Lets start this review with a quick test:
- Do you have £35 odd?
- Do you like shooting things with big guns?
- Do you like comics?
- Do you appreciate crass humour?
- Do you like directable character development?
If the answers are yes, then stop reading and go the buy the game. It is good and fun and pretty and lovely and noisy and fun and breathe… Get ready to joy vomit your face off.
Borderlands 2 follows the story of four new Vault Hunters as they fight to free Pandora from the clutches of Handsome Jack, the brilliant, charismatic, and utterly despicable CEO of the Hyperion Corporation.
Players will fight across the whole of Pandora to stop Jack from awakening an ancient alien evil known only as “The Warrior.” Their quest will bring them into contact with some familiar faces from the old game – most notably, the original four Vault Hunters: Roland, Lilith, Brick and Mordecai. They, along with some brand new characters, will help players defeat Jack, destroy the Warrior, and save Pandora.
Sorry, slipped into Aidy mode and read the back of the box. And now a bit of inaccurate history.
The first Borderlands was plagued with issues in development and had a complete change in art style very late in development terms. The industry was wary of this game and expected a complete disaster. You may know the rest; a great sleeper hit came from nowhere and cleaned up. Was it a shooter for the RPG fans or a RPG for the shooter fans? Either way it was new and different.
My first experience of the game (prior to reading any reviews or looking into the game, I just bought it) was seeing the cell shaded stylised graphics and watched the intro. I always do this. Cage the Elephant’s “Ain’t no Rest for the Wicked” was used for the title sequence to excellent effect and got me excited before even playing.
What followed was hour upon hour of glorious destruction continued by insane DLC (I will admit not all good).
Late 2012 and Borderlands 2 has landed but we have a problem. We know what to expect, we have seen it before. Bouncy pointed out we have had a plethora of shooters and RPGs. Has this made us numb to this brand of gaming? Borderlands 2 is about to test your reactions with a sledge hammer, just to make sure you are not too numb.
The story I have detailed above but the actual game I have left until now.
You Have a Purdy Mouth
The game opens with a similar cinematic sequence as the first with “Short Change Hero” by The Heavy playing. Having been wowed by the first game, this did not strike a similarly deep cord of exciting but only because I was more aware of the game this time. Still good opener with the familiar cell shaded graphical style. Objects have thick black lines around them, items are coloured in blocks etc.
Other than the original borderlands, the last time I played a game in this graphical style was XIII (13) on the xbox. I personally enjoy this approach and appreciate that it is quite rare and not overused in other games.
You are dumped, barely alive, into a frozen wasteland and guided through a short tutorial that doesn’t treat you like an idiot. If you need further assistance, read the first couple of lines in the paper instruction manual that comes with the game.
As you move through the game, the environment changes with different areas being inhabited with a varying population, most of which is trying to kill you in many different ways. There are large canyons which you can battle enemies whilst on foot or in a vehicle (more customisation and driven Halo style; look where you want to go and press forward) and then tight corridors where rocket launchers prove effective. These environments do not feel Skyrimesque where you feel on familiar ground by the time your reach the twentieth dungeon. Each area feels different, apart from the bucket load of bad guys trying to kill you. That is constant.
You are presented tasks that lead you through the game, but side quests provide additional flavour and more importantly humour. Imagine Red Dwarf as a Sci-Fi Western, or Fire Fly maybe but where everyone has deep routed physiological problems. I played a dice and paper games years ago called Paranoia and this feels similar. If you liked Bulletstorm (I haven’t mentioned it for a while) you should feel right at home, or even early Duke Nukem.
Whilst the enemies want to kill you outright, the friendly NPCs should also make you nervous. Side quests often result in you being asked to pick up 300,000 brown rocks or engage in medical testing by putting large holes in bandits. There are so many cross references, sideways glances and down right piss-takes relating to pop culture you can miss some of it.
Four pizza eating sewer dwellers that are totally rad. No shirted men playing beach volley ball after a hard day flying. It goes on and on.
The friendly NPCs form a major foundation of this game in terms of style, in addition to handing out quests and the like. The dialogue is amusing and often deranged and psychotic ranging from the infamous Clap Trap, Dr. Zed the unlicensed medic and Scooter the mechanic. Humour rules this game.
If dub stepping robots don’t make you laugh then you may be a little dead inside. Break out the Wub Wub.
When you Absolutely, Positively Have to Kill Every Motherf***er in the Room, Accept no Substitute
The core mechanic of this game is a shooter so it better be good. The thing is there is so much going on it is hard to find fault. Because you will get shot in the head. Again.
The reason this mechanic is hard to critically analyse is that every type of gun behaves differently. There are guns that shoot bullets in fast straight lines, there are those that fire like arcing grenade launchers, there are those that are automatic, those that fire one shot and have to be reloaded and on and on and on. And that is just the pistols.
This games big claim is the number of guns it has. I haven’t bothered counting but it is more than 20 in the first hour. There are conventional styles of gun; pistol, sub machine gun, rifle, shotgun, sniper rifle and rocket launcher but that makes it sound simple. Then there are elemental effects of fire, shock, explosive, acid and slag. The bullets alone make this game into Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock.
This makes finding a gun a big draw. You could find a randomly generated gun that you keep for hours because it suits you or cycle through guns faster than Usain Bolt taking a 100m stroll.
The upshot is that there is no perfect answer but lots of opportunity and always the call of just one more look for a new gun that does that little bit more damage.
These guns can be mapped to the xbox’s d-pad so that you may have a rifle shooting fire, a pistol shooting acid, a electricfied sniper rifle and an even more explosive rocket launcher. It is never ending and I love it. Plus add this level of variation to grenades and shields and goes a bit mental.
