Few games come along that elicit as much notable praise and loyal dedication as the original Borderlands did. Fewer still spawn solid sequels that take what the initial outings achieved and improve on them even more, becoming something entirely more special in their own right. Fortunately, Borderlands 2 is one of those games; a wild, action packed and epic ride that moves along at a break-necked pace with sheer, in-your-face, unadulterated mayhem. Fans of the original have been awaiting the arrival of this sequel with baited breath and high expectations, and needless to say, not only have they been met, but they have quite possibly been, dare I say it, surpassed too. Such is the time, effort and sheer brilliance that Gearbox have put into Borderlands 2, which storms the market and makes a solid case for potential game of the year legitimacy.
Anyone familiar with the original will know that essentially, Borderlands is a blasting loot-fest at heart. Whereas the first outing allowed the player pure freedom within a vast open world, tackling missions here there and everywhere where you see fit, the sequel offers a little more structure amidst a much richer campaign, working all the better for it. Side missions and odd jobs are still vast and varied, and will take up much of your time as you navigate the tepid lands of the new look Pandora, a crazed, bizarre landscape as beautiful and stunning in parts as it is brutal and downright punishing.
Set five years after the events of the first, only limited knowledge is needed of the events that came before in order to dive head first into Borderlands 2. The characters to chose from are entirely new, each offering unique abilities that aid you along the way, with familiar faces popping up to either welcome you back, or beckon you in. Enough references to the previous game are on hand to make previous players feel right back at home, but never to the point where new players feel alienated. With a new element called “Eridium” rising up and having a huge overall influence on the planet of Pandora, expect new enemies, new landscapes, new weapons, and a fantastic overall story that grabs you by the balls and outright refuses to let go.
The people you meet, trade with, even annihilate provide the game with its incredible style and character. So much effort has gone into the dialogue they speak, which at times is so damn hilarious you’d be forgiven for thinking you were watching the latest comedic blockbuster from Hollywood. Borderlands 2 contains quite simply some of THE funniest gaming moments you will likely ever experience. But while pure comedic gold is rife and rich throughout, the real reason many will jump aboard for the wild ride, is the action, which is as relentless and crazed as you could possibly ask for. Each chapter and mission takes things to the next level, with some truly remarkable set pieces on hand to delight even the most critical shooting fan out there.
Looting is still as crucial as it was before, with much reward put into exploration and investigation. There are ammo dumps and weapons shops on hand to keep your equipment upgraded as the enemies strengthen in numbers and power, but the reality is you will find the best weapons by disposing of tough enemies yourself, and looting their corpses, rather than buying outright from a fat greedy vendor. Never has sifting through a toilet for shotgun shells been so much fun. Speaking of which, who hides shotgun shells in a toilet anyway? Either someone thought it was an ideal hiding spot, or they seriously need to change their diet. Raising funds can be a tad repetitive mind, particularly as you will find most of your weapons and ammo yourself, as chances are you will only really part with your cash when respawning from a brutal death. A big percentage of your money is stripped right from your purse should you meet your maker at the hands of the game’s countless enemies, which makes death all the more significant and punishing, if a tad frustrating.
Some weird design decisions can also prove a little annoying, the game’s map for example, which can be all too confusing and misleading to follow. A few times I wanted to get from one point to another, but following the map led me directly into a wall. Also, a few glitches cropped up whilst I played, one time I simply respawned for no apparent reason, I wasn’t taking damage, I wasn’t even put in second wind mode, I simply just respawned during a fight, all the more frustrating given that it cost me an arm and a leg in money. Also, I encountered several problems with barrier detection, one such occasion leaving me with an unfinishable side mission, as an object I had to collect had mysteriously gone through a cliff face and couldn’t be picked up. While these bugs did prove annoying at the time, there’s just so much greatness to the game that you forgive it such minor inconveniences. And when the cards are dealt, the simple truth is that Borderlands 2 does everything that could have been asked of it, and then some. Gearbox’s time and effort spent in exceeding expectations and knocking socks off has been well worth it.
Pandora is recreated in the most idealised and stylistic beauty, in such a way that only the timeless charm of cell shaded graphics can offer. While Borderlands was no way near the first game to ever use cell shading, it has proved one of the most notable, and the slick, cartoon-ish yet fantastically glorious visuals compliment the bizarre, OTT action perfectly. It’s a game you shouldn’t take too seriously, yet can’t help but adore. The cell shaded effect hasn’t aged a day, and probably never will. Animation is superb, and at no point did I encounter any issues with frame rate, regardless of the countless enemies that were gunning for my blood at any one moment.
Equally as impressive, if not more so, is the game’s audio, ranking right up there among some of the best voice acting I’ve ever heard in a game. With such rich, humorous dialogue, it was essential that lines were delivered just the right way in order to pull the comedy off properly, and they have been. The comic timing and subtle nuances that the stellar voice cast displays sets a new standard for gaming, and all involved should be proud of the work done here. They help portray the world of Borderlands 2 more than anything, and do a great job in adding such charismatic life to the world of Pandora. The soundtrack too is superb, a soft and seductive acoustic score, strumming effortlessly in the background, suiting the action on screen, and seamlessly transitioning to a much more dramatic pace when the action perks up, so much so you’d almost think someone was sat in a live studio watching your every move and adjusting to it.
With 4 separate characters to get to grips with, a long and involving campaign, countless side quests and extra missions, 4 player co-op, and the promise of at least 4 separate DLC packs on the horizon, Borderlands 2 has so much staying power it puts many other games to shame. I must have put at least 35 hours into the game already with the end nowhere in sight. While the game is known for its awesome co-op, it might have been nice to make this latest one competitive, with maybe even deathmatch options on board? It’s something Gearbox have never really addressed, but the game certainly has all the tools for a great online experience, should they ever decide to go that way. Even so, as it is, the game has so much life in it that online multiplayer is barely even needed anyway, and it will keep you busy for many hours on end.
All in all, Borderlands 2 takes every expectation piled on it from the original, and blows them out of the ballpark. Gearbox has crafted something truly special and exciting, which old and new fans alike will rejoice in playing, as Pandora welcomes them in with open arms, and a hefty knee to the groin. Few rides in gaming are as wild, exciting, funny and challenging as this one, and without doubt Borderlands 2 raises the bar for any FPS to follow, this generation or even the next.
Review by Buckdawg.