Review - Borderlands 2
Some games exist to prove others wrong. Case and point, the first Borderlands proved that a cross-FPS/RPG loot-fest hybrid can work, and more importantly, be successful and not "sent out to die". With such a massively popular first game, Gearbox Entertainment took notes of all the criticisms and presents to us Borderlands 2.
For the unaware, Borderlands 2 is a first-person shooter with RPG elements. This includes an open world, questing, and leveling up. Leveling up gets you new skills to improve various attributes (such as increased gun damage, faster reloading, better zooming, etc.) on four (and eventually five) different characters. Every gun has stats to it, letting you know its damage rating, reload speed, clip size, and any extra attributes (like electric or acidic shots). You'll run through the world of Pandora shooting up critters and people alike, nailing "critical hits" with headshots and looting containers everywhere to find the best gun.
The gameplay is rooted more heavily in the shooter genre than RPG. It's still run-and-gun action, just with health bars and numbers representing damage popping up with every bullet fired. The different character classes add variety through styles, allowing you to play how you want. For example, Zer0 can be a deadly sniper or silent melee assassin. Any class can use any gun, giving you a full field of options regardless of who you are playing as.
And in this regards, Borderlands 2 is just as good as the original. Every bullet shot has real impact, and the damage number gives you an idea of how effective you are. It also helps you pinpoint weak spots on enemies which isn't always the head. Upgrading your weaponry has a real, noticeable impact, and even passive items such as shields or skill-boosting class mods finely tweaks exactly how you want to play. The questing system gives you direction and purpose, with plenty of sidequests to get you extra money, experience, and loot right alongside the main story.
In fact, perhaps what may be the biggest fault Borderlands 2, is that there may be too much loot. Gameplay comes to a halt every few minutes as you meticulously compare a single gun drop to everything else you're carrying, and this includes every shield, mod and extra item pick up too. Everywhere you go is filled to the brim with different containers to open, holding money, ammo or a new weapon. It happens very frequently, which is a bit of a double-edged sword. An one hand, you get the excitement of always finding something new and can easily upgrade yourself with any type of gun you find. But it happens so often that it practically slows everything down. This is especially true when playing with friends.
Returning from the first is the wonderful four player cooperative mode throughout the entirety of the game. This feature alone makes Borderlands 2 a fantastic purchase. While nothing in the game changes specifically to accommodate additional players, such as challenges or areas that can only be completed with help, it still adds in layers of fun as you work together to shoot down hordes of baddies. Fixating skill points to compliment each other brings in some much-needed strategy.
Everything Borderlands 2 does, though, is nothing drastically better than the first. There are a lot of tweaks that reflect some excellent refinement. The HUD is much more pleasant to look at, and the included minimap was easily the most requested feature. Enemies react from being shot so that they don't feel like bullet-soaking dolls, and will actively find cover, dodge, and coordinate with nearby enemies. A new vehicle seats four people so everyone can travel together this time. A heavier emphasis is put on weapon types, making it worthwhile to carry around an acid gun, an electric one, a flaming one, etc. Quest-givers will say the objective so that people who hate reading won't have to worry about it.
This all blanketed by a feeling of familiarity. It all feels a bit too similar to the original. Everything new and improved in Borderlands 2 feels like a natural progression rather than new features or fresh gameplay. This isn't an awful thing, as it's always been an enjoyable game to play. It's never boring to quest through Pandora, popping off the head of psychotic suicide bombers and destructive robots. The only thing that isn't familiar is the all-new story go alongside the sound of dropped bullet casings.
The writing of Borderlands 2 is easily the biggest improvement. The humor is done very well, with every character feeling distinct. Watching the main heroes interact with each other is a joy to behold, and there's a bit of humor for everyone in here, ranging from silly names, fart jokes, references, and clever wit. Most importantly, it gives you a reason to shoot your gun. The introduction of primary antagonist Handsome Jack keeps you pushing forward. His attitude and insults is the perfect catalyst for wielding bazillions of guns. Not only is it an engaging, entertaining story, it also makes the first game look better by clarifying motivations and the lackluster ending that people complained about.
Thankfully, the excellent voice acting makes every line of dialogue and every joke hit its mark. There is far more dialogue in here than before, and each character is distinct and recognizable. Handsome Jack alone makes you want to hate him, and it's the delivery that really sells it, along with the writing. The cel-shaded visual style also returns to ample effect, with greater variety in the terrains and locales.
Borderlands 2 takes everything that was right about the first game and makes it slightly better. The feel of combat is virtually the same, the loot fest can turn anyone into a gun-junkie, and the multiplayer co-op is great. Everything is a marginal improvement, so there isn't any high-adrenaline moments that makes the gameplay truly stand out. Still, it's an engaging experience. You keep on playing because of the desire to defeat the villain, playing with friends, and finding the next great gun. Anyone looking for a new kind of shooter, or fans returning from the original, will be pleased.
(8s are great games that have something holding it back from excellence, or some features aren't as polished. The game is still extremely worthy of playing, but it may not be the most impressive.)
|Jared Knabenbauer is the ScrewAttack.com Reviews Editor, Hard News host, and a host of the weekly video podcast, "SideScrollers". He has also produced several notable ScrewAttack shows, including Newsroom, Nametags and Control Issues. He specializes in RPGs, and has a great fondness for Dungeons & Dragons. A comedian at heart, he is one serious gamer.|