Review: Borderlands 2: All you need is Wub-Wub (and more backpack space)
The original Borderlands combined an interesting blend of RPG and FPS into what Gearbox called a RPS (role playing shooter). Now that the idea has been proven and Gearbox has had the opportunity to perfect their recipe with a sequel, how does it turn out?
Note: I'll try to refrain from any story spoilers in this review...
It's no secret that we here at the Gouki.com HQ have been hyped about Borderlands 2 for quite some time now. It started way back at PAX Prime 2011 when I interviewed Jeramy Cooke and we got to see a non-playable demo. We got to play a demo at E3 2012 and interviewed Jeramy again. This is all in addition to the hundreds of hours we've all put into the first game.
Borderlands 2 cast of characters
Anyway, Borderlands 2 opens up a few years after the first game has ended. The vault opening in the first game has caused a new element "Eridium" to come to the surface all over Pandora. This has lead to the spoiling of some environments with a toxic residue known as "slag". You can now find slag weapons that basically de-buff an enemy causing your other weapons to do 2x the damage while the bad guy is slagged. The discovery of all this has lead the Hyperion corporation lead by the villainous Handsome Jack, to try and take over Pandora, exploiting it for their own profit by any means necessary... this means mostly killing off the local population. A resistance group has formed with the characters from the first game as its leaders and after being left for dead by Jack, you will join this group in their fight against Hyperion. The story is quite a massive improvement from the original game... there is more interactive dialog and the objectives are dynamic as information about the mission changes and twists in the tale are revealed.
Gameplay-wise, BL2 doesn't feel that different from its predecessor, and that's a good thing. The team at Gearbox Software really have the shooter mechanics down to a science. The only time the shooting doesn't feel spot on is when you're on a laggy connection to the host of a multiplayer game. You shoot much as in any traditional shooter, but each of the 4 classes also has an "action skill" that allows you to do some crazy things, such as deploying a sentry turret, dual wielding guns while regenerating bullets,locking an enemy in a ball of plasma, or becoming invisible while deploying a decoy. As before, Borderlands 2 is a bunch of shooting interspersed with periods of looting (both the dead bodies of the enemies you just dropped and the loot lockers and chests scattered throughout the environment). You can equip 4 guns at a time and swap them out using the D-Pad (on consoles) up, down, left, and right. You also get a shield, class mod, and grenade mod, just like the first game, though these items have undergone some drastic changes. New to Borderlands 2, you can also equip a "relic" which usually just boosts one or two stats, like speeding up the cool down rate of your action skill. Some of the new grenades do awesome things like deploying a singularity to suck nearby enemies into its blast radius before detonation, while shields have crazy abilities like absorbing bullets (for your use), or giving you bonus melee damage when depleted.
On the RPG side, you level up to 50 just like the original Borderlands, but there are quite a few more skills to invest in your skill tree. Interestingly, each tree has some "game changer" type ability in it that can alter the way your action skill works, like allowing the commando class to deploy two turrets instead of one, or allowing the siren's phaselock ability to cause all sorts of status effects or perhaps instantly heal a fallen team mate. This is a welcome change, as it will allow drastically different builds of the same classes.
Video - BatRastered and GoukiJones defend Claptrap while he opens a door:
In the first Borderlands, you could expand your backpack space by completing side quests that awarded that as a prize, and upgrade your ammo carrying capacity simply by purchasing the upgrade from one of the shops. In Borderlands 2, all these upgrades are purchased using blocks of the new Eridum element that randomly drop off of enemies (and slot machines as GoukiJones knows all too well). This is all well and good, but Gearbox seems to have forgotten to make this worthwhile in the new game plus (aka "True Vault Hunter Mode" or TVHM). By the time we got to the city where the upgrades are sold in TVHM, we had maxed out all of these attributes. Worse yet, the backpack and the bank vault (to store extra items) seem to be maxed at 27 items each. WTF? That's half of what we had in Borderlands 1!!! For a game that promises even more loot to get than its predecessor, halving the space to carry it all seems an odd choice. Hopefully we'll get an expansion in the DLC to gome (Gearbox and 2K have promised 4 story-expanding DLC in the next year).
Graphically BL2 maintains the same cell-shaded style of the first game, but ups the ante on the animation front with injured enemies staggering and sometimes crawling through the environment. One cant help but feel though that this generation of consoles is on the way out after seeing Borderlands 2 on the PC (especially if you have a PhysX enabled GeForce card). The PC has traditionally outperformed the consoles in the resolution department, but this is the first time in a long time that I've compared a game on console and PC and felt the console version was lacking something that made the game "better".
Overall, Borderlands 2 is a great game that fixes many of the shortcomings of the first game, though it does introduce a few new problems of its own (limited backpack space and worthless eridium in TVHM). If you like the idea of combining loot and shoot and RPG style leveling, this is the game for you. We've definitely got our money's worth out of it with over 60+ hours already and we haven't finished it with all our classes. Not to mention, since we pre-ordered, we'll be getting the 5th class (a "mechromancer") for free. Although by that time, we might be playing XCOM :)
Release Date: Sep 18, 2012
Verdict: Buy It
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