Fantastic review Zips! I now want to play the game
Undoubtedly, Borderlands 2 has cemented its place as one of the best games of 2012. Building upon the foundation laid out by the first game three years ago, Borderlands 2 fixes what was broken in the first, and then covers it all in a layer of delicious improvements.
The writing is full of dark humor and is incredibly well written. The unique visuals, aided by tons of PC specific customization options, are beautiful. The gameplay refines the ideas set forth in the first game, featuring tons of loot drops and plenty of death.
Borderlands 2 is, at its core, a simple story of good versus evil. Handsome Jack is the game's main villain. Starting off as a bit of a humorous, if not slightly bumbling bad guy, you quickly come to realize that this is one truly evil fellow. There is some seriously twisted stuff said by him and carried out by him that you will discover both through the game's main story progression and through the many, many optional side quests. He may be one of the best antagonists I've seen in recent memory, with exceptions made to GLaDOS and Wheatley in the Portal series.
In charge of the Hyperion Corporation, one of Pandora's many weapons and technology manufacturers, Handsome Jack has one hell of an arsenal for support. In addition to a number of deadly robots built by his company, he also has the weapon of psychological warfare on his side. Taunting you through the voice communicator within the game, he will do his best to question your own senses of morality. Examples include when he begs and pleads with you to check on his dear, old grandmother, or when he humbly asks you to kill yourself. Yes, you can actually kill yourself with the promise of a huge cash compensation if you do, but he will call you his bitch afterwards. Such is the price of wealth. At times, it feels as though you are Handsome Jack's puppet, a theme that stretches throughout the entire game and one that is made more believable after listening to various Echo recordings that detail the back story for the protagonists.
And who are you in all of this? You are one of four new Vault Hunters that have made their way to Pandora, brought onto the planet under potentially false pretenses. Play through the game as Zer0, the assassin that loves speaking in haiku and specializes in stealth melee combat and sniping. Perhaps going balls to the wall is more your style. If so, than Salvador may be more up your alley. This short dude loves shooting off his guns and has the ability to dual wield any two weapons in the game. Axton is a basic soldier type class, accompanied into battle with his trusty deployable turret. Rounding out the group is Maya, a Siren that can encase her enemies in a stasis ball leaving them wide open to attack.
While each character tends not to speak too much throughout the story, a wealth of information can be discovered through devices known as Echo recordings. Essentially a tape recorder full of dialogue from the past, these Echo recordings detail plot elements including backstory as to why Handsome Jack is such an ass, and why each of the characters have been brought to Pandora to become unlikely heroes.
The four new Vault Hunters are supported by a very eccentric cast of non-playable characters. Old favorites such as Scooter, Claptrap, Dr. Zed, Patricia Tannis, Angel, Marcus, and Mad Moxxi return. They are rounded out by new and equally memorable characters such as the rotund mechanic named Ellie, the gentlemanly hunter named Sir Hammerlock, and the 13-year old with a love of explosions named Tiny Tina. As if they weren't already enough, the four original Vault Hunters return from Borderlands and play incredibly pivotal roles in this game. While they may not have said much in the first game, they are quite talkative in this one and are essential to the main story in Borderlands 2. Can this group prevent Handsome Jack from waking a legendary creature that he could use to overthrow all of those who oppose him? Well, that's up to you to find out.
The world of Borderlands 2 can be best described as a compartmentalized open-world experience. Simply put, the areas of Borderlands 2 are vast, varied, and connected via specific travel spots that allow you to load into the next area. It's not a seamless open-world but this is hardly an issue for how questing is laid out in the game. The quests are specific to particular areas, which is great as it tends to eliminate issues that other games have where you may become lost or confused as to where you need to go.
Gameplay largely consists of picking up quests from various NPCs found throughout the world, travelling to the location for the quest, and blasting away enemies as you march towards your goal. It's a simple premise that is made more enjoyable when you understand how the loot system in Borderlands 2 works. Loot drops in Borderlands 2 is something akin to games like Torchlight and Diablo. Weapons, grenade modifications, power-up relics, and class-specific items have a chance to drop from everyone you kill. This idea also carries over to the hundreds of chests and item crates scattered throughout the world which may hold money, ammunition, or even a new weapon.
Borderlands 2 is all about stat comparisons. Green and red arrows help you to more easily compare stats amongst weapons in your stash to see what is suitable to use and what can be sold. Yes, it's another dream game for the fan of the loot-hunting experience. If you don't like top-down action RPG titles like Torchlight but still crave the prospect of finding some sweet loot, then Borderlands 2 is for you. Naturally, you may want to also be a fan of a solid FPS experience.
