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Borderlands 2 Review- Shooting, Looting and Laughter

Borderlands 2

Like a large constituency of gamers, I immediately became beguiled by 2009’s Borderlands. Between a plethora of procedurally-generated firearms and a virtual playground tailored for co-op camaraderie, the title teased out my obsessive side and failed to relinquish its influence- at least until the game’s inner workings became troublingly ontologistic. During one of the game’s countless fetch quests, I felt like Pavlov’s dog responding to Gearbox software’s incessant bell-ringing, playing Pandora’s delivery boy for the umpteenth time. While the lure of better loot was undeniably compelling, the sensation was often undermined by monotonous missions, predicable AI opponents, and a skeletal storyline.

Proficiently, Borderlands 2 camouflages its predecessor’s coding through a variety of new systems, allowing the sequel’s engaging FPS/RPG amalgam to shine while eschewing the tints of tedium. So while comparing the virtues of a full-auto pistol outfitted with corrosive acid rounds against a flame-spewing shotgun still remains involving, the title feels a whole lot less like mowing the virtual lawn. While the game still has some minor scaling issues when accommodating staunch soloists and homogenous teams, enough advancements and additions to make the title an essential purchase for aficionados of the action genre.

Borderlands 2

Arguably, it’s Pandora that received one of the most perceptible changes. The once drab desert locales that played home to scores of Skags have given way to arctic tundra, emergent grasslands, and glistening urban outposts. Whereas the original title’s environments often seemed stiffly synthetic, Borderlands 2’s varied landscapes provide a much more organic feel. Settlements extend a pleasing sense of verticality, while the telltale crevice of a Bullymong den or intimidating bandit signage foreshadow enemy ambushes. Admittedly, cautious recon still won’t help much, as the majority of foes tend to pour out of inaccessible gates, but the structures and landscapes are generally much more interesting. Pleasingly, enemy AI is much more varied, with opponents attempt to flush players out of sheltered areas and habitually working collectively to eliminate threats.

Meanwhile, Borderland’s roster of incensed rivals have been augmented quite nicely. Whereas basic sentries and turrets were the main mechanical opposition in the first game, the sequel deftly integrates an entire robotic class into the world. Individually, these units can present a formidable threat, but when they are assisted by healing drones or builder bot capable of mass- producing progeny, situations quickly escalate into the chaotic. Fortunately, the lingering specter of death has been slightly tempered; defeated players are given if a revival if they can defeat a single opponent during a hazy, pre-mortem sequence.

Borderlands 2

Borderland’s inaugural collection of classes complemented each other competently, so it’s no surprise that the sequel retains those basic archetypes. Salvador, the Gunzerker replaces the tank tendencies fetishism of Brick, with skill trees based around dual-wielding and heavy weapon-based perks to intensify his output of damage. Maya the siren’s abilities are split between offensive and defensive proficiencies, with the ability ensnare enemies in a phaselock (allowing the rest of the team to take potshots) or instantly revive fallen comrades. With the ability to attach his regenerating sentry turret in a variety of locations and general proficiency with weaponry, Axton made an ideal candidate for solitary adventures. Stealthy Zer0 is the antithesis, presenting a challenge for single players, but with cloaking skills and melee skills that can quickly bring down foes engaged by other allies.

Pleasingly, the four classes aren’t as rigid as Borderland’s initial entry, with damage decided more by the capability of the firearm rather than the weapon holder. Mastery of particular weapon types is determined by the game’s trio of tech trees, which provide a plethora of perks to complement almost any play style. As such, everyone’s take on Zer0 is going to be slightly different, with some players training to be crackshot snipers while others aspire to become melee-proficient murdering machines. The addition of the badass ranking system even adds another bit of customization, allowing players to assign attribute points that are awarded after the completion of various in-game achievements. Nicely, these carry over to profile players, allowing subsequently created characters to reap these micro-benefits as well. It’s regretful that the game’s quality of stat-based modifications isn’t matched by the range of visual option for protagonists; beyond some basic attire choices, the look of each player is pretty standardized.

Borderlands 2

Not being particularly fond of Hey, Ash Whatcha Playin’s brand of humor, I didn’t expect to appreciate the writing contribution of Anthony Burch, who along with Mikey Neumann, crafted Borderlands 2’s storyline. Fortunately, my worries were unfounded. The duo have crafted one of the most consistently humorous games in recent memory, producing dialog teaming with pop-culture references and zingers, punctuated by the occasional waft of dark humor. One of the problems with the first title was the lack of a provoking antagonist. Here, the pair have produced Handsome Jack- a comic aloof, disgustingly rich foil that goads the players along with a succession of comically callous barbs. Pleasingly, the story is available for players who crave narrative impetus, while loot-minded teams can effectively overlook it.

Despite being a thoroughly enjoying game, the original Borderlands did little to mask its motivations; better loot was the sole purpose of persevering. With the sequel, Gearbox is keep player enraptured with a variety of techniques, from making firefights more engaging to furnishing dialog which proves to be just as rewarding as finding a new firearm with a significant stat boost. Consider Borderlands 2 the first fundamental purchase of the 2012 holiday gaming season.