That said, I am often creeping around sniping enemies in the head (those that have one) getting critical damage and chuckling at the case sensitive commentary.
The AI however is a little simplistic. Run at you on mass is the standard tactic. No flanking, a little rolling out the way or taking cover but pretty straight forward. The other item I am not keen on is when you think you have cleared an area, enemies appear behind you and attack after emerging from their house/hut. It is almost like they just awoken from a gentle slumber and found you in their camp. My apparent orgy of violence and explosive death did not bother their sweet dreams until I crossed a magic invisible line.
In reality this game has you play in set pieces, sweeping area after area with mid-point regeneration points activating if you die. If you save and quit, you are put back to the beginning of the area but with the same inventory as when you saved. Rinse and repeat grinding anyone?
If you do die, I do a lot, it costs a little money but then you are back in game as you are literally digitally re-incarnated.
I’ll be the Doctor, you be the Nurse
The role playing element sees you initially select one of four classes; commando, gunzerker, siren or assassin. More are coming in DLC. Each class has its own special skill and further unique development obtained through skill points, which may be spent opening three skill trees. Each tree has a different slant on gameplay.
In addition to this individual character system, there is a Badass system which governs all gameplay. As key gameplay challenges are completed, badass tokens are awarded which can be used to unlock a small number of randomly generated skills. This means that if you spend a badass token, you get improved accuracy, the next token may not give accuracy as an option but something else. There is a decent list each time and the improvements are minor, but you get tons of the quickly, so they add up. I need to check this, but when you start a new game, the tokens carry over giving you a little boost to your new character if you play on the same profile. This game wants you to have multiple characters progressing.
I am using the phrase character development opposed to customisation intentionally, as customisation in this games relates to the characters skins; head, body and name. Nice but not deep. Character development is too deep to go into here and there are sites that cover this in great detail.
One cool element though, you can spend a small amount of money to get all your skill points back and re-spend them if you want. Allows you to play around with skills and builds.
I’ll Show You Mine if You Show me Yours
This game is simply good in the solo campaign. Regardless of single player or multiplayer the mechanics and the world is the same throughout. Makes a change in this online focused market with dedicated multiplayer elements, often far exceeding the single player. Call of Duty, cough, cough.
In multiplayer this game shines and elevates to a new and improved plane. In co-op the game focuses on up to any four individuals characters inhabiting the same world at the same time. They can join forces or bugger off in different directions to a point; an invisible tether only lets you go so far and teleports you back to the host. You can cooperate and share, or sprint in and steal the loot like Proton. If you complete a mission in a host game, it carries over to your games as does loot, experience etc.
The previous game did this with the world ranked in accordance with the host. Often you would get a gang of level 40 odds romping in a level 10 host world. No challenge but often used by achievement whores or people helping their mates who are a little stuck.
On the opposite side, level 10’s joining level 40’s to grab overpowered loot to sell, as they are locked to character levels. There is no joining a level 50 game, grabbing something insane powerful and then going back home I am afraid. What it does allow you to do, is share experience though on high levelled bad guy kills.
I have not tested this gaming element yet as we are all pretty much the same level, but I actually hope they left this alone. The exploits are there if you want them but can be easily avoided at the same time. I could not claim it to be game breaking either way. What is important, is the level of interaction and can be had by combining players in the same world, both in the last game and this one.
This game pushes co-op. If you haven’t done so, friend a load of forum members and go on in the evening to see how many games there are which you can join. If in doubt, there are always Randoms.
And as it was, it shall be again. But better. And more aware.
Gearbox have obviously followed “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” to a clichéd point. They have dabbled, tweaked and subtlety improved. Yes there are more guns but that is like swimming in the sea and then swimming in the ocean. There is a shit load of water in both. There a lot of guns. So many it may prove a challenge to find the same one twice.
The character development is deeper giving even more reason to change and play characters in multiple play-throughs.
Even more, the world is bigger and more populated. Varied environments exist with more enemies.
So it is better. But it knows it.
Planned DLC has been announced and the bitter argument has ensued. If it was planned, why was it not included free on disc. The Season Pass gives you a 25% discount to the planned, four part, expansion elements but recent announcements suggest that further DLC will not be covered by the pass. Will this other DLC be more additional cost? This approach is not unique to this game but it shows that for all the jest, entertainment and mockery, someone is in it to take your money. To cut the crap, if you do not like this approach, vote with your wallet.
I am sitting on the fence with this one. 25% discount on four rounds of DLC plus additional DLC at a possible extra charge. In the last game on 3 of the 4 were arguably worth buying so I shall wait and see.
This game is like being given a second hand Ferrari Enzo. Completely impractical, puts a massive smile on your face but it is a shame that there is a chip in the paint work.
In essence this a FPS shooter, wrapped in shiny RPG paper with a huge comical bow to tie it all together.
Any negative points that have been highlighted are minor and do not break the game. This is a great game and it now knows it is. It doesn’t have any pretentions but it is confident in it’s own ability. And like an Enzo, it will be worth fuck all when you trade it in (relatively).
On the point of the additional DLC, whether this should have been included from day one, I am not sure. I will see how long one play through lasts and how much enjoyment I get. It will also depend on the quality and timing of the DLC.
Although nothing to do with this specific game, I spent £40 on Skyrim and got over 100 hours and bought DLC. I spent £20 on RAGE and got about 20 hours and did not buy additional content. Weigh up the value for money in the ‘out of the box’ package and decide whether you are prepared to pay more. This DLC argument will not go away.
Special thanks for A Tiger Bear and Vimsey for their editorial contribution as always.