The best loot doesn't always come easily, as your journey through Pandora will be met with some tough foes. Human psychos of varying difficulty, large beast-like creatures called Bullymongs, hulking berserker Goliaths, and a plethora of robots from Hyperion will all stand in your way. These foes, in addition to the native creatures on Pandora, will typically scale in level with you in many of the game's locations. Rather than simply scaling in level number only, you will actually begin to see new and varied names and models for the enemies. They will get bigger; they will begin to have armor. At their core, they're still the same types of enemies you've seen already but the increased difficulty and punishment dished out from them, coupled with the altered character models, will make it feel like they're entirely new mobs.
The story is dark, twisted, and humorous. The gameplay feels rock solid. The loot shoots out of fallen foes like a firecracker. Simple to pick up but difficult to put down, Borderlands 2 is one hell of a great game. Let's get down to the nitty and the gritty here with a quick look at the stand out pros and cons of the game!
Borderlands 2 Pros
• The gameplay is far more balanced in Borderlands 2 when compared to the first game. No one class feels overpowered, and that includes the token Siren class. Players can choose from one of four characters, each with their own unique abilities, skill trees, and specializations. For instance, I went with Zer0 the Assassin for my primary character. From the three distinct skill tree options, I decided to go with the one that made Zer0 a lean, mean, stealth killing machine.
That's not to say that I was put at a disadvantage with weapons, far from it. I just didn't really see any added benefit from skills that focus on weapon buffs because that's not how I wanted to play. I could have, for instance, dumped a ton of skill points into increasing Zer0's sniping ability, but simply chose not to. That's the beauty of this game. It's a game where you get to decide how you want to play. Go up close and personal or hang back and pick enemies off from a distance.
The same rule can apply to any of the other classes. Sure, some of them are geared to be better suited for using assault rifles over pistols, but no class is limited to specific weapon types. Again, it's all about your personal play style.
The enemies in Borderlands 2 are a bit more balanced than in the first game. Some areas of the game feature enemies that scale with your character's level. It's not really too much of an issue because if this wasn't in place, then the game would just become too easy on your first play through. Yes, there are also some areas of the game where the enemies stop scaling after a while, allowing you to go back and feel like a real badass when you can one-shot foes that used to pose a threat.
• Weapons. There are a ton of weapons in Borderlands 2. While it is true that many of the weapons are white level "junk", there are plenty of higher level "rare" drops that you will want to keep an eye out for. True to form for games that have a focus on plenty of randomized loot drops, weapons and support items can be blue, green, purple, and orange. Convention tells us that orange tier weapons are the rarest and will usually have the best stats. This certainly holds true for Borderlands 2.
In addition to the basic weapon stats of damage, accuracy, fire rate, etc., the weapons in Borderlands 2 can also have a variety of special modifiers applied to them. For instance, you may find a weapon that has a chance to cause corrosive damage over time to an enemy. This can be particularly useful against robotic foes or enemies wearing tough armor.
With nearly everything in the game being a potential source of a weapon or item upgrade, it really pays to check everywhere and anywhere. Deep down, Borderlands 2 could be a game about stat comparisons, and with all of these weapons in the game, there is going to be a lot of time spent examining and comparing. The only problem is that you may find a brand new weapon five enemies later, and the stat comparison metagame begins anew.
• The writing has taken a huge step up from the previous game. Blending elements of humor, dark humor, sadism, and suspense, Borderlands 2 runs the gamut of genres throughout the course of the main story. Handsome Jack is the easiest to notice this progression with. At the start, he seems like nothing more than a bumbling bad guy. He complains of bad pretzels and talks up his diamond covered pony, Buttstallion. However, as the game progresses, he becomes more manipulative of the player and the player's emotions.
He also tosses aside the stereotype that bad guys don't plan ahead. He purposely leads you into traps and always seems to be about one step ahead of you through most of the experience. Where most antagonists would have a lack of defenses around a vital element in the story, Handsome Jack spares no expense and has a full security system in place long before you were even a blip on the radar.
He very well could be one of the best written antagonists in a modern shooter.
• The voice acting and music are a treat for the ears. The musical score swells during intense fight sequences, fading back to low-key ambient sounds after the battle is won. Its rapid tempo and heavy beats work hand in hand with the intense and often frantic action taking place during a battle. A few licensed selections also make their mark in the game, showing up during the opening and closing credits.
