Billions of Guns Equals Tons of Fun, Again
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It's been a few years since the original team of vault hunters cracked open the vault/alien-prison and ended Borderlands. Not much has changed on the planet Pandora. It's still a lawless wasteland populated by murderers, psychopaths and gangs, and that's just the people in charge.
In a sense, Borderlands 2 feels more like a continuation of the story, an addition, as opposed to a full blown sequel. I'm not saying this is a bad thing. Improvements have been made and there are some significant changes, new maps and all that. But the basic formula and even the look and feel is almost unchanged. Given that so many people, myself included, loved the original, its great to see that Gearbox didn't toss out the baby with the bathwater. It's almost a given that if you liked the original, then you will also like, or perhaps even love, the sequel.
I hope it's not too much of a spoiler to say that the vault from Borderlands was a huge disappointment. Instead of opening up, say, lockers filled with amazing guns like we saw in many of the preview movies for the first game, we got attacked by an alien tentacle monster. And the monster wasn't even a guardian. It was a prisoner. There was nothing inside the vault. If those angel things that were guarding the place would have just told us this instead of fighting, we probably would have left it alone.
But cracking open the alien prison did more than we thought. Somehow that act caused deposits of highly valuable, glowing purple minerals to start spawning all over the place. If you are lucky enough to find some, it can be traded on the black market in the game for good gear. But it also made it so Pandora was still a valuable place in the universe. There are even rumors of a deeper vault that can be found, but given what happened the first time, I would not hold my breath as to what might be inside. Your biggest foe in the game will be Hyperion Corporation, lead by a villain known as Handsome Jack.
The original vault hunters scattered to the four winds, though you may meet them as you travel. This time around, there are four new playable characters. They are similar to the original four characters, but also different in key ways. They are Axton the Commando, Zero the Assassin, Salvador the Gunzerker and Maya the Siren. The plot of the game is that Handsome Jack invites vault hunters to come to his planet to help find the new vault, and then kills them once they are no longer needed. You survive of course, and then can strike out on your own, joining the resistance and keeping an eye out for the latest vault. You are helped along the way by the AI from the first game, though she is up front this time about what she is and what she can do for you.
Any character can use any weapon, but different characters can get bonuses with certain firearms. Like the assassin can buy up a power that gives him a damage bonus if the magazine of a sniper rifle is full when he shoots something. Each character also has a battlefield magic-like power that is extremely useful.
Axton the commando deploys a powerful turret, and he can eventually place them anywhere, even upside down on ceilings. At really high levels he can place two turrets and upgrade them with rockets, which is a recipe for huge damage without ever exposing himself to actual danger. Though he can handle himself pretty well without them too.
Zero the assassin is most like the hunter from the first game. But he is a lot more powerful. Besides buffs with rifles, he also has a devastating melee attack with his glowing sword. His power is the ability to spawn a duplicate of himself while going invisible. This will let him slip away from a hard fight, or get into position for a backstab, which along with the right skills, can kill most opponents.
Salvador the gunzerker is totally new, and he of course makes the most use of firearms. Using his special power, he can pick up two guns at the same time, even big weapons that are normally used with both hands. Firing two guns, he is quite a formidable foe, adding so much damage per second that any group would be lucky to have him on their side.
Maya the siren is my favorite, and I was really happy to see the siren class stuck around for the sequel. However, there are significant changes to how the siren operates. Before the siren could turn invisible and damage enemies as she passed. Now she instead sends them partially into another dimension, which paralyzes them for a few seconds and eventually can do a lot of damage too. At first I didn't like this change, but now I love it. It gives Maya much more range as her powers can affect enemies really far away. In an MMO sense, it sort of makes her traffic control in big battles. She's also a great solo class, because enemies in stasis are still damaged by gunfire, and it works on most creatures, even bosses. If it comes down to Maya and one enemy, she will win every time. She also gets some healing ability early on, which is a big help.
Guns are about the same, which is to say there are bazillions of possible combinations to earn and find. Depending on your play style, there are probably a thousand 'perfect' firearms that will have you drooling. Granted, I'm a bit of a gun nut, but finding a new one and saying 'I wonder how this one will handle' is a real joy that happens every, say, five minutes in the game.
I was also happy to find that Borderlands 2, like its predecessor, never takes itself too seriously. There is a lot of humor in the game, starting with characters meeting the last surviving Claptrap on the planet right at the very start. But there are a lot of humorous moments to hear and see, and that keeps the game light and fun, even when dealing with somewhat darker themes. There are even little hidden jokes that you can find if you look around a bit, but I won't spoil your fun. Keep your eyes open out there.
Graphically, Borderlands 2 looks about the same as the original, which is fine. It's still the same planet after all. Expect beautiful cartoon-like vistas that are very well done. Like the first game, after a while I just sort of accepted that Pandora looked like that, and you probably will as well.
The audio is also top shelf. All the characters are voiced perfectly, and they have enough catch phases that it doesn't get too annoying. My favorite of course is when I get a head shot critical that blows an enemy apart, and Maya just sort of starts giggling quietly, showing that she is having just as much fun as me.
I'm a solo gamer by nature, and Borderlands 2 offers a rewarding experience in that regard. But it's also so easy to jump into other people's games or open yours up to the world, that doing so is pretty fun too. In fact, I almost had more fun when going around with a good group. When you play with more people, the monsters get a bit harder to kill, but the rewards are also better, so it's a good thing to try. I think you will like it.
If there is any negative to the game, it's that gameplay can get to be a little repetitive, just like the original. Towns and bandit forts that you clear out don't stay that way for long, and the same types of bandits and their patterns repopulate the same places. It got to the point with one little battle where I knew the pattern of doors the bandits would spawn from, so I shifted my aim early and shot 'psycho four coming out of door three' before he could even take a step.
So, does Borderlands 2 really move the ball forward that much? No. Does it matter? Also, no. We play this game series for its over-the-top, humor-filled violence and hardcore action. And Borderlands 2 does a good job of delivering us a heaping helping of that. If that's your thing, then it's more than worth the money, especially when you throw in all the planned DLC content which should shortly follow the main game. It earns 4.5 GiN Gems, and I'll even throw in a chunk of purple alien mineral on top of that. I think they've earned the bonus.
John Breeden II is the Chief Editor of GiN. While a forward thinking man he admits to a fondness for older video games. You should have seen him at Videotopia. John can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org.