Love it or hate it, Borderlands is back with its formula of loot-chests-and-corpses-to-gain-progressively-more-powerful-weapons-so-you-can-do-the-same-thing-for-the-next-80-hours. It was a good bit of fun for Yours Truly, though, and it pleasantly surpassed my own expectations. Gearbox Software must have figured out it was onto a winner after 4.5 million units sold worldwide, and so the sequel was born.
The good / bad news (depending on how you look at it) is that the devs have opted to change very little in Borderlands 2. If you weren’t into Borderlands, chances are the second one isn’t going to change your mind.
There are still four classes to choose from (but there are more on the way via DLC). The quest system is the same. The vehicles are identical. The levels are similar, full of wide open cel-shaded spaces, although critics of the first game’s brown-heavy palette will be pleased to know that there is a bit more variation in the level design. The game still features drop in / drop out co-op play (thankfully now integrated into Steam rather than shackled to the leaden ball that was Gamespy). And there are guns.
“Bajillions” of them, apparently.
By “bajillions”, it really just means different permutations of a base set of models. It certainly doesn’t really feel like “bajillions” off the bat, but rest assured that you’ll be spoiled for choice. Weapon manufacturers have unique characteristics now, rather than simply having different skins. For example, Tediore weapons (the Walmart of firearms) can be thrown like grenades when they’re reloaded, given how cheap it is to simply construct a new one on the fly.
Otherwise, it’s business as usual with a few tweaks here and there. Rocket launchers are no longer whimpering flaccid metal tubes that fire explosive payloads equal to that of Roman Candles, which is a good thing. Revolvers are no longer a specialised weapon class, which is a bad thing.
The world has been crafted with plenty of love. Environments range from ice drifts to desert shanties to alien animal enclosures. Sure, there may be the odd sections of map where you’ll fall through the floor, doomed to an eternity of terminal velocity, but I’ve only found one such glitch so far. Characters sound like real people, so props to all those people responsible for the voice work. (Handsome Jack, the game’s antagonist, sounds like a cross between the boss in Office Space and Sterling Archer. Very punchable.)
If there has to be one ill word spoken out against the game, it’s the lack of innovation. The game did phenomenally well when it released, and I guess I can see the rationale in playing it safe, but Gearbox won’t be making new friends with Borderlands 2. There are some new enemies, another elemental damage type, and with a couple of character replacements, but the underlying formula is identical. Weapon classes, grenade mods, skill trees…nothing much has changed at all. Flying vehicles are present, but players can’t pilot them. Using these in co-op would have been incredible. Chances are features like this will come in some form of DLC eventually, but why should we have to wait until that much later?
The inventory management also hasn’t improved. The main selling point of the game is its made-up-number of guns, so having to scroll through wide lists of items is awkward at best, counter-intuitive at worst. At least it’s different to Mass Effect, which required me to wait for my avatar to refresh for every single item. I understand that lists like these are easier on console controllers, and I wouldn’t have such a problem with the layout if I could scroll through my loot without the interface flipping out half the time. It’s temperamental with my mouse’s scroll wheel, and gets confused when both the mouse pointer and wheel come into play at the same time.
All that aside, I’m still enjoying the game. It’s one of those rare situations where I lose track of time and don’t realise that I’ve spent 50 hours in a few days. I still get excited every time I see a great item. Co-op is amazing. There’s a fair bit to do and plenty to see. A lot of work has gone into this.
I agree that hardly anything has changed in Borderlands 2, but that’s the point – the formula still works for its fans. It’s the base game with a smattering of extras, all detailed to a high shine. It’s well executed and presented, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously either.
And the most important thing? I’m having a shitload of fun.