STAFF REVIEW of Borderlands 2 (Xbox 360)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012.
by Adam Dileva

Borderlands 2 Box art There aren?t many games that can boast they have more than a bajillion guns in their game; Borderlands can, and still holds the crown. I got to wondering how a game as big and successful as the original Borderlands was, how it could be improved upon. Seems like Gearbox has figured it out and they're just doing what did so well the first time, just better and more of it. More memorable characters, more crude humor, more enemies, more guns than before, and of course, more and more loot to keep you playing.

The world of Pandora awaits your return with new skills, environments, characters, missions, weapons and more. I never really found a class in the first Borderlands that really hooked me, so I never got around to finishing it, but it seems Gearbox somehow knew exactly my play style and Axon (Commando Class) has the skills that have completely hooked me and make me feel very useful when playing online with friends.

Borderlands 2 takes place five short years after the original game and while it?s a sequel, you won?t be playing the same characters you got attached to in the first game. Fear not though, you?ll run into Roland, Brick, Lilith, and Mordecai throughout your journey across Pandora in an effort to save the world. This time around you?re going to be choosing one of four new Vault hunters; Salvador, Maya, Axton, or Zer0 and they are tasked with stopping Handsome Jack, the CEO of the Hyperion Corporation from unleashing an unknown evil upon Pandora. While the whole ?save the world? plot line has been done to death before, there are to twists and so much humor in the story to keep you pushing forward, wanting to find out what?s going to happen next.

So let?s start off with the biggest change to Borderlands 2: The new characters and classes that you?ll be playing. The four new characters and classes are quite unique and you won?t feel much deja-vu even if you?ve played the original game to death. Salvador is a Gunzerker and his unique ability is the capability to dual wield any gun in any combination you can possibly think of. If you want to shoot a sniper and a rocket at the same time, or a shotgun and assault rifle, that won?t be a problem for Salvador. He plays much more aggressively than the other characters, so choose him if you like to run into an area guns blazing.

Maya is the Siren and has the ability to Phaselock enemies that can have many different effects other than locking them out of combat and dropping their guard. Phaselocking can be a simple crowd control skill, but can also be used to make enemies prone to take more damage or even heal party members. Zer0 is the mysterious Assassin that is able to vanish seemingly into thin air and then assassinate enemies with melee hits for massive damage. Zer0 has the ability to create decoys to distract enemies while he sneaks around for a stealth kill from behind. Axton was my choice, as he is the Commando and has the ability to throw out a Sabre Turret to not only shoot nearby enemies, but to use it as a distraction as you also shoot away at anything in front of you. The turret is able to be upgraded to either shoot quicker, multiple types of attachments, or even explode a nuke when deployed.

A fifth character has already been announced; Gaige is a Mechromancer and is available October 16th, which brings up the class list to five total. A big problem I found in the original Borderlands is that while you got to play your class your way, you really didn?t differentiate yourself from other players of the same class all that much. This has been changed in Borderlands 2 as the skill trees are much more robust and it feels like you can truly customize your character of choice to match your specific play style. For my game with Axton I decided to focus on beefing up my turret skills, though you could easily make a completely different build that would completely change how you fight your enemies. The new skill trees simply feel like you can really customize your character exactly how you want.

On top of the class skill trees you now also have customization options called your Badass Rank. Essentially you?re being tracked on everything you do in the world of Pandora along your journey and doing small tasks will reward you with Badass Tokens. Spend these tokens for small upgrades to your character stats such as gun damage, reload speed, elemental chance, shield regeneration, and many other options to further customize your vault hunter. While the rewards might seem very small at first, if you keep choosing the same reward, the bonuses can add up very quickly, making you even more powerful in a specific way to suit your game. You?ll get many Badass Tokens without even trying, as you might get one for opening 100 chests, killing 1000 enemies, driving over a certain amount of enemies, and almost anything else you can think of. The best part about boosting your Badass Rank though is that these bonuses benefit all of the characters you create under that gamertag, meaning your newly created level 1 Assassin will have all these bonus perks you?ve unlocked with your max level character (though you have the option to turn it off if you wish).

Just like the first game, sidequests make a return in droves, and you?ll never have a shortage of places to go and objectives to complete. If the main story quests become too difficult or you just want a change of pace, the sidequests are very entertaining and rewarding to keep you busy. While most quests will task you with killing or collecting something, some of the writing and humor in the quests are so incredibly funny that I was actually laughing out loud. Seriously, I lost it when I had to hunt ?Bonerfarts? and then find Claptraps super-secret hiding spot.

We all know that the real hook to Boderlands though is the loot and the perpetual carrot dangling in front of you to keep you pushing forward. I keep wanting to simply do ?one more quest? and to hopefully level up and get a weapon upgrade. Just like the first game, you?ll come across so many weapons that are completely unique that you?ll most likely never see them all even if you play with your friends online.

And thus we come to the online portion of Borderlands 2, something that the first game did right and something it continues to do right in the sequel. You and three friends can play together in drop-in drop-out gameplay, and you?ll share experience and loot as you play together. The more people in your game the more difficult the enemies become, but the rewards and drops are better as well, so it?s a risk vs. reward type of setup. While I was only able to get a single match online going before launch, I luckily did get to do it with a friend and I had more fun in that short time than the dozen hours playing single player beforehand. Funny enough, we were both Commandos, so I was unsure how well we would work together, but his skill tree was completely different than mine and having two turrets made defeating some bosses possible. It seems like almost any combination of classes and skill tree differences will make a great party combination as everyone will build their character slightly different than everyone else (not even including what unique guns they?ll be using). The only downfall I found to playing online is that the loot is shared, so if you play online with random people, expect it to be a spamfest when loot drops from bosses, so I suggest keeping it to friends and trusted gamers.

Visually Borderlands 2 looks much cleaner, sharper, and brighter overall. It still has the charming cel-shaded graphic style but you can tell early on that everything simply looks much better overall. The same goes for the audio and voice acting; the acting is superb across the board from all the characters are top notch. The writing that accompanies the amazing voice acting simply makes it that much of a better package, as it seems like I can never get sick of Claptraps one-liners.

While I?m thoroughly enjoying Borderlands 2 immensely, it does have a few issues that are worth noting that seemed to keep bugging me. While you?re able to unlock and re-skin your character, aside from a few different head options, it?s really just palette swaps, making every Axton and every Maya looks the same aside from the colors of their clothes. Textures will pop in from a distance and the annoying invisible walls will still prevent you from driving your vehicle somewhere it should clearly be able to fit through. Vehicles still seem like they?re only there because they were there in the first game and serve no real purpose aside from getting from point A to point B much quicker (though shooting with infinite ammo almost seems unfair at times).

My complaints are minor and it in no way diminishes the overall package you?ll get when you buy the game. That?s right; I?m not telling you if you buy the game, it?s actually a matter of when, even if you only somewhat enjoyed the first game like myself. The writing is brilliant, it has immense humor, fantastic gameplay, fun quests, awesome co-op for four friends online, and a bajillion guns for you to loot. It?s time to return to Pandora and hang out with Claptrap some more.

Overall: 9.3 / 10
Gameplay: 9.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 9.5 / 10


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