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Review: Borderlands 2

October 5, 2012

Locked, Loaded and ready for some violence

I was asked recently by someone, ‘So what’s Borderlands 2 about?’ and to be honest I gave the simple answer in fear of boring said person to death. So I told him, ‘It’s like Diablo with guns’ but that is doing this masterpiece a huge disservice and a disservice I won’t repeat here. Borderlands 2 is a massive, sprawling mess of gun fire, humour and a cast of faulted but loveable characters.

This review is SPOILER FREE

PLOT

Borderlands 2 takes place five years following its predecessor, again taking place on the bad-watered planet called Pandora. Pandora has been a haven for bandits, thieves, mercenaries and those just looking out to make a dirty dollar. It is also a haven for Vault Hunters who, like you could guess, hunt for Vaults; secret, underground caches which are said to hold untold riches. However, the last Vault opened five years earlier, proved to be only a disappointment to the original Vault hunters, Lilith, Roland, Mordecai and Brick. The Vault here only held the destroyer, an ancient alien creature bent on destroying everything in the Universe. The resilient Vault Hunters triumphed, but left empty-handed. Though the Vault did produce riches, an alien element called Eridium which has gained the attention of the Hyperion Company. Hyperion are a massive arms manufacturer led by their egotistical President and CEO Handsome Jack. Handsome Jack is searching for another Vault that will give him control of vast powers so he can dominate and destroy the remaining inhabitants of Pandora whether they be bandit or innocent citizens. So, of course, Vault Hunters aren’t allowed to take one step on Pandora and that’s where Borderlands 2 kicks off. As a group of four new Vault Hunters on Pandora are immediately tricked by Handsome Jack, it leads to a gigantic explosion, which you of course survive and are saved by one lonely little Claptrap out on Pandora’s frozen tundras.

PRESENTATION

First things first, Borderlands 2 looks lush and vibrant, much like its predecessor but with tonnes more variety. Ranging from the snowy tundras of the Southern Shelf, where you can almost hear the huge ice cliffs cracking deeply, to the sick golden crystal caves of Caustic Cavern: vast lakes of toxic green acid, deadly yellow vapours rising and twirling from bubbly cauldrons. Then there’s the silver and yellow Hyperion-built city, Opportunity, a lamented corporate city dotted with massive statues of Handsome Jack reading a book, crushing a crimson raider underfoot or cradling an infant child. The art direction is as well founded and well constructed as Borderlands, but with more colour, more life and more atmosphere. And it’s all wrapped together in the wonderful cell-shading. Along with the environments, all the major character models, both friend and foe, are unique, unconventional and encapsulate the same gritty off-the-wall aspect that ran through the whole of Borderlands.

Characters, humour and writing all take an upgrade over Borderlands. In Borderlands all the characters might as well have been sticks with job lists pinned to them for all the character interaction and intrigue they had. But within the first few hours of Borderlands 2 you meet characters that are more fleshed out and more realised than the entire cast of Borderlands. That’s not too say the old cast, which make very awesome returns to the story, didn’t get a new lease of life. Meeting Litith the Siren was a blast in Borderlands 2 and gave you a new look into her as a person, and the same goes for Roland, Brick and Mordecai. The writing for them is so much better that it actually makes you develop genuine feelings of good-will towards them. Feelings that the writers and plotpoints really pull on later in the story and leave an actual emotional impact, far greater than Borderlands.

And you will find plenty of other rogues and roguettes to enjoy. The most prominent include Sir Hammerlock, who is a take on the olden day british jungle explorers, and who has a distinct hatred of Claptrap: ‘Every time I heard Claptrap speak I feel my braincells committing suicide one by one’ and doesn’t mind breaking the fourth wall: ‘Bah I’m spouting exposition again – apologies’.

There’s also Tiny Tia, who is one deadly 13 year old, and has a bizarre relationship with her childhood and her own brutality. Not to mention Dr. Tannis, who is an insane(ly) smart, socially awkward scientist who finds social interaction disgusting to the point of nausea and panic attacks, ‘Bacon is for sycophants and the product of incest’.

And of course we cant forget our brilliant villain: Handsome Jack is the single funniest antagonist ever, he can make you laugh, make you rage and really f**k you off. A perfectly realised villain who gives so much to the story and makes you love and hate him all in one go.

