Friday, 28 September 2012

Review: Borderlands 2



Yeah this is a big one.  Borderlands is one of my favourite game franchises to date and the original game is still worth picking up and playing for the great dialogue, brilliant level design, awesome world and the Bazillion guns that are available.  For those not really up on Borderlands the basic description of it would be to say it is a first person Diablo shooter.  You level up one of four playable characters and shoot various bandits, creatures and aliens on a hostile planet called Pandora in the hope of rare loot dropping out of your defeated enemies.

The original gained huge acclaim as a title that could be played almost indefinitely either alone or with up to three friends in the search of better loot.  The sequel released on the 21st of this month here in the UK had a lot to live up to.  I am glad to say then that the sequel delivers in almost every single way, from the combat, graphics, guns, script, mission design, enemy variety and even the environment.

Every character has numerous skins and heads to unlock
The sequel takes place a few years after the original borderlands ended with the destruction of the vault monster and the subsequent defeat of the Atlas corporation, led by general Knoxx, and the quelling of the cl4p tr4p revolution.  The Hyperion corporation led by the charming yet evil Handsome Jack has taken over Pandora in search of an even bigger and more valuable vault believed to be deep under Pandora's surface.  The original vault being opened caused a rare mineral called eridium to start growing out of the ground and its connection to this new vault is one of the main reasons the vault hunters have arrived on Pandora to seek more fame and glory.

Of course you won't be playing the original vault hunters, Roland, Brick, Mordecai and Lilith.  No now you are introduced to a new gang of galactic criminal/bounty hunters/treasure hunters in the form of Maya, Zer0, Salvador and Axton.  They all fit the previous games character archetypes with Axton filling in as the commando complete with deployable turret and assault rifle specialisations.  Maya replaces Lilith as the siren only this time she can phaselock opponents instead of phase shifting.  Phaselock traps targets in a bubble of raw mental energy making them easy targets.  Salvador is the Brick replacement, although he doesn't punch opponents to death, preferring instead to wield two guns at once for all out bullet barrage frenzy.  Finally Zer0 replaces Mordecai as the sniper character, swapping out a pet bird of prey for a holo-cloak ability allowing him to due massive sniper damage.

The original vault crew are in the game and help in their own way when they can during the game.  These characters will also give you missions and have tonnes of dialogue, having far more to say here than they ever did in the original game.  Other NPC's from Borderlands return with the shady gun dealer Marcus now being the only weapons dealer on Pandora, Patricia Tannis still experimenting with mixed results and Moxxi and her son scooter setting up shop in the new town of Sanctuary.  New characters include insane thirteen year old bomb maker Tiny Tina, Scooter's sister Ellie and the big game hunter Sir Hammerlock.  All of the cast have some pretty funny dialogue and become memorable characters in their own right almost as soon as they appear in game, which is a sign of Gearbox's accomplishments in regards to writing and their approach to storytelling.

Hyperions robots come in various sizes and shapes
Borderlands 2 makes another departure from its predecessor by introducing a hub town called sanctuary.  Here is where the player(s) will pick up a majority of their side quests and main quests along with restocking on ammo, altering their characters appearance, upgrading their ammo capacity, playing slot machines and using the new player bank to store their favourite guns and other equipment.  It is also possible now to transfer items between characters on the same account due to Borderlands 2's use of steam as a platform.  Not every side quest and mission is found in sanctuary, but a good number of them start there before taking you out all across Pandora.

Speaking of Pandora it has had something of a face lift.  Borderlands featured alot of the planets rocky mesa's and large deserts punctuated by ageing facilities, broken down mining camps and abandoned prisons.  Borderlands 2 now roams more of the planets varied locales, taking you from the frozen north to the rocky mesa's and deserts to a more verdant grass land.  Each locale has a variety of fauna distinct to that location, so Arctic Bullymong's are white furred and throw chunks of ice or large icicles at you, while a grassland bullymong will chuck rocks at you and utilise its speed more in the warmer climate.  In fact the previous games hostile life returns with a few more tricks up its sleeve now, while being joined by the new life of Pandora such as the aforementioned bullymong's which resemble large four armed gorilla creatures.  Varkids which look like large pissed off crane flies with the ability to evolve into larger more badass versions of themselves.

