GAME NAME: Borderlands 2
DEVELOPER(S): Gearbox Software
PUBLISHER(S): 2K Games
PLATFORM(S): Playstation 3 (review platform), PC, Xbox 360
GENRE(S): First-person shooter, RPG
RELEASE DATE(S): 18/09/2012 (US), 21/09/2012 (EU)
Borderlands 2 has been out since mid-to-late September, however, I didn’t receive an early copy, and had to make do with what I could work out with my friends over at the game store. The game being enormous in size and content didn’t help either, and here I am, around 2 weeks later, giving you my review of it, and I can safely say, the wait was worth it, Games Thirst faithfuls.
Starting off with the basics; the game is still a shoot-’n'-loot fest, best enjoyed in a party of four people, preferably each being a different class so variety is present. It involves a group of Vault Hunters, four warriors way stronger than your average Joe, that seek the fabled Vault on the planet of Pandora, said to contain priceless treasures. Set after the events of the first game, the planet has been taken over by Hyperion Corporation and a cryptic villain, named Handsome Jack. The characters from the first game play major roles within the story, and it’s nice to see them changed and back for more. While the plot still revolves around saving the world and all that, the characters are more charming and inviting, and the whole main quest structure feels more well-thought, although the vehicles are still mostly used for transporting around Pandora rather than a useful weapon in the player’s arsenal. Add the whole silliness surrounding the game to that, and you got a very charming adventure, presented in a cel-shaded style, that will last you around 25-30 hours on your first run — but don’t fret. That is without even trying the ton of side-quests, which are an integral part of the game. If you just want to play the story itself, finishing the game is not the end; in fact, it’s a new beginning. Set off on the Vault Hunter Mode (essentially a New Game Plus) with the character you finished the game with, and you are in for a more challenging version of the first playthrough. The level cap is set at 50, for now, but that’s going to change soon with the upcoming DLC packs.
These Vault Hunters are represented each with a class, which are in turn a mix of old and new within the franchise: the returning Siren, and the brand new Assassin, Commando and Gunzerker, based off of the previous game’s classes. Each character/class being vastly different, the players must choose the one they want after much thought, as the character will decide their playstyle and approach to various situations. For example, the lady’s skill tree, the Siren named Maya that is, consists of her Phaselock Action Skill and then breaks up into three branches, each offering various upgrades to the ability or the character’s main traits. You are not, however, locked inside one tree after you choose a skill in it, as you are free to choose anything you want from every skill tree. Most unlocks can be upgraded up to level 5, and each skill tree has 10 upgrades available. Once you hit level 5, you will unlock your Action Skill, which is different for each character (namely, Decepti0n for Zer0, Sabre Turret for Axton, and Gunzerking for Salvador), and from there on, every new level you gain grants you an Ability Point to spend how you like. Mixing and matching your abilities should bother you and eat up your time, as it did with me. In my case, I spent at least 3-4 minutes each time I got a new AP to spend, calculating the whats and hows each unlock would give me, what I could do from that point and on, how it would change my tactics, my advantages and disadvantages among more, only to see that this was just one of the highlights that Gearbox’s new adventure would provide me with.
Coming to add to the class customization is a brand new feature, the aptly named “Badass ranks”. Completing small challenges from a huge list, like blasting 10 enemies with a shotgun from a point blank range or getting 50 melee kills or getting 50 headshots with a Tediore-made gun, grants you Badass points. Gather enough to go up a Badass level, and you’ll gain a Badass token, which you can spend on one of the permanent character upgrades you can choose off of a similarly big list. These upgrades come in the form of Gun Accuracy or Gun Damage, Shield Capacity or Recharge Rate and many more, shaking up the Borderlands formula and giving you even further control over your character. While at first the upgrade percentages given might look small, seeing yourself complete said tasks through normal gameplay and being granted Badass tokens for doing, virtually, nothing more than just playing the game, attracts you to hunt for the challenges and raise the percentages even more, to gain full advantage of your now Badass character’s new abilities. What’s better is that these rewarded traits are shared among new characters too, giving them a headstart, an option that can be turned off if you desire more challenge.
