Many games have experimented with genre blending, and three years ago, Gearbox decided to blend  the best aspects of a co-op shooter and RPG gameplay.  Soon after, Borderlands was born and was met with critical and consumer acclaim.  On September 18, Borderlands 2 was released, and Gearbox did an excellent effort in making the sequel bigger, better, and more bada$$.  With a variety of improvements in story, gameplay and humor, Borderlands 2 has defined itself as a premier co-op shooter and definitely one of the best games this year.   

Borderlands 2  picks up five years after the first, leaving the original vault hunters scattered while Handsome Jack, the game’s new, and very entertaining antagonist,is busy  spreading his tyranny throughout Pandora.  After an unsurprising betrayal from Jack, the four newest vault hunters find themselves stranded on the wastes of Pandora.  The vault hunters set off to seek revenge against Jack, meet up with some familiar faces, and collect a crap load of loot on  the way.  One of the major complaints about the first Borderlands was its ho-hum story.  Borderlands 2 made great strides to improve on the first, as it added a much more interesting plotline, surprising twists, and moments when I felt that I actually cared about the characters.  Gearbox also put  in a lot of work to make sure that the sidequests were fun to play, and it shows.  While there are certainly a few laborious fetch quests, (Echo recorders anyone?) most of Borderlands’ side quests are humorous, engaging and most importantly fun.   Whether you are arranging Claptraps birthday party, starting a clan war between leprechauns and rednecks, or finding a skag a place to call home, most side quests are just as entertaining as many of the story missions.

Co-op play is as fun as ever, and Gearbox made sure that each of the classes were unique and fun to play.  I spent most of my time with Salvador, the Gunzerker.  After spending a couple of hours with the game, I realized how diverse Gearbox constructed its skill trees.  My Salvador could either become raging tank, a rapid firing machine, or  he could invest in a tree focused on gun-buffing stats and damage.  I primarily focused on his Rampage skill tree and he began dishing out walls of lead in no time.  My experience in Pandora would have been very different if I went down another skill tree, such as Brawn.   Each skill tree intertwines into co-op gameplay, as a tank Gunzerker and a healer siren would both work together.  Borderlands also encourages playing with a party of four, which will increase your chances of getting rare loot.  One complaint I frequently heard around online forums was about the shared loot mechanic.  While there definitely are better options such as an individual loot system featured in Diablo 3, I only ran into loot thieves when playing on public multiplayer lobbies.  I recommend playing with your friends however, if you want a premium Borderlands experience.

While Borderlands 2 provides great experiences in story and gameplay, it also caters toward smaller upgrades and little touches that overall complete the game as a whole.  Enemy AI is vastly improved, bandits react much more life like, shedding the bullet sponge traits of the original.  The UI interface is clear and easy to read, and swapping, selling and trading items was a breeze.  Another cool concept Gearbox added was the idea of Bada$$ tokens.  After completing various challenges in the game, the player may spend these tokens on stat upgrades, which carry over to each of your characters.  Bada$$ tokens reward players who spend many hours traversing the wastes of Pandora.  Subtle improvements like these overall make Borderlands a superb experience.  

The original Borderlands provided gamers with marquee co-op gunplay, and Borderlands 2 made substantial improvements in story, humorous dialogue, addictive looting and shooting, and an insane amount of replayability.  A few complaints aside, Borderlands 2 has elevated itself to one of the best action experiences in the industry.  I know I’ll be exploring Pandora for many hours to come.