So character interaction is more developed and backstories are really explored but in an easy digestible format, and only if you really want to listen. If not, and you ain’t in it for that, you aren’t forced to sit and listen, but in my opinion those conversations were always worth listening to and were very enjoyable

The writing is solid and the humour (only some examples I have given) is gut-wrenchingly funny and immature and just keeps giving. Even to the point that every time you feel like the tank is running dry, you get another burst of funny, incredibly sickening and torturously dark lines that just hit you right in the funny bone. I don’t want to spoil any plot points, because its really that good. A first person shooter you can actually play for the story, if you really want to, and to be honest I still haven’t finished it yet (because of an interfering social life). I can tell you this though, playing Borderlands 2 is that much of an experience, even beyond its main selling point. An awesome, addictive and mind-bogglingly deep mix of First Person Shooter and RPG.

Gearbox market the game as the game with a gazillion guns and, yes, that is the main draw for most people and it’s good news on that front. All the guns are ridiculously good fun to experiment with and every time you squeeze off a couple of rounds with your new weapon you get that same giddy sense of immaturity of just relishing having a sweet new weapon to blast fools in half with.

You all know what a fan of game music I am and that I feel it adds greatly to the final product. Well Borderlands 2, I’m happy to say, doesn’t disappoint and has some really great firefight music which only makes starting a crazy, out-of-control firefight all the more satisfying.

GAMEPLAY

Out-numbered by Never Out-gunned

As I’ve said before, Borderlands 2 is a blend of a fast paced First Person Shooter and Role Playing. The First Person Shooter gameplay promotes both run and gun and long style tactical shooting playstyles (if it takes your fancy) but both are sickeningly satisfying and always leave you wanting more and more. The first person shooting is so smooth and rewarding that it can take on the biggest names in the franchise and doesn’t fall in the military shooter feel. The range of weapons is simply unexplainable. You can get different gun manufacturers that create their very own guns, which all share similar characteristics. Jakobs’ are all about pulling the trigger as fast as possible, ‘Fan that Hammer Cowboy’, whereas Maliwan specialise in elemental effects. So that’s explosive, incendiary, electrocution and corrosive which all damage their targets over time, as well as the new elemental effect known as Slag, which coats your targets in purple Eridium slag increasing all non-Slag damage. Each gun you find can range vastly in damage, fire rate, magazine size and reload speed, making for a lot of comparison of stats, which RPG fans will relish, but won’t compound First Person Shooter fans. There are other unique perks that can be processed by guns, such as increased ammo consumption for damage multipliers and throwing your gun when you reload, which explodes then materialises back into your hand. And of course let’s not forget to mention that, yes ,vehicle sections are included in Borderlands 2 and act as a nice little change of pace from all the manic gun violence.

RPG fans will be delighted with gaining experience and religiously levelling their characters so they can afford that next tempting skill. Three distinctive skill trees for each character gives you endless repeatability. Each of the characters can be different between the same class or between all four classes. It’s a whole bunch of stats, experience and satisfying level dings that even the casual RPG player will obsess over.

The four new characters are Salvador the Gunzerker, Axton the Commando, Zero the Assassin and Maya the Siren. Each can give you a vast, but equally enjoyable experience of course all depending how you want to play and how you want to spec their abilities, and if you get it wrong dont worry you can always re-spec (reassign) your skill points to different skill trees.

Each character gets three distinct skill trees which you can mix and match or just max one out for massive effectiveness. Each character gets a powerful ability that is unlocked at level 5 and are all awesome in their own special way.

The Gunzerker basically plays like a giant bullet dispenser. He’s brilliant fun, especially once you’ve unlocked the duel-wield Gunzerker ability, which lets you use two of your guns at the same time for a period of time. You can specialise the Gunzerker to be a bullet sponge, resilient against the increasing hordes you have to face, or make him the full damage dealer, spending much of your time in Gunzerker mode and racking up the kills. His Special SKILLS include from the Brawn Skill tree ‘Come at me Bro’ – Pressing L2 while gunzerking will instantly grant you full health and massive damage reduction by all enemies, who are more likely to attack you. From the Rampage Skill Tree ‘ Keep Firing…’ – While gunzerking, the longer you hold down the trigger the faster your guns fire and the faster you reload.

