Developer: Gearbox Software
Publisher: 2K Games
Borderlands 2 is more Borderlands.
I don't mean this in a derogatory way. Far from it, since Gearbox' blockbuster follow-up is one of the most ambitious and exciting sequels of the generation. More - MOAR! - is the operative word here as Borderlands 2 takes the formula from the original FPSRPG and expands upon every single aspect; providing infinitely more variety, intensity, depth and belly laughs on top of what was already an incredibly compelling experience. More story. More guns. More personality. More crumpets. More everything.
Chances are you already know that Borderlands 2 is absolutely sensational, both when played solo or with three fellow vault hunters along for the wild ride. Put simply: it's the feel-good hit of the year.
Borderlands' DNA is still unadulterated, and the premise is essentially the same. After the original four vault hunters fought hard to unlock a mysterious alien treasure cache filled only with "tentacles and disappointment," four new heroes arrive on the hell-world Pandora in search of fame and riches. However, the domineering CEO of the Hyperion Corporation, Handsome Jack, has other plans for the quartet - quickly betraying them and leaving them for dead in his obsessive quest to exploit an ancient Pandoran secret. It's the perfect setup for another 25-35 hours of cooperative gunplay, a Diablo or Torchlight-style treadmill of loot, experience and ridiculously insane enemies to kill, but with tight gunplay replacing traditional click-heavy mechanics.
As a sequel, you'd rightfully expect Borderlands 2 to make plenty of minor and subtle improvements. A retooled interface allows you to intuitively navigate menus and instantly sell junk items. Characters can be cosmetically customised with different heads and skins, with items directly displayed on their models. Vehicle handling has been tweaked. All worthy and important considerations, but they pale in comparison to the BIG changes. From the moment you step out from a train wreck into a vibrant arctic tundra of deep blue ice and crisp white snow, you'll realise that the world of Pandora is exactly that: a world, complete with myriad different ecosystems, colourful and expansive environments and bustling towns ripe for exploration. Everything about Borderlands 2 screams expansiveness and variety, from the massive story campaign and new freeform optional quests that can be turned into multiple characters for unique rewards, to tantalising new areas waiting on the horizon, beckoning at you from afar.
Pandora's rogue's gallery has also been substantially beefed up in terms of variety; both from a visual and gameplay standpoint. An imaginatively diverse menagerie of enemies - including insane bandits, deadly indigenous predators, hulking moon base robots and outrageous bosses (to mention but a few) - present a stern and varied challenge, packing a surprising mix of abilities and weaponry at different ranges. Vastly improved AI allows them to fully utilise the environment to the full; jumping on roofs to flank you, leaping up several storeys to punish campers, dominating the skies or cooperating in the heat of battle. The net result is that Borderlands 2 feels noticeably more intense than the original, empirically more difficult yet undeniably more fun, ensuring that you have to fully involve yourself in the moment-to-moment gunplay and maintain constant spatial awareness to avoid being sent back to the nearest clone regeneration machine. It feels like a thoroughbred shooter, not a grind.
More importantly, though, you'll also need three key things to thrive in Pandora's dangerous wastes: skills, guns and friends. Borderlands 2 comprehensively delivers on all fronts.
Borderlands 2 delivers four distinct classes, all of whom excel with any weapon but boast a unique recharging action skill and can specialise in markedly different ways. As in the original, two classes serve as easy-to-understand elementary choices, featuring skills that focus on survivability and damage output. Axton the Commando can deploy a devastating automatic turret while Salvador the Gunzerker (yeah!) can temporarily dual-wield weapons to drastically increase his butt-kicking potential.
In contrast, shadowy assassin Zer0 and versatile Siren Maya act as more advanced and nuanced classes since their abilities are slightly more potent in multiplayer. Zer0 is capable of turning temporarily invisible to attack priority targets without hindrance, making him a perfect choice for surgically killing badass or boss enemies before they can pose too much of a threat to the team, while Maya can render an enemy immobile for a limited time with her phaselock skill (allowing team mates to focus their fire or regroup).
Wonderfully, though, characters and roles aren't defined by basic action skills. As you increase your level by gaining experience, skill points can be assigned into three separate skill trees per character, all of which present various passive and active ways to specialise your abilities and radically change the way they play out. As a basic example, Maya can alter her Phaselock ability into a brainwashing ray that turns enemies on one another, act as a pure healer or focus on apocalyptic crowd control depending on how you choose to spec her. There's a huge amount of depth and flexibility to the skill system, allowing you to take pride in developing a unique and relevant power set that compliments and enables your play style. Do make sure to check out the skill calculator on the official site - or better yet, let us know your favourite builds in the comments.
There's more. Not only will your classes gain levels, but so will you thanks to the new Badass Ranking system. Completing challenges with any class will gradually earn you leaderboard ranks and persistent upgrades linked to your player account, making you the star of the show and a badass in your own right.
Borderlands 2 currently holds a Guinness World Record for the biggest number of guns in a videogame: over seventeen million permutations in all. A procedurally-generated weapons system ensures that you'll constantly be introduced to new boomsticks, most of which are thoroughly ridiculous. Some of them fire insane elemental projectiles. Some of them explode. Some of them talk. Critically, there's always something new and exciting to equip, and a gun for every occasion. This level of also factors into grenades, shields and class modifications, which are modelled directly on your character. The constant acquisition of loot is as compelling as ever, and "just one more level" syndrome is back in full force.
