Welcome Travelers! Get ready to pack your best Maliwan tech sniper rifle and a hip holstered Hyperion six shooter, Gearbox Studios is back with a vengeance in Borderlands 2. The short and skinny, don’t play this game if you are looking for a high-class, civil, and politically correct experience It’s just not going to happen, and Borderlands 2 is so good because of it. In this game, you are going back to Pandora, and no, you’re not on a quest to go find a poorly named mineral and make love to a bunch of really tall blue cat-monkeys.
There’s a little bit of a brief history that is in order, in case you are a somewhat new to the Borderlands ‘franchise’. Borderlands (1) was a very interesting play in and of itself. In a time when first person military-esque shooters were all the rage and clogging the markets with their pure DLC garbage and poor game-play mechanics (as they usually do), Borderlands was kind of a diamond in the rough. Multi-player co-op first person shooter RPG with a sprinkle of super-powers in a post-apocalyptic atmosphere on a distant desert planet. Sure it was another first person shooter, but it was a pleasant surprise that you got to level up as well like an old school RPG. By doing so you would gain and allocate skill points which then turned into some interesting game play elements and unlock abilities like gun turrets, “phase-walking” (you phase to another dimension and walk around untouched and re-appear, all while unleashing huge explosions upon exit and re-entry… it’s a little cooler than it sounds), throwing a huge bird at people’s face, and of course, when all else fails, throw down your guns and just punch the living daylights out of even the most gargantuan “badass” bandit.
The humor in Borderlands was pretty lowbrow and crass, but in the setting, it fits quite well. A little bit of gore here, some terrible gross yet silly jests (for example: a boss going by the name of 9-toes/3-balls), and the absolutely lovable character and guide CL4P-TP. As kind of a side note: The Borderlands DLC was pretty fun as well, featuring things like a loot filled armory to assault and a zombie/werewolf/Frankenstein mansion to explore.
Flash forward a little bit to now and here we have Borderlands 2. In this title, the sequel, our story takes place a few years after the last game. Gearbox tries to bring you up to speed, so to speak, if you have not played through the first game. Sadly there are some pretty massive spoilers, and frankly there has to be, as the original story was pretty world changing in quite a few ways. The characters are different this time around as well. And for now there are the standard 4 characters (players 1-4, so you don’t end up with clones of everyone being the same character. I mean… you can… but what’s fun in that?).
So lets break down some of the characters. Axton the soldier is a pretty cut, copy, and paste from the previous game. His super power is like the soldier of Borderlands (1) where you throw down a portable gun turret. There’s a bit of a difference now though; Borderlands 2 turret is nothing but awesome. It’s thrown out like a grenade and constructs its massive gun barrel in a matter of moments and starts laying automated waste to the countryside. Although each character has 3 talent “trees” to choose how they progress through the game, I had the most fun with the turret tree as you get to watch your turret grow and gain features both statistically and visually. Such things are like you can put a laser sight on it, missile pods, a second machine gun, and just toss it into a group baddies and watch the slaughter.
Next on the alphabetical list is Maya. I sadly haven’t had much experience playing her. Though I have been in parties with someone else as her. She is definitely the crowd controller character. Nearly every enemy in the game can be frozen in mid-air with her “phase-lock” ability (which is a giant bubble like singularity that sucks in enemies and does various nasty things to them before letting them go or explode in a shower of gore) and she is the closest to a supernatural superhero in this way. As in the last game, she is the heavy elemental damage dealer (shock, acid, fire, slag, and explosion) that has various effects according to different target types.
I love the class name for the character Salvador He’s a Gunzerker! (A berserker rager with guns…..”GUNZERKAAAHH” as I like to call out over my xbox live headset). An angry short squat Latino who takes nothing from nobody. And the fact that he can just decide to dual wield any gun at any time. Two pistols, OK. Two shotguns, that’s fine too. Two heavy assault rifles sure why not? Two multi-rocket launches, Now we’re talk’n. Just pick up and go. He’s kind of a party tank, which was sort of “Brick’s” job in the previous game. Lots of damage output and an overall fun class (especially when you unlock his one fingered “taunt” ability).
And now the crowed favorite, everybody’s lovable, huggable, and all ’round good guy Zer0. He’s an assassin in a mask, three fingers and a thumb. So far the jury’s out on his whole story. Can’t even tell if he’s human, maybe an alien, or even a robot. All we really know for sure is that he favors sniper rifles and getting in real close and personal. His special power is stealth. When he goes invisible, he shoots out a hologram that entices foes to target it instead of you. It takes a while to get the hang of it, as holograms just don’t soak up many bullets…but at higher levels it becomes quite handy. The thing I’m most happy with with Zer0 is his big freaking machete. There’s just some special satisfaction to know that the lowest health member o f the party can just walk up and gank the big bosses. One thing that I was disappointed in with zero, was that I was really hoping that Zer0 would have distinct kill animations dependent on enemy type… but I apparently have been playing far too much Skyrim. As a side note with Zer0, he communicates to other players through emoticons displayed in front of his helmet. Sadly the player playing as Zer0 has no idea what’s going on, but if your the outside looking in, you can watch his “face” for some pretty funny and good timed emoticons (like being shot and you’re left dying, and everyone else sees “FML” when they look at you).
And then there’s Handsome Jack, the villain. He needs a special shout out, just for him. I don’t think I’ve ever, in all my video game experience, found a villain that I wanted to punch right in his smiling face so hard that he could see the lotto numbers for next Tuesday. Right from the start of the game and all throughout, he taunts and jests at you. Gearbox did a great job filtering the “you are the 99% poor vault hunter, and Jack’s the 1% wealthy guy stamping you down” into the character’s personality and speech patterns. One of my favorite “encounters” with jack has to do with a particular horse he’s purchased in spite of your character. It’s hard to talk about Handsome Jack without spoiling anything plot-worthy, however.
Another thing that should be discussed is some pretty clever game mechanics. As I was telling a friend while in the middle of a firefight “It’s kind of Diablo in space”. Which is kind of true. The game’s ultimate goal is to kick ass and get loot, not necessarily in that order. The random loot generator is quite immense. There’s just tons and tons and tons of loot. Guns, grenades, all sorts of stuff are randomly generated with various looks, reload styles, effects, bullet physics, you name it. There are even guns that reload by throwing the empty gun at your opponent which it explodes shortly there after, then you just ‘make’ another gun that has bullets in it this time.
Another mechanics thing that is just wonderful is the customization of individual character appearance. Just brilliant. Everyone can unlock these “upgrades” by playing as specific characters, and through time, there are just a ton of different options and fun things to choose from. It boils down to two different stylistic categories of heads (gas masks, goggles, abd helmets) and “skins” (color schemes and logos). That way people don’t get confused if there’s multiple players with the same class, everyone looks different. You can also get different skins for your vehicles to better tell them apart while you run over as many robots and skags as you can fit under your tires.
There are a couple things that just didn’t quite jibe with me this time around and they are pretty much the same issues I had from the last game. The first issue I have with the game is kind of a given. It is quite more difficult and not nearly as fun to play solo as it is with a bunch of friends. There are options around this, including an open public game. Though the open public game creates the issue of loot ninjas. That is, people that join games to steal loot from other players whether it’s for their class or not. The other minor issue I have is that the awesome music doesn’t carry all the way through. There’s some pretty good combat music, but there are still long periods of just ambient background “world” noise and nothing to really listen too as your running from objective A-B. But even then with those two minor issues, it’s a pretty great game.
Saddle up, it’s going to get crazy out there.
Released: September 18, 2012
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Gearbox Studios
Genre: First Person Role Playing Shooter
Available On: PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3