When we first requested Borderlands 2 for review, the response we got was that it’d be best for us to get two to four copies of the game to really understand what Gearbox Software was aiming for. After playing through the game, it makes sense. The original Borderlands offered better loot as a benefit of playing in a group, but a properly played Lilith laid waste to everything in a way that made grouping seem unnecessary in a tactical context.
Gearbox Software manages to take the good from the first game, while making necessary adjustments to drive in the fact that what we have with Borderlands 2 is a fulfilling co-op experience. Sure, you can play through the game solo and still appreciate the amazing writing and gameplay, but what you miss out on is the carefully crafted system that creates a whole that is far greater than the sum of its parts. This game rewards you for intelligent, team-oriented thinking. If you think you’re going to be able to jump into a co-op game and run off by yourself in a new area, expect to get got. A lot.
The writing in Borderlands has always managed to toe the line between insanity and self-awareness in an entertaining fashion, and the sequel is no different. Aside from featuring an incredible sense of humor, the narrative, sidequests, and gameplay all touch upon the fact that the original game’s Siren, Lilith, was extremely overpowered. If you fell in love with playing Lilith in the first game, Borderlands 2 is aimed directly at bringing you back to Eart–er, Pandora. Each character features three trees that are modest in comparison to the original siren, but are still more than enough to get the job done.
Salvador, the Gunzerker, features the heaviest raw DPS in the game, but lacks team support that doesn’t come in the form of killing enemies. In my first playthrough as Salvador, I used a mix of his Gun Lust and Brawn trees. A blue Hulking Titan mod granted me +3 levels in the aptly titled “Hard to Kill” skill and a +2 in “I’m the Juggernaut!” (can you believe that the Juggernaut reference is seven years old?), while fleshing out the Gun Lust tree gave me access to the Auto-Loader skill.
It’s very interesting to see how people‘s play styles and personalities are reflected in the classes and specialization they choose in a game such as Borderlands, or any game with rich character diversity, for that matter. When playing a multiplayer game, I always go for the highest self-controlled DPS, so Salvador’s Auto-Loader skill screamed “strongest ability in the game” to me.
With Auto-Loader in effect, any time the Gunzerker kills an enemy, all guns except for the one he currently has out are automatically reloaded. Reload speed has been slowed down noticeably compared to the first game, so being able to forgo the entire process and instead use the much quicker weapon swap function increases Salvador’s damage significantly. The ability also grants a fire rate and critical hit bonus if you utilize the “Locked and Loaded” and “Quick Draw” abilities, respectively.
Where Salvador shines in damage, the new siren, Maya, gloriously luminates in utility. Each tree in Borderlands 2 seems to have a situational or contextual advantage over the others, so players that are used to the Siren’s elemental damage will want to get the “Flicker” ability to 5 and explore the other trees until they’ve leveled up a bit more. I say this because Maya’s “Harmony” skill tree is overwhelmingly useful at mid-levels.
Featuring abilities that make your entire team’s health regeneration jump considerably, the Harmony skill tree provides you and your friends a survivability that is unmatched. With a collective 8 levels in Salvador’s “Hard to Kill”skill, supported by Maya’s “Restoration” and “Elated” skills, I rarely ran into an enemy that had the ability to dent my health bar unless my team mate and I deliberately picked on enemies well above our level. In the case I did manage to bite off more than I could chew, Maya’s “Res” skill would pick me up from halfway across the map.
Speaking of overpowered enemies, the quest progression in Borderlands 2 heavily takes sidequests into account. About an hour into the game, you’ll realize that the extra 1-4 levels that sidequests provide you are the difference between the next storyline mission being slightly challenging and a goddamn nightmare. In a sense, the sidequests almost feel mandatory unless you want to spend a third of your time in fight for your life mode. It’s very likely that the reason my team went with tank builds is that we abandoned completing sidequests in the interest of getting the review done on time.
Our decision to deviate from a 100% completion likely couldn’t have happened at a worse juncture. The advertising of Borderlands 2 flat-out states that the game’s antagonist, Handsome Jack, is engaging in an all-out war against the vault hunters of Pandora, and the kid gloves came off in the storyline quest right at the midpoint of the game. Enemies became significantly smarter, stronger, and more mobile. The waves of enemies, their strength, and their level progression caused us to have to backtrack and level a little to continue with the main campaign.
Easily one of the best villains I have experienced in a video game, Handsome Jack is bent on nothing less than complete global saturation at the hands of his Hyperion Group. He is unapologetically arrogant, often contacting you directly to either threaten you, belittle you, or remind you of just how ridiculously rich he really is. If he had his way, Jack would have you believe that he is a walking personification of every old spice commercial in recent memory.
The first game featured an interesting story for sure, but Borderlands 2 is dead set on making the first’s story look like a third-grade writing competition submission. I will not spoil the main storyline, but the effort that went into BL2’s narrative fully fleshes out the game as a fulfilling experience.
Luckily, what the game gains in narrative presentation does not cause it to lose its personality. Borderlands 2 features many more references that made the first game so entertaining. Whether it’s luring a “splinter group” of four ninjas out of the sewers with Moxxi’s pizza, or hearing Claptrap utter the phrase “Sparkling Wigglers”, Borderlands 2 continues the original’s trend of kicking you right where you enjoy it most. Memes and media references will fire at you faster than Salvador holding two assault rifles. One psycho even made a point to clarify that he is the one who knocks.
This game is a constant barrage of fun, wrapped in a thoughtful shooter that will test your twitch skills as well as your team-oriented thinking. There are very few games that inherently cause you to contemplate the implication of every stat point while still featuring deeply engaging, active gameplay. Borderlands 2 does not disappoint, it’s very easy to see why friends of mine who had never took an interest in shooters managed to get hooked by Gearbox’s flagship series.