Some game designers will tell you the key to a good product requires making 15 minutes of fun spread out into hours of entertainment. It’s not a golden rule but, when such focus is expertly applied, you’ll have a winner on your hands. Borderlands 2 (PC, PS3, Xbox 360) stands as a testament to the philosophy. All you essentially do in the game is complete missions, get cool weapons, rank up with RPG-lite features, shoot stuff and do some driving. Yet this game proves it’s not about what you’re doing, but how the action’s presented: compelling players of various preferences.
Borderlands 2 hits the ground running via revamped storytelling, writing and environments. The new rag tag bunch of vault hunters are tasked to open a new “vault” all while beating Handsome Jack and his Hyperion mega-corporation to the punch. The power struggle throughout the campaign doesn’t lose its pace. However, much of the game’s consistent flow must be credited to its crafty screenplay. There’s plenty to laugh at in Borderlands 2 especially if geek humor is your bag. Most characters from Jack’s smart ass comments to Scooter’s hillbilly witticisms catch you off guard and make the competition feel dry in the process. Such an approach is a welcome change to the “gotta save the world bro, let’s get serious!” vibe most shooters effuse.
Multiple locations and unique enemies also work on all cylinders to keepi gameplay fresh. The tremendous range of locales and vast color palettes show off the game’s massive scope and character. The presentation is sharp in most cases but the console versions suffer from slowdown during chaotic events and some unsightly pop-in. You’ll often think you saw all the game has to offer until a new foe or Bad Ass form spring up to hand you a new one. The variety keeps you on your toes even though adversaries in some areas don’t level up with you.
New vault hunters come fully equipped with powers novel enough to avoid that deja vu feeling. Axton, the smarmy commando, has a turret just like his forefather Roland but it provides smarter, more potential offensive abilities to the team. Maya’s phaselocking ability comes in stark contrasts to Lillith’s siren powers and works wonders against most trickier enemies. Zero the assassin, provides a mixture of stealth and offensive power unlike anyone seen in the last game. Finally Salvador the gunzerker is for all the bros out there who love wanton mayhem. He can dual wield any gun in the game: sparing the pomp and circumstance of the other classes in the process. Each hunter has an attitude befitting of their look and mostly hit the right dials. Zero’s “enigmatic” tone gets a bit corny but you figure someone had to counter-balance the rest of the crew’s brazen dispositions.
You want to know why it took awhile to write this review? Well, this game is HUGE. The story already packs in a good 20 hours or more of content. Throw in the optional missions and you’ll be busy for a long time. The game’s also pretty difficult as it’s best to go at least one or two levels above the suggested rank for most missions. You’ll die a ton otherwise as the game’s quick to humble you from the outset. Borderlands 2 isn’t the kind of experience you normally blitz through on a weekend. Plus the aforementioned, better developed universe makes the single player experience much better than the last game. Oh, and the weapons are even crazier. You’ll be ready for war between guns that “fire as fast as you can pull the trigger,” “disposable” pieces which explode when you throw them at enemies, grenades doubling as fire turrets and rocket launchers actually worth a damn. That’s just a brief sample of the awesome arsenal ahead of you.
Borderlands 2 doesn’t forget about the players who prefer to keep things social whether on the couch or online. The game supports drop in local and online co-op for up to four players. You can even host a split screen game with a friend and save the other two slots for allies over the internet. The game’s fine on your own but once again shines in multiplayer as opposition and loot increases with each added human player. What’s even cooler is the game will let you skip story/side missions you completed in a group once you encounter them in your save: no matter how deep your party played in the campaign. You’ll only be ineligible if you join midway through a mission’s progress and always move forward whether alone or shootin’ and lootin’ with friends.
Shortcomings aren’t plentiful but they’re still worth noting. Introducing slag, which mainly intensifies other elemental powers, as the only one new elemental effect flies in the face of the game’s otherwise creative spirit. Also the highly detailed world is separated into arenas with modest load screens between them. The disjointed nature between locales makes the experience less cohesive but it’s far from deal breaker. Your character doesn’t play a major role in the game’s dialogue as you complete tasks and watch madness ensue around you. Perhaps this was a conscious decision by the dev team but more involvement in the game’s trajectory wouldn’t have hurt. Additionally, the higher difficulty means you might have to do some grinding to complete missions. Even a few later missions listed as “Trivial” will give you some grief whether solo or in co-op.
More sequels ought to look at Borderlands 2 as a prime example on building a winning formula. The game essentially took everything the original did and dramatically improved upon its base. Heaps of replay value along with its non-competitive, pick up and play nature make the game easy to learn all while providing a stiff challenge. Borderlands 2 is an easy GOTY candidate even if it isn’t as ambitious as the first go round. Black Friday may be around the corner but this is one of those rare cases where purchasing a game feels like $60 well spent.