I am behind the curve again, but I completed the normal playthrough of Borderlands 2 this past weekend. Borderlands 2 can be best described as a FPSRPG in the vein of hack and slash games, set in a gonzo post-apocalyptic cowboy setting where corporations are king. It’s even more over the top than it sounds, if that’s even possible. It was roughly 30 hours of game play, which included me completing every single side mission available to me. I’m a completionist in games, what can I say?
When Borderlands 1 came out, I was excited. I was fresh off a high from the Left 4 Dead series, and the thought of more 4-player co-op action was something that was tremendously appealing. However, the game itself, despite the fun gameplay and motion graphic novel aesthetic, fell flat as it relied so heavily upon pop culture references to carry the story. This was a shame, because the actual story was a fun corporate power struggle plot that was pretty deftly handled. The game was wholly redeemed by the fantastic DLCs, all of which showed more and more original story and world building. Borderlands 2 takes this world and builds it out even further, increasing the gonzo quality and humor of the world, while still feeling like a fully developed property. It has some pop culture here and there, mostly in achievement names or some quotes that your characters spout, but by and large it’s all original story. This is a great thing.
However, before I jump into the aspects I like, let me talk about the things I dislike. The major thing I dislike here is that the inventory and equipment screen seem to have been mangled by an inebriated frat boy. It’s ALMOST useful, but the actual equipping process, and selling process for that matter, is frustrating and sometimes it is flat out non-responsive. The quest system only lets you track one objective at a time, but it’s not quite as archaic as it appears to be, as all objectives are active, if not eminently visible on the map. Dialogue is often overwritten at times if you go into menus when it is active, but other times you can’t change options when dialogue is occurring. This is mildly annoying, but it’s definitely not a deal-breaker. Coupled with this is the fact that you really need to be careful at times to let dialogue complete, and not just rush to the next objective, or scripts can sometimes hang up. This is mostly a bug set that is being resolved as quickly as possible, but it’s not a null set at the moment. The other problem is that geometry sometimes results in instant kills as it appears damage and movement isn’t parsing correctly. This isn’t a big deal either, but it probably occurred five or so times over the life of the game. Money is next to useless, save that you lose money when you die and become sad. I ended the game with over two million dollars, and I wasn’t frugal in the least. This is someone compounded by a second currency to purchase all weapon and inventory upgrades. I would have preferred to just stick with money for this, but it’s a minor thing. It hasn’t happened since the October 16th update, but it still impacted my play. These are the main issues I had while playing the game, and frankly, the positives vastly overshadowed them.
One of the things that I liked about Borderlands 2 is that it took care to really spell out what was going on in the first game for people that missed it. The Hyperion corporation was using a satellite to direct the actions of the Vault Hunters in the first game to further their own ends. When it resulted in tentacles and disappointment, Hyperion was happy to have it resolve that way. A man by the name of Handsome Jack has taken control of Hyperion as the president and is now murdering Vault Hunters that make their way to Pandora, as more vaults have been discovered. The assumption here is that people are claiming the vaults are full of treasure, and not horrors. This is quickly dismissed in game, as it the contents of the vault play a major role in the story of the game. You are playing a vault hunter, sure, but you are really out for revenge moments after the game begins. This is somewhat of a plot hole, but it’s so quickly dismissed that it’s basically a non-issue.
The humor and dialogue in the game are top notch, and it’s great that the characters in the first game play such a huge role in the story of the second game. It really does feel like you are playing established characters in a graphic novel, each with their own goals, stories, and personalities. This is emphasized by the “hidden” ECHO recorders you find in the various zones that reveal the stories of the characters, and the history of Pandora in the intervening time between the first and the second game. The characters all seem much more established and real in this game, as well. The missions the characters have for you all emphasize their personality, and while many of them are simply “go kill shit” or “go collect shit” quests, the humor and dialogue shine through, creating an enjoyable experience. The ECHOs add to this experience, as getting communication as you are going about your quest helps to make them feel more alive and real than they would otherwise.
The game also does some interesting stuff with their HUD. One quest has the names of the monsters you are fighting continually changing, while another plays with the idea of a quest log, updating and changing as the dialogue and environment progresses. Bounty boards are utilized less in this game, and the quest log goes out of its way to let you know if you are missing quests in a zone, listing them as greyed out and titling them simply as “undiscovered”. This is a nice median between giving you every single quest possible, and not telling you what’s going on. One of the neater things in the game is that the non-crucial areas of the game all scale directly with your level, while the story missions are more or less fixed. This means that you could stick to the story line entirely if you wish, but veering off is constantly challenging and rewarding. Some of these zones require a lot of time spent in vehicles, but that’s not a bad thing, as vehicle controls are slightly more responsive, and having a second vehicle option is fun, if not that game-changing.
One of the pleasant surprises, to me, was that the difficulty level of the game is ramped up when compared to the first game. This game is not a slaughter and snooze experience. It remains thoroughly challenging from start to finish, and the True Vault Hunter difficulty is a vast ramp up in scale. For someone that likes to be challenged in my game play, I consider this a positive, but I recognize that the difficulty might not be something that everyone enjoys. It never veers off into frustrating territory, so I consider that a win.
Finally, while it’s only a fluff thing, I really enjoyed all of the various skins and customization rewards that I received in play. I had a lot of fun finding looks that I liked, and I was excited to buy or receive these skins as loot. Many of them are tied to the achievement system, called the Bad Ass Rankings. The Bad Ass Rankings allow you to continually purchase small percentage increases to various skills that apply to your current and future characters. You can turn these off if you want a “cleaner” experience, but even after accumulating around 6000 Bad Ass points, I was only rocking around 7% bonus in any given skill. What I am saying here is that it’s nice, but it’s not really a gamebreaking experience. Now, it might be if I was to start a fresh character, so we will see in the near future.
In conclusion, this was an excellent game that continues to be more fun when you play it with others, but it’s a rewarding singleplayer experience in and of itself. On a scale of five frowny faces to five smiley faces, I rank it a solid four smiley faces. I love this game, and I am excited to play through any and all DLC that comes out with it. After all, the DLC was phenomenal for Borderlands 1, and Borderlands 2 was such a story improvement over the core experience of Borderlands 1, I can only hope that the DLC is the same.