Borderland 2 has been a long time coming, ever since it was first announced in late 2011. The announcement filled my face with joy, not only because of it being a sequel to one of the most satisfying and fun games I’ve ever played, but because of whom they announced as a writer. Anthony Burch, co-creator of the comedy video game web series, Hey Ash Watcha Playin’ was the lead writer, a man who I trust comedically and for video game writing, as much as I trust Joss Whedon for well-structured, character-driven work.
The game has a fairly simple plot, where you play a Vault Hunter who is taking on villain Handsome Jack after a mission goes awry. It’s up to you to save the world of Pandora and meet a lot of cool and funny people on the way. So the dubstep filled trailers, the extended hyperbole in all their marketing and introducing new characters have come and past, does the game live up to the hype or simply jam up at the best moments?
One thing Borderlands has often cited itself for over and over again is the amount of weaponry in the game and what you can do with them. Whilst I always thought that guns were always an afterthought in the FPS genre, it is always front and centre in the Borderlands series, but who can blame Gearbox for making a deal over something they’ve crafted so well.
Each type of gun, combined with the four classes you can choose from and your choice of quests makes for an incredibly dynamic experience as you play through Borderlands 2. Even more so when playing with friends. A co-op game will make the time fly by even for the worst and more tedious parts of the game where you may have to grind. The grind is always something that will come up in RPG titles and whilst Borderlands 2 has an FPS aesthetic, the story and RPG elements are what really make the game fun.
The grinding aspect in the beginning slows some of the pace of the game, much like the original, to a sluggish slide. However, it’s often livened up with odd characters, good dialogue and an amazing open world to explore. I will note that there is a lot of driving and exploring in the first few hours, so at some points, you may want to bring a buddy along or a playlist if you don’t enjoy some of the game’s music.
The levelling up is fixed in this game and the co-op mode is something for fans of the original and just a blast online. Gearbox fixed a lot of the problems I had in the original title but went with the good old saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” instead just building and refining the experience to make it even better. The RPG elements really help with the combat and before you rush in to take out a whole village worth of psychos or marauders, you’ll need to think of how you’ll engage them and what abilities and weapons to use. Like the original, you will need to strategize but the menus and different systems have been made even more unique and really feel a part of the universe rather than just tacked on.
Not much has changed around these wastelands and with a good deal of weaponry, some fun RPG elements and a good storyline, the gameplay is in the side car of your fun powered motorcycle as the story drives you further and further into the world of Pandora.
Playing it on a crappy laptop, the graphics still seemed to chug along just fine. I was able to get a good frame rate, which can be capped thanks to the geniuses at Gearbox. Seriously, if you get the game on PC, the first thing you need to do is check out the options and the multitude of fixings and adjustments you can do to get this puppy running. However, I will say, despite some of the minor RPG customisations, visually not much can be changed.
I feel like I can’t properly comment on the graphical quality, but I will say this, the world of Borderlands 2 is more open, realised and developed than most FPS titles. From the aurora streaks that flash the sky during the opening tundra, to the burning brightness of the desolate plains, Borderlands 2 has a rich and beautiful environment that looks good even at less than 30 frames on an Intel integrated card. I’m not even kidding.
Good old Claptrap returns and the original characters are scattered throughout the game, which help satisfy the two year old nostalgia, but the key here is that Borderlands 2 acknowledges the lacklustre ending of the original, but makes it even better. Even in the opening mission, Handsome Jack, our villain, mentions Roland from the first game and fans of the series may feel giddy for a few seconds.
The character designs are made even crazier with a few fantastic and stand out characters such as Sir Hammerlock, Tiny Tina and a few others truly stand out in the game, as well as a lot of unique gun designs, which will excite and even possibly annoy. The writing here is superb and while at times a bit corny, you can see Burch’s pop culture influences and strong character development overlap with little bits of gameplay, snippets of dialogue and peppered visual trinkets around each character’s quest point or home. While some may find it annoying or tiresome, there is enough to go around keeping you both engaged and up to date with the story, even if you tune out during a mission.
There is a strong focus on graphical improvement, on different versions, but sadly I wasn’t able to notice them. I will say that getting the game to run on a three year old laptop with a simple dual core processor and integrated graphics card was a triumph on its own.
The original Borderlands started off with a fantastic track by Cage the Elephant and the new game kicks in hard with another stunning track by The Heavy and it’s such a surprise and sets the mood for the game perfectly. It’s a moralistically vague, down-trodden track which lets you feel the world with some strong visuals. The song is perfect and feels apart of the world, like much of the diegetic music.
The music adds to the environment and is often a bit sad to remind you of the world you inhabit. It has the opposite effect of Bioshock and Fallout, all three games have a strong overworld, but the other open world titles have a largely depressing outlook, Borderlands 2 has a fun and loopy undercurrent that it’s hard to think of the music as more than a reminder of how bad the world really is.
Between the character dialogue, the shouts of the enemies and a few bits of music here and there, the game rarely repeats itself, but when it does it’s mainly because of you grinding or dying too much. The dynamic nature of the world, mixed with its darkly pop culture sensibilities, creates a world inhabited by loud psychopaths and oddballs who all have a unique voice. The game’s ambience is helped with some slow wind, strong enemy sounds and a strong mixing which makes me think if you’ve got a killer sound system, you may want to crank it to add to the world around you.
- Well-crafted story and characters
- Hilarious dialogue, which isn’t repeated
- Strong RPG elements
- A lot of gore, enemies and guns
- Not that visually interesting, if you’re not a fan of cel-shading
While I will admit, Borderlands 2 may not be my game of the year, the title gives me plenty of joy and does live up to the hype it promised. It’s an improvement on the original, it doesn’t stray away from being dark, funny and well-structured and has so much replayability and hidden content it’s not funny…well actually, some of it is. There are a lot of guns, a lot of humour and a lot of fun to be had in the game. With a campaign that will last you several hours, if not days inside this world, it’s great as a solo or joint adventure. I highly suggest picking it up, even for just the characters and storyline, as it is truly an experience not to be wasted.