Borderlands 2 is a game that needs no introduction, but for those living under Rakk, it’s the follow-up title in the smash hit FPS RPG Borderlands franchise, developed by Gearbox and published by 2K Games. The game has massive shoes to fill, so what new features and additions does the title bring and more importantly, was it worth the four year wait?
All New Characters, Similar Classes
Most of you will be happy to know that the four character classes you’ve come to know and love from the original Borderlands have made their way into the sequel relatively unscathed. Axton the Commando makes an appearance and is essentially a clone of Roland, the Soldier from the original title. Where things start getting a little tricky though is with the remaining three classes.
Maya takes over for Lilith, fulfilling the role of the Siren, but ditches the Phasewalk ability from the original title for a new ability that suspends a target enemy in a bubble of energy, rendering them useless for a period of time. The new ability, aptly titled Phaselock, is a welcome addition and gives the Siren more opportunities to aggressively engage enemies.
The Berserker class on the other hand, formally occupied by Brick, was left behind in favour of the brand new Gunzerker class, with none other than Salvador at the helm. The Gunzerking action skill allows you to dual-wield weapons for a short time making it possible to deal massive damage in short bursts.
Mordecai’s Hunter class has also been ditched for a new Assassin class, headed by newcomer Zer0. Fans of Mordecai from the original title will have no issues transitioning to Zer0 as their mechanics and skill trees are very similar. Zer0’s Decepti0n action skill turns him invisible for a short period allowing him to escape tricky situations and granting amplified damage on his next attack, while his sniping skill tree makes him super proficient with (as you’d expect) sniper rifles. This is mostly where you’ll see many of the similarities between Mordecai and Zer0.
Gearbox have clearly made some interesting decisions in this space. The Commando class, for example, is essentially a clone of the Soldier class players experienced in the original title. They both share the exact same action skill which allows a turret to be deployed into the battlefield, helping mow down enemies that dare cross its path. With such a similar class for one character it seems odd that they’ve decided to treat the other three to brand new action skills.
Speaking of the original characters, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by their appearance as NPCs in the follow up title. They play a significant role in the story and it’s great to see the legacy of the first Borderlands alive and kicking in the sequel.
Out With the Old, in With the New
Borderlands 2 isn’t overly different to the original title we came to know and love in 2007. After all, it’s still your standard run-of-the-mill “kill everything, ask questions later” insane FPS chaos. That’s not to say however, that there haven’t been some great new gameplay mechanics added to the mix.
One of the most essential, is the inclusion of a minimap in the HUD. Traversing the rugged Pandora landscape in the first game was made that much more difficult with having absolutely no HUD indicator of where you were heading. It left you constantly hitting that trusty “m” hotkey which would display a full screen map showing you POIs and mission objectives.
It was about as convenient as pouring a big bowl of your favourite cereal, only to realise that someone put the milk carton back in the fridge with less than a shot glass remaining. The minimap is exactly what you’d expect and has a distinct GTA look and feel, showing you the direction of mission objectives and even displaying indicators when objectives are either above or below your current position (the cheque’s in the mail, Rockstar).
The Storage Deck Upgrade (SDU) system has also seen a small change. SDUs control the maximum amount of ammunition your character can carry while also determining your backpack (inventory) and bank space. Where Borderlands had you obtaining SDUs by completing Claptrap rescue missions, with the sequel they’re a simple purchase at the SDU vending machine in Sanctuary. Weapon equip slots however will still be awarded after completing certain missions within the main storyline.
You’ll also treated to some sweet new four person vehicles, which unfortunately still handle like a shopping trolley with consideration for others. I would have loved to have seen the vehicles play a larger role throughout the game and even creep their way in mission territory. Including some racing objectives or even a destruction derby mode could have been a real hoot, but probably deemed outside of the scope of the overall game objective. Either way, I’m glad my pal Scooter is back and forever instructing me to “Catch a riiiiiiiiiiiiide.”
A Great Update with Potential to Grow
While the original Borderlands was about as action packed as your average Expendables movie, it also featured an abundance of witty, intellectual dialogue. Thankfully the sequel does nothing but improve upon this, adding a broader range of characters and more pop culture references than you could poke a stick at. I found it hard to wipe the stupid grin off my face as I was bombarded with some of the wittiest dialogue I’ve heard in a game since Portal.
The narrative far exceeded any expectations I had coming from the first title, which in all honestly, felt lacking. It was fleshed out, well paced and even had moments of genuine sorrow. This is mostly glued together by the antagonist, Handsome Jack; a character who would easily win best supporting actor if such an award existed within video games. He’s ruthless, loud mouthed and cruel, but at same time incredibly endearing and loveable.
I don’t usually care much for character personalities and traits in video games, but I was glued to the progression and development of the characters Borderlands 2 had to offer. I loved that they kept the character you play as a silent hero. It doesn’t force you into certain sate of mind, instead allowing you to explore the story the way you want, completely free of restrictions.
While the story itself is your fairly generic “bad guy wants to rule the world” type deal, the journey offers far more and leaves much more to be explored in upcoming DLC releases. It’s also a massive improvement over its predecessor, which definitely left much to be desired.
One aspect I hoped would be addressed was the somewhat repetitive nature of the mission objectives that plagued the original Borderlands. It shared pain points found in similar sandbox titles in that many of the objectives were almost identical, except for some slight modifications. Unfortunately the follow up title doesn’t remedy this in the best manner either, despite clear attempts to vary up the gameplay by including fail-able missions, moving objectives, bonus objectives and large area objectives.
These variations are great to have and are much welcomed, but still often feel repetitive. You’ll continue to undergo a slew of “kill person x” or “collect x” missions. If I was allowed one request for follow up titles in this franchise, it would be to add a greater sense of varied gameplay through mission objectives. I want to feel like I’m on a real adventure, not like I’m stuck in WoW, grinding to hit the level cap.
Apart from this, only two other aspects slightly marred the experience for me. First was a networking issue that caused many headaches early on. Trying to get a group together to play a co-op game was a nightmare. A trip to Google revealed many others were experiencing similar issues, with solutions ranging from port forwarding to registry hacks; neither of which anyone should ever do to get a multiplayer game working. Although I can’t say with certainty, a patch may have been quickly released, as the networking issues seemed to have vanished overnight, making the online experience much more enjoyable.
The second is something that still doesn’t seem to be addressed yet. There seems to be an inventory bug which glitches out when attempting to scroll through your backpack. This is especially frustrating as it makes it impossible to equip or drop weapons further down in your backpack.
One area that the tile doesn’t falter is it’s appearance and presentation. Gearbox’s artists have broadened their colour palettes and treated us to a wide array of tasty visual treats. Each area has something new and interesting to showcase, often presenting themselves as fine examples of level design. The actual graphical fidelity doesn’t seem to have improved all that much from the original title, but it was to be expected considering it is a cell shaded game.
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