Review – Borderlands 2

The original Borderlands snuck up on a gaming public that really didn’t expect much, and proceeded to blow them away with some loot-collecting loveliness.  This time around though there’s a whole heap of hype for Gearbox Software to contend with. The people expect, so does Borderlands 2 deliver?

In a word, yes. In more words, Borderlands 2 takes everything that made the original such a hit, tweaks a few of the bigger complaints, and makes it all that bit bigger and brasher. If you didn’t like it the first time around, don’t expect this sequel to change your mind. This is very much a case of more of the same, and that’s a damn good thing.

The storyline around Borderlands 2 revolves around the search for another vault, with even further untold riches, power and a weapon that can destroy the planet. Players will traverse Pandora looking to beat main baddy Handsome Jack to the vault, and thus save the people of Pandora from becoming the next Alderaan. There’s resistances, cults and all manner of characters who are met on the way to aid and disrupt the player’s task.

Among all the headshots, explosions and vehicular murder lies a brilliant sense of humour that will have the player genuinely chuckling away to themselves. In the first 20 minutes alone Claptrap comes out with a heap of funny quips, and some of the stuff Handsome Jack himself comes away with is hilariously irreverent towards the player. Given how dispensable the general plot feels, having so much entertaining dialogue between characters is most pleasing. The writing shows a game that is more than willing to acknowledge and indulge in the ridiculousness of its world. It takes the unique brand of humour from the first game and runs with it.

One of the criticisms of Borderlands was the lack of variety, in both enemies and locales.  Let’s face it if you shot one skag in a desert, you shot 10,000. Addressing this concern was high on Gearbox’s list during development, and its evident from the off, as you start in a rather beautiful icy tundra. From there the locations mix up nicely, with each uncovered area feeling like a fresh new discovery. Enemies are also plenty varied with robots, bandits, monsters and those much-loved skags all waiting to be littered with bullets.

Lovely backdrops and enemies are all well and good, but the real stars of the show here are the guns, those wonderful guns. So much time in Borderlands can be spent simply browsing weapon stats and looking for the perfect setup. It quickly becomes compulsive. Add in the far more varied skill trees and this game is a statisticians dream. 2K Games PR material claims a ‘bazillion guns’ are in its game, it would be difficult to argue against that statement when the dizzying numbers of weapon stats are swirling around your head mid-game.

Loot is what turns the game from a jaunt along blowing up some baddies into a compulsive collecting experience, with some firefights in between. Borderlands 2 is almost Diablo-like in the way it makes the player become addicted to looking for that next gun case or locker, just in case there’s something that little bit better/rarer waiting to be found. And many times there is, so the player feels rewarded and continues on as the cycle of compulsion renews.

Online multiplayer has become even slicker, and as before, the bigger your party the badder the enemies and rarer the loot. It’s where Borderlands really comes alive, as four players all work cohesively sharing (or stealing) loot and sharing tips and tricks. Playing online I found that higher-level players were more than willing to ‘escort’ lower players through tricky parts of the game, allowing them to pick up powerful weapons to keep for when they reached a level to use them and extra cash for upgrades. The feeling of excitement at going somewhere you really aren’t meant to be yet is brilliant, especially when those higher levels take an almost parental style interest in protecting their weaker squad member. The game builds a level of camaraderie that is sadly lacking in many online FPS games and online gaming in general.

Borderlands 2 is by no means perfect, it can become infuriating at certain points. There are still the odd bugs that result in vehicles or players becoming stuck on scenery and needing to either kill themselves or reset. And playing alone in later stages often degenerates into a shoot-hide-die-respawn war of attrition against wave after wave of enemies. But given the sheer joy that Borderlands brings when it hits full flow, these problems can be somewhat forgiven and in many cases ignored.

Borderlands 2 is one of the games of the year, whether it is the game of the year remains to be seen. Fans of the original will think this is mana from heaven, and many newcomers will instantly fall for the wonderful humour and charm that Pandora oozes from every pore. This game will last you months on end with friends, especially when there’s four very different classes to master. Given the quality of the world, combat and sheer amount of time that can be squeezed out of the game, Borderlands 2 is spectacular value for money and one of the high points of an extremely crowded genre. See you in Pandora.

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