Borderlands 2 begins in a more explosive fashion than the original. Four new Vault Hunters have come to the legendary Pandora after news of a new Vault being discovered reaches them. All four are on a train, when they are attacked by members of the Hyperion corporation. The train blows up, and they are left for dead by Handsome Jack, leader of the corporation.
It’s a neat opening sequence, and sets the tone for this sequel. After choosing a class, you meet up with Clap trap, the ever hapless robot from the first game and are given a gun. The classes are a bit different this time around; you have Axton, the soldier with a deployable turret that is about ten times more helpful than Roland’s turret from the first game; Zer0, an assassin who may not be human and can send out a duplicate of himself to trick enemies; Maya, a siren who can Phaselock enemies in a forcefield, making them immobile for a certain amount of time; and you have Salvador, in the new class known as the Gunzerker. Basically, similar to Brick from the first game in that he can go on a rampage, but instead of punching things, he whips out a second gun and gains certain benefits. But, since this is the GOTY edition I’m talking about, there are two additional classes: The Mechromancer and the Psycho. The Mechromancer can summon an incredibly useful robot to help her fight, and also has a new ability called Anarchy where her accuracy decreases but her damage increases the more enemies you kill. The Psycho is primarily melee based and can be whipped up into a frenzy with his action skill. Each class plays differently enough so that it’s worth experimenting with different characters. For my first play through, I chose the soldier.
Once the game proper starts, you are given two guns; a crappy pistol and shotgun. Apparently, these never change, regardless of class, which is a tad disappointing considering that random loot is the driving force of the game. Nonetheless, it isn’t long before you’re gunning down a new type of creature known as Bullymongs. These are weird, monkey type things that can chuck rocks at you or come in close and deliver the pain with their fists. It’s here that one major change occurred to me: Borderlands 2 is tougher than the first. Enemies hit harder than before, so expect to take some damage even when you are several levels ahead of an enemy. This is both good and bad; good in that it makes combat consistently engaging since you’re always struggling to survive and bad in that swarms of enemies can easily overwhelm solo players (and I played solo for the majority).
The first area you are put in is also radically different from the first game; rather than an arid desert type place, it’s a frozen arctic wasteland. This motif lasts for a while, but many areas are quite different from one another, which is definitely a step up from the first game, where everything was generally brown. That being said, there are some pacing issues near the beginning. The first game took a short while before getting rolling, maybe about a half hour. In this game, the opening areas are long, with easily five hours’ worth of content if you choose to pursue the side quests like I did. This isn’t necessarily bad, but it can drag a bit near the opening.
Once the game gets rolling, though, the quest for loot is satisfying as ever. And, while loot is still the main driving force, the story is also greatly improved. It basically concerns taking down Handsome Jack, the guy that left you for dead. Along the way, you meet a lot of familiar faces (more than a lot, actually, if you played the first) and help some cool new ones in undoing the wrongs of Pandora. The quest is much more fleshed out, thanks to sharper writing and a larger abundance of side quests than the first related to different characters. It actually makes Pandora feel inhabited, rather than the first game where it felt pretty lifeless despite everything trying to kill you. The main story still isn’t superb, but it’s a lot more interesting this time around, thanks to the strong villain, cast and humor.
But, back to the meat of the game, which is the gameplay. For anyone who played the original, or has played a loot based ARPG before, it will seem familiar. You go around, completing side quests and gunning down bad guys, gaining experience and (hopefully) better loot. There have been a few tweaks, though, mainly in weapon variety. Guns are now much more “unique” in this game than the first. What I mean by that is you don’t see too many guns in gaming like the ones in this game. For instance, Assault Rifles. There are ones that are semi-automatic, ones that are automatic, but there are more outlandish ones, such as “spini guns” that fire faster the longer you hold the trigger button. Hell, there are even rifles that shoot explosive grenades instead of bullets. This holds true for every gun type, in part thanks to the different manufacturer qualities. You see, each weapon maker has a consistent quality that goes for all their guns. For instance, Jakobs has the aforementioned semi- automatic firing, which allows for either precise controlled shots or rapid firing. Torgue’s guns always fire explosive shots, while Bandit guns always have large magazine sizes. Every manufacturer has their own strengths and weaknesses, and, if you’re like me, you’ll undoubtedly find a favorite few and primarily use guns of that variety.
