The lights are on
original Borderlands combined the best aspects of the first person
shooter and action RPG genres into a hybrid game that entranced gamers
with its tight shooting mechanics, fun cooperative game play and its
literally millions upon millions of guns. Three years later, Gearbox
Software has released the anticipated sequel Borderlands 2, and the
developer has managed to improve on an already excellent title to create
one of the best gaming experiences of this year.
For those who
aren’t familiar with the series, the first Borderlands stars four “Vault
Hunters” that travel to the alien planet of Pandora in search of an
ancient treasure chest said to contain some of the most valuable loot in
the galaxy. Players choose to play as any one of the characters and can
team up with their buddies to tackle anything the hostile planet can
throw at them.
By the game’s conclusion, the mercenaries discover
that the Vault contained nothing but a giant tentacle alien they were
forced to kill. The team gives up hope after searching for so long, and
that’s where Borderlands 2 picks up.
In the sequel, four new
playable characters take the leading role, leaving the originals as
secondary characters that appear throughout the story. This time, an
antagonist named Handsome Jack has come to Pandora in search of a second
Vault said to emerge after the opening of the first one.
greedy quest for the coveted treasure, Handsome Jack is personally
assassinating any Vault Hunter that comes to the planet that may step in
his way. Fortunately, his attempted homicide on our heroes fails.
Guided by a mysterious artificial intelligence that communicates
telepathically and a hilarious little robot named Claptrap, it’s up to
you to stop Handsome Jack, save Pandora and uncover the secret of the
If this sounds like the video game narrative of the
year, it’s not. Borderlands is not revered for its storytelling. Most of
the plot from the original seemed like an excuse to put a gun in the
players’ hands and release them into the wild to shoot anything that
moves. The character writing was strong and funny, but the story as a
whole fell flat, especially the ending that left gamers second-guessing
if they had really reached the conclusion or not.
The story behind
Borderlands 2 isn’t loads better, but it takes steps in the right
direction. While the original had no real main antagonist, this game
gives you one right from the opening cutscene. Gearbox gives you a clear
goal from the beginning to tie the narrative together: Handsome Jack is
a madman, and he must be stopped.
the title truly shines, however, is in its brilliant character design.
Each person in the game, whether a main character or just another enemy
you have to shoot, has some of the funniest dialogue I’ve heard in a
game since Portal 2. For veterans, Claptrap was the lovable robot that
didn’t know when to be quiet. In Borderlands 2, you can expect more of
the same, but I laughed more in the first 15 minutes of the sequel than I
did throughout the entirety of the original. What Gearbox lacks in big
picture it makes up for in detail, and for a lighthearted romp such as
this, it works perfectly.
players aren’t laughing at the creative one-liners, they’re busy
looting and shooting. The original Borderlands supported an estimated
17.5 million unique weapons, and no corners were cut here. Expect to see
a brand new weapon every time you open a chest. Nothing really feels as
exciting as opening a loot container that you fought through a hundred
enemies to reach to find that rare, special gun you’ve been waiting for
inside. It’s like Christmas morning every hour.
mechanics are as tight as ever as well. Whether sniping or blasting
enemies up close with a shotgun, you can expect accurate responses and
solid controls. The game plays as smoothly as any modern FPS, and that’s
essential considering how much tougher the game is compared to the
original. Expect enemies to duck into cover, roll around your shots and
flank you when you’re not looking.
And you can’t forget co-op. As
fun as this game is as a lone wolf experience, nothing beats grabbing a
few buddies and exploring Pandora together. The increased enemy
intelligence is a warm welcome, forcing you and your friends to work as a
team and synchronize your abilities to tackle your foes. Good luck if
you’re going solo. The game offers a convenient in-game menu that lets
you jump in and out of a friend’s game instantly. You can tailor your
personal options to only let those you want into your game as well.
is a matchmaking option that allows players to join with other random
Xbox Live members, but I wouldn’t recommend this over playing with
trusted friends. When playing with strangers, there’s nothing stopping
them from grabbing all the loot they can get their greedy hands on,
leaving you with nothing. Playing with known buddies ensures a fair and
fun game for everyone.
Despite everything Borderlands 2 excels at,
especially compared to its predecessor, there are some glitches that
can spoil the fun. Multiple times while playing, enemies would phase
through solid cover or sometimes patrol the area as though they’re
unaware that I’m there, despite the fact I’m standing directly in front
of them. Twice I had two separate bosses get stuck in the environment,
leaving them unable to attack me and giving me a free and unsatisfying
kill. Even more frustrating are the slow-loading textures that pop up as
you’re playing. The game can look like an N64 classic for a few seconds
every time you load a new area, leaving the world muddy looking.
Considering today’s current console technology, this is pretty
unforgivable. Worst of all is that players have been complaining of
giant gray and blue squares floating in the game in replace of textures
that don’t load correctly. Hiccups like this didn’t appear in the
original, at least not to this degree, so it leaves me wondering what
went wrong. Hopefully these annoyances will be patched in a couple
Even with these mild annoyances, Borderlands 2 gives
players exactly what they want: more Borderlands. Without changing
anything too drastically, Gearbox kept the game the same while improving
on the nuances of the original. Don’t come expecting a blockbuster
story and you’re going to have a good time. The game was made to be
enjoyed without a strong narrative, and the brilliant character writing
does a good job of keeping you entertained when you’re not blasting
baddies. With a 60-hour story, five announced playable characters and
four separate downloadable content expansions in the works, expect to be
looting the borderlands with your friends for a long time to come.
Follow me on Twitter @JakeMMagee and visit my blog The Waffle Box for more gaming news.