It is often surprising when a game sequel successfully deepens the narrative pool behind the original title, particularly when most of that narrative revolves around shooting people in the face and searching for galactic treasure. The original Borderlands was a riotous romp through the scorched and savage world of Pandora, and what it lacked in narrative drive, it more than compensated with some impressively hilarious writing and a deliriously huge loot system that makes fans of Diablo and other action RPG games blush. Unsurprisingly, Borderlands 2 is a by-the-numbers sequel that sticks to what makes the name famous by delivering the same wild first-person shooting entertainment, while still tweaking the bits and pieces that needed but a slight improvement.
Understanding it’s most noticeable flaw, the minds at Gearbox were determined to build a sequel that had a solid narrative focus, and for the most part Borderlands 2 succeeds. Taking place 5 years after the end of the original title, the new vault hunter you create will inevitably be drawn into a story of power and revenge involving the four heroes from the first game. Fortunately, each are given a spotlight that weaves them into the narrative without making it feel forced or artificial. Their personalities are distinct and at times dysfunctional from one another, but they do display moments of humanity that bring a bit more emotional impact to the general plot, which is made all the more entertaining by Gearbox’s keenly adolescent writing team.
Perhaps the brightest gem in Borderlands 2 is a mixture of new and returning characters that help breathe new life (and hilarity) to the world of Pandora. The dumb-yet-adorable mechanic Scooter will never cease to make you smile with his insights into incestual tendencies and enlisting you to help write a poem for his latest crush, and new characters like Tiny Tina flex Gearbox’s creativity further beyond the realm of sanity, yet it never travels into feeling too absurd or unnecessary. Pandora has become a kind of circus for some of the galaxy’s weirdest people, yet somehow they feel right at home between warring gangs and giant bandits hellbent on violence and carnage.
Much like it’s predecessor, Borderlands 2 strongest element is in it’s colossal amount of guns, grenades, costumes, shields, and other modifications that you’ll be looting every few moments. The term “loot-fest” applies more than ever, as you’ll be spending just as much time analyzing and comparing dozens of guns as you would using them. While some might argue the sheer volume of loot can distract from the action or halt an otherwise adrenaline-pumping 4-person game, the empowering and euphoric feeling of acquiring a slightly stronger form of firepower keeps you constantly on the lookout for the next gun that will top it.
Play style has also been liberated from the four classes you have to choose from. From the very first level, each character will have access to any type of weapon you prefer. This is a welcome relief to veterans who felt constrained by their class choice, as those who prefer sniper rifles may not have wanted to play as Mortecai. Class skills are largely left intact from before, with the Siren class receiving the most significant changes to her innate ability. The newly added Gunzerker class is every bit as ridiculous as it sounds, becoming the new powerhouse for groups when his “gunzerk” skill is activated. If you’ve ever pondered what it would be like to dual wield a rocket launcher with a sub-machine gun (or just another rocket launcher), you’ll have plenty of opportunities to find out.
he basic combat mechanic is most impressive, however, when used in a 4-player co-op game. Enemies will scale to challenge the entire group, dealing more damage and taking a lot more damage to kill than before. As a result, players will need to utilize their skills with more efficiency in co-op games, especially toward the end of the game. The difficulty curve takes a large jump in the last few hours of the story, and even high-level characters will be tested more than they prefer. Fortunately, the quality of loot improves with more players in the game, thus leading to some incredibly powerful loot that someone will be sure to use. A shared loot system, though, may disappoint players who are slow to the pickup, as pick-up games with strangers will ultimately devolve into who can grab loot the fastest.
Minor complaints aside, Borderlands 2 largely succeeds at doing what it did so well before in the form of rewarding headshots, showering players with trinkets and keeping them laughing along the way. It isn’t the most creative means to entertain players–and at times Borderlands 2 can be a bit over-the-top with certain lines or side quests, a fan favorite undoubtedly being “shoot this guy in the face”–but that doesn’t make it any less effective. The world of Pandora seems to thrive off of quirky people delivering death on an almost comical level, but that’s part of the charm that makes Borderlands 2 so much fun. In the midst of death and blood, the people of Pandora seem to be having fun, and so should we.
See you in the next level,