This variety extends to more than just guns, though. Shields are also redone; in the first game, they basically just defended, sometimes against a particular element and may have healed you if you got lucky. In this game, a shield can have a chance to absorb a bullet, or drop a shield recharger when you’re shot. There are others, too. The same goes for grenades. There are not only new varieties (such as ones that cause a vortex that pulls enemies in before exploding, a personal favorite of mine) but there are hybrid varieties, too. Remember Longbow grenades, ones that would teleport? Or how about Transfusion grenades, which would drain life from enemies? Well, you can find grenades that teleport, give you health AND cause a vortex. The variety in all the gear you can possibly find is exciting, especially when you find a truly awesome new item in a chest or on an enemy. This is in addition to skins and heads, items that can change your character’s color scheme and face, respectively.
Of course, the guns and items would mean nothing if you didn’t have a lot of things to fight. And, in a huge step up from the first game, there are tons of different new enemy types. There are Loaders, robots with different weapon and movement types, stalkers, bat/ scorpion hybrids that can turn invisible, Varkids, which are little bugs that can swarm or burrow to become bigger, and more. The variety of enemy types here is almost staggering. What’s even more surprising is how little you fight the standard bandit. Don’t get me wrong- you’ll still put a bullet in plenty of bandits’ brains. But they are no longer the focus; if anything, Loaders are the most frequent enemy types, but, really, the game is constantly alternating the enemies it throws at you.
Of course, an issue does come up here. While there is a lot of variety, many of the enemy types are annoying. For instance, the stalkers. They will turn invisible, and not video game invisible, where you can see their outline. They will turn almost imperceptible, but they will still attack you. It’s obnoxious when you are fighting a horde of them and they just keep coming out of nowhere, especially since they move pretty quickly. Then there’s another new type called Threshers. These guys are just awful. They are worm type things that appear out of the ground and each one has a different quality to them. The fact that you can’t stagger them is annoying enough, but when you couple a horde of them on top of the variety that creates a damaging vortex that draws you in and you can’t avoid, and it’s just painful. The only reason I survived many encounters with this enemy type is because of the turret my Soldier had.
There are some other issues in the game, too. As I mentioned above, there are a lot more quests than in the first game. For every story mission you open up, there are numerous new side missions that crop up. Most of them are fun and creative (particularly a quest line where you fight on both sides of a gang war, or one that’s highly reminiscent of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) but some of them feel like little more than a chore. For instance, many of the ones that require you to collect a certain number of items have the items in question scattered all across the corners of a map, and finding them can be a pain. Not only that, but more often than not, the rewards for completing side quests are laughable. Sometimes all you get is a small amount of cash and EXP, and other times you get a randomly generated weapon that, in all likelihood, is worse than anything you’re currently using.
There’s also an issue of money. In a weird move, the game gives you far less money and makes guns less valuable (after 60 hours of play, most guns only sell for a maximum of 7000 bucks or somewhere around there). However, you also spend money much less than the first game. Vending machines almost always carry junk; I think that I bought something from a vending machine maybe ten times during my course through the main game and its DLC. Mostly, money is only there to be lost at New U stations when you die and need to be paid to be brought back.
However, there are a few more cool and welcome changes. For one, there is a new currency type called Eridium, which you can use to purchase ammo and storage upgrades. It lends itself to personalizing how much of what ammo type you have; you can easily invest all your Eridium into SMG ammo, or spread it around to several different types you think you might use. Plus, upgrading your carrying capacity and bank storage is also nice, since it means you can haul and keep more loot than before.
Another cool change is the introduction of Badass ranks. In the first game, there were things called Challenges that would give you EXP rewards upon completion. These return, but, instead of EXP, you get something called Badass rank. Basically, when you complete different tiers of a Challenge, you get more points put towards your Badass rank; every so often (I think it’s every 100 points but I never kept track) you get a coin you can redeem to tweak a certain stat. This seems like a small change, but it actually allows for a lot of customization. Want to build a bulky character great at melee and can take hits? Increase their melee damage and health capacity and, over time, you’ll see results. The best part is that all your stat perks carry between characters, which makes restarting the game as someone else a bit less intimidating.
Overall, the main campaign is improved over the first game. There’s more quests, more humor, more gun and item variety, better and more varied environments and more to be found here. In spite of its flaws (annoying enemy types, the occasional bad reward) it’s a ton of fun to build and strengthen your character and explore unseen parts of Pandora.
Mini reviews of DLC
Captain Scarlett and her Pirate’s Booty:
It begins with another legend of a great treasure, this time something left by a sand pirate. Other pirates have been looking for years but have been unable to find the booty. In comes you to the desert town of Oasis. Right from the get go, the pirate theme is clear. Enemies have fancy names like “Rapscallion” and are adorned with skull and crossbone caps and may or may not have hooks. You are told by a local lunatic named Shade (who looks like a demented version of Johnny Depp’s character in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) that a local pirate named Scarlett is searching for the treasure and could use your help. Of course, you decide to help her.
