Borderlands 2 Review: More Guns, More Loot
The original Borderlands was a game with a big ambition: aiming to meld RPG elements into traditional FPS gameplay in the hopes of setting itself apart from the pack in the overcrowded FPS genre. It was successful for the most part; creating a unique experience that was a hit with both fans of RPG’s and FPS’s alike. It should come as no surprise then that the sequel is very much the same thing, just more of it.
The story picks up five years after the original and follows your character as you clean up the mess left behind at the end of the first game. The story is rather uninteresting, but is serviceable enough as a device to keep the action flowing and the set pieces changing. The antagonist ‘Handsome Jack’ chimes in every once in a while to taunt you and the main motivation I had for finishing the main storyline was the hope that I would be able to shut him up for good at the end of it.
However the story is a nonfactor, the important thing to know is that Borderlands 2 does two things really well: shooting and looting. The gunplay in Borderlands 2 is great. The RPG elements meld well with the FPS gameplay, as each weapon has viewable statistics that determine everything from the damage it deals to the reload speed. The damage you do to enemies when shooting them is shown in MMO-like fashion with damage numbers popping out the top of their heads and critical hits (from headshots and weak spots on bosses) displayed with hugely satisfying emphasis. The shooting feels solid; whether you’re scoping headshots from afar with a gigantic sniper rifle or getting up close and shredding baddies with a shotgun, it all feels great.
This feeling is fuelled by the second pillar of Borderlands 2: the loot hunt. Weapons are randomly generated throughout the game so there are literally millions, if not billions of different weapons to be found. This leads to a constant stream of upgrades that will have you continually comparing and asking yourself which trade off you want to make for another. The instant gratification of seeing higher damage numbers pop off from enemies when you equip a new gun leads to an insatiable loot lust that always makes you want to do just one more quest to see what you might get.
The gameplay loop that houses this gunplay and loot hunt is the traditional RPG fare. You get a quest, follow the quest marker on your map, fulfil the conditions of the quest, hand it in for experience points and a reward. Rinse and repeat. This may sound somewhat mundane and to be frank, it is - but the steady flow of equipment upgrades and the thrill of using your awesome weapons totally distracts from the lacklustre core gameplay. The game also offers co-operative play with up to four friends which is definitely the best way to play if you can manage it, as having friends around also makes the questing a lot less monotonous.
The original four classes have been scrapped and replaced with four new classes that are completely different from the original, all with their own interesting abilities and perks that can be acquired through levelling up and specialising in multiple different skill trees. The classes are all fun to play and each provide a unique experience, however the skill trees themselves are padded out with a lot of stat boosting perks that seem insignificant. It’s hard to get excited about an extra 0.05% critical hit chance or 0.1% faster reload time in a game as crazy and brimming with awesome abilities as Borderlands 2 is. These stat padding skill trees are a relic of the RPG ancestry that Borederlands 2 is built on, but it’s implementation really feels like a missed opportunity for the developers to do something more interesting with the levelling system.
In terms of visuals, Borderlands 2 has a cel-shaded, cartoon/comic-book aesthetic with lots of colour and deep outlines which suits the game well. The gun models look great and a lot of the randomly generated stats are represented visually on the gun models, such as long clip indicating that the gun has a high bullet capacity. However some of the textures in the environments and on some enemies can look blurred and muddy.
Speaking of environments, another sticking point I had with Borderlands 2 is with the locales and areas that the game takes place in. All the areas feel totally lifeless and sparse. The game takes place on a desolate, isolated planet and most quest objectives take place within a compound or small section of the map that is more detailed, but the areas themselves are so open and empty that travelling through them is just boring.
A few other minor quibbles to note would be the UI that leaves a lot to be desired, the oftentimes cringe-worthy writing and the sporadic movement and animations of some enemies – but these are very minor and don’t detract much from the experience.
Overall, Borderlands 2 is a great game that improves upon the original in every aspect. However, it is still very much the same game, so if the first one didn’t interest you, it’s unlikely that this sequel will either. The changes that have been made are definitely for the better and the gunplay and looting are as strong as ever. Playing solo can eventually feel tedious, but rounding up a group of friends and heading out into the Borderlands is one of the best co-operative experiences you can have.