When gaming season was returning in 2012, I looked across the Autumn release schedule with trepidation. Unusually for me, there was nothing of note that cried out “must buy” to me, with just a few titles sating my interest.
That was until I remembered Borderlands 2 was out in September, and I went batshit fanboy.
You see when it comes to games franchises, Borderlands by 2K Games and Gearbox has become one of my shining beacons of joy. I previously wrote about the first game on this site and spoke highly of it’s combination of humour, gunplay and looting mechanics. It was a dungeon raider game for the FPS crowd, and that tickled my tastebuds quite a bit. You see, even in my Champ Manager days I get obsessed with stats, checking numbers against other numbers in order to find the very best. Borderlands gave me that, plus the added bonus of killing things.
So with a sequel on the way I was giddy. The more details that came out, the more I counted the days to it’s release until a brief, panic-stricken moment about whether it was going to arrive. But arrive it did, and eagerly I shoved it in my Xbox and jumped back into the wonderfully violent (yet utterly hilarious) world of Pandora.
Borderlands 2 has you take control of a whole new set of Vault Hunters, who come across as advanced variations on the previous gang of Lilith, Roland, Brick and Mordecai. This time around you have:
Maya the Siren, who like Lilith before her can use her magical abilities against enemies in the form of a Phase Lock, holding them in place.
Axton the Commando, who is the go-to guy for turrets in place of Roland. However his turrets a tad more… advanced, shall we say.
Zero the Number, who with his scrawny body is this games Mordecai. However, instead of a killer bird he has a Phase Walk-like ability called Deception which sees him creating a clone and vanishing into a land of brutal meleeing.
And finally you have poster-boy Salvador, the Gunzerker. Whereas in the first game you had Brick with his fists, Salvador dual-wields guns to bloody, and amusing, effect.
So this ragtag group have come to Pandora, where things have changed slightly. While the Vault is your destination again, it’s for very different reasons. For instead of fame and fortune, you’re actually looking to take down a brilliantly witty villain named Handsome Jack, who runs the Hyperion Corporation and has taken credit for the first game. Cue a barrage of guns, firefights and funny side-missions given by even funnier NPCs. Some of which you may recognise from the first game… (“HEYOOOOOOO!”)
Now let’s put this as simply as possible: Borderlands 2 is Borderlands but bigger and better. There are more guns, more locations and a greater sense of scale in everything from the story to the monsters you face. I should state first of all that I, being a loner type, usually play Solo and that this time around the challenge has amplified. Not to frustrating levels, but no more do you find that by doing a few side-missions you are ridiculously over-powered and can walk through the game. Every quest will require some level of skill, with enemies becoming more clever and tactical in approaching you. There is still some element of run-n-gun, especially when playing with Salvador (my personal choice), but the wise of mind will take a more intelligent approach to some tasks.
As well you should, given that the usual cast of bandits and skags have been added to. Hulking Goliath’s join the clans, who go berserk when their helmets are shot off. Beasts in the form of gorilla-like Bullymongs (or Bonerfarts at one stage) fling boulders at you while Stalkers vanish into thin air for a stealthier attack. And that’s not even talking about the Hyperiod Corporation and their robot forces. The first time you take on a Badass Loader, with a Constructor behind it creating more and more robots to tackle, you will be tearing your hair out before unleashing unholy vengeance upon them.
And don’t worry, because there are a load of ways to unleash unholy vengeance. The game boasts a Bazillion more guns over the original, and it shows. The guns have more character now in their modifications, with the makers meaning more this time around. Vladof guns will have more bullets for your buck, Jakobs will look like they were lifted from the Old West and as for Tediore guns… well suffice to say they give a lovely surprise when reloaded. Each weapon, right down to the shields and grenades, have more personality that gives them that little difference in combat. Add to that a variety of Character Mods and Relics and you’re off to the races to take on Pandora’s very worst.
Oh, and if you want some really good guns, don’t forget to tip Moxxi in Sanctuary…
There’s a more serious tone in parts to Borderlands 2. The wacky wit of the original is still there, but a more complex story adds another layer to proceedings. With a clearly set villain in the shape of Handsome Jack, a fantastically well-done character who you will love to hate, there’s more of a focus. While grinding still exists each mission feels like it means something, whether in humour or story. I found myself a couple of times actually, gasp, caring for these people, especially when you add the Echo devices littered around levels. As for the story itself… well look forward to a lot of twists and turns that will just add to that edge-of-the-seat feeling. Borderlands 2 at times feels like a movie other than a game, and I don’t mean that in an insulting cut-scene kind of way. There’s real immersion and investment that makes you want to do that one… last… mission.
Not surprisingly, the game looks gorgeous. Like the first one it has taken on a modernised cell-shaded appearance which catches the eye. Characters have a cartoon-like look to them while also maintaining a realistic visage. Cut that across to the monsters as well, and you’ll believe you’re in another world. The various arms of the Bullymong’s in particular swing about as if they belong to the creature rather than being an extra bit of physics. The insect like Varkid’s as well look sufficiently creepy crawly in every stage of their development.
As for the locations, they have enough variety and scale to make your jaw drop with their wonder. From the frozen wastes where you start off all the way to the familiar Arid Nexus, each place you visit looks different. Much like the characters and guns, they have a look of their own which makes them stand out. The Wildlife Exploitation Reserve comes to mind in terms of attention to detail, with it’s mixture of wild enclosures and steel office areas giving the impression of a functioning place. And that’s not including the various townships you visit.
The moody audio of Borderlands returns as well, accompanying you between fights in the wastes of Pandora. Embracing the ideology of Western conventions, it’s like stepping into a sci-fi version of Red Dead Redemption. When things get tense, so does the music, pumping your adrenaline up so you’re ready to take on all-comers. But the real audible joy from Borderlands are the many wacky characters that live there. From the yokel chucklings of Scooter right down to the biting sarcasm of Handsome Jack, Gearbox and 2K have outdone themselves with a voice cast who bring both humour and feeling to the game. Every time Salvador pumps out his dual weapons, his grumblings bring a smile to my face.
So, the real question is, do I like Borderlands 2? Well of course I do, I’ve just extolled so many of it’s virtues upon you! I loved Borderlands with a passion and Borderlands 2 has amped up every aspect of it, so naturally I am head over heels with it. I mean sometimes people say you can have too much of a good thing but when you’re high-fiving Claptrap or watching someone you just helped get crushed by a supply crate, you can’t help but cheer.
Borderlands 2 is, without question, this years Game of the Year. Any argument against it would just be like dipping your balls in a Rakk’s nest.