The original Borderlands, released in 2009, was a surprise hit from Brothers in Arms Developer, Gearbox, but even after their widely criticized Duke Nukem sequel, anticipation was high for Borderlands 2. Of all of the elaborate booths and statues that littered the floor of the L.A. Convention Center for E3, the Borderlands 2 corner display was one of the most popular. The original RPG-shooter formula title fulfilled a unique multiplayer niche, unintentionally inspired in part by the recent single-player post-apocalyptic Fallout games. More than offering a social take on a couple of popular games, the cel-shaded art style added accessibility that Bethesda’s epics didn’t.
Here we are a few months after the E3 Expo and Borderlands 2 is finally available. It improves upon the original in almost every way. Widely regarded as Diablo with guns, the Mad Max-like world of Pandora makes Borderlands much more like the wastelands of Fallout. In Borderlands 2, Pandora is much more vibrant and far more alive than before, setting the game apart from the stark locations in either Fallout 3 or New Vegas. That’s not to say everyone will like what Borderlands 2 has to offer or even that everything is perfect in this sequel.
Borderlands 2 picks up five years after the end of the first game where the four original vault hunters were guided by “The Guardian Angel” to said vault. What happened after that, resulted in a valuable mineral called eridium turning up all over the planet of Pandora. Now, rumors of an even larger vault have spread across the universe, drawing new vault hunters to the planet in search for it, and this is where you, the player, come in. Unfortunately, Borderlands 2’s new villain, Handsome Jack, has other plans. Lured into a booby-trapped train, you are left for dead in a frozen landscape littered with the debris of the train.
There are of course new playable characters with new classes in Borderlands 2 (four new characters, to be precise). I played most of the game with Zer0, an assassin. He is capable of projecting a decoy of himself, becoming invisible for a short time, and is able to strike a critical hit on enemies during his invisibility. Probably better suited for a single player campaign is the gunzerker, Salvador. He can dual-wield any combination of guns and eventually even throw multiple grenades at once. Again there is a siren. Maya has a phaselock ability which lifts enemies and can be upgraded to explode them or turn them into allies. Finally, Axton, is a commando similar to the previous soldier, and he can construct turrets. All of these characters can be somewhat customized and a bonus set of skins is given to veterans of the first game.
The controls are pretty much identical to the first Borderlands game and typical of most first-person shooters. The special abilities are mapped to the L1 or left shoulder button and equipped weapons are mapped to the d-pad. The triangle button can also cycle those weapons. The vehicles, for better or worse, are controlled with both analog sticks. The left stick drives and the steering is on the right stick which also contain the look controls. This means you automatically drive toward whatever you are looking at. Reverse is probably the biggest difficulty with the system. Gearbox has tweaked the driving somewhat and made it pretty much impossible to drive where they don’t want you to.
Borderlands 2 is designed for multiplayer and players that want to tackle it solo will face some tough obstacles. Firstly, many of the bosses are much tougher without an ally to split the baddie’s attention. There are, however, opportunities to let some enemies fight themselves. The natural creatures will often attack Hyperion forces and their robots, and berserkers will attack anyone upon sight. This is essential for players on their own and can be a useful tactic for groups. The other big advantage teams have, is that while the level of the opposing force is stronger, their numbers don’t seem to increase much, if at all as you add to your side. To add to the difficulty, in Borderlands 2, the enemies respawn much more quickly.
Borderlands 2 brings back most of the original cast. Claptrap once again gets you started and the Guardian Angel guides you from there. The four original vault hunters play a big part in the adventure too, along with many of the other memorable personalities. If you’ve gotten the impression that there is a bit more of a story, you’re right. Borderlands 2 does a much better job of explaining what is going on and why you need to do what you’re doing. The crazy humor, while often way over the top, has a method to its madness. Even the annoying characters have an interesting take on things if you feel like engaging them.
While Borderlands 2 is better than the original in almost every way, that by no means indicates the game is perfect. There are AI issues that can be exploited and I was able to break the game in a boss fight. This would have been awesome except for the fact, that the boss had to do something after I wore down his health all of the way. Even killing myself to respawn didn’t fix the glitch. Collision issues, clipping, and path finding problems are frustrating issues with which players are going to have to put up. Patches are of course sure to come, along with multiple expansions. One of these is expected to offer a new playable character. Overall, if you like the first Borderlands game, despite a good amount of technical issues, you will probably love this one.
Boderlands 2 is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Language, Sexual Themes, Use of Alcohol. This game can also be found on: PC, and Xbox 360.