Also On: PS3, PC
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Gearbox Software
Borderlands 2 once again provides gamers with an action RPG experience that seems like it really should be out of its element, but somehow manages to click within the trappings of a standard first person shooter. Its smart design, great loot system, multiple side quests, and an assortment of odd characters to fill its quest lines certainly go a long way towards providing a memorable experience that is unlike anything else out there, discounting the original.
This sequel puts you into the boots of a new set of Vault Hunters, providing class options not entirely present in the original game. The new options are great, and the new class trees provide a lot of customization, offering up multiple ways to play each class, easily giving you a reason to revisit these characters again and again. Like before, you’ll earn experience for killing bad guys and creatures, completing quests, and discovering new locations. This experience levels up your character and with each level gained you’ll earn a skill point that you can drop into one of three different skill trees for each character. You can opt to mix and match skill trees, and even respec if you’ve made any mistakes. This is pretty standard stuff amongst most action RPG’s, and Borderlands 2 continues to get this right.
The leveling system, and lack of scaling present in enemies and locations can make for an either frustrating, or far too easy experience depending on your play style. Rushing through the main quest will cause Borderland's somewhat steep difficulty curve to really rear it's head for impatient players, but plowing through the side content, and exploring the fairly large maps can often lead to you being a bit overpowered. There's a weird sort of balance that I never quite managed to hit throughout the campaign, which certainly makes me feel like scaling zones, or more fast travel options to get through lower level areas, would help a bit in alleviating some possible boredom for zealous explorers.
in fact, I'd love to see more fast travel options in general. This is something that I’d dread running across every time a side quest would put me into a particular dungeon or area that I’ve visited previously. A lot of area’s have convenient shortcuts to get you back to the beginning of the area quickly, so you don’t need to backtrack through the entire level to get back to the entrance. But I certainly ran across a couple locations where this wasn’t the case, making for a boring, action-less sprint back across an already cleared section. Why fast travel locations weren’t included at the back end of these dungeon-like areas is sort of beyond me, and would seem to make a lot of sense, especially when your quest turn-in is back in a main hub location of the world.
But these complaints are relatively minor in comparison to all the stuff that Borderlands 2 gets right. The guns, for instance, are absolutely fantastic in this game. There’s an elemental system in place from the first game that is a bit underused in the first half of Borderlands 2 on Normal difficulty, but certainly comes into play against tougher enemies. This system combined with the sheer variety in weapon types, makes for a pretty unique experience when shooting down bad guys that can’t be replicated amongst modern first person shooters, RPG trappings aside.
The visual quality of Borderlands 2 is also pretty breath-taking at times, making ample use of the cel-shaded look seen in the original game, with some truly impressive vistas and locales that help ground the game in its gritty, backwater, Mad Max style setting quite well. While there’s definitely a cartoonish look to the characters and world, it’s offset by bursts of violence, gore, and just the disgusting world worn look of Pandora’s inhabitants. This mix of styles helps to make Borderlands 2 as memorable of an experience as the original.
Borderlands 2's online system is also pretty fantastic, and great at getting you connected with players quickly an easily. Allowing for up to four players to play together via co-op, I had no trouble accepting invitations, joining public games, or opening up my own for random people to join. It isn't exactly the ideal way to play the game if you care at all about experiencing the story, as most folks seem to want to skip through cut scenes, but Borderlands 2 is definitely meant to be played with other people in tow, and is certainly the best way to experience the game. Also, the connections are generally very stable, easy to jump in and out of, and enemies scale in difficulty to the number of players present, like you'd expect to see.
Finally, the loot system, tying back into the comments about weapons, is equally fantastic. Loot drops often enough that you’ll find yourself picking up new weapons every ten to fifteen minutes. And with the weapon variety, and difference in how, say, one assault rifle compares to the next, you’ll find yourself experimenting with a lot of the dropped arsenal. There’s a nice curve to the quality of loot, with seems to ramp up in level with your character, as you’ll start to see more and more uncommon green items, which quickly make way for more blue rare items, and so on. But the randomness to drops is still present, so you have the potentially to pick up some awesome gear pretty early on, assuming you get lucky enough with your drops.
Overall, despite a small number of flaws, Borderlands 2 is well worth picking up. It provides the same action packed, RPG style experience found in the original game, spread across a larger world with lot more stuff to do and explore. The shooting feels a bit tighter, and more refined than the previous game, and the new class styles go a long way towards making this feel like a fresh experience. I’m eagerly awaiting a chance to play through the game a second time, and find myself equally excited for expanded content via DLC. So if you’re even remotely on the fence about this title, I’d definitely suggest checking it out.