There are few things that get El Jefe de Santo more excited. A sweet cross-body from the top rope? Si. Going all in in a life-or-death stakes poker game in Monte Carlo? You better believe it. Ultra-violence mixed with fantastic humor? YES! A Diablo-esque romp filled with loot, guns and sweet cel-shaded style? CORRECT! Come with the Reverend of Squared Circle Domination as he reviews..
Borderlands was, if anything, a huge surprise to most when it hit the scene in 2009. I know it was actually the first game, aside from Arkham Asylum, that I picked up for my Playstation 3. I was immediately immersed in this world of Pandora and the loot. Oh my sweet Lord the loot!
I remember, quite vividly, jonesin' for another hit of it after each session I had just a bit more. Another twenty minutes! Maybe I'll get a epic item this time! Oh man that gun is SSSIIIICCCKKK!!!
It stuck with me long after I had moved on to other titles and, eventually, started working through my backlog. The first game was a great combination of solid gunplay mechanics married with the addicting rewards of a game like Diablo.
Few games were higher on my list this past year than the highly anticipated sequel, though, and even though I went into things with VERY high expectations I haven't been let down so far. I've invested, so far, about 35 hours of time into the game and, well..
IT'S GOD DAMN AMAZING.
Gearbox has managed to take what was already a GREAT formula and refine it even further. They've also added an actual PLOT to the game! Halle-fuckin'-lujah!
You still saddle up as one of five different Vault Hunters on the prowl for glory, loot and to tame the wild expanse of Pandora. There is one man standing in your way, though, Handsome Jack.
The aforementioned antagonist starts off with a few well-penned quips to get the ball rolling and from there slowly morphs into a villain you can truly throw ALL YOUR HATRED against. The addition of a true antagonist to go up against instead of just, well, bandits and shit (like in the first game) really adds another layer of depth to the game that, frankly, the prior release just didn't have.
The main story is leagues ahead of what we got in our first foray into the Borderlands a few years back but where Gearbox's talent for often hilarious and downright GREAT storytelling comes from the myriad side-quests you'll come across. The writers really got to first show their stuff with the various DLC that came for the first game (General Knoxx and the Claptrap DLC come to mind) and now have really poured in on thick for the sequel. There are side-missions that can make you laugh heartily while establishing a connection with a character you didn't expect to, or actually provide a bit of tug at the ol' heart strings in others. I really can't say enough for how much better this makes Borderlands 2 than it's predecessor here.
Story is all well and good, but if I'm not an English major marching around Pandora in his pantaloons what else is here for me? Well, the same VERY addictive gameplay of the first is back and even more refined than ever. Skill trees feel more fleshed out than before and each class has a truly unique feel. The Mechromancer class, in particular, employs some new mechanics that are truly fantastic and well worth a look. The variance between roles and how their skill trees play out really lends to replayability of the game.
Character progression isn't just marked by levels gained or skill traits, though, as there are also "Badass Ranks". These are earned via various objectives achieved throughout solo or co-op play and they can result in minute degrees of character customization that provide a slow-drip feel to the progression of a character that's actually quite interesting. Sure the amounts are small such as 0.7% to reload speed but eventually things begin to add up and the Ranks carry across to all your characters further lending itself to replayability. Oh let's not forget that going through a second time 'round lets you keep your levels, ranks and loot and also gets you geared up to face the game's first four-man raid boss, Terramorphous. Remember Crawermax from the first game? Yeah.. this is the first of many to come.
Co-op gameplay, though, is where it's really at with this game. The loot gets better, the enemies tougher and the class synergy really shines. The dynamic of playing in a group of three or four really makes the game THAT much better as compared to playing solo (which is still damn fun).
Oh, yeah, there's something else. The guns? The grenades? Yeah.. they're pretty rad. There are guns that, when you reload them, you can toss the spent clip like a grenade. There are guns that fire rockets that then split into multiple rockets/grenades. There are so many different weapon combinations and grenade functions that it's downright dizzying. All the better to DO MANY MUCH VIOLENCE!
I have only minor complaints with the game, honestly, and those are limited to the driving and occasional issues with mini-map icons not actually showing off the objective of a quest correctly. The vehicle gameplay is, well, non-existent other than just getting across maps quicker. I have to admit it'd be nice if there were some sort of content that was vehicle-based but really just a minor issue.
Borderlands 2 takes what was golden about the first game, strips away most if not all of the annoyances that were packaged along with it and produced my personal Game of the Year. Seriously. I love the ever living crap out of this game.
*I know that this is the second game I've given this rating to but, honestly, LA Noire was my Game of the Year in 2011 and Borderlands 2 is my choice this year. So..yeah.
Platform: PS3, