Borderlands 2 is the sequel to a game I can only refer to as magical. The reason I say that is not because of sheer quality, but because the original Borderlands provided an experience unlike any game I’ve ever seen. If you play it by yourself, what you’ll experience is fairly mundane gameplay and a rather boring narrative. Add a few friends to it and what was originally somewhat bland immediately turns into a co-op experience unmatched by any other this generation.
Borderlands 2 does that. And more.
The sequel takes place five years after the events of Borderlands. A man named Handsome Jack takes credit for the vault hunters’ accomplishments in the original, allowing him to take over the Hyperion Corporation and gain power over Pandora. In the process, he threatens to destroy the existing colonists and industrialize the planet. If he didn’t already sound despicable enough, our antagonist runs a gladiatorial tournament forcing the players to fight to the death. After they win, Jack immediately leaves them for dead and the four heroes are tasked with killing him. I won’t spoil more, but the important thing to know is that players coming into the sequel as their first Borderlands experience won’t have too much difficulty getting up to speed. More importantly, those who haven’t played the first one would probably be better off just starting at the sequel. The narrative is greatly improved, and the plot is one worth caring about for the entirety of your play through no matter how many friends you are playing with.
This is likely the largest improvement over the original. While there are plenty of other things that will get discussed in a moment, it’s worth mentioning that the entire game feels more tailored for those who like to play by themselves. I’m happy to say that the co-op is as good as its ever been and will undoubtedly provide the superior experience, but it is safe to say that you don’t have to avoid this game if you don’t have many friends to play with.
Perhaps this is because Borderlands 2 feels much more like a meaty action role-playing game than the original. While the original just kind of felt as if waves of enemies came after you while the story exists because it has to, this game has many more set pieces, much more diversity in combat, and a ton of variety.
Although the original vault hunters are referenced, the game stars four totally new characters. These include Salvador, who is a traditional tank character with the useful ability to dual-wield guns; Zer0, who is a skilled sniper and swordsman that can create a decoy of himself and become invisible; Maya, a character nearly identical to Lillith but can now suspend enemies in mid-air a la Mass Effect; and Axton, who relies on setting up turrets. It is fantastic to see diversity so alive in this game and I think having diverse characters who each feel like they’re actively contributing unique abilities is what makes the co-op so grand.
On a more technical level, the shooting, melee attacking, and controls are as good or better as the original, and maneuvering the diverse landscapes of Pandora is an absolute joy. The only real complaint I have about this game is that the actual handling doesn’t feel very much improved. Vehicles still control like crap and combat doesn’t feel too much better. There might not have been much to change in that department, but it would have been nice to see something.
One of the key things that makes Borderlands what it is would definitely be the intense focus on loot, with tons of money and an absolutely insane number of guns. Although this opens up a greater potential for differing play styles, it’s unfortunate to see none of the weaponry carry its own personality (something the Fallout series does a little bit better). Although every gun has art, many of the weapons look so similar that you will quickly see them as a set of stats and little else.
This is where I have to start knocking on the game a little. The visuals of Borderlands 2 are based around a strangely gritty cel-shading that looks really great at first glance. As you progress, things like really bad pop-in and other minor graphical glitches come in to play. The glitches found in the game don’t do much to harm the gameplay, but they do give an impression of the game not being entirely polished.
Although Borderlands 2 isn’t a game that needs to be played and can in some ways be outclassed by other games in the genre, fans will be thankful to know that Borderlands 2 is leaps and bounds above its predecessor. If you are not a fan, you have probably already decided that you aren’t going to get this, but if you have been anxiously awaiting the release of this game for months, expect your prayers to be suitably answered.