These days, the video game industry is rather routine when it comes to sequels and prequels. However, even though that’s true, we have been blessed with some impressive new intellectual properties over the course of this console generation. Of course, if one were to poll a group of individuals, different favourites would be mentioned, but I’d have to go with Borderlands, Gearbox Software’s smash hit first-person shooter/RPG mixture. Up until its 2009 release, there hadn’t been anything quite like it, and its nearly perfect melding of two great genres resulted in fantastic gameplay, which was complemented by creative settings and an interesting storyline filled with unique characters. Plus, it allowed for amazing drop-in, drop-out co-operative play between four friends.
Three years have passed since the series’ well-received debut blew up retail store shelves, and its sequel has just done the same. Aptly titled Borderlands 2, the follow-up offers another lengthy quest, which is full of the same style of gameplay that its predecessor made famous. As expected, its world is full of loot, along with an increased amount of heinous baddies – many of whom didn’t make an appearance in the original title.
In this colourful, cel-shaded sequel, gamers get to choose from four brand new characters. There’s the turret-deploying commando, the gnomish gunzerker, the sword-wielding assassin and the phaselocking siren. Each one offers a different style of play, adding a ton of variety-based replay value into the experience. However, considering the title’s length and design, it’s to be expected that most folks will pick one character to be their main, and will focus on it moreso than the others.
As those who are familiar with the series will know, all four of the new characters happen to be vault hunters, meaning they’re trained mercenaries who quest for lost treasure. They’ve been lured to the planet of Pandora – the memorable location from the original Borderlands – and end up searching for yet another hidden vault. You see, when their predecessors discovered what they thought was the de facto vault, they unknowingly caused an alien material known as Eridium to come to the surface, and the incredibly valuable purple shards seem to have something in common with the planet’s rumoured second vault.
During the campaign that follows the character selection menu and its welcomed Pandora history lesson, vault hunters can team up with up to three friends, in order to try to find the second vault before the bad guys do. Unsurprisingly, the Hyperion Corporation’s maniacal leader, Handsome Jack, is also searching for the long lost contraption, and is willing to do anything to get his hands on it. That includes sending out an army of robotic fiends to make things difficult for players.
The above-mentioned mechanical foes come in varying types, like a lot of the game’s new enemies do, and some of the rules that propel them are quite hilarious. They’re urged on by an automated speaker system in one area, but Jack also likes to comment, though he’s usually taunting players with weird jokes instead of giving orders to his artificial intelligence. In fact, it seems like he spends most of his time trying to come up with new ways to screw with his adversaries.
In addition to Mr. Handsome Jack, Borderlands 2 is full of interesting personalities, from familiar faces like Scooter and Dr. Zed to newcomers like Tiny Tina, a thirteen year-old bomb expert who couldn’t be more hyper. Similar to the series’ debut, it’s the supporting characters who provide a lot of this sequel’s charm. They’re absolutely hilarious, with comedic one-liners and absurd comments to share. Even good old Claptrap has an enhanced comedy program, though he’s seemingly lacking friends.
The presented storyline is quite interesting, delivering some memorable story quests, along with a plethora of fun side quests. There’s a nice mix of both mandatory and optional objectives, both of which can be categorized by type, location and more. How you get to each one is up to you, as vehicular and on-foot travel are both options, in addition to fast travel, which helps out quite a bit. However, it’s worth noting that some items need to be searched for this time around, as the game will only show players proximity markers. Adding the second marker type makes sense, especially since it lessens the amount of hand-holding without adding an overwhelming amount of extra challenge. Then again, important items are usually rather easy to find, because the area identifiers aren’t overly large.
Generally speaking, Borderlands 2 is very similar to its predecessor with regards to its design, mechanics and bullet-heavy gameplay. However, there are some notable differences. First off, this iteration takes place on a new part of Pandora, which boasts a lot of unique locations, including frozen shores, snowy tundra and deep valleys. Next, it’s a lot more difficult than Borderlands was, which may deter the more casual crowd. Last, but not least, new customization options are presented to players. All characters and vehicles come with multiple skin types, and more can be found throughout the campaign.
The one major facet that happens to be missing from the above list is loot. Pandora’s familiar manufacturers return for this sequel, and the amount of available weaponry has greatly increased. Loot lovers will thoroughly enjoy looking for new guns, and won’t have to worry about finding duplicates. Of course, the same can be said about shields, though some happen to take away maximum health in return for added protection. However, class modifications, perk providing relics and badass rank skill bonuses can help to fill that void.
Frankly, it’s tough to fault Borderlands 2. Sure, some may say that it’s too similar to its predecessor, but I don’t see that as being a bad thing. The co-op promoting formula was great the first time around, and it’s been improved for this outing. Going further, it looks great, thanks to an enhanced form of cel-shading that allows for highly detailed environments and impressive-looking character models, though texture pop-in occasionally occurs. Complementing the visual engine is a great soundscape, which blends boisterous sound effects with fantastic voice acting and very engaging original music. Add in a high level of replay value, along with confirmed downloadable content, and you have a definite winner, which fans of its melded genres should certainly enjoy. Of course, those who didn’t like the first game will not like this one, but that goes without saying.
This article is based on a copy of the game that we received for review purposes.