Review: Borderlands 2
If there's one thing that I love more than myself, it's games that can make me laugh. Well, that and chocolate. Borderlands 2 is one of these. No, not chocolate, but if there is anything to be said of the Borderlands 2 experience, it is without doubt, pure decadence.
- Addictive?This is basically the latest designer drug.
- Worth The Time?Yes. Just, so yes.
- Things LovedThe humour, the sweet glorious humour. The visual style is unique and very comforting. The soundtrack is almost always fitting to the occasion. The characters and their associated skill trees are done well. There's a story this time around. There are some epic moments to be found. Lots of exploration. So many pop culture references. Co-op is an absolute blast. Loot, loot everywhere!
- Things HatedThere is the odd glitch at times. Yes, that's it.
- RecommendationThere should be no recommendation required for Borderlands 2 because the game practically recommends itself. Buy it. Play it. Bring friends.
- Quick ConclusionEvery trailer that released prior to this game lied. You won't joy puke your face off. You will joy puke your entire body into a new dimension. Borderlands 2 has raised the bar in every possible way, over its predecessor. Easily one of the best games this year.
- Name: Borderlands 2
- Genre: FPS RPG
- Players: 1 or 2 (Split-screen)
- Multiplayer: Online co-operative for up to four players.
- Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, PS3
- Developer: Gearbox Software
- Publisher: 2K Games
- Price: R 600
- Reviewed On: Xbox 360
Picture if you will, a group of game-loving geeks who are well-acquainted with the internet and all its avenues, sitting around bored while browsing through Memebase. One day, they decide to make a game that throws a middle finger to all other games and their atrociously clichéd tropes, which combines humour with internet memes and pop culture references, as well as lots of carnage and action in the first person perspective but with more of a Diablo feel, and just for shits and giggles they make it a four-player co-operative game so that none of them feel left out. There’s four of them in this totally non-fictional story, you see.
There you have it, I’ve just described what I believe to be the origin story for Borderlands. Now picture if you will, they did all of that again but this time they went ten bazillion times better. That’s Borderlands 2.
I can basically stop my review right here and head back to the game with the job firmly done, but I feel as if I’ve not yet heaped enough praise onto this game and indeed justified my… romance? Yes, romance I guess. I’ve not justified my romance with this game just yet.
If you’re not one of those gamers who got this game on day one (inb4 delays) and are legitimately here to read up on whether or not to get the game, allow me to save you the trouble: Buy it. Now. If however, you’d like some reasons, then by all means, keep reading.
The Borderlands games can best be described as ‘Diablo with guns’ where you start off in some or the other town and head out into the world to fight off tonnes and tonnes of enemies and loot every barrel, container, dead body and chest in your path. But once you’ve spent a decent enough time away from a certain area, all enemies and loot containers will respawn and you’ll have to fight through them once again upon revisiting. This is the basic formula for any hack-&-slash RPG, but with Borderlands you play the game from the first person perspective with guns, and have just one ability that you may use to aid in your combat.
Speaking of guns, there are lots of guns. Lots. Of guns. I’m not even joking when I say there are billions of potential combinations of weaponry on offer for you in this game. It uses a built-in weapon generation mechanic to throw out the most amazing, over-the-top and downright bizarre weaponry that you will ever see in a game, and they’re everywhere. The trailers weren’t lying when they said: “A bazillion guns just got bazzilliondier!” Yes we know that’s not a word. That’s the point. No words can quite describe the sheer volume and variety of weaponry available to the character, ranging from pistols that shoot fire-charged darts to shotguns that shoot rockets to sub-machine guns that explode upon reloading and of course, assault rifles that rain mortar fire down on enemies. There’s also your standard fare of those types of weaponry and more but really, who wants standard weaponry when you can have that?
If the guns aren’t enough, and how could they not be, there’s always your character ability. Borderlands 2 offers four very distinct characters which were detailed well enough for you in our preview a while ago, so I won’t go into too much detail on each, but rest assured that they are all veritable badasses, whether it’s Axton the commando with his Sabre Turret which spawns and aids in combat, Maya the siren with her Phaselock ability that freezes enemies in the air and weakens them, Zero the assassin with his Deception skill that leaves a decoy and makes him invisible while granting him extra damage, or Salvador the gunzerker and his Gunzerker ability which lets him dual-wield weapons while making him an absolute tank of a creature.
Each character features three skill trees which the player may invest points in as they level up, each focusing on a different aspect of that character. It is both well thought out and well imagined as this time around the characters have their own personalities and will comment on the action as you play through the game. And this isn’t just some half-assed attempt at making your characters seem alive, these characters really feel alive and have their own sets of attitudes towards combat and exploration. It’s telling of a game when thirty hours into the experience I was still hearing my assassin character Zero say things I’d not heard before.