Salvador alone can handle numerous enemies when zerking
Hyperion has also deployed a massive army of robot soldiers to their fighting instead of Atlas corporations crimson lance soldiers.  These robots are easy to kill, but can quickly overwhelm a team with constructors that create more robots, surveyors which repair friendly units in the field and EXP loaders which come equipped with heavy weapons.  Robots can be blown apart even losing their legs causes them to drag themselves over to you for a final swing of their remaining limbs.  Other robots will simply overcharge their core and suicide bomb you.

Bandits have since also changed from the previous game.  They now produce their own weapon category known simply as bandit.  Bandit weapons have large magazines but lack damage, accuracy and elemental effects.  The bandits themselves now come in new varieties from the standard mask wearing lunatic to the large nomad.  Nomads have more armour and bigger guns, while some will equip shields complete with midgets tied to them (apparently nomads despise midgets) who if you free the midget you will fight alongside you briefly.

The main essence of Borderlands is the shooting, every single situation in Borderlands involves some kind of ballistic problem solving and its here that Borderlands begins to truly shine as an example of loot heaven in gaming.  Every single gun is randomly generated from the those found in chests, in slot machines, quest rewards and from dead enemies, you never truly know what is going to appear.  Weapons have numerous factors that alter its appearance, statistics and effects.  Some guns are weak damage wise, but may have a massive accuracy boost or high elemental damage.  Some might fire rockets instead of bullets while other types of guns may have unique effects entirely.  Some guns are set as certain quests reward them, but 99% of them are purely random and that is what keeps you playing, even coming back to old areas to loot chests again for new gear.  It is this single factor that will keep you playing Borderlands long after you defeat Handsome Jack and explore the entirety of the world.

New environments means new creatures to shoot....alot
The last main gameplay point that I should harp on about is the badass system.  In game there are numerous achievements such as setting people on fire, killing certain enemies, opening boxes the list goes on.  As you complete these you gain badass points which when enough are received you earn tokens.  These tokens can then be spent on your character giving them minor boosts to numerous stats.  The great thing is that these badass points are infinite and the bonuses spread across all characters on your account.   So starting a new level 1 character after finishing the game with a level 50 character gives them all of the same badass bonuses, meaning you have a pretty big head start.  Its a nice system to keep you going after you hit the level cap of 50 until the DLC arrives which will increase your maximum level.

My only minor gripes with the game is the lack of new weapon types.  True there is a new "slag" element type and some rare weapons fire lasers instead of bullets, but I was hoping light machine guns would have made an appearance by now.  The loss of the weapon specialisations is also a little odd since the bonuses you built up with your favourite weapons was a nice bragging point.  

Post completion we can look forward to four major expansions all similar in size to that of General Knoxx.  These can be pre-bought with a season pass of around £20 or separately as each comes out.  Other DLC not attached to the season pass will include new characters such as Gaige the Mechcromancer, but according to gearbox boss randy pitchford we will be seeing other new vault hunters in the future to.  New vehicles have also been discussed and all of these will be separate.  On the one hand its good for those people who cannot afford or choose to wait for a GOTY edition, but for anyone who bought the season pass it must feel like a kick in the balls.

The first of hopefully several new vault hunters
Graphically Borderlands 2 looks like its predecessor with a new coat of paint.  The games cel shaded style works brilliantly for the setting and also helps to keep the game running smooth on a wide range of systems.  Still there are plenty of nice shader and lighting effects to gawp at on the main menu and the updated engine makes Pandora look even better than ever.  There may be times where textures will still pop in but overall the graphics load pretty quickly.

The sound is pretty damn good here and usually I am a stickler for audio in games.  The voicework is brilliant, finally being able to hear the original vault hunters have a conversation is awesome and the returning and new cast all keep things fresh and hilarious throughout.  The music still has that wild west/deep south feel to it, lending to the lawless nature of the games world, creating an atmosphere similar to classic westerns and for me a sort of cowboy bebop style of sci-fi.  The monsters sound effects are suitably nasty and immediately recognisable while the gazillion guns in the game all sound weighty and powerful.

Overall Borderlands 2 is one of those titles that will endure as new games come and go, you can always rely on this game to throw a new gun your way that you would never have thought was there.  It hits that sweet spot in all RPG gamers who crave good loot for hard work.  Get it now even if you don't like FPS games it deserves the sales.

SCORE 9.8/10





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