Borderlands 2 Review: Hell. Yes.
Everybody has that one friend who has ‘potential’. Sure, you can tell they could totally write the great American novel if they’d just buckle down, but all they do is lay around eating horribly, read Stephanie Myers and Charlene Harris, and smoke too much pot when they should be studying. Eventually, you have to ditch them, if only to make sure you don’t get sucked down the drain along with them. So how awesome is it when you go a year or so without seeing them, only to discover that they’ve spent the intervening time eating right, working out, reading – oh, I don’t know, Gore Vidal – and taking regular showers? Extremely f*cking cool. And that’s precisely the experience of playing Borderlands 2.
In every way a gigantic improvement over the original game, Borderlands 2 is bigger, leaner, prettier, and a hell of a lot more fun than it should have the right to be. RPG elements are streamlined. Genuinely challenging combat forces players to make the most of their chosen classes. Best of all, the writing manages to find the sweet spot between utter brilliance and being dumber than dirt, making hackneyed references feel fresh, and underlying themes of economic inequality almost feel relevant (just don’t think too deeply about it, OK?). It also might almost be justification enough to finally drop the money necessary to build yourself a real gaming PC. Simply put, if Archer, Office Space and Bulletstorm artificially inseminated Fallout, the baby would be Borderlands 2. A few flaws here and there aside, it’s guaranteed you’ll be playing again and again and again until you start talking like a robotic frat boy.
Platforms: PC (reviewed), Playstation 3, Xbox 360
Developer: Gearbox Software
Publisher: 2K Games
Released: September 18, 2012
Playing The Game
Borderlands had two primary problems: the relative repetition of missions (and by extension, the story, which I’ll talk about shortly), and the enormous amount of irrelevant space. These factors alone were enough to make playing Borderlands feel like homework instead of fun, and I eventually lost interest. Congratulations, Gearbox; all is forgiven.
Make no mistake, Borderlands 2 is friggin’ enormous. Much larger than its predecessor, it feels like one of the biggest games I’ve ever played, rivaling Fallout 3 in terms of things to do and places to explore. (Your milage may vary on this point, but shut up and don’t make me feel bad, OK?) The difference between Borderlands and its sequel, however, is that you never feel like your time is being wasted on pointless wandering. As soon as you access a new region, you can explore almost all of it. However, you’ll quickly discover that you don’t actually need to do so until missions and side quests set in a particular area of that region become available. Realizing this instantly removes all of the tedium one felt playing Borderlands. Exploration is fun, rather than a chore.
And lawd is there a lot to explore. Terrain is way more varied this time around, with Artic wastelands, deserts, and grasslands to dick around in while you kill kill kill copious amounts of roving bandits and evil corporate tools. And thanks to excellent sound effects and beautiful graphics, they feel very distinct rather than simply reskinned versions of the same basic locales. (The satisfying crunch of snow as you navigate icy ground is particularly satisfying). Settlements are also excellently rendered, the town of Sanctuary being a particularly good reason for the BL2 team to distribute company-wide hi-fives. An aesthetic combination of a medieval village and a frontier outpost, it manages to feel like a living breathing place, albeit one filled with sociopaths and traumatized war survivors.
Naturally, all that vast territory needs things to do it, and Borderlands 2′s vastly improved missions and side quests make it so. Yeah, the main story missions are essentially ‘go here, kill everyone, talk to this NPC, unlock the next mission’, but this is a shooter after all. Side quests, however, are a game-wide combination of hilarious and awesome that actually makes the process of seeking them out rewarding by itself.
The game is also gorgeous. The cell-shaded cartoon aesthetic returns, and it’s leaps and bounds better than anything seen in the original, with thick black borders and subtle colorations that conjure up a combination of Ralph Bakshi and Hayao Miyazaki. It’s probably safe to say that whether or not other AAA releases from 2012 are better overall, none of them will look quite as good. Of course, it helps that whether you’re exploring, marveling at the aesthetics, or simply killing every last motherf*cker in the room, the game never ceases to be fun thanks mainly to the excellent way RPG aspects and traditional shooter combat are combined.