Borderlands 2 adds something necessary to the series: A reason to shoot those guns
Be sure to check out why the PC version of the game is the best way to play
The first Borderlands title was made up of mechanics in search of a story, and it never seemed to go anywhere. You fought through the game, leveling your character and collecting the best loot, you fought Cthulhu or some other madness at the end, and the credits rolled. The joy of the game was intrinsic. You had fun because the mechanics were fun. Once the endless repetition and lack of story got old it was hard to find your way back to the bits that were enjoyable. The post-game DLC went a long way to fixing these issues, but the world of Pandora often felt hollow and weightless.
Borderlands 2 has fixed those issues, and the game is much better for it. Before I go any further, I’m going to admit that the game bored me to tears when I played by myself, only to have an impressive amount of fun once I started playing in co-op. The go-there-and-fetch-this or kill-those-things-over-there nature of the quests were a monotonous grind when played alone, but the gunfights and ability to revive your partners in co-op made the game much more enjoyable. You’re also forced to share the loot, so you better be on good terms with the other players. Expect some bruised feelings or long negotiations if everyone goes after the same shotgun or shield.
For the love of Mordecai, if you’re thinking about playing this game solo, find someone in the comments to play with you. It’s a much better time with friends. Deal? Deal. Let’s move on.
There is a reason to fight
Anthony Burch is the lead writer on Borderlands 2, and he pulled off the nifty trick of not only giving this game a story that makes sense and keeps things moving at a brisk pace, but he also went back to provide context and more explanation for the events in the first game. Suddenly everything makes sense, and since you bump into characters from the original Borderlands and they discuss what has happened between the games, there is a pleasant sense of history and weight. The world of Pandora feels much more relevant and real in Borderlands 2, and that’s something that was needed in the series.
There is also a primary antagonist in the game, Handsome Jack, and you’re going to begin hating him within the first hour or so of playing the game. He’s a charismatic asshole who sits at the top of the food chain, and won’t let you forget it. Having a face to put to the bad things that happen in the game is useful to give you a reason to keep playing, and there are honest to goodness twists and turns in the game’s story.
You’ll learn new things about Pandora, see the events in the first game by a new light, and revisit some old friends. The sense of fun in riding around the game’s various vehicles and blowing things to hell is still there, but the addition of characters, motivation, and a stronger sense of place makes Borderlands 2 feel like a much stronger game. You’ll want to know what happens next, which is something that didn’t happen in the first game.
The major story arc is handled well, but extra joy comes from all the strange and fascinating characters you meet throughout the game. Each one is colorful, often funny, and sometimes insane. They’re all rendered with affection and given a clear voice, although there is very little I’ve encountered in the game that is taken seriously. The dialog and side quests are surprisingly well done for a game that hopes to be Diablo with guns, especially when you consider how poorly the Diablo 3 story turned out.
I’m still working on finishing the game, but I’m looking forward to seeing the story through to the conclusion. I’m also excited by the idea of extra DLC coming down the line. Now that Gearbox has learned the importance of story as well as characters in the series, I simply want more of it, even though the base game is choked full of content. Even after you’ve beaten the game with one character, you’ll want to go back and do the same with the other classes, or simply help other friends along while gaining more loot. The replay value is incredibly high.
Guns that matter, achievements that mean something
The game’s guns are just as varied as the first game, with some fun surprises along the way. Each one feels distinct, and I often found myself keeping particular weapons even though I found other guns that were more powerful, just because I liked the way something looked or how it fired.
Everyone will find favorites, and part of the fun of co-op is jumping in a game with friends and admiring each other’s guns. You can now also find character customization options that change how the classes look, so you can further stand out from the crowd. Add shields with different stats and grenade and class mods to the huge variety of guns and you have a game that is constantly rewarding you for playing. It’s hard to turn the game off during a marathon session because it always feels like you’re moments away from the next level, or a better gun, or a rare drop.
Just in case that wasn’t enough, Borderlands 2 features the “Badass Ranking” system, which works like traditional achievements, except each challenge offers an in-game reward. So if you score 50 headshots, or kill 15 people with fire-based weapons, or finish one out of dozens, if not hundreds of other challenges, you’re given “badass tokens” that allow you to buff certain aspects of your character.
Most tokens only give you 1 percent or less of an improvement in each area, but you’ll be unlocking tokens constantly as long as you use all the classes of weapons and get creative with your kills. Your character will begin to feel much more powerful quicker than you think, and these buffs will carry over when you move to another class. It’s almost like you’re improving your account, not just that particular character. It’s a neat touch, and I often found myself going through the challenges to see which ones I was closest to achieving and then altering my play to get there faster.
It’s not a perfect game; the vehicle controls are a little squirrelly and I sometimes got caught inside objects in the landscape, but the very few glitches and frustrations are outweighed by everything the game does well. I won’t spend a ton of time picking nits, because the overall experience feels so good.
When you find a gun that fits your style of play and use it to get through a particularly grueling battle you’ll understand how satisfying the core game play feels, and when you laugh out loud at the dialog in an optional side quest you’ll understand why it’s so hard to leave any quests unfinished to move along in the main story. Borderlands 2 is an incredibly rich game that works well on multiple levels, and that’s something you couldn’t say about the first title.
One gets the sense that Gearbox understands how to make a truly great Borderlands game after the somewhat surprising hit of the first game, and I can’t wait to see what they have coming for us in the future. For now, fans of the series are going to have a great time with this, and gamers who turned their noses up at the shallow violence of the first game may want to take another look.