Big, bold and brutal. Welcome to Borderlands 2 and Pandora, a world that will amaze you with its beauty, charm you with its personality and challenge you with its impressive gameplay. Gearbox Software has created almost the perfect sequel, iterating and expanding on the original, welcoming new players and providing wonderful references for the series’ fans.
Kicking off with an opening that sets the atmosphere perfectly – gorgeous, adrenaline-pumping and suitably epic, Borderlands 2 is incredibly polished, features perhaps the most enjoyable characters to date and a mix of elements that cements it as one of the biggest titles of the year.
The cell-shaded style is back once again in all its glory, with vistas stretching far and wide, ranging from snow-covered mountains to industrial bunkers. Animations have an increased fluidity to them whilst the use of colours and styles help to break up the potential monotony of vast worlds and enrich the environments over and over again. It’s difficult to determine whether there’s a noticeable visual upgrade given the artistic stylisation, yet it doesn’t matter as this sequel provides a great visual punch at every turn.
The visual panache is accompanied by a suitably enjoyable soundtrack that when layered upon by some powerful sound effects leaves you with a sizzling auditory experience. Their balance is beautifully weighted, with neither one overpowering another. The voice acting can at time be a little wooden, but this is offset by some truly wonderful ones. More often than not this is down to both a preference of attitudes and each characters potentially outlandish personalities which ooze out Borderlands 2’s terrific charm.
It’s said characters that really define Gearbox Software’s shooter from others on the market. Whether it’s the blissfully unaware and ironically idiotic “general purpose robot” Claptrap, the large and proud mechanic Ellie, psychotic and childish teenage explosive expert Tiny Tina or the return of some old friends, Borderlands 2 brings probably the best collection and diversity in personalities to grace a videogame. They will have you chuckling at their humour, worried for their sanity and worried for their safety. The latter is especially prevalent thanks to my favourite videogame villain of all-time, Handsome Jack.
Jack is the best and worst type of bad guy: someone who truly believes that he is doing the right thing by trying to eliminate you, who doesn’t particularly like Vault Hunters (of which you play) and although he plays with you at times like a cat with a mouse, he’s not afraid to turn your world upside down. See, Borderlands 2 is a direct sequel but one with new protagonists. It’s been many years since the original Vault Hunters successfully opened the vault and there’s four new Hunters in town – each their own class, and thus with their own specialities and abilities.
As a result you don’t have to have played the original to fully understand and enjoy the second. There are of course nostalgic throwbacks to plot, especially the characters and it’s a wonderful service to the fans of the series. By using brand new classes, a new world in Pandora and an entirely separate story, it’s both fresh for returning fans and forgiving and accessible for newcomers.
Borderlands 2 though, like it’s predecessor, is at its best when enjoyed with others.
The core gameplay for Borderlands 2 though has not changed, it’s just been iterated upon and tidied up. Loot is central to the game’s hoarding history and nothing has altered in this sense. There’s still ample amounts of goodies to pick up and sift through, with a billions of gun permutations you’ll almost never come across the same things twice. There’s still class and grenade mods – as well as appearance ones this time around – but it’s the guns that take to the forefront once again.
How you prefer to engage in combat will ultimately decide upon your selection of arms. Whether that be corrosive sniper rifle or a fiery shotgun there’s something for everyone. It’s still a shame that you can’t pull apart weapons and piece them back together to create your own weapons, but that would be a preferable feature rather the lack of it being a severe detriment to the game.
The collection of enemy dropped money and ammo automatically – rather than having to actively pick it up – is a welcome improvement, but why this wasn’t extended to discovered items is bizarre. Also, the sheer volume of weapons within the game and limit you’re able to carry will result in a lot of time organising your inventory, something that should have been avoided.
Experience and skill trees are key to both the games depth, but also progression through the game’s missions. With a suitable level assigned to each mission, you’ll need to ensure you’re there or thereabout in order to challenge effectively. Kill enemies and achieve objectives to level up and earn skill points that you can use to improve your character amongst a trio of skill trees. It adds a slightly tactical edge in addition to the obvious joy of finally unlocking that seemingly elusive ability.
Your Badass Ranking earns you tokens by completing pre-defined tasks (such as kill a certain number of enemies). These tokens can then be redeemed to permanently upgrade one of a selection of areas, including reload time, melee damage, accuracy, health, etc.
Combat is tight and well refined, with a quite fantastic feeling no matter the gun, whilst enemies ensure things stay interesting as they dodge your shots, roll to and from cover and will even attempt to flank you. Their variety is strong and their power gets increasing grander – although on occasions the difficulty spikes were far from enjoyable – with the boss fights being expertly diverse.
Some real niggles annoy more often than they should. The fast-travel system will take you from some places but not back to them, requiring you to traverse the entire map to return to your original placing; vehicles steer like a possessed forklift and are vastly unused; and there can be some real frustrations with checkpointing and respawning of enemies.
Borderlands 2 though, like it’s predecessor, is at its best when enjoyed with others. Having a buddy to help you up when you’re down, split the word load and provide that much need support when taking on an enemy just too powerful for you makes a world of difference. Borderlands 2 is a great game when played solo, but it’s proportionally better each time you add in another player. This can be done via splitscreen or online with up to three friends and is an absolute breeze to establish a connection and play.
There’s a mammoth amount of content on show that exudes a quality that the franchise deserves – even the side-quests have side-quests. With the options and possibilities between classes, skill trees, missions and loot, you’ll never get the same game twice. You’ll explore the wonderful and beautiful world of Pandora, fight with and for friends via terrific gunplay, witness some truly breathtaking scenes and become engrossed in characters and plot points unlike any other. Borderlands 2 is one of the most enjoyable games of the year – a true sequel.