on 28 November 2012
Borderlands 2 is an absolutely spot-on sequel to 2009s Borderlands. Everything that made the first game great returns, and everything that felt a little limp in the original has been sharpened, producing an astonishing game that contains hours of fun.
You begin the game in the wilderness after surviving a train crash. As you play through the main story, visiting incredible and bizarre settings, you discover a plot to control all of Pandora, and it is your task to prevent the opening of a second vault by Handsome Jack; the leader of the Hyperion Corporation. It's not a complicated tale, but the main storyline is only a tiny fragment of what Borderlands 2 is all about. Sidequests is an equally large attraction, and there are hundreds of these this time round, with some forming longer questlines with multiple bosses, and others being simple "go here, collect this" missions. All of these are, of course, adorned with that classic Borderlands humour, which (if anything) has been heavily refined since the first game (more on this later).
Of course, one of the things you should expect from the sequel to Borderlands is a lot of loot and millions (or bazillions...) of guns. There are several types of weapons, from Pistols, SMGs and Assault Rifles to Sniper Rifles, Shotguns and Rocket Launchers, each of which handles completely differently, and requires its own type of ammunition. As well as this, there are various weapon manufacturers, each of which have their own "trademark" features, such as Dahl's guns, which all feature burst fire when scoped, to Jacob's guns, which can fire as fast as you can pull the trigger. While some manufacturers have less interesting effects (such as Maliwan's useful elemental focus and Vladof's increasing rate of fire), others have exciting (and not always useful!) abilities, such as Tediore's ability for the gun to be thrown like a grenade instead of reloading, before reconstructin (digi-structing) back into the users hand.
Many weapons also have elemental effects, which are significantly more useful than in the first game. Fire is useful against flesh, electricity against shields and corrosive (acid) against armour. Borderlands 2 also introduces "slag" weapons, which use a newly discovered bi-product of the Eridium refining process. When an enemy is 'slagged' by a slag-based weapon, they take a lot more damage from all other weapon types for a period of time.
There are also shields, grenades and class mods, which all return from the first game, except with more unusual abilities that allow a higher degree of customisation to your character. Borderlands 2 also introduces Relics; non-character specific additions that allow you to boost certain stats, such as your chances of collecting rare loot, or your effectiveness when using certain weapons. All weapons and items are scaled to your current level, so as you progress through the story, you will discover better and better guns and items, allowing you to keep up with the enemies you are fighting.
While all four characters start off the game pretty much identical, once you hit level five (about 30 minutes - 1 hour into the game), you start being able to unlock special abilities of your choice that are locked to the character you have chosen. Each character has three skill trees available at level 6, each of which focuses on a different set of abilities. You can either fill out a single tree, or spread your points (1 per level increase) across multiple trees. The further down a tree you go, the more powerful those skills become. While this system was present in Borderlands 1, this time round, the options feel considerably more interesting, and have a greater effect on the way you play.
The first character is Salvador, who is known as the "Gunzerker". His obsession with guns lead him towards having various abilities that enhance his use of weapons. His main ability is Gunzerking, which allows him to wield two guns at once for a short period of time. While this initially sounds extremely helpful, my experience of playing as Salvador was rather disappointing. Once you get over his ability to use two shotguns at the same time, there's very little that's revolutionary here.
Axton is the second character. He's very similar in gameplay style to Roland from the first game. His ability is to throw out a turret which automatically aims at enemies in the vicinity. By upgrading Axton's turret via his skill trees, you can add a second turret to his arsenal, allow the turrets to stick to walls and ceilings instead of being confound to the floor, and produce nuclear blasts when the turret is deployed. Axton is mainly an improvement on Borderland's Soldier class, but is a significant improvement.
