I’m a Borderlands guy. I recognize that the first game had flaws, but for the most part, jamming an RPG into a FPS worked incredibly well. Throw delicious loot on top of it and you have me hooked. Now, three years later, the gates to Pandora open once again, this time with Handsome Jack in charge trying to impede your progress to discover a new vault. We all know the gist here, it’s a shooter, there are four classes, and you level up while collecting tons upon tons of guns. The same elements are at play, so I won’t recap the game. If you didn’t like the gameplay from the first game, this one probably won’t do too much to sway your opinion. Instead, lets focus on the new stuff. There’s a huge amount of content here and I’m maybe halfway through so definitely not ready for a review. Here’s my quick highlights of what I love and even a few things which could use a tweak.
Impressions after the jump…
Strong Antagonist: I think we can all safely say that the first game was lacking in this department. Sure you had personalities, but for the most part, you were driven on by loot and the promise of a mystical vault. Not so in BL2. Handsome Jack, leader of the Hyperion Corporation has taken up residence and we’re all better for it. Jack is someone who you can’t help but love to hate. He’s cocky, he’s smug, and he’s hilarious. Seriously, this guy is easily one of the best new characters of this year. He has some fantastic lines and I really can’t get enough.
Writing: From the get go, the major thing you realize is that the game is more focused and the dialogue is so much stronger. Anthony Burch (of Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin? fame) leads the writing on this one and instantly brings the humor and a coherent story giving the game a much better flow. There were times in the first game where it kind of dragged a bit without that driving force being pulled along by the promise of better loot. Granted, that was a large hook, but it’s nice to see some actual meat on the bone for this one. It’s also worth noting that the game riffs on so much pop culture from Ninja Turtles to Top Gun to name a very small amount. I’ve found myself ‘LOLing’ quite a bit. Please excuse the internet speak there.
HUD/UI: One of the things that bothered me from the first game is how clunky the menus tended to be especially in split screen. You had to use a slider to see the bottom half of the menu. Thankfully, the team went back to the drawing board and came out with a much better design, especially in multiplayer this time around. Most importantly, the menus look cleaner and actually fit the TV.
Character Skills: I don’t know about you, but for Zer0, I’m finding it difficult to pick skills. If there’s one thing I can definitely say, Gearbox did a great job balancing and making each skill valuable. With the added bonus of being able to respec your skills for a small fee, this makes trying out new things an easy and recommended thing to do.
The Guns! This really is the selling point of Borderlands 2. While the first game had plenty as well, the gun designs weren’t all that unique. Sure, you’d get one every now and then, but for the most part outside of the colors, there were really only a handful of designs. Not so, with the sequel. I’ve seen so many different looking guns already it’s staggering. Not only that, the different gun corporations each have their own features as well. For example, Tediore guns now get thrown like a grenade when being reloaded then digitize back in your hand and Hyperion guns get more accurate the more you shoot.
Badass Points: Like the first game, Borderlands 2 has challenges that get completed as you play. The difference here is that BL2 takes it up 100 notches. As you complete challenges, a meter fills almost like an experience bar and when it completes you gain a “badass point” which you can redeem for permanent stat bonuses that carry over to all of your characters like reload speed, gun damage, etc. It’s an addicting feature almost to the point where you change your play style to complete them.
Backtracking: The first game had similar issues where there’s a lot of backtracking through areas you’ve already been. It’s fine the first couple times, but when quests have you trek back through areas in which all of the enemies and bosses are back in play multiple times, it gets a bit tiresome. Fast tracking is back but it’s pretty limited like the first game only being able to use terminals in specific locations. For what it’s worth, Darksiders II got it right being able to open the map at any time and warping to specific areas you’ve already visited.
Content For the Sake of Content: There’s a huge amount of things to do in Borderlands 2. This is a good thing. Usually. Excluding the main storyline which so far is indeed fantastic, there’s more than a few side missions that feel sort of…uninspired. It pains me to say it, but the game has so much to do that they really could have trimmed the fat so to speak.
Glitches and other Oddities: I haven’t run into too many glitches but there has been a couple that I’ve actually had to stop and restart the game. I’m not sure how it occurred but I was driving in an “Outrunner” (one of the vehicle classes in the game) and I hit a rock structure. After doing this, the frame rate just about crashed and it was like I was trying to play a slideshow of pictures. The only thing that fixed it was stopping the game and restarting it. There’s minor texture pop in, and the vehicles don’t have a huge role but this is mainly just nitpicking at this point.
So far, I’m enjoying my stay in Pandora. It’s certainly a stronger entry into the franchise and Gearbox did a great job listening to feedback and fan reaction from the first game. As I mentioned above, if you weren’t a fan of the first game, Borderlands 2 doesn’t do too much from a gameplay perspective to change your mind. For fans of shooters and of the first game, Borderlands 2 takes things to the next level with overall improvements.