‘Borderlands 2’: The Review

The original Borderlands opened with its four heroes on a bus while Cage The Elephant’s Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked served as both score and essentially introduction. The sequel has a similar opening, with one key exception: The scene isn’t scored with bluesy rock, but with the mournful garage soul of The Heavy’s Short Change Hero.

It’s a surprisingly apt summary of the game. Amid the toilet humor and hilarious deaths, things have somehow gotten worse on Pandora. This really isn’t a place for a better man.

The original game pretty heavily implied that Pandora was sparsely populated, and what little population left was largely dolts, lunatics, and maniacs. The sequel finds all of them driven to the edge by a heavily armed tyrant literally destroying the planet piece by piece.

So of course, you need to shoot him. A lot.

The writing is still uneven. Anthony Burch of Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin’? struggles to keep the somewhat goofy tone of the original while also giving the plot some weight. I could have done without the toilets spraying feces and the bullymongs being renamed “bonerfarts” (literally; the game changes their name), but Burch deserves credit for making the tired old saw of saving the world not only work, but make sense. Of course Jack will crack Pandora in half, because the only thing of value on it is a mineral and nobody cares if the population dies to get it. There really IS nobody coming to save you.

So, again, you’ve got lots of guns. Although finding the guns you want… well… that’s more of a challenge.

In terms of gameplay, it plays like the original Borderlands except moreso in every respect. You shoot bandits, help put the local wildlife on the endangered list, pick up the procedurally generated weapons to see if anything good’s sitting around, unload the vendor trash as quickly as possible, rinse, repeat.

Which doesn’t mean it’s not fun. It’s ridiculously fun. This is a game as much about killing bandits in horrible, painful ways as it is about finishing missions. That said, it’s got a punishing difficulty curve: It’s fairly clear the game expects you to complete side missions before advancing with the story quest and failing to do so will make life hard for your character.

Fortunately, there is a relentless push to level up in this game. There’s the traditional leveling system, of course, and the game tends to fill the XP meter rather quickly even at higher levels. Hitting level 50 is highly achievable before you get to New Game Plus. But then there’s the Badass system, which offers permanent stat buffs for completing goals ranging from looking through telescopes to killing enemies with certain weapons to selling guns to buying the Item of the Day. They’re usually fairly small boosts: 1% is the highest you’ll get. But they stack up, and as you level up, that extra percentage point really makes a difference.

While there is a level cap, the Badass system is supposedly unlimited. In other words, you can still get to Game Breaker status, it’ll just take a while.

Similarly, the procedural weapon system is surprisingly clever. The first game had a tendency, once you got past level twenty, to generate stupidly powerful guns; now, you’ll find guns have great benefits but usually a drawback to balance them. Early in my playthrough I got a pistol with a great scope and fire elemental damage… but it was incredibly unsteady. I got a shotgun with a lot of power… but it had to be reloaded one round at a time. It pushes you to find new guns and experiment with them instead of clinging to one pistol forever.

There are a few problems. The vehicle controls are terrible unless you reconfigure your controller; why the shoulder buttons aren’t brake and gas like every other game is baffling. Also, it’s a small thing but I miss using the L2 and R2 buttons as aim and fire, respectively. It felt a bit easier. Fortunately, you can use the original control scheme, but it requires a little menu hunting.

Similarly, the lack of any sort of cover system really stands out. There’s plenty of cover, but slamming a button to crouch isn’t the same thing. It’s especially ridiculous since you’ll be spending much of your time turtling in the opening of the game as you’ll have low health and relatively crappy weapons.

Borderlands 2, though flawed, is a hell of a lot of fun and definitely worth your $60. It might not be game of the year, but if you’re looking for a fun FPS, look no further.