Return to the Borderlands
It has been a few years since we set foot on Pandora for the first Borderlands, and my, how time has flown since the first game's release back in 2009. We loved the original game and for many of us here at Games Xtreme it became our replacement Diablo. In fact as a refresher we called it, Diablo with guns...pretty much.
Now we're back on Pandora for the sequel and if you don't want to read the rest of the review, it's a great game and well worth all the praise that it's been getting from press and public alike. We are once again thoroughly addicted and have taken several days extra to get the review out, because we can't stop playing Borderlands 2.
The original four Vault Hunters have been replaced by four new ones, a bad guy known as Handsome Jack, leader of the Hyperion Corporation has appeared on the scene and is attempting to civilise Pandora and the Borderlands via force and explosive charm. He's looking for a new Vault, an even bigger one and it could spell doom for everyone if he finds it. It's up to you to get out there and stop Jack, once and for all.
Borderlands 2 is a first person rpg-lite, loot driven shooter with several improvements over the original both in single player and cooperative multiplayer. It is a fantastic sequel which deserves every accolade thrown at it. Everything about 2 is smoother and better, the controls are sharper and the design is definitely several steps up from the first game.
Virtually all aspects of Borderlands 1 have been redesigned and reworked from the shooting controls, vehicle controls, character menus, choices you make at the end of some missions and rewards that you get.
Quest design has been reworked, the experience system, the skill trees, the skills themselves and of course there are now four new Vault Hunter classes to play with. None of them feel like a re-tread of the old ground from Borderlands either.
Axton is the new Soldier replacement, known as the Commando and he now focusses on support via his (better) Sabre turret and three punishing skill trees. Axton is the perfect solo character since the turret is a life saver in some of the tougher fights.
Zer0 is the Mordecai (Hunter) replacement and he focuses mostly on melee damage, with his skill as a combination of Lilith (the Siren) and her old Phasewalk/melee damage. Zer0 throws down a decoy and becomes invisible. He can also specialise in sniping if you want a really deadly ranged character class.
Maya is the game's new Siren, gone is the Phasewalk, she can use Phaselock to trap an enemy in a sphere of energy for a short while. Several of the bigger enemies can be locked down like this and her healing tree makes her a valuable medic/support character for a group play style. She can unlock healing bullets which were Roland's (the Soldier) forte in the last game. She can also heal the team whilst an enemy is Phaselocked and deal incredible elemental damage based on skills taken.
Then we have Salvador, he's new, he's the Gunzerker. He replaces Brick save for the fact that Brick was a fist guy in a shooting game. Well, Salvador is a gun guy who can wield two of any weapon simultaneously when he Gunzerks. It's an amazing skill tree that brings on punishing damage against bosses when used correctly.
Even the way that you approach the game's menu's has been altered with a far more visual design, it's easier to get the game up and running, choose a character and start playing. There is no divide between single player and multi either, the lobby is a great addition and lets you setup the perfect party of friends before you dive into the crazy madness that is Pandora.
You can easily switch from Xbox Live, Party, Invite Only, System Link, Split Screen and Offline play.
The game scales based on the number of players (1-4) and offers improved loot, more monsters, more variants and greater rewards for the higher number of players. There are brand new enemies, new enemy types as well, but you're going to have to find those out by searching the Borderlands yourselves!
You have a wider variety of options when it comes to player customisation, with unlockable skins and heads in the game offering a better visual design for individual players and their play style. Catch-A-Ride, the game's vehicle system has also been tweaked, with vehicle skins and a 4 player capable buggy unlocked later in the game.
The player character menu has been changed too, with easier to use GUI improvements, quest, equipment and more sortable into a variety of categories. It's sweet and it works perfectly. You can also change split screen between horizontal and vertical and the GUI has been adapted to show correctly for the players without scrolling when you use vertical split.
Guns anyone, did you say a Bazillion?
There are even more combinations of procedurally generated guns in Borderlands 2. Guns, loot, shields, grenade mods and more, it's all randomly generated in terms of stats, looks, quirks and so on. The variance is far better and Gearbox has really pushed their system to the next level. The difference between the various manufacturers is apparent in stats, in looks and in weapon design. You can tell it is a Jakobs gun, because they do massive damage and tend to have a very Wild West theme about their design, using a lot of wood in the gun's construction.
Vladov are Russian in design so they get lots of AK-47/74 inspired creations.
Maliwan do less damage but make up for it with a futuristic look and elemental attributes.
Tediore have changed a little since Borderlands, they look far more futuristic now and explode like a grenade when reloaded. The bullets you have left in your clip determine the kind of boom you get.
These are just a few of the Borderlands manufacturers that we talk about, the rest you'll have to discover for yourself.
The new system really works well and getting fresh loot is an amazing rush in the new game because of it.
