Not bordering on brilliance—it’s a full-blown masterpiece
Despite meeting with some considerable success, the original Borderlands always had the feel of a cult classic. Now, I know that’s an odd thing to say about a first-person shooter that managed to reach over 4.5 million gamers. But after delivering a title that got far more love for its entertaining themes, loot-based gimmickry, and co-op capabilities than its performance as a cutting-edge FPS experience, Gearbox took aim at the series’ shortcomings in an effort to give fans a game that fired on all cylinders.
The result is Borderlands 2, an undeniable labor of love that aggressively takes aim at everything the first was not while simultaneously enhancing all the aspects that helped it catch on in the first place—but does it do enough to take the series to the next level?
From where I’m sitting, the answer is a resounding yes.
For starters, Borderlands 2 is one of the funniest games I’ve ever played. The writing’s unbelievably good, and despite the shift from the original four protagonists to a new cast of characters, the game doesn’t miss a beat. It’s smart, sarcastic, and utterly irreverent, and I can’t remember the last time I played a game that prompted me to double over as often as this one, which is almost enough for me to recommend it regardless of the actual gameplay itself.
But the laughs aren’t some attempt to distract us from the main event, as Gearbox took some of the more pointed remarks about the original Borderlands’ plotline as a challenge and put a ton of focus into helping Borderlands 2 keep up with the big boys in the genre. As a result, even the smallest missions are much more focused, peppered with tons of dialogue, and far more complex than anything seen in the first, giving this game a sense of substance that make the original entry seem more like a proof-of-concept than an actual game.
The same could be said for the visuals, which get away from the idea that “brown is the best thing ever” with alarming regularity, offering a wide variety of environments in vibrant color and enviable detail. Gearbox really seems to have perfected their signature visual style this go-round, and they’ve expanded the world of Pandora with a rich, realized space that’ll wow fans and series noobs alike.
Another element that gets a nice boost? The enemy AI, which took its fair share of knocks in Borderlands for predictability and a lack of advanced behaviors. Sure, you’ll still catch ’em with their pants down at times, but there’s an impressive leap here with the way enemies move through environments and work together, and the fact that Gearbox does both while offering up a host of creative variants per type is a real boon for the series. This does create some definite difficulty spikes when playing through solo, but considering the degree to which this game shines in its notably improved co-op play, it shouldn’t be a massive setback for folks as they play through.
It’s not all roses, though, as Borderlands 2 stumbles in a few important areas and left me rather irked at times. Beyond the difficulty issues noted above, checkpoints are annoyingly sparse in longer missions, leading to lots of unnecessary cardiovascular activity when you get put down, despite the fact that the enemies you kill up to that point stay dead. Then there’s the store situation, which suffers from the same absenteeism throughout, meaning that you often have to leave loot behind before you even get to figure out if it suits your or not.
I wouldn’t call either issue a dealbreaker, but they do keep the game just shy of the high-water mark it could’ve easily achieved. That said, Borderlands 2 is still damned impressive, standing head and shoulders above the original and other games in the genre as the most addictive, engrossing co-operative FPS game of this generation. A bona fide game-of-the-year candidate.
SUMMARY: Blisteringly funny and endlessly entertaining, Borderlands 2 is everything the first game should have been—and a whole lot more.
- THE GOOD: The writing, the gameplay improvements, and, of course, the guns
- THE BAD: So many guns, so few inventory slots
- THE UGLY: The number of psychotic midgets slain in the name of freedom
Borderlands 2 is available on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for the Xbox 360.