Monday, October 8, 2012

Borderlands 2 Review - Looney Toons Reloaded

Score: 8.75 / 10
Borderlands 2
Xbox 360 - PS3 - PC
Developer: Gearbox Software
Publisher: 2K Games
Release Date: September 18th, 2012

  • Vast array of weaponry will entice you to explore every opportunity for loot
  • Improved story and cast give a bit more life to the world
  • Class trees can open up potential for hybrid playstyle
  • Witty, lively dialogue
  • Gameplay sticks a little too close to what it established in the first game
  • Many areas of lost potential (Vehicle combat, character customization, etc)
  • Multiplayer gear is a free-for-all that usually gets swiped fast
The entire time I was playing Borderlands 2, I felt the high anticipation I had at launch slowly begin to dwindle. I was not sure why; here was this sequel to a game I thoroughly enjoyed in 2009; improving upon the interface, expanding the weapon variety, and giving an overall solid finish. It was the same cartoonish world filled with anarchy, explosions, and slapstick humor. The genre blending gameplay was even sustained, seamlessly fusing elements of an RPG with an FPS. After its initial success this sequel was a no brainer to throw out there. I was having fun, but through all of my time with Borderlands 2, I could not shake the feeling that I was just playing more Borderlands.

Smug life!

That's not to say there were not improvements in some areas, primarily the story. There is a bit more direction than just seeking a vault and gathering the keys. The evil corporation Hyperion have been utilizing a mineral known as Eridium from the vault opened in the first game to power their influence over Pandora. Their expansion has been headed by Handsome Jack, a megalomaniac set on discovering the location of the newest vault for what every enemy seeks; more power. Jack continually chimes in to chastise your efforts and reinforce your negative assumptions of him. You do not need to play the first game to get a grasp on the sequel, but fans will be quick to recognize the original cast's return and other notables along the way. The story soon takes a turn into a more serious territory in the latter portion of the game that seems undermined by the overall comical ambiance of the rest of the game. You could poke holes in the concept all you like, but the improved purpose to the mayhem is a welcome one.

Borderlands 2 still plays on rewarding every action you perform in some way. Open a box? Ammo. Shoot an enemy in the head? Challenge Completed. Kill and enemy? Level Up. This continual showering of gifts and praise makes you feel like you are always accomplishing some sort of goal, and compels you to keep playing while simultaneously encouraging you to use variety in combat. It is not only the loot that shuffles, but the enemy diversity as well. Random mobs consisting of bandits can range from melee happy psychos to bruting "badass" enemies that take more than a few headshots to down. Adding to this is the random loot drops from enemies and chests, that continually have you shuffling your arsenal. It keeps you guessing, it keeps you interested, and it keeps the game from becoming too stale.

I'm going to destroy everyth....oooo waterfall pretty...

The promise of loot keeps you going, but the clever dialogue is what keeps you entertained. Personalities are rich in character and the casual delivery by the voice cast brings it all together. Such iconic meetings with players like the eccentric Tiny Tina and redneck Scooter will have you smiling while listening to your next objective. Going hand in hand with the stellar voicework is the return of the cel-shaded look. The lighting and textures featured in this game are outstanding, especially as you look out on the frozen tundra in the opening. The amount of detail in both the environment and weaponry is a reward all its own, and the fitting original soundtrack makes it all the sweeter.

Playing on your own does not divert too far from the first franchise. You start out on a set quest path, but soon after arriving at the hub world are offered plenty of sidequests as you fast travel from area to area. The sidequests prove more enjoyable than most of the main story based quests, as the game soon falls into a distinct pattern of moving to different bases, blasting through mobs of enemies, and retrieving an item or engaging a boss. Boss fights can be grand in scale, but disappointing in execution as little mechanics are required besides strafing and holding the trigger while aiming for their head. The enemy type for the main story soon becomes predictable, as Hyperion likes to stick to sending a seemingly infinite number of robots your way, ultimately resulting in keeping a Corrosive weapon adhered to my primary loadout. Despite the AI assistance in a a few scripted events, the solo experience maintains that lonely feeling, and often had me longing for an AI counterpart to trudge along the wastes with that would shout witty retorts upon my victories.

These guys again?

Weapon diversity was the strong point for the first game, and provides even more possibility for this installment. Every green item that comes your way has a distinction to it that sets it apart from a similar model. Some guns reload with two clips, some scopes use a red dot sight, some fire fully automatic and others in bursts. It is refreshing to join up with a group of three other players and always manage to see a weapon you have never seen before. Most come attached with elemental effects, with such impacts as burning unshielded enemies or corroding armored enemies. It helps to keep a healthy mix of these elements to bring out the best gun for the situation.

Being an RPG hybrid, leveling up is pretty much a standard amenity. With each level you gain the ability to drop a skill in a class tree of your choice. The possibilities for hybrid classes and stat priority on looted items allow you to become a danger from afar or a melee infused death machine, depending on how you are equipped. It keeps you from becoming a clone of another player you meet online and allows your own personal touch for how you prefer to play. Unfortunately it takes a while to get into your class tree, and the opening tutorial does not even give you your first power until level five, which took about an hour and a half of basic run and gun antics to unlock. Completing challenges such as accumulating a number of headshots or using a specific gun type will also unlock tokens that can further boost stats and carry over to future characters.

The single player serves its purpose, but this is a game made for cooperative play. Up to four players can quest together through the land of Pandora with better loot and stronger enemies. Despite there being only four classes and three trees per class, there is enough variety so that encountering a similar class in a game does not hurt the experience. Regardless, getting that four person variety with one of each role is still the most iconic and beneficial way to play. Unfortunately the multiplayer is turned competitive when it comes to loot. Your loot is not your own, meaning unless you are playing with four friends, it is a free for all rush to grab guns from a chest. This ultimately results in those heavenly purple items getting snatched before you can even read their names. This facet killed my desire to hop into quick match and opt to stick with friends, and baffles me in Gearbox's decision to throw competitive loot in a cooperative game.

Borderlands 2 plays it safe by sticking to what it did best, and there is little problem with that. I still had a blast searching through hundreds of crates, blasting through waves of bandits, and getting enjoyment when a rare item popped up. In the back of my mind I just felt there were areas of lost potential (expanded vehicle combat, further character customization, tracking multiple quests on the map for one area). Still with the huge amount of content offered and multiple playthroughs possible, it is hard to fault a system that works. Borderlands 2 will provide one great gaming experience, even if it is one that feels all too familiar.

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