Review: Borderlands 2

Game: Borderlands 2
Recommended price: $20 + $10 season pass
Metacritic Score: 89
Completion Time: 30+ hours
Buy If You Like: Funny and nonsensical cel-shaded FPS games

Some (most?) of the humor is a little juvenile, but some had me rollin' all the same.

Some (most?) of the humor is a little juvenile, but some jokes had me rollin’ all the same.

Borderlands 2 is the cel-shaded, “why so serious?” smash-hit FPS pseudo-Diablo-clone follow-up to the original breakout Borderlands. Taking control of one of the four classes (or five with DLC), you set off on an adventure of mayhem and random looting across the now-much-more-varied landscape of Pandora, helping the heroes of the original game try and stop Handsome Jack from taking over the world.

To be honest, I am having a difficult time reviewing Borderlands 2 after having spent 130+ hours playing it. If you played the original, BL2 is better, longer, and more… Borderlandy than before. If you haven’t played Borderlands before, well, prepare to experience one of the frighteningly-few games out there with a distinct style. Said style might be nonsensical ultraviolence, but at least it is consistent and generally amusing.

The basic flow of the game will be familiar to anyone who has played a Diablo derivative: get quest, kill mobs, get random loot, repeat. There is a decent range and variance of mobs, but the AI controlling them is not especially robust; every encounter either involves mobs rushing to melee or shooting from range. In fact, since all the visible mobs aggro after the first shot and many mobs simply don’t exist until you get within range, an entire swath of the strategic playbook (Stealth, sniping) consists of blank pages. This is no different than what occurred in the original Borderlands, so if it was fine for you then, it will continue being fine now.

Not your standard quests. Well, they ARE, but still...

Not your standard quests. Well, they ARE, but still…

What saves BL2 can be summed up in three words: guns, guns, and guns. The trick that the Borderlands series pulls off is not merely emulating the loot-centric gameplay of Diablo, but how the loot itself can change how you approach the encounters. If a really kickass shotgun drops, for example, you might find yourself suddenly getting more up in psychos’ faces than you were just five minutes ago. While the character talent trees stamp down on this more freeform behavior by virtue of weapon-specific bonuses, respecing is only a trip to town away. And sometimes that minigun that shoots missiles is just too much fun to fire to care about trivialities like your +15% critical hits with sniper rifles.

Once you complete the game proper, you unlock “True Vault Hunter Mode” which allows you to redo the game from the beginning while keeping your level, cash, and gear. The enemies in this mode get new abilities, more health, and hit significantly harder as you plow your way to the level cap of 50. While this difficulty extends the life of the game quite a bit, it also leads into some counter-intuitive behavior. You see, sidequests typically reward you with unique items that are scaled to the level you were when you started them. Ergo, the “correct” way to play TVHM difficulty is to skip ALL of the sidequests until you reach level 50, and then go and complete them for the highest-level version of the unique items. Otherwise, the unique items may as well not exist, as they will inevitably be replaced by even the most generic level 50 drops.

As I mentioned before, I have clocked in over 130 hours into Borderlands 2, with around ~20 of those hours being from two of the DLCs. Although I chose to play solo the whole way through, I’m positive that the experience would have been even more entertaining with a group of friends. Hell, the DLCs even include the equivalent of 4-man raid bosses, if you are into that sort of thing. By the time you start to question why, exactly, you are chain-farming the last boss for legendary drops, Borderlands 2 will likely have generated twice as many hours of entertainment as your last non-Skyrim single-player games combined.

So get in there and start shooting some faces.

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Posted on February 25, 2013, in Review and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. For me Borderlands 2 is one of the few games I’ve ever bought that I wholly regret and wish I could take back. It joins such illustrious names as TERA, Diablo 3, Contact, and LotR War in the North.

    The only reason I got the bloody thing was for the multiplayer, but no matter which of us hosted the damnable thing the lag was absolutely insane. Useless hosting system. Just like Space Marines multiplayer. Worthless garbage.

    Like Space Marine my personal experience could have been salvaged by the single player but bloody hell. I don’t have a problem with immature humor but there is a limit. I could not _stand_ having the game constantly shoving Claptrap into my face like he was the funniest thing on the planet when all I really wanted was a mute button.

    I would rather subject myself to a straight week of Battlefield 3 than spend 5 more minutes in Borderlands 2.

  2. I found game a bit too punny

    They had some in original Borderlands too, but this time it’s turned up to eleven.

    Most of humor there does make me smile, but concentration is real problem. In first game it was more “gritty bandit planet, with occasional fun”, while here it’s more “planet of silly people doing silly things, with occasional drama”.

    • That’s an interesting take on the first Borderlands. While BL2 is absolutely less serious than the first, I never thought the “gritty bandit planet” vibe was particularly compelling (or coherant, for that matter) in the original. Indeed, Psychos never made much sense outside of the more appropiate, nonsensical BL2 environment.

      I can sympathize with the too punny complaint though, even though I enjoyed its novelty among the other games I’ve played. If I liked it even a tiny bit less, it would have likely drove me up the wall.

      • Well, in first they had quests like “poisonous tobacco from local flora – bandits who smoke it die painfully, their friends go and kill supplier”, “get to know what happened to father and son, then kill son who killed his father to join bandits”, Tanis’s “descent to madness” journals, bandits getting back at T.K., etc. All quite believable overall as far as human nature goes, and good for setting dark tones, with mostly Claptrap going as comic relief. Even General we had as “Big Bad” was fairly classic “enemy soldier with no care for bandits or vault hunters”.

        DLCs had less of that though, and i guess BL2 is natural extension of them.
        And with “Big Bad” Handsome Jack, it’s like everyone is Claptrap this time. It just lacks variety – even if it’s still fun on it’s own.