30 reviews in 30 Days, Day 30 – Borderlands 2
When I was planning for 30 Reviews in 30 Days, I wanted to start and end with a bang. Last time I did this, I ended with reviews of my top 5 games, but I could not do that again. As I was looking at what was coming out around this time, it hit me: review the game that could easily make many people’s Game of the Year lists, Borderlands 2.
As you know by now, I am a huge fan of the original Borderlands. As such, I have been looking forward to its sequel since before it was even announced. As I got more and more info about the game started to come out, I was getting more and more excited. My only fear was that my excitement level would be so high the game could not possibly live up to it. I should not have worried. The game not only met my expectations, it far exceeded them.
Weaving a Strong Story
Borderlands 2 opens with the train you are riding to enlist as a vault hunter being blown up by Handsome Jack, the head of the Hyperion corporation. Turns out he is trying to eliminate all vault hunters, as he has found evidence of a vault on Pandora containing an alien warrior he can use to rule the universe. You survive his assassination attempt, and as you make your way to Sanctuary, the last truly free place on Pandora, you begin to understand just how evil and dangerous a man Jack really is. He has already defeated the four previous vault hunters, and now he has his sights set on eliminating you. The first difference you will notice between the stories of the first game and this one is this one actually has one. Borderland’s narrative was loose at best, and to say the ending was anti-climactic is a bit of an understatement. Borderlands 2, on the other hand, delivers a story that not only weaves nicely throughout the game, it comes to a much more satisfying conclusion. It is obvious that story was much more of a focus this time around, and it is really appreciated.
One of the nice touches Gearbox made with the story is the inclusion of the four previous vault hunters. The company had advised you would be interacting with them throughout the game, but I did not expect them to play such vital roles within the story itself. It is a really nice touch, especially for those of us who did play the first one all the way through. You will both go on quests to assist them and actually have them fight alongside of you, and there are more than a few surprising moments involving them that are very well portrayed. One thing that definitely returned is the trademark humor of the game. I cannot count the number of times I busted out laughing while playing, whether because of something Clap Trap said or when Moxxi got so flustered she could not come up with a sexual innuendo. The writing for this game is spot on, both when it comes to the main story and the side quests. This is a major improvement over the first game, and it is a very welcome change. Still, none of this means a thing if the game does not play well. Fortunately, Gearbox took everything good about the original and made it that much better.
Bigger, Better and More Bad… Uhm, You Know
Borderlands presented a coop experience that was unrivaled in my opinion, creating a drop-in, drop-out coop game that kept people playing long after its release. Even as good as it was, however, there were certain issues, especially on the PC edition, when it came to jumping into a friend’s game. Fortunately, Borderlands 2’s coop interface fixes this. From the moment you launch the game, you will see which of your friends are playing, what character class they are using, what mission they are currently playing, how many are in the game and whether or not they would be a good match for your currently selected player. Joining a game is as easy as clicking on a friend’s game with room and hitting join. You will then be asked to confirm which character you want to use, which helps you avoid the all too common issue in the first game of getting into a game with a new character as opposed to the one you intended.
The coop interface is not the only thing which has been improved in this game. Gearbox was obviously listening to the fans as they tweaked it to make it better. First, they gave you the ability to pick up money and ammo just by walking or, better yet, driving over it in a vehicle. They also decided to distribute ammo the way money was distributed in the first game, meaning that if one person in a group picks some up, everyone gets it. You also get this effect with eridium, which is really nice as that is what you use to buy extra backpack slots and ammo decks. The character skills are back, and man are they well done in this game. You once again have the three skill trees, but unlike the first game, the skills are actually well-balanced. In the last game, it was usually pretty easy to decide how I was going to spend my skill points. Now I find myself actually weighing the pros and cons of each skill, and I can see myself respeccing to try out different character builds. One other change they made was after you have leveled up three levels on any given tree, you are given a specialized ability you can unlock. As an example, going down the Harmony tree for the Siren allows you to unlock the ability to revive your teammates using phaselock, something which really came in handy.
Then there are the guns. One issue with the guns in the first game was the different manufacturers really did not make that much of a difference on how the gun performs. In Borderlands 2, each manufacturer adds something unique to each gun. Maliwan, for example, makes only elemental weapons, and they tend to do better in the elemental damage than others. Jakobs makes weapons that you can fire as fast as you pull the trigger, which means you can do a lot of damage in a very short time. Then there are the Tediore guns, which are truly unique. Instead of just reloading the gun, you throw it away, and it explodes as if it were a grenade. As you are doing this, a clone of the gun reappears in your hands, fully loaded. These touches make you really think about the guns you are using and really lets you tailor them to the way you choose to play the game. Oh, and the hit detection on the rockets is much better this game, making them infinitely more useful. In short, much of what made Borderlands good has been improved in the sequel. One thing which has really been improved is the single player experience. While Borderlands 2will always be better with friends, it can be played rather well as a single vault hunter. The first game was a little flat if you were playing on your own, and this change alone makes the sequel a much better experience. As detailed as I have been here, I have only begun to scratch the surface when it comes to all the improvements between the original game and this sequel. As good as it is, however, it does have a couple of flaws that can be rather frustrating.
Okay, I Think I Missed That Part
One real annoyance in Borderlands 2is it is really easy to miss parts of the story because other things are happening in-game. You are in the middle of listening to a character outline a mission for you when someone else in your party picks up an echo recorder, and suddenly whatever was on that recorder overrides whatever the character was saying. You complete part of an objective of a mission, and the character leading you through it starts to say something, but you cannot hear it over the sounds of the battle around you. Heck, there can just be times when the people in your party are talking as a major event is unfolding, and as there is no way to replay what you just heard, you miss it. This would have been so easy to fix by just allowing you to access echo recordings of the events of the game, but that is something Gearbox did not include. There is another way you can miss major events in the game. When you are playing your single player missions, you will be asked if you want to skip missions you have already played. Be aware that answering yes may cause you to skip missions you came into mid stream, meaning you may miss major plot points the game assumes you have actually seen. I had this happen with my Siren: I missed a scene that explained a rather important detail about a particular character, and though I found out what I needed to know from the events later, I did not get to see the lead up to that revelation until I happened to jump into a friend’s game where he was going through that mission. While I applaud Gearbox for giving you the ability to skip ahead as opposed to having to repeat missions, seeing that happen has made me think twice about using this feature.
Serious Game of the Year Contender
Borderlands was awarded Everyday Gamers Game of the Year when it came out, and the sequel has a serious chance of repeating this honor. I have not even touched upon the larger variety of enemies, numerous different environments or the way the writers managed to tie several of the side quests into the story itself, mainly because if I list everything I find impressive about this game, this review would be a whole lot longer than it already is. Suffice it to say if you have not bought this game yet, do so at your earliest convenience; you will not be disappointed. Borderlands 2 gets a 10 out of 10. Well, that does it. This iteration of my 30 Reviews in 30 Days is now complete. I hope you have enjoyed reading them as much as I have enjoyed writing them. Now I just need to see if I can get one of the other EDG writers to try doing this. Why do I get the feeling that is a lost cause?