unforgiving, giving you very frustrating situations and a difficulty curve that can sometimes feel very much impossible without a friend, but it is possible to complete solo and with proper strategy you can easily turn the tide in your favor. However, Handsome Jack wants you dead and he will harass you relentlessly, kill countless people, and in some cases make you his b****; he is an outstanding villain who literally has zero remorse and is out of f***s to give. He has his best weapons out to destroy you. He hates you. A lot. So go kill him!
Almost Silent Protagonists
With a new game, come new characters and classes. Borderlands 2 introduces four new vault hunters each with their own skill trees, action skills, and personalities. The personalities of each character are amusing, but due to the nature of the Borderlands 2 script they rarely, if it all, interact with the supporting NPCs, making it seem as though you are an outside observer. The characters also seem to shadow previous classes, but they provide more efficient improvements over the originals. Axton is the Commando, able to throw down a gun turret that will take a beating for you and wipe out the opposition. You can also save on your cooldown by recalling the turret if it isn’t necessary. Next, we have Maya. A Siren like Lilith, Maya’s power is quite different; Maya is able to Phaselock enemies, holding them in the air, incapacitating them and making them very vulnerable to attack. The most noticed of the rookie vault hunters are the last two, Salvador the Gunzerker, and Zer0 the Assassin. The Gunzerker is capable of Gunzerking which gives him the ability to dual wield any weapons, which can have devastating results. The Assassin’s skill is Decepti0n which casts a holographic decoy that distracts the enemy and gives Zer0 (who is made invisible) the opportunity to backstab his adversaries. Gearbox has recently released their fifth character, the Mechromancer, whom I will be reviewing soon. Each class has three separate skill trees which have their own abilities and uses that cater to many different play styles and situations. The skill trees and action skills seem much more effective and important, some being very pivotal in intense gunfights. One point wonders are skills that take only one skill point and have a very distinct effect on the battlefield. For example, the Siren’s Phaselock can resurrect a downed ally with the right skill point.
Notable Additions and Improvements That Take Borderlands 2 Multiple Steps Further
Character Customization - The ability to customize a character has been improved with the new skins and “heads”. These items vary in rarity and source; they can be dropped off enemies or rewarded for quests or challenges. Skins normally only change the colors of the character, same as before, but the heads change the look of the character and make the characters look very distinct. One head that comes to mind is “Breaking Bald” which makes Salvador bald and is most likely a reference to Walter White in Breaking Bad.
Badass points – This is the most noteworthy yet underappreciated addition, making the challenges worth more than strictly experience points. Badass Ranks add up across the entire account; these ranks add up and can result in the rewarding of Badass Tokens which can be used to select a given bonus that will accumulate over all your characters. These bonuses can increase damage, shield stats, and health; they are unlimited and increase depending on the challenge. Once all challenges are completed, the player can start a new character and continue racking up tokens.
Raid Bosses – As I mentioned before, the greatest weapons drop from a very intense raid boss. The idea is to increase the playability of the game after it has been completed. Gearbox has confirmed that they intend on adding more raid bosses in future DLC, increasing the number of weapons and enemies substantially.
The Golden Keys – These keys are rewarded outside of the game itself, they can be rewarded via promotions, Twitter, Gearbox Shift codes, or preorder bonuses. Golden Keys are only useable one time across the entire account and are only useable on one chest in Sanctuary. The chest caters to your level and provides the opener with a rare item.
The Final Statement
Borderlands 2 is an extremely satisfying loot grind that is even more engrossing than the first; with an improved story, new classes with more focus on skills, individual playstyles, Badass-ness, and more guns than you can even imagine. It is such a great improvement from the original, surpassing any lists of improvements I have thought of. The attention to smaller details is what makes this game shine, the characters are memorable, hysterical, and more often than not, psychotic. This game will take a great deal of time to complete, even more time to fully complete (somewhere around dozens of hours). There is no doubt in my mind that Gearbox will follow this up; if Gearbox can improve on their endgame (after level cap), lower the single player difficulty curve, and provide a leaderboard for their Badass Rankings they will have a perfect game. More perfect than it already is. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some loot to farm.