Borderlands 2 is currently monopolising our disc drives and causing no small amount of sleep deprivation. As we discussed in our 9/10 review and PC video review, it really is a gloriously OTT triumph of big guns and bug funz.
However, it's also much more challenging than its predecessor thanks to the ferociously aggressive AI... and you'll likely find yourself fighting for your life more often than, perhaps, you'd like to admit. To this end, Carl and I have compiled a list of ten survival strategies that will help you live longer, kill harder and generally make the most of Gearbox's epic fun factory.
Note that this list won't contain any spoilers or boss strategies, but do feel free to get involved in the comments if you've got some specific tips to share!
10: Punch The Crystalisks!
Crystalisks can be a formidable opponent if you're not well-prepared; capable of dishing out damage at both long, mid and short range. However, their obvious weak points are incredibly vulnerable to direct damage... and you might not know that they also take massively increased punishment from melee attacks.
Mid-level characters will only need one punch to shatter a leg segment. So long as you're willing to dodge and weave, a couple of well-placed blows are the most effective way of taking one down.
9: Carry A 'Hail Mary' Weapon
Borderlands 2 may offer an enormous variety of guns, but you'll want to carry a get out of jail free weapon at all times. A gun that boasts such massively high damage output that you can break it out in case of emergencies - either to finish off a badass or to practically guarantee getting out of Fight For Your Life with a single shot.
Rocket Launchers are perfect for this. I'd personally recommend a triple-firing version to increase your damage and make it easier to at least hit your target in a pinch. Bandit launchers will pack extra rockets in the clip, while Tediore reloads are a thing of exquisite beauty (and will often make the difference between death and revival). You might not always have it equipped, but you'll always want to have something on hand just in case.
8: Remember Your Badass Ranks
This is a very basic point, but remember to make full use of your Badass Rank bonuses. Tokens can be exchanged for small yet potent passive boosts to all your characters, though some upgrades are more useful than others.
As a general rule, pick increases to health, damage and shield capacity whenever possible - since even a 1% increase adds up when you're dealing with seriously big numbers. Otherwise, damage, shield recharge, reload speed, accuracy and elemental % chance are all good options. It's difficult to go far wrong, frankly.
7: Up Your Arsenal
Carl: Going in with various elemental weapons is all well and good [we'll get to that in a minute - Jon], but taking the manufacturer into consideration is just as important when selecting your loadout. The fast-firing Jakobs certainly helps when taking out weaker enemies quickly such as Rakks, but Torque weapons firing off rockets would be too slow in the same situation. A shotgun with massive damage may look good, but the reload time could be the deciding factor in whether you live or are once again taunted by the New-U machine.
On top of this, you will need to play to the strengths of your character and the skill tree you have chosen. Assassins with a penchant for melee attacks will want to pair it up shotgun for the many up-close encounters they will face, whilst a Gunzerker will want to ensure their second weapon compliments their primary gun for their rage mode. A lot of it is common sense, but even the best of us can be swayed by one or two tasty looking stats from time to time, only to realise a bit more forethough was probably needed in hindsight.
6: Pick The Right Shield
With all the guns that Borderlands 2 brings to the table, it's easy to overlook arguably the most important gadget in the game: your shield. A good shield can make the difference between life or death, and it's tempting to get sidetracked by the massive number of unique effects. Don't let them fool you. As a general rule, the best shield has the highest capacity, recharge rate and cooldown possible - so prioritise the numbers. If you've got a choice, absorption shields and Anshin health boost shields are a good bet since they either mitigate damage or vastly increase the amount of damage you can take.
Also, avoid Turtle Shields like the plague. Their stats may be impressive, but health is vastly more important than shield energy. You'll often receive only a slight boost to overall survivability by equipping one - if not a slight decrease.
Intermission: Reader Tips!
Some of the comments have been so brilliant that they deserve to be put in the spotlight. Let's take a break.
