Available on: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Version reviewed: Xbox 360
Well I have certainly let this blog flounder a little haven’t I? It’s been over a month since my last post. In my defence I did go and set myself the ridiculous task of reviewing each and every Eon produced James Bond film over on The Film Dump. During the time I spent watching and reviewing those films I did manage to find the time to finish one other game, well actually two but I’ll get to the second game at a later date. The one I’m tackling tonight is Borderlands 2. Click the link for my review!
At the end of the first Borderlands game you killed a thing and then got pissed off at how short the ending sequence was. To be fair that game had next to no real story running through it and so I don’t think it’s really fair to criticise the brevity of it’s ending or the weakness of it’s final boss. Honestly, it was weak. One time I just stood on the spot and unloaded into it. There’s a joke about bukaki parties in there somewhere. Anyway, Borderlands 2 has taken the stance of following a more story focused formula as was seen in the first games excellent Secret Armoury Of General Knoxx DLC. As a result Borderlands 2 has full blown story sequences running through its entire campaign and an even greater focus on giving reasoning to the slaughter than before. Well as far as there’s a few more jokes to describe why you must shoot lots of bandits in the head.
The story follows your Vault Hunter, or a group if you’re playing co-op either online of in 2 player split screen, as you attempt help a rebellion fight back against the tyranny of Handsome Jack, the leader of the Hyperion Corporation. He plans to dig up as much of an element called Eridium from Pandora to use it to charge a key to another vault said to house a powerful warrior that he’ll be able to control for himself. This Eridium element has appeared since the opening of the vault from the first game. This Eridium boosts the powers of any Sirens that come across it, which is handy because one of the new Vault Hunters you get to control is a Siren called Maya. Over the course of the story battles are had, heads are exploded and some big events occur which will change Pandora forever.
The new Vault Hunters at your disposal include the previously mentioned Siren Maya, the games version of a psychic if you will able to levitate foes on the spot to make them easy targets. Along with her is the Gunzerker Salvador, able to duel wield. Axton the Commando, who sits in for Roland with his turret deployment skill but with a stronger focus on damage dealing. Zer0 the Assassin, who can go invisible to deal strong melee based sneak attacks. The fifth class is a character called Gaige, a Mechromancer, available as DLC for free to anyone that pre-ordered a copy or managed to get one with the première club pass in the box. She has the ability to summon a robot called Deathtrap to aid her in battle. There has been talk of more classes being added but I suspect these five will be enough for most players to get on with. Each has enough unique traits and skills that will allow for players to create their own play styles based on the distribution of points in a skill tree. For example the Gunzerker can be a pure damage dealing bullet spraying machine or, with a switch up of skill points, become a tank designed to draw the attention of the enemies whilst his team mates finish them off. There’s 3 main builds for each class but it is possible to really mix them up on a more customised basis.
Speaking of customisation Borderlands 2 allows the player to tweak the appearance and stats of their class beyond what was possible in the first game. Before you were stuck with one look beyond a basic colour change and all your stat tweaking was on a per character basis. Here each character has a wealth of different body and head skins allowing for a lot more uniqueness in appearance. The costumes must be unlocked and whilst they aren’t as outlandish as you might expect, the need to maintain a characters silhouette has been placed over full character deforming, there is the opportunity to really mix up the looks. You unlock extra skins from completing missions, looting off enemies and completing challenges.
The challenges has become a bit of a meta game in Borderlands 2 and it now allows for even more customisation. As you complete tasks such as killing X of something or finding hidden vault symbols you’re awarded a Badass Rank. As this rank increases you get a token to add a permanent stat boost to many different areas of your characters build such as reload speed, critical damage or shield recharge. These buffs carry over onto each character on your profile giving each extra alt you make a little boost. If you want a more pure experience though you can switch this feature off. One issue to be wary of though is the possibility of having your Badass rank and all associated stats wiped. Gearbox haven’t come up with a fix to this yet and let me assure you it’s quite a pain. Had it happen to me this morning just before I recorded the gameplay video posted in this review. What really doesn’t help is that the challenges stay completed meaning you can’t get your Badass rank back for completing those challenges. On top of that I lost a Golden Key in the process. The Golden Keys are a perk allowing you to open a gold chest in the Sanctuary city to get level scaled super loot. The keys have a one time only use limit so it can be frustrating if these suddenly vanish. Following Gearbox on twitter is a good idea though as they post codes for extra keys often.
Graphically the game has moved on a little from the last entry, managing to create a larger and more technically impressive set of vistas to explore. The locations even feature the colour green now which makes a change from the multitude of brown dust bowls visited in the first game. If you and your friends have powerful enough PCs I suggest getting the PC version as it also has PhysX support which really makes a difference to the details in the levels. With PhysX enabled cloth, liquids and objects all react to your devastating firepower on a much more visceral level.
Speaking of firepower, as was the case before, Borderlands 2 has quite the preoccupation with guns. There’s been some effort made to give the guns a little more personality this time around. Each manufacturer has their own unique traits to them such as Jakobs fire as fast as you can pull the trigger feature or Torgue having explosive rounds on their bullets. Personally I enjoy using Tediore guns with their literal fire and forget style. When they run out of bullets you just throw the gun at your enemy and it’ll explode like a grenade. I usually carry a Tediore rocket launcher for no reason other than to watch it shoot off my characters shoulder to deal extra damage. The guns also feature a wide array of stat buffs and elemental effects. Many enemies have resistances to some of the elements so it’s always worth carrying multiple weapon types.
The enemies have taken quite a step up since the last game. A lot of consideration has been made to making sure each enemy is different to fight. Psycho’s still just charge straight for you whilst bandits still keep their distance but it’s the new enemy types that really mix things up. Goliaths wear a mask which, when shot off, causes them to go on a rampage attacking anything nearby. Each time they kill an enemy for you they level up and become stronger, which in turn increases the strength of their potential loot leading to a risk/reward mechanic for you to consider. Threshers have been made more aggressive this time which makes retreating and aiming for their tentacles more important than ever, not helped when one type of Thresher can drag you towards it’s body with a wormhole. There’s another new enemy type called the Crystalisk which can be a troublesome bullet sponge of an enemy, unless you know the easy way to beat them. A method that involves you getting very close which in turn puts you in more danger. Each enemy encounter will throw multiple enemy types at you and it’s this variety that leads to Borderlands main attraction, the ABS (Always Be Shooting) style gameplay manage to avoid ever getting dull. In essence what Borderlands has become here, more-so than the previous game, is a modern day version of Robotron 2084 with it’s mixture of enemy types and frantic risk/reward balance.
Overall Borderlands 2 is a hell of a lot of fun, especially when played with friends. It manages to always be amusing not just because of the it’s sharply delivered dialogue but because of the thrill of randomly stumbling across a gun that bounces around like a bunny after being discarded, or a gun that hurls abuse at you when you stop firing, or a grenade that explodes into more grenades. You never really know what treats are coming around the corner and it’s this level of minute to minute variety that keeps the Borderlands experience fresh. It also doesn’t hurt that Handsome Jack is a villain who you’ll love to hear talk but can strongly agree with the games cast when they tell you he needs to die. As for the games final boss… Well… So I beat him first time by barely moving from one spot. Maybe the next game will address that.