Platforms: Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360 (reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One
In Borderlands 2 you take on the role of vault hunter. Like in the previous game, when you start you’ll be able to choose one of four classes, each with its own special abilities. After surviving a brutal train wreck you’ll find yourself on the planet of Pandora with one goal: get a vault key from the evil villain known simply as Handsome Jack before he can unleash whatever may be waiting inside. While the story of Borderlands 2 is better than its predecessor, it still feels like it only exists so you always have somewhere to go and something to do. Very rarely will you feel invested in the characters or care what happens to them.
While you may not feel truly invested in the story, what you get is well written. The characters you meet along the way are over the top and provide quite a few laughs throughout. If you played the first game you might also recognize a few familiar faces, which was a nice touch. One issue I encountered numerous times, which hindered the storytelling, was getting dialog during combat. You are constantly being communicated with by a random assortment of people. These people include, but aren’t limited to, those that have sent you on quests or various random characters found on Echo recordings scattered throughout Pandora. These moments offer insight into the story of Borderlands 2, but usually come when you’re in the heat battle and you can’t help but be distracted making most information null.
For me personally, Borderlands’ inability to take itself serious is what keeps the story from being all that compelling and you know, that‘s not a bad thing. The over the top characters and absurd story beats (when you’re actually able to pay attention to them) are actually refreshing in this day of overly serious video games. Let’s be honest though, most of us aren’t playing Borderlands for the story. Some of the most fun I had with the game was when I would turn on some music, ignore the story, and just shoot shit.
The two greatest feelings you’ll ever have in a Borderlands game are finding a sweet gun that fits your play style and then using that gun to murder anything that dares step in your path. And I have to say, the murdering feels good. Not in the sense that I derive some kind of sick pleasure from it (I’m not some kind of freak!), but in the way the shooting feels mechanically. It may not be quite on point with the best shooters one the market, but Borderlands 2 isn’t your ordinary shooter, so in the big picture the shooting mechanics just feel right.
Borderlands 2 is as much an RPG as it is a shooter. Like many other RPGs, you’ll gain XP from killing enemies, completing quests and discovering new locations. As you collect XP you’ll level up allowing you to turn your character into a true badass. Each class has three separate skill trees you can put points into and they vary quite drastically from class to class. Once you hit level 5 you’ll get your first skill point and be able to unlock your characters unique special ability. After you’ve unlocked this ability, you’ll get to tweak and customize how your character plays. While a lot of the tweaks pertain to the aforementioned special ability, you’ll also be able to upgrade your health, shields, and everything in between. There are tons of different options and this can seem like a daunting task at first but it’s best to just jump in with both feet. If you’re not happy with the choices you’ve made you will always have the option to respec your character for a small amount of cash.
Outside of combat, collecting loot is the what you’ll spend most of your time doing in Borderlands 2. The loot you collect comes in five colors: white, green, blue, purple and orange. White items are the most common and orange are the rarest. Guns and cash are the loot you’ll come across most frequently, but you’ll also find shields, grenade mods and class mods. There are allegedly millions of different guns in the game, but most people down to just small tweaks on each other. That said, there are still dozens of truly unique guns and that was more than enough to keep the combat fresh. Shields and grenade mods are pretty much self-explanatory, but class mods can offer unique bonuses that enhance your character. There are a variety of class mods available to each of the four classes and they can boost anything from maximum health to the damage you do with elemental weapons to weapon reload speed and magazine size.
While Borderlands 2 shines as a shooter and a loot based RPG, it isn’t without its problems. The game suffers from a number of annoying issues that plagued me during my time with it. The first and most glaring is the uneven difficulty. Many times in Borderlands you’ll go from overpowered to overwhelmed. I like a good challenge, but spikes in difficulty can lead to some frustrating experiences. This problem is made far worse thanks to the infrequent checkpoint system. Every so often you’ll come across a spot where you will respawn if you die, but in most case these are so few and far between that you’ll be backtracking over large areas far too often. When you run into a difficulty spike and have to travel a long distance to get back to the battle only to instantly die again, things can grow tiresome quite fast.
Another issue I had was with the map. This time around you’ll get a mini-map, but it is almost useless for anything except spotting enemies. You’ll still be opening your inventory to check the large map more often than not. Even then sometimes you’re destination isn’t so clearly laid out. While this wasn’t a frequent occurrence, when it did happen it took me completely out of the game. I really don’t want to spend ten minutes trying to find my destination when I should be shooting ugly bugs.
On the topic of trying to find a destination, vehicles in Borderlands 2 (much like in the first game) are almost unbearable. If you’re just driving from point A to point B with little resistance, it is a passable experience. However, vehicles control terribly and it is almost impossible to drive with any sort of precision. So any mission that involves timed driving or vehicular combat can be a real test of your patience.
While Borderlands 2 doesn’t quite live up to the original game, did little to change things up this time around and has a few issues, there’s no way I could recommend against playing it. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. With dozens (if not hundreds) of hours of quests, multiple and varied areas to explore, a wide variety of enemies to kill and enough loot to keep even the biggest hoarder satisfied, there‘s plenty of fun to be had. So if you were a fan of the original game there’s more to enjoy here with the sheer addictiveness of the shoot and loot system in Borderlands 2 and it is definitely worth both your time and money.