Back in 2009, Gearbox’s space-western Borderlands, a mash up of first-person shooter and role-playing game, turned out to be rather popular despite a barely there story, limited variety between class types and combat, and ultimately rather repetitive gameplay. Players couldn’t deny that fun gushed out of every pixel of the game like blood from a decapitated bandit’s neck. The big selling points of Borderlands were guns, guns and four-player co-op and the same is true of its sequel. Except this time round, there’s more to it than that.
Borderlands 2 kicks off with a well crafted intro that shows the four main characters on a train headed across the planet of Pandora in hopes of finding a vault rumoured to be filled with powerful alien technology and resources. The story, and yes there is one, sees you teaming up with the resistance against the occupying Hyperion army and their murderous leader Handsome Jack who is also trying to find the vault. The whole thing plays out well and is equal amounts of engaging and exciting. A real sense of struggle and purpose comes across, partially due to the well written and designed, endearing NPCs that dot the ravaged surface of Pandora.
Story missions are tougher than side missions but If you find yourself taking too severe a beating, it is always possible to drop whatever you’re doing and go grind up a level or two, find better guns and shields, or bring a friend along to help. You have your standard fetch, kill and deliver offerings then some that are far more engrossing and often deliciously gruesome. Be aware that you will most likely be taken out of your moral comfort zone on more than one occasion. Have your tolerance chip charged ready to encounter insults like Butt Stallion, place names such as Frigid Cleft and a thirteen year old who makes Hit-Girl seem like teacher’s pet.
Again, there are four class choices: Axton the Commando, Maya the Siren, Salvador the Gunzerker and Zero the number or Assassin. Classes play the same until level five when their unique action skill is unlocked but even then, after pouring skill points into seemingly varied skill trees you’ll still just be shooting the crap out of everything in the end. That’s not to say that the vast amount of randomly generated guns or specific action skills aren’t brilliant fun to use but don’t feel like you can’t play as a sniper just because you’re a Siren or that the Assassin is a purely stealth character. Yes, he has a stealth power, but at no point does being able to turn invisible for few moments have any significant advantage over Axton’s deployable turret or using Maya’s phaselock to trap enemies. All action skills can be upgraded using the skill trees, enabling regeneration and damage bonuses. It’s Salvador’s Gunzerking ability that is perhaps the most useful during lower levels or to newcomers as he not only becomes capable of duel wielding but his shields, health and ammo regenerate up until the time limit runs out.
Chatter – there is a lot of it. Turn it up or keep subtitles on because with so much going on around you you’re going to miss out on some real laugh out loud moments. Even mission descriptions are crack-a-smile worthy. The humour ranges from clever to immature to ridiculous. Graphically, everything’s been slightly prettied up but the art style hasn’t changed. The most noticeable visual difference is with NPCs who are now fully animated. It’s an awkward, jerky kind of animation at times but it works, and fits in with the whole too-cool-for-realistic look and feel of the whole game. Animation, likability and superb voice acting make interacting with the individuals you encounter across Pandora far more entertaining than before. Banter from Handsome Jack, who contacts you via radio as you progress, is one of the highlights. More in your face than GlaDos and much less intimidating than Andrew Ryan, Handsome Jack has some excellent lines and is a memorable and enjoyable evil bastard of an antagonist all the same.
Attempting to review Borderlands 2 without using the word ‘badass’ would be doing it an injustice. From the weapons to the soundrack to the character design everything just radiates with a seemingly effortless aura of cool. Complete challenges and you’ll even earn Badass ranks, which give you tokens that you can use to increase stats like accuracy and shield recharge rate.
All this is enough, but Borderlands 2 doesn’t stop there. All the nods and references to other games, TV shows, music, memes and the little random moments will creep up on you the more you play until you’re fully drawn in. Co-op or solo Borderlands 2 is comfort gaming at its very best, providing a world that gamers can sink hours and hours into.