The voice acting is also incredibly well done. It certainly doesn't sound like any of the major players phoned their lines in, but actually had a lot of heart behind their delivery. It was especially nice to meet back up with old favorites such as Scooter and Claptrap, whom offered up some additional comedic relief throughout most of the game. Roland, Mordecai, Lilith, and Brick all return from the first game. Offering up more than simple grunts and canned one-liners, these four play huge roles throughout the story of Borderlands 2. It was quite nice to actually see them more fully realized as characters.
While the four new Vault Hunters aren't exactly the poster children for talking, they do have some appropriate quips ready to go at various points in the game. For instance, Zer0 will offer up a variety of spoken haiku after executing his special move. To be honest, it took a while to realize that nearly everything he says was said in haiku form. Really, huge props to the writing team for that one. As a perpetually masked individual, his near deadpan delivery is incredibly fitting for a cold, calculating killing machine. For all I know, he really could be part machine; I mean the guy has a number in his name in more than one way.
Newcomers like Handsome Jack and Tiny Tina are just as well written. Unique in their own rights, every character has a certain charm that makes them likable in some way, shape, or form. Yes, even Handsome Jack. Come on, who can't be amused by some of his antics?
• They finally added a four-person vehicle. Though it takes a short bit of gameplay to obtain, it is now possible to have all four co-op players in one vehicle.
• Speaking of co-op, the co-op gameplay in Borderlands 2 is just as much fun now as it was in the first game. When you and three of your buddies are all playing different roles, the battles become so much more enjoyable when stringing together special abilities. The enemies will become a bit more difficult depending on how many players there are in the game. On the other hand, the loot drops will also be better as a result. Aside from having a buddy constantly ninja sweet loot drops, there are a couple of other minor issues with the co-op system in Borderlands 2.
• Visually, the unique cel-shaded style graphics are immediately identifiable as being set in the Borderlands franchise. Improved upon the first game, Gearbox's use of Unreal Engine 3 is put to good use here. Large landscapes are complemented nicely by detailed indoor areas. More objects have been added to the environment to make the world of Pandora feel more believable and lived in. Fortunately, while additional details have been added in almost every regard, the clutter never becomes too much nor does it ever interfere with the flow of your character's movement.
• PhysX support has been included to great effect. Honestly, I never really saw the appeal of PhysX before in a game, until I saw how, when implemented properly, it can add a lot of visual flair. When enabled, bullet impacts kick up a ton of debris that has physical properties. Barrels will explode in globs of acid or purple slag. Blood will burst from a freshly killed enemy. Toilets will expel their thick, brown contents onto the ground.
The best part is that they will move and react to anything else going on. For instance, if there is a large, thumping piece of machinery, the debris and liquid will be kicked back from the intense thump. Debris and liquids will actually roll and flow downhill realistically. While the cloth objects in the game already have Havok physics applied to them, the PhysX properties means that you can realistically blow holes into the fabric. Do this enough and it will be shredded to pieces.
Now, perhaps the best example of how PhysX adds visual flair to the game comes from one of the game's grenade types. One grenade type is the vortex that will suck enemies towards it before exploding outwards causing damage. Now, these grenades will also work on the PhysX enabled objects in the game and will often times create a swirling vortex of rocks, liquids, and even cloth tarps and is a real visual treat to behold.
It's not an overdone effect and it's not especially taxing on the system (provided you have an Nvidia based graphics card). The High setting may produce a bit too many debris particles, but the Medium setting provides a sweet spot for showing all of the PhysX effects without going overboard.
• The length of the game can run the average gamer anywhere from 10 hours to 100 hours. While it is possible to go through the main story almost straight through, you will be missing out on a lot of the content that the game has to offer. Nearly everybody has at least one side quest that you can choose to undertake. Rewards from these side quests include experience, money, or a sweet new weapon. You'd almost be doing yourself a disservice if you didn't do at least some of the side quests in this game as they can be quite entertaining in their own right.
When you couple this all with the fact that there is a New Game+ mode called "True Vault Hunter Mode" that allows you to keep your stats and weapons, yet begin the game anew, you're looking at one incredibly long gameplay experience here. Yes, the enemies will scale up in all areas to match your new starting level, so be prepared for one hell of a difficult fight.