The loot system is still pretty much the same: When Grandma Burps, Pauley Obeys. White, Green, Blue, Purple and Orange, the loot uniqueness and value from bottom to top, and a small poem to remember the order, showcasing Borderlands’ quirky sense of humor. There’s also the Elemental effects some weapons bear, with powers old and new: Incendiary, Corrosive, Shock, Explosive and Slag damage types. Incendiary, well, sets stuff on fire, as well as it does with people. Corrosive melts stuff, and is best used on robots. Shock is best used against shielded enemies. Explosive is best used against anything that’s not you. And Slag, it weakens enemies and lets you deal more damage while it is in effect. While the weapons are probably the loot that should concern you the most, it’s not the only one that should concern you. You have Class Mods, which enhance your character-specific abilities, Shields, Relics and Grenade Mods. Shields are self-explanatory; your character acquires shielding, which protects your health until it’s depleted. Relics increase various stats or grant some abilities, like better loot drop. Grenade Mods dictate how your grenades act, for example, you might find a mod that lets your grenade explode into smaller grenades, or grenades that plant into the ground and spit fire in 360 degrees around them.
What’s pleasant to see is that the enemies, the stuff you are invited to kill for the game’s biggest part, are much improved. Badass enemies are still present, which are essentially much, much tougher versions of their normal counterparts, but hey, better loot. A welcome change is that there’s just many more enemies, of varying styles, that you feel the world is full of these psychos, each having their own personality, instead of just a psycho who’s been cloned infinite times. The boss fights, for the most part, follow the old-school “strafe and shoot” strategy, but that’s not always the case. As you progress, you have to add way more strategy to that, if you don’t want to spend your precious dollars on Hero rebuilding machines. Many boss fights include the bosses spawning minions, whose patterns you have to study and take each enemy down in the correct order, with the correct gun. A boss fight in particular, involves a shielded robot boss that spawns other robots of various types. You should first take out the flying Repair Bots that repair him, then the other cannon fodder robots, and then focus on that colossal enemy until it respawns said cannon fodder and Repair Bots, which is when you’ll have to repeat the steps. In theory, everything looks easy, but it’s a rather challenging trip through Pandora.
All this plays a vital role in how the game treats you, and how well you can hold your own. Seeing how it’s much easier to team up with up to 3 other players now, through the various options (ranging from LAN, to Open Public and Open Friends options), playing online is a great alternative to going through the game on your own. If you’re planning to play online, you should pick your teammates carefully, though. Each time someone joins, every enemy on the hostile grounds of Pandora becomes tougher to take down, but in turn, can drop better loot. However, the dropped loot is shared across all players’ worlds, meaning there’s only one up for grabbing, and if you’re playing with strangers, prepare to see yourself sprinting to take it from their hands.
Other small but important changes in gameplay include a minimap, which was sorely needed from the first game, and the ability to mark your stuff as “Trash” or “Favorites”, enabling you to sell all your trash at a single button press. You also get to customize your character’s outfit more than just changing their colors, but still, more could have been done. Changing their color schemes and heads isn’t much, but definitely is a step in the right direction. Players who have a save file of the first Borderlands on their HDD will also get access to an exclusive color scheme and an exclusive head, so go ahead and wear them, show-offs.
Coming to that paragraph that talks about bugs and everything related to it, there’s not really much to say. The game was played on the Playstation 3, and for the vast majority of my playthrough, it ran smoothly. Some slight performance issues occured when the game auto-saved, or when too much went on in front of my character, but nothing that made me moan or that put me at a disadvantage. As for game bugs, the biggest gripe I have is the textures popping up, a known Unreal Engine issue that is evident on almost every game involving it. And if that’s my biggest gripe with the game, you understand how well-made it is.
Bonus paragraph about the Vault Hunter’s Edition. I initially went for the Ultimate Loot Chest Edition, but it was not made available in Greece, so I went with the other, smaller edition. This one gave me a funny bobblehead of Marcus Kincaid, the game’s gun dealer that will “have you killed if you shop from anywhere else”, some sweet stickers, a chunky artbook showcasing the game’s fine art, exclusive DLC (head and skin for all classes, exclusive Grenade Mod and a Golden Key) and an exclusive case sleeve. While all of this is quality, what I really appreciated was the inclusion of the Premiere Club voucher, which granted me access to some existing DLC, and has secured a free download of the Mechromancer DLC class, which will be available later this month. I wish more publishers and developers would follow suit with this one, including valuable DLC in Collector’s Editions. Being just 20€ more than the standalone version, while giving me all this, I can say it was another case of a great Collector’s Edition.
Closing with, Borderlands 2 is one of the greatest games of 2012, and one of the most improved sequels in recent memory. Gearbox showed us they’re a great developer once more, one that cares about their fans, and now I’m eager to see how the Borderlands franchise continues to impress, and deliver goofy lines and characters while at it.
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