“You’re cordially invited bitch!”
We didn’t like Borderlands; there we said it. The mundane lifeless world of Pandora wasn’t any fun to explore, the difficulty spikes throughout the levelling curve were unfair and the story, what little there was of it, had hardly any closure to reward the player’s constant suffering at the hands of intergalactic insects, trash talking yokels and robots. So it would be fair to say we weren’t expecting too much from the sequel, as usually those grind-heavy loot-centric games don’t tend to strike a chord with us – thankfully we were wrong.
Just like the first game Borderlands 2 is a class-based open-world first-person shooter with four different classes to choose from – dual-gun touting Berzerker, ESP-powered Siren, invisible-turning Assassin, and turret-packing Commando – yet this experience hooked us in a way the first one never did. The emphasis on gaining XP for kills, completing missions and finding more extravagant guns are all here, but it’s the freshly added plot details which makes Gearbox’s sequel so damn entertaining.
The world of Pandora has changed, it’s imbued with a new sense of character shirking aside the dull as dishwater Mad Max motifs which dominated the first game, and in its place is something much more akin to the randomness of South Park mixed with Firefly. The antagonist Handsome Jack is the ideal personification of this with regular tirades against the player, challenging their masculinity while adding context to his sinister side. He’s like a car salesmen with a gun, you know he’s going to lead you down the garden path, but you aren’t sure exactly how. Major characters like Lilith and Roland return from the previous game, and overall the main fiction just feels a lot tighter.
You’re still a vault hunter, with the hidden prize this time unlocking a world-ending weapon which mustn’t fall in Handsome Jack’s hands, but the juxtaposition for the story is much more engaging – simply because it has been more thought out. The dialogue in particular has been tweaked to such a fantastic degree that you’ll regularly chuckle at the kooky nature of the characters or whatever random slice of pop culture is thrown in for colour. A lot of the really great material, much like Skyrim oddly, is hidden away in the side quests be it organising a tea party to kill a bandit who murdered the host’s parents, or a story of a hostage befriending two ‘wall chairs’ to get through a particular nasty session of torture. Tonally these don’t sound like the comedy gold that they actually are, but the characters are so well rounded yet flawed, in a Josh Whedon kind of way actually, that you can’t help but root for them.
Gearbox writers deserve massive credit for producing these characters which are genuinely very funny. There were even a few times where we took missions way below our level, even though we knew the loot wasn’t going to be any good and the XP yields were minimal – we just wanted to spend more time with that character.
All of this story context has transformed this series from something that you only previously wanted to play in four-player co-op, to a game which you can easily play on your own and still have a really good time. Playing with others is still fun though; watching the different class abilities mix together is really enjoyable, with enemy number and challenge ramping up as more players join your game. The PvP arenas have been replaced with simple one versus one and item drops are still a case of first come first served.
Gun design has also become much more extravagant with each of the game’s fictional manufacturers producing wares which players will quickly grow an affinity for. The lifeless efficiency of Hyperion weaponry may be more efficient, but they don’t boast the insanity of Jakobs’ pistols. Status effects for each weapon also return, so guns can coat enemies in acid, set them on fire, drain their shields with electrical effects etc. This adds an extra element to battles against Brutes carrying midgets at the front of their shields or transforming robots which shift from their bi-pedal form into jets whenever you’ve clearly gotten the upper-hand. Combat feels reactive, snappy and fun, and seeing as auto-respawn machines are never too far away from skirmishes you aren’t penalised too heavily for jumping in all guns blazing, just a nominal cash amount and a short walk. The different classes available also encourage different styles of play, which makes subsequent playthroughs, even though a complete run takes at least forty hours, attractive if only to unlock those nifty level fifty skills. And there’s also a new Badass Rank system which allows you to increase stack modifier tokens, be it quickening weapon firing rate, increasing health,or tweaking the rate at which your shield recharges across all your different characters – finally rewarding those who like running alternate characters.
Borderlands 2 is a revisionist’s sequel. An effort which takes all the wrongs of a first attempt and rights them with a flair and confidence which wasn’t originally there. This is a polished, deep and fully evolved loot-driven experience which has more than enough character and context to pull you through even the hardest of challenges. If you’re searching for something to satisfy that loot lust post-Diablo 3, or you’re interested in a surrealist experience into the strange and kooky then Gearbox’s latest certainly has your back.
A bizarre, sweary and ridiculously addictive looter shooter!
Tags: Borderlands 2
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