Review: Borderlands 2

Borderlands 2 takes the gameplay draft of Borderlands and fleshes it out in virtually every way possible. It’s also the point at which Gearbox fully embraced the zaniness of Borderlands. The plot is pretty serious, but few opportunities to inject humor are passed up. Claptrap is no longer the only truly ridiculous character (though he’s so ridiculous that they reduced the number of claptraps to one presumably because more than that would have been too much – to be clear, this is a good thing).

In most ways, Borderlands 2 adds features on top of the original rather than removing them. The one exception is the loss of weapon proficiencies, which are replaced by badass ranks. These reward you with minor upgrades to stats of your (somewhat randomized) choice for fulfilling various mini-achievement type goals. The effects are far less than weapon proficiencies, but the system still feels better overall, especially since it’s shared between characters. Revolver ammo was removed in favor of general pistol ammo as well. A fourth non-weapon slot, relics, takes over some of the more esoteric abilities found on Borderlands class mods, and serve as a similar but class-agnostic enhancement slot. A new currency, Eridium, now pays for all inventory and ammo capacity upgrades, which has the unfortunate side effect of making money largely useless most of the time. Max inventory size is a bit more constrained now as well, even for the thorough.

There are four brand new characters to play (six if you include DLC), aligning roughly but not exactly with the four Vault Hunters from the first game. There’s another Siren, albeit with different abilities, and the tank and sniper class types are a bit different as well. The biggest change is to skill trees, which are now longer and build toward an ultimate ability with a single rank for each tree. It’s a lot harder to double-dip until second and later playthroughs, but the trees feel more meaningful than they did (and a respec is still available whenever you need it). Class mods with effects so powerful that you’ll want to respect to take advantage of them are much more common this time around as well.

A less obvious change is that the loot system has been broadened considerably. There are actually fewer manufacturers, but the remaining ones have a stronger influence on the nature of their items. They have general rules, like that Torgue guns are all explosive and Hyperion weapons get more accurate with sustained fire. As a result, the manufacturer can be nearly as important as the weapon type when choosing what to keep. In addition, there is a wider variety of legendary weapons with dramatic effects that usually need to be discovered by experimentation. Some of these are silly and difficult to use, while others can be key to specific builds. Fortunately, you can re-fight bosses at will, allowing you to farm specific legendaries you may need for your character.

The plot of Borderlands 2 centers on Handsome Jack, an antagonist that runs the Hyperion corporation and wants to use the power of (another) Vault on Pandora to his own nefarious ends. Jack talks to you frequently during the game, and makes for a funny and interesting villain who thinks he’s the hero. A wide cast of other new characters also appears, though your main allies are the Vault Hunters from the first game. You’ll fight alongside them at various times, which is a lot of fun for series veterans. In addition to the wide array of characters, the terrain in Borderlands 2 is varied. You start on a glacier and explore many different biomes that are thankfully not all just desert wastelands. This makes the game much more colorful than the original, and allows for a much wider variety of enemy types as well. The human(-ish) enemy list has also been dramatically increased, with some interesting foes like Goliaths that can be made to attack their allies and level up as a result.

In some ways, the original Borderlands felt like Diablo 1 made into a shooter. It had a predictable structure and was focused almost entirely on the gameplay. In similar fashion, Borderlands 2 fleshes out that gameplay and a whole lot more. It is roughly analagous to Diablo 2 in that way, but Borderlands 2 feels much more like its own thing. The plot runs through everything and often offers a strong sense of urgency. The sidequests are less monotonous and the early game is not bogged down with them. By the time you start seeing a lot of sidequests, you’ll have a central base area to return to. There are some dramatic and emotional moments that really set the game apart.

If the idea of a looter shooter is appealing to you, Borderlands 2 definitely deserves your attention. It’s a lot of fun, has plenty of replay value, and a truly ridiculous amount of DLC I haven’t even touched on. It’s fun in single player or multiplayer and with the addition of badass ranks and a shared bank, encourages multiple playthroughs as different characters. It’s dirt cheap these days, so check it out!

Review Score: A