In fact, the entire game has some very well imagined and deep characters. Now you can’t exactly expect Game of Thrones styled depth of character in a game that’s meant to make you laugh and allow you to kill many things in between those laughs, but the characters presented to you are all interesting enough that you enjoy having them around. Pretty much all of the surviving characters from the first game (including DLC) are back this time around, whether in some form of cameo or a full-on feature role, and it lends a lot to the continuity of the experience on Pandora, making it feel very much like you’ve picked up where you left off rather than just been thrown into an entirely new world, Crysis 2 style.
This lends itself extremely well to the main story of the game which focuses on villain Handsome Jack’s attempts to uncover an ancient vault and awaken The Warrior, which is a sort of super-creature on Pandora. Yes I know it’s sounding a lot like the first game’s story but trust me when I say that this time around, the devil most certainly is in the details and it’s the how that throws this game onto another level of awesome, rather than the what. Handsome Jack fancies himself the saviour of Pandora, while the surviving characters of the first game have banded together with the old Crimson Lance to form the resistance group, effectively comprised of bandits, outcasts and vault hunters. Essentially we are in many ways, the bad guys of the game. Or we are at least treated like it, but in a planet so full of bad, where does the line exist for being good? We certainly aim to stop a tyrant in the game after all. So then are we the good guys? This is getting more into the philosophical side of the game, and I won’t go there for this review, but once again I will say, it’s not the story itself that is so amazing, it’s the set-pieces and events that occur during your journey through that story which is what makes all the difference in the world… Mister Freeman.
Apart from the main story, this being a hack-&-slash RPG at heart, there is a lot (and again I mean a lot) of side questing on offer. Trust me when I say that you will spend entire days attempting side quests if you’re a pathological completionist like myself, without ever touching the main story. I know this. I’ve experienced this. And it doesn’t stop there, either. Some quests have optional objectives such as killing a certain number of a certain type of enemy, or killing an enemy with a particular weapon or elemental type. Elemental types include shock (effective against shields), corrosive (effective against armour), fire (effective against health) and slag (increases damage dealt) and are just one of those attributes I mentioned that are randomly generated for the weapons you will find in the game. Add all of this together and you’ve got a deep and even compelling RPG experience, wrapped in the guise of a first person shooter. The best of both worlds, you could say. But with less Miley Cyrus and more badassery.
If even that isn’t enough, the game also boasts an extremely large array of challenges set before the player which increment their ‘Badass Rank’ and offer five levels per challenge, ranging from weapon-specific challenges such as sniping unaware enemies or getting kills with a critical hit per weapon type, to miscellaneous challenges such as completing optional objectives, to enemy-specific objectives such as killing a particular type of enemy a certain amount of times, to even area-specific challenges such as looking through telescopes or touching windsocks in a particular area. There’s a lot of these to do, and it means you always have something to do even when you’re just hopelessly lost somewhere, exploring away and entirely ignoring all quests. Further, the ‘Badass Rank’ is a cumulative total across all characters meaning it’s a sort of ‘true’ measure, which is always a nice bonus.
The combination of the very cohesive and compelling main story this time around, together with all of the side-questing (no two alike) that you will do and the challenges set before you will easily set you back many, many hours. You could finish just the main story in around ten to twenty hours depending on how much you focus on running through areas, but why on Pandora would you? Especially when there’s so much sweet loot to be had. Everything in its entirety could take you some fifty hours, maybe longer. And even then chances are you won’t be done. Also, that’s just one of the four characters on offer. So in total, there’s a lot of Borderlands 2 to be played, all things considered.
If I may make a note on loot for a moment, in a game with lots of loot it’s commonplace for the highest rated loot to always take precedence where one pistol is just weaker than another and therefore inferior, but in Borderlands 2 the mechanic for weapons is implemented in such a way that even what seems like a really shit gun could have the potential for being effective, forcing lots of thinking time being spent on deciding which guns to keep and which to sell. All loot including weapons, shields (a second layer of protection), class mods (which upgrade your character-specific class), relics (which are non-character-specific upgrades) and grenade mods have different tiers ranging from white to green, blue, purple and orange with white being common and orange being ultra-rare. Yet there are some white weapons which will be preferable to orange weapons at the same level. It’s a refreshing change that forces you to actually think rather than just toss out anything not purple or orange.