Another part of Borderlands 2 that has been overhauled is the challenge system, no longer are you rewarded with XP for the character if you complete the challenges (and there are a lot to do, all up to level 5), you're rewarded with Badass Rank points. Once you earn enough, you get a token and token's can be redeemed to grant you stat bonuses to your character, rather like the original weapon proficiencies in Borderlands for using the various guns.
However these stat bonuses are ones you choose from a list each time you get a token. What's more (this is the cool bit), they transfer onto every character you play with that profile. So you can get infinite Badass Ranks since there's no limit. As long as you play Borderlands 2 with new characters and use that profile, you'll stack up those points and redeem tokens for bonuses like:
Shield Recharge Rate
Shield Recharge Delay
Gun Accuracy and more...
Imagine getting Gun Damage +100% at some point, yeah, that's what we're talking about!
There are more things we could talk about, but we're pretty much going to let you discover those for yourself.
The game saves with save points and of course you can quit/save at mostly any time to save your character progress.
Finally there is the True Vault Hunter game mode that's unlocked after you beat the game, aka, playthrough #2 which ups the ante significantly. However Borderlands 2 offers a lot of exploration, side-quests and levelling before you complete it...so it's value for money right there!
Pandora has changed...a lot; there are new areas, frozen areas, other areas we won't say yet and basically the game looks much nicer than Borderlands with an expanded colour palette, a refined graphic novel/comic-book art style and aesthetic. There's a lot more detail here and it shows, there are a few issues at the moment with some textures not loading as quickly as they could, or in some cases there have been a few texture glitches (mostly from the frozen piles of Bullymong crud) - nothing that spoilt our enjoyment of the game from a shooting-looting perspective though.
There's a lot more love here in terms of animation quality too, including the individual character animations for the Vault Hunters and how they fire/reload weapons (this are likely procedural and based on the weapons themselves). We've seen characters fanning the hammer on some revolvers, loading them with their right, or left hand, pulling back a bolt on a sniper rifle or slamming a clip into a fully automatic gun. Enemies have brand new animations and it ties into their AI too, kind of taking a leaf out of Rage's book in that regard - it works beautifully too.
Tied into the animations for the characters is the game's AI. New monsters have new attack patterns, new AI mechanics that drive them to back off if they become too injured and Bullymongs vary based on the kind of creature that's been generated, yeah, and even the monsters/humanoid bad guys in Borderlands 2 are procedurally generated and armed. Bullymongs live up to their name, they like to bully you and will launch into the air with a massive leap, or hurl rocks.
Humanoid enemies will use cover a lot more now and work on their tactics, using pack tactics, lone wolf tactics and a variety of flanking tricks to get the drop on you. It makes the game far more fun. Badasses up the ante even more...
The animation is tied into the AI and the physics are tied into that, especially now that enemies can take damage that knocks them over, causes them to panic or hurts them in an explosion. So there's a fairly decent level of physics going on. Vehicle physics are tuned from the first game and we've found the Runners easier to drive, similar in control to Halo's Warthog.
With all those procedural weapons and things going on, Borderlands had a pretty sweet sound library. The good news is Borderlands 2 has even better audio with some great atmospheric effects and weapon fire.
Cris Velasco and Jesper Kydd are two really well known names and they come together for Borderlands 2 to create a really kick-ass soundtrack. Once again the music is inspired by a Western feel for much of the game; the main menu has an especially awesome track. Then there's lots of dubstep interleaved with the rest of the game against more traditional ambient pieces that work really well in the context of the levels they're used in.
The voice acting for Borderlands 2 is excellent with some truly great work from the various VA's. Handsome Jack is irritating and charming all at once, he's a loveable yet truly villainous character and the voice actor brings this across perfectly. Then you have Claptrap and he is awesome and annoying as ever, big kudos to the VA on that too.
There's far more story in Borderlands 2, it's told in a better way and the writing is much sharper. Lead writer, Anthony Burch has done a spot-on job here.
Borderlands 2 is fun solo and it's even more fun with friends, or a friend via split screen. It can handle Xbox Live, System Link and you can even play split screen with friends online as long as the other player has a working XBL account. Cooperative play has been reworked significantly and rewards also, along with a new trading system and a way to duel for items if you want. Winner takes all baby!
4 players can explore Pandora and level up together; it is so much fun too. We have had some network issues, a bit of lag and some disconnects from the game as we played though, hopefully this will be fine tuned and fixed in a later patch.
Is it worth it?
YES! Go buy the game now and prepare to loot and shoot your way across a whole new Pandora. There's also a veteran reward for players who have an original Borderlands save game, how about that for loyalty?
Gearbox is also a top quality developer and Games Xtreme would like to take a moment to say how touched we are that they put a memorial character to Michael Mamaril into Borderlands 2. Class act!