Back to Pandora? Yes please.
When Borderlands first released we were all a bit sceptical about the ideas being put forward, the promises made and the choice of artistic direction. Well as we now know Borderlands turned out to be one of our favourite games this gen, delivering or exceeding all of the promises made and certainly blowing our expectations out of the water.
Accordingly we adjusted said expectations for the follow up. We wanted more of the same, but better in every way; as is the way with gamers in general. A tough bunch to please. Gearbox however did not shy away from the challenge, themselves promising “a bazillion guns” and mayhem of the highest order. Once again Gearbox delivers, and then some… and then some more.
Graphically Borderlands 2 utilizes the same cell-shaded antics of the first and again it works magnificently well; smooth, creamy visuals blended with the harsh landscape of barren earth and broken wastelands. Though this time there seems to be more colour and life to the places you visit. Character models are impeccable, funny and sometimes downright absurd. It must be a joy to be a character or level designer at Gearbox because it seems that anything goes.
For us the gamers it really makes you want to explore every location, which for a semi-RPG helps a lot with the grinding and looting. The amount of detail is staggering, rooms are filled with items and graffiti, humour abounds and everything is well thought out. Go and visit one of the mission-giving NPCs and take a look around their immediate area and you will find personal things put there just to make the connection deeper, but solely at your discretion to find.
The sounds of Pandora are equally impressive, going one step further this time by making everything voice-acted. The standards (very high standards) are there as expected: guns, bombs, creatures, vehicles etc. It’s immersive and violent, when a battle goes full force the chaos is in your face and ears. The only drawback is during the often frenetic action the game tries to carry the mission forward with dialogue which you have no hope of hearing or understanding so a lot is missed, which is a great pity because there is an endless amount of real humour in Borderlands 2. So much so that much time is spent chuckling to the rantings of some or other NPC.
Our favourite sound however have to be the weapons which tell you what they are doing in a voice that makes fingernails scratching a blackboard sound like Beethoven’s 5th: “Reloading!”, “Changing Weapon!”, “BANG! BANG! BANG!”.
Another welcome improvement to the game is the story element. Things are a bit smarter, a bit deeper, just as wild but now there’s more connection not only to the current characters but Gearbox has intelligently woven the characters from the first into this one. This gives the game an instant nostalgic feel and running into the initial batch of Vault hunters is exciting. Working with and for them is even better.
Side missions carry as much intrigue and fun as the first and we believe this is a key aspect to taking away any laborious feelings that often accompany RPGs. Side missions are not simply bland fetch-and-give affairs, nor are you tasked with cleaning out dungeon after dungeon. Every side mission contains some or other character or bizarre situation, filled with fun and humour and each one makes you want to complete it and then search for more.
None of the above mentioned facts would be of any use if the gameplay wasn’t solid, the first game was nigh perfect and this time things are at least as good. It’s fast, it’s manic, it’s accurate in perfect harmony with the stats each weapon presents and your specific abilities. Finding an awesomely powerful weapon that has a dreadfully poor firing rate makes the weapon almost useless, unless your stats boost firing rate. Using the right elemental against the correct enemy determines your success, working on your powers in a way that suits your gameplay can make you truly formidable.
Gearbox’s take on the RPG elements is another master stroke; you cannot upgrade everything, in fact you probably can’t even get half way. So you have to make critical choices about how you build your character, what things you like to use and what they are good at, a weapon may be useless for you but perfect for your friend, and when you are playing with others all these things combine to an even greater degree.
There’s no point having two players who are doing the same thing; in some instances you will combine to be overly powerful and in others things will be very tough. Balance is the key. We have been going through the game as opposite characters building our strengths to each other’s weaknesses, this adds another element to the game. Aside from the obvious co-op interaction; the game forces you to really become a team. Along with that we often get other friends randomly joining in, bumping up the difficulty level and certainly the fun factor too.
Gearbox have made something very special in this aspect.
Looting is as much a factor but this time we’ve found coming across really great weapons is rarer, which makes earning them in other ways more important. They claim there are a “Bazillion” weapons, I have no idea just how much that is, but I believe them. Grenades are also much improved and the desire for bigger, faster, more powerful never seems to end. This time Gearbox have also brought in other social media aspects into the game by giving away “shift” codes on Facebook which gives you keys to certain chests in-game, these often contain decent weapons.
Customisations to your character (and vehicles) are another welcome addition, although some will tell you that dressing up your character is distinctly not hard-core we’re willing to bet these same people are changing clothes and heads like the rest of us.
Overall there’s nothing bad we can say about Borderlands 2. It’s the best online experience we’ve had this gen. The only thing better than playing an awesome game is playing that same game with your friends, Gearbox understands this better than anyone in the industry at the moment. Gearbox are also heavily invested in this franchise and like the first there will be a plethora of DLC, from our experiences with the first game we have no doubt that the DLC is deserving of your money. In fact there are few games that deserve your money more than Borderlands 2.
If you have not played the first Borderlands yet then we envy you, get it, get one or two or three friends and endeavour to play through it together, when you have finished do the same with Borderlands 2. Never before has a game’s rating or score mattered less (although in this case that score would be immense), when a game is this much fun just stop reading and head on out to Pandora.