Another cool thing to note is that the respawn system is back in action, allowing you to die as much as you’d like as long as you have the credits to finance respawning. See, in Borderlands when you die, your character is sort of digitally recreated at a Hyperion station which also acts as a static checkpoint system, something I find quite ironic since in Borderlands 2 you are battling Handsome Jack who basically owns Hyperion. The ease with which one may die and respawn is accommodated by restoring enemies to full health upon character death, effectively cancelling out the ‘respawn-tactic’ of dying a hundred times while weakening an enemy and while it can sometimes be cheap, it’s still tonnes fairer than the systems employed in some other games. Darksiders II… It also fits neatly into the game’s immersion, which is always a great plus.
One more note regarding the changes for this sequel is that this time around to compliment the varied weaponry available, characters are not specifically stronger with a certain weapon. While for example Zero might have an entire Sniping skill tree, if the player decides to forgo that tree for another and use shotguns and assault rifles, they are most welcome to do so. Basically, weapon types are not specific to character types. This then opens up all weaponry to all characters and rightly so, since usually a specific weapon at a specific moment in the game will make the fight so much easier, regardless of which character you are playing as. Also this means that you’re not collecting tonnes of ammo for a weapon you will never use.
Finally, we get to my favourite aspect of this game, and that’s the humour. Oh the sweet, sweet humour. There’s a special place in my heart reserved for any game that can make a cynical, narcissistic misanthrope such as myself laugh like a giddy little child, and this game not only does that but regularly. Whether it’s the Easter eggs that you will just randomly find, such as Minecraft-inspired enemies in a particular area, or a Dark Souls styled campsite hidden in a random area in a cavern. Or pop-culture references in side quests and challenges such as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles inspired Splinter Group side quest, or the Say Watt Again challenge, and so on. There is so much of ‘can you spot the reference’ in this game, it borders (hah!) on ridiculous at times. There’s even secret areas which net you achievements based on Donkey Kong, that Jenkins guy from World of Warcraft and the Double Rainbow guy who exclaims, “What does this mean?!” It brings a tear to my internet-hipster eye.
Throughout the game, Handsome Jack himself will call you up on your ECHO device (the game’s form of mobile communication) and talk to you, often taunting and jeering you, or sometimes just having a random conversation such as the time he is talking to you while eating, or when he tells you he’s acquired a horse called Butt Stallion. It’s hilarious to the point that I’ve taken to calling Handsome Jack the new GLaDOS of gaming. Or perhaps the male version. And this sort of humour-driving personality permeates each main character in the game, of which there are quite a few. No matter how serious or stern they might seem, chances are they are anything but, in the right company. Of note is Tiny Tina, who is labelled “The most dangerous thirteen year old in the world,” and makes me question whether I might be an ephebophiliac. Look it up.
Sometimes it feels as if the humour is a perpetual component of the experience and even when not interacting with one of the characters, you will be fighting an enemy that is just hilarious as well as dangerous, or something completely random happens such as a few nights ago when Marko and I were witness to what can only be described as a mosh pit, as four Angry Goliaths decided to take each other on. Further hilarity ensued when two of them, Caustic Goliaths who spewed corrosive bile, decided to have a spew-off and just erupted onto each other for the better part of a few minutes as we both watched and laughed. Kind of like that scene at the start of Scary Movie 2, but funnier.
While Borderlands 2 could be enjoyed in singleplayer well enough, the game has the potential for much more chaotic mayhem and humour that I will endearingly phrase as ‘Laughter with an S’ when played with up to three other friends in the cooperative mode that this game was so obviously designed around. Creatures get tougher, loot gets better and shared ammo and experience means that there is no in-fighting between friends for anything except who gets to keep that shiny new loot. Easily solved with a duel between two characters, initiated by melee.
The only real flaw that I can throw in the way of this game is that sometimes quests glitch out or an enemy ends up in the floor, but this isn’t new for an RPG experience and can easily be fixed with post-game patching. Still, it never gets in the way of the experience and even when it forces a reload, you get to keep your loot and level progress upon reloading anyway so there’s no real harm done.
Borderlands 2 does everything bigger and better while still remaining the same core experience from the first Borderlands. It is in essence the perfect sequel and while I usually scoff at those who throw the term around for every game, ever, I can assert with some confidence that this game is most definitely a contender for game of the year, and rightly so.
That’s what Borderlands 2 tries to be, first and foremost. It knows exactly what it is trying to be. Not some cinematic epic or a blockbuster experience, but a game. Read that again: A game. That you can play. You don’t get many of those any more.
It is the most cohesive and complete experience I’ve encountered this year, with humour that rivals even Portal 2 (or Portlol 2 as I endearingly call it) and some pure RPG elements that I can’t help but love. My romance with Borderlands 2 will continue for a long time to come, and I don’t even care what the scientists say about love.
Handsome Jack needs to be defeated and I’m the guy to do it. And my three friends of course, but mostly me…