Borderlands 2 makes many improvements upon the original, but is trapped by the very fact its a sequel.
While story is a prevalent part of Borderlands 2 it takes a back seat to the baser urge in all of us to find better and better loot. The promotional build up to Borderlands 2 capitalized on this, going as far as to get a Guiness Book of World Records entry on 'Most Guns in a Video Game' and true to form Borderlands 2 delivers. There is an infinite number of guns and Gearbox has overhauled the UI in order to make it easier to sort through and keep tabs on your inventory. A much welcome addition to the menu screen is the ability to mark items as Junk or a Favorite, this comes in handy as shops now offer the option to sell all junk with one button click. You still have to go through your inventory to manually mark things as junk but often you might want to give an item a whirl before casting it aside. The way the game sorts weapons by the ammo they use can be deceiving. Throughout the game you will encounter pistols, shotguns and assault rifles that are really grenade launchers, repeater pistols and revolvers now fall under the same 'pistol' category, and there are now sniper rifles in the game that are semi-automatic and with burst fire capabilities. Some of this is denoted by flavor text but often you have to try a gun out before fully committing it to junk. Another change can be noted among elemental weapons, now an elemental gun has a '% chance' to cause an elemental effect and a 'Damage over time' specific to the gun. The game has a side by side comparison tool built in, but the game does not take elemental damage into effect when compared to a non-elemental weapon so occasional the lower damage gun may come out on top. Having separated out the junk there will inevitably be a gun you fall in love with, the perfect blend of stats and style, but you've out leveled it, sitting abandoned in your bag taking up space you are tempted to sell, fear not Gearbox has a solution for you. In the new iteration Gearbox has introduced a Bank, a common MMO staple, where you can store items with either sentimental or situational use, allowing you to keep an empty bag to haul more loot while out in the wilderness.
Out in the field, Gearbox have implemented some nice changes that aim to improve over all quality of life, money and ammo dropped by enemies is now auto-looted by simply walking over it. However, the system is inconsistent and it is still up to you to loot money and ammo manually from chest. Bulk loot attempts to alleviate this by allowing you to loot the entire contents of a chest in one go, but overly precise hit boxes can result in frustrating situations, especially with console controls. Loot clearly displayed in front of you can be difficult to get because the game requires the reticle over a very particular location. On occasion, there are clipping issues where loot will fall into the ground, and they are visible but unattainable, for money and the occasional gun this is excusable, but when Epic and Legendary items falls victim to this problem it becomes a little harder to swallow. The game introduces a new currency system in the form of Eridium, which can be spent to upgrade, bag slots, bank slots, and ammo capacities it is harder to come by and it can be rather frustrating when an enemy drops some and it cannot be looted. Another minor change that pans out to be a large improvement is a change to the naming conventions of class mods. Gone is the an awkward number system that really did mean something, but culminated in higher number wins on a scale of 10 - 660, replaced with randomly generated names and stats like much of everything else in the game. A base stat increase determines the name of the mod, and the skills it effects determine the adjectives. An example would be an Assassin class mod 'Deadly Sniper', a sniper mod by itself increased Sniper Rifle Damage and Sniper Rifle Critical Damage, and the adjective Deadly grants a bonus to the Killer Skill. Changes to skills are now noted on the skill tree so it is not only possible to have 9/5 in a skill but the game actually shows the upgraded stats resulting in a more user friendly experience.
