After the excellent FPS/RPG hybrid loot-fest that was Borderlands, my anticipation was sky-high when Gearbox announced the sequel. Let me start by saying that Borderlands 2 improves on the first game in nearly every regard – a monumental feat considering how great the original was. In doing so, Gearbox has been able to create one of the best, and of course, most over-the-top gaming experiences of the year.
Borderlands 2 drops you back into the shoes of a new vault hunter on Pandora, picking up where the first game left off. A villain immediately presents himself in Handsome Jack, and at the first instance of player control, we are re-introduced to Claptrap, a humorous robot with a penchant for dancing, beat-boxing, and jokes. The story in Borderlands 2 continues at a good pace throughout the whole game, and the plot itself is much improved over the original (while still nothing spectacular, the story is above average for a loot-based game). Further, the multitude of side-quests present in the various areas (completion of some side quests is necessary to level up before story missions) actually help expand upon character personalities rather than just feel like throwaway interactions.
The beautiful cartoonish, cel-shaded look of the world blends perfectly with action and storyline. Monster and character designs are great, with all of the main and supporting characters having a distinct look to go along with their personalities. Every weapon (of the nearly limitless drops) has a different design and the carnage caused by your character never lacks detail. Further, each area of the world of Pandora has its own feel, from Eridium-laden, rocky landscapes to snow-covered mountains to industrial interiors.
To further flesh out the wonderfully sculpted world, Borderlands 2 features some tremendous voice-acting. Every character is memorable, thanks to the voice work that takes the humorous and well-written dialogue to the next level, bringing to life each character’s (often psychotic) personalities. Speaking of psychotic, Tiny Tina gets my vote for best new character to the Borderlands universe – her sidequests (like the other characters) had me in tears from laughter (the “You Are Cordially Invited” quest line is particularly amusing). This attention to detail in the sound also extends beyond main characters, with the multitude of bandits and robots you will inevitably dismantle spouting one-liners and other comments as the action takes place.
Moving on to gameplay, the game plays almost identically to the first game. You move in and out of cross-hairs, swapping weapons, and using class specific skills during each encounter. The game makes improvements in many small ways. Minor improvements include no fall damage, some tightening and smoothing of the controls, and the introduction of “slag” damage (which increases the damage done by other weapons). More prominent improvements come in the form of a new character class (the “Gunzerker” – with dual-wielding abilities), altered class skills, and the addition of the “badass” system, where through completing various goals (varying from certain enemy type kills, to kills with a specific gun/damage type, to side-quest completion) you gain tokens that you can use to increase skills from gun damage, to shield regeneration, to fire rate. The best part of the “badass” system, each skill increase applies to all of your character saves – yes, it transfers across playthroughs.
For how many things Borderlands 2 does right and improves upon, there are still a few downsides to an otherwise excellent gaming experience. First, the loot drop rates seem to have been decreased since the last game – resulting in me not receiving one orange (rarest item type) drop during my single-player playthrough up through the final boss encounter. The rates increase as you join with more players, but this somewhat penalizes those that wish to play singly, which with the improved story and expansive game world, is a misstep. Also, for the various classes available to choose from, the core gameplay does not change outside of the different unique skill you are given. I enjoyed playing with another class’ skill, but I could never shake the feeling that I still felt like the same character I originally started as. Lastly, there are some visual hitches here or there (to be expected in such a large game) and auto-saves sometimes boot you back to earlier areas of missions (forgivable as you don’t loose character progress, but enemies respawn) resulting in some minor annoyances.
Looking back at my time spent returning to Pandora, I can honestly say that this is be the most humorous game I’ve ever played (earlier this year, Portal 2 took the top spot). With the eccentric characters to the witty writing combined with the improved plot and always fun level-and-loot gameplay, Borderlands 2 provides an unusual, yet top-tier experience that deserves to be right up there in the Game of the Year talks.
Final Score: 9/10