Borderlands 2 review

The original Borderlands was a game that shone with potential but in reality turned out to be more brown and boring than its in-game environments.

Guilty on so many levels of simply underachieving for rather easily fixed reasons, has Borderlands 2 done the work and made for an impressive come back? Or is this another return to the world of Pandora that should be avoided?

Story

Okay, we were a bit tough on the original Borderlands there. The problem we had with it was that it created a sort of strange love/hate relationship. We adored the game for its variety in weaponry, cell-shaded looks and highly addictive loot and stat-based gameplay.

Or at least we adored it for a few hours. We then realised that we were going to be stuck doing the same thing over and over again, in environments that all looked the same, with a fairly uninteresting story. Heck, even champagne can get boring if you drink it too often.

With Borderlands 2, absolutely everything has been fixed. We have put a lot of hours into the game now and have to say we would happily play the whole thing through all over again.

In this game, you actually care about the characters, who have ten times more dialogue than in the original. You play one of four vault hunters who have found themselves stuck in a war between the Hyperion corporation and some prospectors. Heading up the Hyperion side is a man called Handsome Jack, who from the get-go makes it entirely clear he is determined to put an end to your vault-hunting antics.

The result is a vast adventure full of inventive characters as rich and as complex as they are funny. Even Claptrap, the incredibly annoying robot from the original, makes a return in a far more enjoyable form.

We don’t want to give away too much, but essentially the story in Borderlands 2 is enough to make you want to continue playing through the game, something that simply didn’t happen in the original.

Gameplay

So things have been fixed on the story front, but what about the gameplay? The framework in the original was definitely there for a game of Diablo III levels of addiction. Combine a theoretical near-unlimited arsenal of guns, with upgradable characters and basic RPG style elements and you should have a game that's hard to put down.

The problem was that variety fell flat on its face when you realised the core variations of each gun made little difference. The ultimate goal was to just shoot things a lot and eventually you would come across a gun so big that nobody could stop you.

Again Borderlands 2 addresses this issue. Now every weapon manufacturer demands a clearly distinct play style. Take Jakobs, for example, it provides powerful single-shot style weapons that might be slow to reload but can do plenty of damage. Then there is Tediore, which is all about ridiculously high fire rates. Each feels different and the variety means that there will always be a gun to suit your style.

The variations in looks and design also make simply searching for guns and incredibly addictive process. They become a reason to indulge in side quests. A handy in-game bank which lets your store your collection also conjures up a sort of Gran Turismo feeling, giving the same pride in our weapons as that game generates for cars in a garage.

The four characters you can choose from also handle very differently, be it the elemental-based Maya the siren, who can turn enemies on themselves, or Salvador the gunzerker, who can use two weapons at once, and inflict an incredible amount of destruction at the higher levels.

So that's already two variables to keep gameplay addictive, but then comes a third. The elements used in the original now have much more of an effect. So elements such as acid or fire work to varying degrees against different enemies. Think of it like an incredibly violent version of Pokemon.

Add in the fact the grenades can be modified and your character’s appearance changed and quite frankly you have got the most addictive game we have played in a long time.

Multiplayer

Borderlands 2 lets friends jump in and out of the single-player story and do things together. Should two people be playing at once then loot is upped, as is the difficulty of overcoming enemies. If the person you are playing with is of a very high level, then you can find yourself constantly dying with enemies too tough to handle.

One clever trick is that should you complete plenty of missions with friends, these will sync up to your single-player campaign and give you the option to skip them once you take up the reins offline.

It's also possible to fight against others using your in-game character, complete with all of his or her customisations. Get enough involved and this can definitely be fun, but we feel that playing through the single player with another friend is the best way to tackle Borderlands 2 online.

Verdict

Borderlands 2 falls short of being a true classic because of a few odd bugs. Getting stuck in environments was a classic example. In fact we found ourselves beating two in-game bosses by trapping them in various invisible walls and enclosures. 

Other than that, this is the game that the original was clearly intended to be. Vast in scope, colourful, polished and incredibly addictive, we enjoyed every minute of it.