While collecting amazing loot may be the primary draw of the game, Borderlands 2 really makes the journey more entertaining with some great improvements to dialogue. If you had played the previous title recently, the first thing that sticks out this time around is that fact that there are more than 2 voices for all the enemies in the game. There is a wider range of voices that distinguish a bandit, from a midget, from a psycho, from a goliath, this lends it self not to just diversity but also giving an audio rundown of which enemies you are fighting. Dialogue from the series favorites and quest givers is much more notable, and characters like Claptrap and Scooter break the illusion of the game all for a laugh. For instance when Claptrap introduces a new feature that allows players to trade items between their own characters, he at first attempts to explain it in a "gamey" sort of way, then gives up and settles on "Look, its for twinking other characters, alright?" In another situation Scooter notes that its odd that he knows exactly when the player finishes objectives when they are presumably miles apart. The dialogue between the player and NPC's is not the only area of improvement, the interaction between enemies and the player has greatly flourished with reactionary dialogue. In Borderlands the enemies may have had some generic taunts, now the dialogue takes into account player action. When Zer0 uses his Decepti0n ability to go invisible he might say "How hilarious, you just set off my trap card. Your death approaches," which is standard but when breaking stealth an enemy commander might exclaim "you fools! You can't tell a hologram from the real thing." All this adds to a more immersive combat experience, except for when the last enemy standing respond with that same statement and it serves to break immersion. In a game littered with so much amazing dialogue, it is a shame when you cannot hear it. There is no queueing system for NPC dialogue, and as a result some of the great dialogue in this games gets cut off. If you loot a audio log in Sanctuary and at the same time as Jack gives a periodic taunt over the ECHO the audio log get cut off. In any other game this might be easily over looked but the audio in this game is so damn good, it's a shame and several times I was left wondering what was left unsaid.
Borderlands is the king of 4 player co-op and some changed have been made to streamline the whole process. First of all the co-op lobby has been integrated into the single player lobby allowing for people to join an others game freely. Also Gearbox has incorporated a system by which a player who completed a quest in an other players game, won't have to do it again in their own play through. Traversing the world of Pandora is a much more colorful experience this time around, new environments greatly contrast the, still present, beige wasteland palet. Arctic tundra, glacial valleys, grasslands, toxic wastelands, even a futuristic cityscape all successfully break up the beige of the original. Questing has been made slightly easier, as the game now tracks all quest objectives simultaneously, the map still only shows one objective, but if another quest's objective is completed the game will flash your progress on screen. In place of a second play through, Gearbox now offers a 'True Vault' hunter mode which serves as an Insane, or Hardcore mode and replaces all the enemy in the game with leveled up equivalents, with new abilities and names. The environments aren't the only thing that got a splash of color though, Borderlands 2 introduces a new character customization feature, which allows the player to unlock and choose from up to 80 color palates and heads. The challenge system is carried over from original, but holds a much greater impact now. They are tracked in their own tab of the menu and completion of challenges contribute to a Badass Ranking. This Badass Ranking is shared by all your characters and grants tokens which can be redeemed to grant bonuses to character stats account-wide. Like in Borderlands challenges will call for the firing of exorbitant amounts of bullets and the deaths of numerous enemy, but newly added are area specific challenges that require the player to hunt down special items and Vault Symbols, defeat bosses in a certain way or time limit, unique to the area. To aid this process bosses all respawn allowing a person to go back later with a more leveled character to face them again, with challenge in mind.
Enemy have a much greater diversity of abilities, preventing combat from getting mind numbing. several enemy types can throw objects from the environment, use flame throwers, charge into melee range, berserk, and even go invisible, all of which keep you on your feet as you progress through the game. Beyond enemy abilities the game has three genreal enemy groups, the Hyperion Loaders, the Bandits, and the creatures each requiring an entire different combat style. A minor UI change may be difficult to swallow at first but is ultimately for the better, if you recall in Borderlands the enemies were tracked on you compass, now they are tracked in the mini map, and overall improvement allowing for a much better grasp of the field of combat. There are new vehicle classes in the game, but vehicles as a whole have changed, they are no longer unholy death machines who even the mightiest foe get crushed under. Running enemy over has been significantly nerfed, but the onboard guns have been buffed accordingly. Don't expect to go on driving rampage and mow down enemies unless they are weakened by guns fire. The games graphic engine can run slow at times, on the Xbox, resulting in degraded graphics for a time, until the details fill in.
Overall Borderlands 2 is a fantastic sequel, if you are looking for an extended story of borderlands with the same Gunslinging, Loot-tastic, cooperative play then look no further. Borderlands 2 improves upon Borderlands in nearly every ways, oddly enough adding more RPG elements, in a time were RPG's are incorporating more and more action genre elements. The story is more prevalent, the characters are explored more deeply, and the changes to guns and shields make for a more fluid system. Outside the series and solely as a stand alone game there are places Borderlands 2 can improve, but so long as Gearbox fills the void of FPS-RPG games there should be a spot on everyones shelve for this Game of the Year contender.