About Robert Allen

With over 35 years of gaming experience, Robert 'DesertEagle' Allen is Tech-Gaming's resident worrier/warrior who spends his days teaching at three colleges and his nights devoted to JRPGs.

41 comments

  1. Could you imagine how cool it would be to play this on the Vita? I know the system has it haters, but I’d love for it to see some good translations.

  2. Epic fail review. You didn’t compare is to NASCAR Unleashed. Serious, Deagle, WTF?

    • Why would you compare this game to Nascar? They’re totally different games.

      • Wall Street Journal reviewed the game and the reviewer didn’t seem to have a clue.

        “As a $30 impulse buy, priced about the same as games like “NASCAR Unleashed,” I wouldn’t have a problem recommending Borderlands 2 as a fun diversion. At twice that price, though, I think it’s fair for players to demand the whole magilla… scads of downloadable content… and online multiplayer modes that keep you and your friends coming back until the next version of the game comes out.”

  3. I honestly expected Borderlands 1.5

    After buying the game Wednesday, I am hooked. Gearbox totally the game. Playing as Zero is great.

  4. That’s one damn fire review there, son!

    Much better than that POS Polygon or Verge wrote. They basically liked it all the way through the written review then 7.5ed it.

  5. Anyone have a Creature Slaughter dome preorder DLC (for 360) they want to share with me?

  6. How can you not like HAWYP? Some of the best game-related shorts around.

  7. Review’s a little late (this came out at Midnight on Tuesday) but pretty well written. I have to agree with most of the things said over that Verge review. The guy seemed to think Borderlands was broken.

  8. “at least until the game’s inner workings became troublingly ontologistic”

    Is ontologistic even a word. I tried looking it up. WTF does it even mean.

    • It wouldn’t see a Deagle/NOLA review without one big word. It’s their trademark.

    • From Dictionary.com: “of or pertaining to ontology, the branch of metaphysics that studies the nature of existence or being as such; metaphysical: Some of the U.S. founders held an ontological belief in natural rights.”

  9. Really good graphics.

  10. I totally agree about loot grinds. Sometimes the missions just feel like an excuse to pad the game out. Borderlands wasn’t as bad as some, but still you could get bored by them.

  11. Good review! Hopefully you guys will cover the DLC and let me know which things are worth buying. The first Borderlands had some cool stuff.

  12. Borderlands was THE best coop experience of this gen. I know I’m going to love the sequel.

  13. Just found this pic that shows how many different types of enemies are in the game. It’s pretty awesome:

    http://img1.uploadscreenshot.com/images/orig/9/25601005311-orig.png

    Great review, Des.

  14. Sounds like Gearbox really listened to their fans and improved almost everything about the first game. That should win them some serious gamer cred!

  15. This is the one game I’ve been waiting for. I’m so glad it lives up to the hype.

  16. I do wish the character classes were a bit different. Sounds like they kept the pretty similar instead of doing something totally new.

  17. Everything I’ve heard (except for Polygon’s grumps) about Borderlands 2 has been great. I can’t wait to play it. Right now I’m stuck playing my free PS+ version of the original game.

  18. Does anyone know what’s included in the $30 season pass?

    • You basically pay for the DLC at a discounted price. Gearbox is going to release 4 DLC packs and with the season pass, you receive them at a discounted price.

  19. Your thoughts of this review:

    http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/articles/386949/20120921/borderlands-2-review-gearbox.htm

    The Wall Street Journal is right on this one. Clunky writing and a clear misunderstanding of the FPS genre aside, Adam Najberg’s very negative review of Borderlands 2 got one thing absolutely right: The game is painfully, irrevocably, insultingly stupid.

    Internet meme stupid. Shooting “psycho midgets” stupid. Jokes about robots having sex with fuseboxes stupid. There’s even an enemy called the “BullyMong” and whereas with other games you could maybe write that off as a misplaced shot at Spike Milligan-y wordplay, you can’t trust Borderlands 2 to even try and be that clever. “

    • When did financial papers start review games and why are they so bad at it? It’s like they don’t understand the pleasures of gaming…

    • I don’t know, I think the paper may be on to something. Pop culture references will be funny for the next few months or so, but that will date the game. Besides, if that’s all it has going for it plotwise, jokes aren’t enough to keep me interested (see Saints Row 3)

      • I’ll just say I’ve played some games my friends through were HILARIOUS (Diskworld for one) and thought to myself, this is fucking stupid. Different Strokes.

  20. My only complaint (I’ve been playing SP mainly) are the bosses. They are so much harder than the regular enemies. Most put out smaller enemies, which is good for groups because you can assign people to sweep duties. By yourself it’s a pain in the ass.

  21. So far, B2 is my game of the year. I haven’t has this much fun in a long time.

  22. I let the game sit on my desk last week and I finally opened it last night and LOVED IT. I wasn’t sure what to expect but all my worries are gone.

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