To make a note here, my first play through clocked in around 40+ hours. This time includes progression of the main story, going through a number (not all) of the game's side quests, and joining co-op games with others who weren't as far along in the game as I was. That's a huge amount of gameplay there, even if you decide to play through the game just once.
• The game will allow you to skip certain quests if you completed them in somebody else's game already. That's a great little touch here that I wish more co-op games would take note of. This serves to ensure you don't have to repeat missions that you already completed elsewhere. I mean, you could redo them but you don't have to. Just the fact that this option exists at all is a really nice touch.
• RPG elements such as skill tree customization and leveling add a nice bit of depth to the game. The level cap, at present, is 50. If this cap is anything like in the first game it is entirely possible that it will be raised as the DLC is released.
• A second form of currency in the game, called Eridium, is used to purchase items on the game's black market. Though this currency is largely limited to expanding the size of your backpack and purchasing upgrades to your ammo carrying capacity, Eridium is a hot commodity in the early stages of the game.
This leads me to the slot machines found at Moxxi's bar in the city of Sanctuary. These two machines will become the means in which you earn a lot of Eridium quite quickly and will thusly also become a huge addiction for many players. I've lost track of how many times I'd be playing co-op with a few people and we realize we spent more time and money at the slot machines than actually playing through the quests.
In addition to dispensing out Eridium, players can also win random amounts of money, weapons of varying quality, and even a grenade. This place is incredibly useful to hit up often on your first play through, provided you have a lot of extra cash to blow.
• There are a lot of subtle and not-so-subtle nods, references, and Easter eggs found within Borderlands 2. One that was making the rounds shortly after the game's release is the area dedicated to Minecraft. Without giving away too much, there are a lot of great references in this game, be it to the previous game, to movies, to other games, or simply to pop culture in general.
• There is no fall damage. That's pretty much it, no need to expand upon this one. It's just nice to play a game that doesn't penalize you for hopping around areas like a moron.
• A secondary ranking system, affectionally called Bad Ass Rank, allows you to pick and choose various stat bonuses for your character. These typically include very small percentage bonuses to weapon damage, or recoil reduction to name two. Bad Ass Rank is increased by pretty much doing anything within the game. You get it for killing X number of enemies, finding certain Easter eggs, carrying out certain tasks. You name it, there's probably a Bad Ass Rank associated with it.
Over time, these percentages begin to add up to make you feel like your character is actually becoming more powerful beyond the skill tree options available. It's a nice addition to the game that lets you grow your character to better meet your individual play style.
• The game is just a lot of fun in almost every regard. It's great going through by yourself. It's great going through with friends. It's just flat out fun to hop in at any point of the game, blow some stuff away, and take in some of that sweet loot.
Borderlands 2 Cons
• Some of the textures found within the game could stand to be a bit higher resolution. In general, the graphics in Borderlands 2 are a major step up from those in the first game. I just can't help but feel like there's some letdown here when I see a texture that is obviously stretched out and appears low resolution as a result.
• While the metagame of stats comparisons is a huge draw for many, it can also become a bit overwhelming for others. There may come a point where you just stop wanting to constantly go through your inventory to see if that new weapon is worth using over your current weapon. Or you may just get tired of opening up countless chests or lockers hoping that one of them contains a new orange level weapon.
It's a fatigue, of sorts, that may wear on you after a while, especially if you weren't drawn to this game because of the promise of a ton of loot drops.
• The save system relies on approaching beacons scattered throughout Pandora's locations. This sometimes means you will respawn in an area that is full of enemies that just killed you, or it may result in you spawning quite a distance away from where you just were. A quick save or even a custom save option would have been nice here. It's not terrible, but it's just not as refined as it could have been.
• I wish that there were more uses for Eridium in this game. After you max out your backpack capacity and max out your ammo carrying capacity, there is no real use for Eridium. Alright, there is one extra use for it but it doesn't cost too much Eridium and to discuss it would ruin a small end-game surprise. It would have been nice if there were additional items in the black market, especially for New Game+. Maybe add in ultra-rare weapons that can only be purchased with large quantities of Eridium. Something, anything, would have been welcome. As it is, most players will end up with the max amount of Eridium sitting on their person, and nothing to actually spend it all on.
• Though I shouldn't be too harsh on this one since Borderlands did this too, I do wish the skill tree abilities provided for unlocks of new moves instead of unlocking passive abilities. True, there are some skill tree abilities that actually allow you to perform some enhanced maneuvers, but they are mostly passive. For example, I can't help but feel like Zer0 could have been even more fun to play if some of those abilities unlocked more impressive melee moves. It's not like I'm expecting them to have precision samurai cuts like in Metal Gear Rising, but something beyond a dashing attack with the same canned melee animation would have been welcome.