- "To iterate the standard FPS mantra: Reload often. Nothing is worse than entering an unexpected firefight, starting to take heavy damage, and only getting off two rounds before you have to reload." - Quietus
- "If you want to share a great spec gun or item get some one to host and you just drop the items and dashboard the game amd when you enter again you'll both have the item." - a cheeky exploit courtesy of Casinodancer
- "Play the slots to get lots of eridium." - also Casinodancer
- "Spend your eridium wisely... I seem to find loads of the stuff in washing machines for some reason." - stevenjameshyde
5: Elementally, My Dear Watson
Elemental damage is awesome. Not only will elemental weapons increase your damage potential, but they make taking down certain enemies much easier. As a general rule, use fire on anything unshielded and shock weapons on Stalkers and surveyors. Slag can also be incredibly useful, but only if you're willing to continually switch weapons. Either tag enemies with a slag sniper rifle and then bring the hurt at mid-range, or tell your team mates to prioritise slagged targets in multiplayer.
However, as a general rule, I'd urge you to carry a corrosive weapon at all times. Not only are resistant enemies few and far between, but it cuts through bots, engineers, Vultures, vehicles and bosses like an hot, acidic knife through butter. Even a relatively weak Maliwan SMG can turn entire Hyperion hordes into slop.
4: Solo Players, Spec For Survival
Borderlands 2's versatile skill trees grant players an enormous amount of specialisation and one-point wonders that completely change your action ability, and it can be tempting to save up for some of the more esoteric bonuses early. However, in singleplayer, this can come at the cost of ignoring some of the less glamorous passive skills that drastically increase your survivability.
Maya can regenerate health, increase shield strength and damage. Salvador can tank like nobody's business. Once you hit level 20-30, a cheeky respec will grant you access to all those tasty advanced skills, but solo players would do well to improve their survival potential in the early game.
3: Talk, Dammit!
In multiplayer, your headset is your greatest weapon. Character skills are designed to encourage cooperation, so always let your team mates know when you need Zer0 to neutralise a priority target or Maya to phaselock a dangerous enemy - allowing you to focus fire or regroup. As always, tell your team when you're taking a beating so someone can get ready to revive you if necessary.
However, you should start chatting before you even leave Sanctuary. Decide on job roles for each team member, then head over to the respec machine and load out your skills appropriately. Maya, for example, can become a potent healer if you focus on the Harmony Tree, while Axton can provide a safe haven with his Phalanx shield.
Talk. Cooperate. Win.
2: Don't Hoard - Be Selective!
Carl: It’s something we have all been conditioned into doing through years of RPGs: grab all the loot you see and sell up when you get back to base. The thing is, even from the get-go this isn’t the best way to make your money in Borderlands 2, and in most cases will just slow you down the further you go. This is down to two reasons.
- There is ALWAYS a better gun waiting for you down the road
- You don’t have the capacity to carry them all.
This is why you need to be picky with what you grab on your travels, and for the most part you will be ignoring White weapons. Even some elemental weapons will end up having low sell prices, so always keep an eye on the monetary value of the loot you pick up. For instance, you could start by only picking up weapons over $100, then as you move onto the next area push that up to $150. That said, as you progress into new areas you will find making money is easy enough without picking up all the guns (especially when dealing with Raging “GET YOUR FREE MONEY HERE” Crystalisks [remember to punch them! -Jon]). Along with mission rewards and all those containers to open, you’ll be better served by having a little restraint with all that loot.
1: Pick Your Battles
When in doubt, run away.
It's not big, clever or particularly honourable - but part of Borderlands 2's unique charm is that you can attempt missions and access areas before you're ready to take them on. Winning through a difficult situation is immensely satisfying... but if you're continually being taken out of action (or worse, killed), there's no reason to stick around.
Instead, retreat. Do some side missions. Get some extra levels. Grab some more powerful guns. By the time you return, what seemed like an impossible challenge will be much easier to handle... and you'll save plenty of money rather than giving it to Handsome Jack via the New U machines.
We hope that this will make your lives both easier and longer, but Borderlands 2 is such a huge and versatile game that we've barely scratched the surface. Got some class-specific tips or builds to share? Some powerful boss strategies, personal anecdotes or even exploits? Let us know in the comments!