The DLC is well executed, really nailing the “sand pirate” idea, complete with a brand new vehicle type with the Sand Skiff (which is a lot of fun to use). There’s a healthy amount of quests on offer, ranging from finding hidden treasure to obtaining some fruit to prevent scurvy. Granted, not all of them are fun, including some more collect a thons, but as a whole the story quests and side content is entertaining. There’s also some funny new characters with Scarlett and some others that I won’t spoil. The biggest issue is that it feels anticlimactic as all hell near the end. Besides that, the visuals are exquisite and the loot is good.
Mr. Torgue’s Campaign of Carnage:
A new Vault has been discovered, and the way to open it is for the biggest badass on Pandora to spill the blood of a coward onto it. Mr. Torgue, founder of the Torgue corporation, puts it upon himself to hold a tournament to determine exactly who the biggest badass is. Enter you. The DLC starts off strong and remains that way the whole way through. Mr. Torgue is indeed an explosive man (fitting for a guy whose company only makes explosive weapons) and he easily has some of the funniest dialogue and voice acting I’ve ever heard in a game. His commentary is consistently hilarious, whether he’s going off about a sick guitar solo or his favorite video game. There’s a solid supporting cast, too, mostly people from the main campaign.
Of course, the humor would mean nothing without the gameplay to back it up. And, thankfully, it does. Every area is consistently interesting, and most quests are lots of fun. They range from actual racing, to blowing up big enemy vehicles. Regardless, it’s the most consistently entertaining DLC the game has to offer, and is arguably one of the best parts of the game.
Sir Hammerlock’s Big Game Hunt:
Sir Hammerlock (a new, highly British and gentlemanly character from the main game) has invited you, the Vault Hunter, out to his cabin for a weekend filled with hunting and jolly good fun. But all isn’t well; a mad scientist known as Dr. Nakyama is stirring up his followers, turning them savage and causing mayhem around the area. It’s up to you to (begrudgingly) take him down and bring peace back.
This is easily the weakest of the DLC packs. The quests feel rather bland in spite of the funny dialogue and the main villain feels tragically underdeveloped. In addition, the savages you fight are just annoying. The main ones will run around, absorbing damage with their shields and throwing things every which way. Then there’s the witch doctors… They are some of the worst enemies, if not the worst, in either Borderlands game. They have extremely inflated health bars, and can not only heal themselves and their comrades back to full health, but can increase levels of their allies and perform a tornado attack that lasts far too long and does far too much damage. (I had full shields and health and was brought down to the red after two hits). Plus some of the new creatures, like the Spores, are just annoying (spores are also massive bullet sponges, even when hitting their weak points and can spawn little elemental spores to attack you from every direction). Despite that, the DLC still provides moments of fun, and the ending to the campaign is really funny, too.
Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep:
Tiny Tina (a hilarious new character from the main game) is putting on a game of Bunkers and Badasses, and has invited the Vault Hunters to play. You teleport to the Unassuming Docks of Little Importance and make your way to Flamerock Refuge, embarking on a quest to save the queen, whose been kidnapped by the Handsome Sorcerer.
The simple set up allows for a lot of great artistic variety not found in the main game. Rather than unwashed, dirty environments, you have a bright village, a dark forest, some rocky mines and more. Plus, the enemy variety is great, too, borrowing heavily from fantasy fiction (both literature and games). This creativity also translates well into the writing. There are tons upon tons of references to all kinds of geeky things, from Dark Souls to the King Arthur Legend. And these spoofs/ homages are almost always done right and allow for nice variety in the quests. Whether you’re defending a walking tree, fighting off an angry golem or collection Dwarf Beard, the quests are consistently entertaining and funny. Plus, the story has a nice buildup, leading to the final confrontation in an epic way and ending on a surprisingly bittersweet note. It’s close to the Torgue DLC in terms of quality, but there is the occasional annoyance not found in the Torgue part of the game. Despite that, it’s a terrific, creative use of familiar characters.
The GOTY Edition of Borderlands 2 really is the complete package. It’s filled with content (took me over 60 hours to beat everything) and has plenty of customization options and replayability (different character classes, plus two New Game + modes with better loot in each playthrough) to keep any serious player busy for a long, long time. In spite of its flaws, it manages to be a lot of fun and well worth the time and money.