• Initially, connecting to certain friends proved to be impossible. Gearbox has since fixed this issue and while it seems to be resolved, there are still occasions when co-op partners will be disconnected without warning. I'm not sure if this is an issue with the game or with the behind the scenes stuff with Steam. Regardless, it's still a hell of a lot better than having to use Gamespy.
• Sometimes the scaling can feel a little lopsided, especially during the second play through. You can't just plow through the main story missions and expect to just stomp everything in your path. Enemies are incredibly challenging and will sometimes be a few levels above your character. This is the only time where I felt as though I needed to do some of the optional side quests in order to have a better chance in story segments. This, again, only really happened during the New Game+ mode, so it's not as though it is too common of an issue.
• Enemies tend to respawn too quickly. You just cleared out an area, you're feeling quite good and bam, the enemies you cleared out at the start are already back. Yes, this also includes many of the game's bosses and sub-bosses. I know a lot of people disliked this about Far Cry 2 and unfortunately it is a bit of a minor issue here in Borderlands 2. Perhaps if the respawn time was increased a bit, this would become even less of an issue.
• One thing I really don't get about the story is this small potential oversight. The respawn becons in Pandora are a product of Hyperion. Handsome Jack controls Hyperion. Handsome Jack hates you and wants you and your buddies dead. Why then does Handsome Jack not disable the respawn beacons when your character dies? It seems like a bit of a silly oversight in the game's plot.
• For as much as Gearbox improved upon the complaints PC gamers had about visual customization options in the first game, the inventory system could still use some work. It's functional but a more streamlined experience may have been better suited for those with a mouse, keyboard, and more screen resolution than players on consoles have.
• What the hell happened to Buttstallion?!
Whew, that is certainly a lot to take in! Honestly, Borderlands 2 is probably going to be one of the best games you play this year. It's already ranking quite high as one of the best shooters I've played ever, and it's certainly making a strong case for being one of the most enjoyable games I've played, period. With its excellent blend of humor, action, memorable characters, and plenty of loot, there is something here for everyone to enjoy.
PC gamers gain the added benefit of having the full gamut of visual customization options. Yes, Gearbox listened and they have delivered in spades, including options for FOV, AA, PhysX, and so much more.
Speaking candidly here, I could probably go on and on about how much more refined Borderlands 2 is compared to its predecessor. Gearbox did an amazing job at delivering a solid game right out the box. It almost makes you forget that they were partially responsible for the disappointment that was Duke Nukem Forever.
Borderlands 2 is a game that I have had no qualms about when it came to re-doing quests with co-op partners that I had already completed. It's also rather telling that as soon as I beat the game, I immediately hopped into the New Game+ to start it all over again. Oh yes, you can go back to the Normal game mode, should you want to complete some of those remaining side quests. Afterwards, simply change your mode back to the True Vault Hunter Mode to continue utilizing the new experience and items gained in those side quests. It really feels as though everything was taken into consideration here with respect to what the player may want to do in the game.
I'm eagerly awaiting the pieces of DLC slated for release later on down the road. It's not often that I crave more when I've already been given dozens and dozens of hours of enjoyable gameplay already.
Kudos to the team at Gearbox for delivering in spades with Borderlands 2. Yes, it's worth it. Yes, you should go pick it up immediately after reading our final score below.
Borderlands 2 official website
Borderlands 2 on Steam $59.99 (USD)
Borderlands 2 at Green Man Gaming $53.99 (regular price: $59.99; site provides a Steam key)
Borderlands 2 on the PC was provided to TGN for review purposes from Gearbox Software and 2K Games. Borderlands 2 is also available on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 and is rated M for Mature (Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Language, Sexual Themes, Use of Alcohol).
Fantastic review Zips! I now want to play the game
Completely agree with this review, although the game has its issues (very few) its a game everyone needs to play, the coop has been a fantastic gaming experience.
Also, in case you don't know, Randy Pitchford (@DuvalMagic) is giving away shift codes worth 1 or more keys for the Sanctuary Chest, so if you're a loot addict with a twitter account it might be worth checking it out.
Also, I think last night's database error which occurred right about when I originally posted this is causing some unforeseen consequences to how this thread is displayed between the forums and the main CMS page.