The Assassin plays, well, like an assassin. His special ability, ‘Deception’ projects a rampaging image of himself, sword flashing and twirling while you silently move away and count down the moments until you take your vital shot (be quick, you are only given 5 seconds, but the longer you wait, the more critical the damage you deal). Assassin can be specialised to deal massive damage with either sniper rifles (improving critical damage, scope zoom and gun stability) or with his neon blue sword. His Special SKILLS include from the Sniping Skill Tree ‘Critical AscensiOn’ – Scoring a Crit hit with a Sniper rifle increases your damage and Crit hit damage with Sniper rifles. This effect can stack 999 times. From the Cunning Skill Tree: ‘Death BlOssOm’ – Pressing L2 while in Deception will make you throw a handful of Kunai knives, each knife will exploding with a random elemental type, e.g. corrosive, fire etc.

The Commando has a special ability much like Roland from Borderlands. Axton gets a Sabre turret which he can summon for fire support, and a nice little change they added was that you can reclaim the turret once all the enemies are disappeared or its position is suddenly no longer effective. By reclaiming it you also reduce its charge time. His Special SKILLS include from the Guerilla Skill Tree: ‘Double Up’ – Adds a 2nd gun to your Sabre turret and changes both guns to fire slag rounds and the from the Gunpowder Skill Tree: ‘Nuke’ – Deploying your sabre turret sets off a small nuclear blast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Siren has an ability to phaselock an enemy in mid-air, making them vulnerable to hovering in the air or keeping them out of the action, letting you deal with other lesser enemies or ready yourself in the middle of a firefight. Her Special SKILLS include from the Cataclysm Skill Tree: ‘Ruin’ – Phaselock now slags, electrocutes and corrodes all nearby enemies. And from the Harmony Skill Tree: ‘Life Tap’ – A kill Skill, killing an enemy causes you to steal health from any enemy you damage. This effects lasts a short while.

The different class trees are obviously tailored for a four party squad. Gunzerker acting as a tank or massive damage dealer, Commando as a fire support with his turrets. Siren can even be a potential healer with a skill from her Harmony Skill tree called ‘Res’, which instantly revive a friend in Fight for Your Life by using phaselock on him/her. Assassin canbe  used as either long-range support, scouting or hit and run. This can make a really enjoyable, diverse co-operative adventure or vastly change how you play your single player characters. Another nice little touch is the wide and weird range of character skins and head models you can unlock which can really give your characters a nicely different zany look aside from the dull default options. For example, my Gunzerker has the ‘Breaking Bald’ head model which makes him look like everyone’s favourite meth-producing chemistry teacher, Walter White.

All equally unique and badass

One massive improvement in Borderlands 2 is the menu interface which is easily the best improvement Gearbox made. It is no longer a torture to compare guns in your backpack, equip new guns or distinguish your good guns from the crap guns you want to sell. It’s nice and open, easy on the eye and much easier to navigate.

LITTLE PROBLEMS

There are a few tiny problems, such as texture pop in, especially on consoles. There’s also the same split screen co-op menu crush where you can only see the middle of your menu when accessing it in split screen.

Although the A.I is quite improved, the A.I is not without its hiccups. Sometimes enemies are almost telepathic, impossible to outflank and won’t remain in cover unless you make yourself clearly open for attack, and then at other times they are almost completely ignorant of your presence, especially when in a weird long-range/short-range limbo that only they seem to understand. Another problem that can sometimes make the frantic firefights even more stressing is when you get jammed on a piece of surrounding scenery for no reason.

I recently read an article on Joystiq.com that states that, on rare occurrences, saves are almost completely wiped from the player’s system, which reminds me of how I lost my first Borderlands save, meaning that I never bothered returning and grinding out my character to the same level. This could be a deal breaker for many and I know I wouldn’t be at all pleased to find my characters wiped. But be brave, because Borderlands 2 is worth it and hopefully Gearbox will fix this problem quickly.

FINAL THOUGHTS

For me, Borderlands 2 is an innovative, enjoyable and amazing First Person Shooter. It stands out of the current crowd and gives endless hours of addictive gameplay that you can lose hours to. And isn’t that what gaming is about: being immersed and enjoying the experience? On these grounds Borderlands 2 could be the best First Person Shooter I’ve played for years. And if you think the game couldn’t get better we can look forward to a new DLC character on the 16th of October: Gaige the Mechromancer.

Doesnt that just look fun?!

VERDICT

Play it!

 

Image Links: end-gamers.com, guardian.co.uk, joystiq.com, joystiq.com, vg247.com

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