What sets Borderlands 2 apart from its peers and predecessor, however, is how cohesively Gearbox have managed to integrate distinct gun manufacturers into the random generation, bringing a little order to the chaos. Rather than a seemingly amalgamation of disparate design elements, each gunsmith offers a consistent aesthetic and specific bonuses. Bandit weapons, for example, are jury-rigged engine parts bound together by duct tape and spit, packing enormous magazines and borderline-illiterate descriptions. Disposable Tediore guns are thrown away rather than reloaded, acting like a grenade. Maliwan armaments mirror the sleek lines of Apple products, Vladof boomsticks all feature a rotating minigun barrel (even the sniper rifles!) and Torgue focuses on MASSIVE GYRO ROCKETS AND EXCESSIVE ABUSE OF CAPITAL LETTERS. Brand loyalty is already seeping into the forums and into our office - Tediore and Maliwan for the win, by the way (ahem...Jakobs all the way, baby! - Matt) - allowing you to take genuine pride in your ever-expanding arsenal.
Borderlands 2 is an absolute hoot when played solo, but it's primarily designed for between 2-4 players. Many of the set pieces can prove to be overwhelming for a single combatant, while a strong team of vault hunters can complement each other with different builds and skills. Enemies scale in terms of numbers and fearsomeness as the player count rises, leading to an exponentially more engaging and intense experience that results in superior loot drops.
Gearbox artist Kevin Duc famously told us that they've "removed the blockers" to a smooth cooperative experience, and they absolutely have. Depending on your online settings, your friends can instantly drop into your game in progress - even in splitscreen - and receive your current objective as their own (not to mention the rewards). A robust trading system instantly allows you to barter weapons or items, and even engage in a duel to automatically settle loot disputes once and for all. The only remaining "blocker" is that players still need to be of broadly similar levels to enjoy the campaign, but since Guild Wars 2 is one of the few games that actually manages to address this issue, we won't mark it down.
Well, it's the best cooperative shooter of this generation. Why would we?
Borderlands 2 is infinitely more ambitious than its predecessor and looks sensational thanks to its gorgeous cel-shaded visual aesthetic, but there's a case to be made that it's arguably a little too ambitious in some areas. Especially as far as consoles are concerned. Texture pop-in is rife on the Xbox 360 and PS3, and some of the more outlandish weapon combinations can lead to a sputtering frame rate as the somewhat ageing machines struggle to render - as an example - fifteen explosive shotgun rockets simultaneously at point blank range. If you've got a reasonable rig and a decent crew of friends to co-op with, I'd highly recommend picking up the PC version, which is not only looks better but plays more intuitively. Navigating the menus is child's play using a mousewheel, allowing you to spend less time micro-managing and more time kicking ass. Carl is currently working on a comprehensive video review for the PC version, which I'll embed here in due course.
We're also hearing about a few bug and glitch reports tied to certain quests, characters and the Badass Rank system. I haven't personally encountered anything quest or game-breaking, but have certainly noticed a few characters hovering in mid-air, glitching through the scenery and behaving oddly even by Pandoran standards.
The odd technical issue aside, Borderlands 2 does inherit a couple of flaws from its daddy. Several of the multi-levelled environments are confusingly-designed, with navigation hindered by a fairly unhelpful map that fails to take verticality into account. Despite the slicker interface, you've still got to deal with a restrictive inventory size (nothing breaks flow more than having to continually throw out junk items), and I can't work out why we're restricted to two equipped weapons at the start. You'll be seeing a lot of menus in the first six hours. There's also a huge amount of backtracking involved with both main missions and subquests, which often take you back or through areas that you've already cleaned out. These issues are arguably endemic to the genre, but perhaps Gearbox didn't quite manage to cut out as much of the grind as they'd have liked.
That said, you probably won't care one bit because Borderlands 2's ultimate triumph lies with its personality. Its demented, crass, brash and brilliant personality. Every character you meet, everyone from returning reprobates Scooter and Claptrap to new faces like the youthfully insane Tiny Tina and new douchebags like Handsome Jack, are voiced brilliantly and brim with barely-contained verve as they constantly chatter and taunt you over your communicator. It's stuffed with humour, popular memes, hilarious film references and a fantastic Top Gun parody. Enemies and environments all deliver their own unique personality through their designs, animations and (often incredibly explicit) sound effects. Like the best loot-driven games, you'll come for the loot and levels, but you'll stay because you're having so much damn fun.
And because you'll want to kick Handsome Jack square in the Butt Stallion.
- Sensational and intense cooperative gameplay
- Compelling and versatile classes, boomsticks, loot and Badass Ranks
- Rich and varied art style, crisp cel-shaded visuals
- Grind mitigated by irrepressable personality
- Some technical issues (especially on consoles), bugs and glitches
- Restrictive inventory size leads to flow-breaking item management
- Backtracking and grind haven't entirely disappeared
The Short Version: We wanted more. We wanted bigger. We wanted better, brasher, bolder and badasser. Borderlands 2 takes care of business.