Borderlands 2 Review
If Borderlands was about shooting people in the face and stealing their guns, then Borderlands 2 is about shooting people in the face HARDER and stealing MORE guns. It takes the original shoot-and-loot formula, refines it into something sumptuous and takes the 'bigger, better, more' edict to whole new levels.
If you've wasted hours on the first game then you'll feel right at home in Borderlands 2. It features the same taut first-person gunplay, the same addictive pursuit of ever-more-powerful weaponry and the same expansive levels of exploration, all held together by a familiar MMO-style questing system.
The key here though is refinement and Borderlands 2 takes those basic systems and polishes them up to a ridiculous sheen. Combat is as visceral as ever, the range of armaments at your disposal is even more eye-opening than before and the wonderful western-inspired world of Pandora has been given a thorough overhaul. It's still beautifully rendered with comic book-style ink strokes but there's an incredible amount of variety to locations now, with icy tundra and lush foliage edging in on the first game's rather repetitive sprawls of brown and grey.
It's more consistent too, with a captivating sense of humour running throughout - every character, every signpost and every incidental detail has been lavished attention, which means that distinctive sense of insanity is all pervasive, rather than a brief burst of lunacy to kickstart the game. And, yes, Claptrap - one of gaming's most delightful creations - is back and as unhinged as ever.
That deft touch is evident elsewhere though - most reassuringly in the game's pacing and quest design. Borderlands 2 is still a world where every objective largely boils down to that 'shoot-and-loot' mantra but smarter, more creative level design and a stronger sense of narrative means that you always feel part of something bigger, rather than a glorified errand boy. Simple fetch quests are delivered with more purpose while larger tasks straddle multiple major encounters and tightly crafted areas that really make the most of your bevy of new skills.
Indeed, Borderlands 2's most significant revision is a complete overhaul of its four playable characters. They're a more sharply defined bunch - there's the jack-of-all-trades (but no less interesting) Commando, the tank-like, guns-a-blazing Gunzerker, the Siren and the Assassin - and each brings their own unique play style and abilities to the table. It makes for a game full of possibilities, with a huge variety of different ways to approach each challenge depending on your character of choice.
Borderlands 2 doesn't stop there either, delivering a series of RPG-style upgrade systems that use points to shape your character into the full-on fighting force of your own choosing. Skills trees are back, but their specific tactical opportunities now feel more relevant from the off. Badass points, meanwhile, offer a character-wide stat-improvement system designed to reward your most fearsome achievements. Even weapons and character-specific abilities can be upgraded to eye-watering levels of excess.
All this is beneficial in a single-player game that's been carefully finessed to provide genuine entertainment for solo gamers this time around. However, Borderland's refined systems really starts to shine when you hop into the game's overhauled multiplayer component. It offers two-player split-screen, four-player online co-op and every permutation in between - but the extensive character customisation (even allowing you to swap out your own body parts) means that your ragtag group of Vault Hunters - and their carefully balanced range of complementary skills - offer an experience that's personal to you. Even better, new players can rank up quickly alongside old hands, meaning nobody gets left behind this time.
Unfortunately, some of the first game's niggles still remain. The interface can be frustratingly clumsy at times while the expansive open world environments can feel a little too expansive thanks to sometimes vague objective markers - an issue not helped by unwieldy vehicles controls. Borderlands 2 insists on levelling up its respawning enemies as your experience improves too, meaning that simply returning to previous areas can feel far more of a slog than you might really appreciate. Yes, most of these issues are designed with good intentions but they make for a game that can be awkwardly inaccessible - disappointing for an experience so carefully tailored toward group fun.
Complaints aside, Borderlands 2 is still a bit of a triumph for developer Gearbox. It has refined the series' already satisfying formula, delivering a deftly crafted, bullet-strewn blast of a shooter. Best of all though is that it carves out its own niche in an overcrowded genre - with its colourful, distinctive fart joke of a personality and a keen understanding of compulsive kleptomania that keeps people playing for one last go. It mightn't be clever, but it's giddyingly big, brash and beautiful - assuming you're the kind of person that finds beauty in exploding heads down the barrel of a cartoon gun.
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