Zer0 is the 'Assassin' of the game. He specialises in either long-range or short-range combat, depending on how you choose to spend his skill points. His ability is to become temporarily invisible while leaving behind a copy of himself. When in this Decepti0n mode, he is able to see the world from a kind of "digital" perspective, giving him the ability to see even invisible enemies. His sword can then be used to launch a silent and deadly melee attack. By upgrading Zer0's powers, you can remain in Decepti0n mode almost indefinitely. Zer0's class is particularly fun to play, especially if you find FPSs same-y or boring.
The final class is my favourite. Maya is this games 'Siren': strange, magical women who are able to wield incredible inter-dimensional powers. As well as potentially having a large focus on elemental damage (by level 20, it was almost impossible for me NOT to deal elemental damage to enemies), Maya has the ability to Phaselock, which causes a single enemy to be caught in a dimensional bubble. It is then held a few metres above the battlefield, immobilised, allowing players to either kill it without it fighting back, or focus on other targets temporarily. Maya is the character I have played as most, and feel that both her and Zer0 are great improvements on the equivalent classes from the first game.
During the game, you travel from snow-covered wastelands to cities, deserts, caves, volcanos and many other vast landscapes. Unlike Borderlands' rather dull-looking locations (many of which were simply large, open deserts with rocks... lots of rocks), Borderlands 2's most noticeable leap forward is in terms of its bright, vibrant visuals. Many of the locations are breathtaking, with striking colours that perfectly compliment the games unique art-style. While other, more realistic-looking games couldn't possibly pull off this level of vibrancy, Borderland 2 achieves something particularly spectacular. The locations are more densely populated too, with far less driving from one side of a desert to the other, and a lot more exploring the whole world of Pandora. There are more types of enemies this time round. Skags, bandits and psychos return, but along with them are Loaders (Hyperion robots), Bullymongs (sort of like gorilla... things) and various different troops. More variety in the enemies requires a larger variety in gameplay, and different tactics must be applied to each opponent.
As well as large natural environments, the game includes various city-based areas. While Borderland's Fyrestone and New Haven were nice enough, Borderlands 2 is home to Sanctuary; a more densely populated town that plays the role of being your main base during the entirety of the game. Many characters from the first game can be found here, including Dr. Zed, Marcus and Moxxi, all of which have set up home there. Of course, Claptrap - everybody's favourite dancing robot - is present here too!
Speaking of Claptrap, the humour in Borderlands 2 is a significant improvement over the previous game. While Borderlands was known for being a humorous game, many of the jokes were a little bit obscure. It felt as though humour had been added to a fairly serious game, whereas in Borderlands 2, the entire storyline revolves around humorous moments. Of course, the threat to Pandora is serious, but there are many moments (mainly involving Claptrap) that are laugh-out-loud funny. With the success of Claptrap, Gearbox have dared to make him a more vital part of the storyline, and it pays off. Many of the game's best lines are delivered by either him, or Handsome Jack - a character whose cruelty is only outweighed by his constant insistance that HE is the hero, and YOU (the player) are the villain.
Perhaps my favourite new addition to the game is the inclusion of "Badass Points". These carry over between each character you use, and are a series of challenges that require you to complete certain tasks, such as killing a certain number of a certain type of enemy, or causing a certain amount of fire damage. These points can then be spent on upgrading stats, such as shield capacity, melee damage, gun accuracy or elemental effect chance. In many ways, this replaces Borderlands' "weapon proficiency" statistics, but is a more engaging system.
On a whole, everything that made Borderlands a fantastic game remains here. If you enjoyed the many hours of gameplay that the previous game had to offer, then you will find Borderlands 2 certainly delivers on its promise of more. But so much has been added to this game; features have been sharpened, issues have been resolved, and Borderlands 2 manages to be a better game in every way. With Gearbox constantly listening to their fans' reactions, its no surprise that they've managed to produce such an amazing game that IMPROVES ON THE ORIGINAL IN EVERY WAY.
A fantastic game, whether you're playing alone, with friends, or online.
Learning-Curve: Harsh at times, but in general, perfect.
A must-buy for any fan of co-op games!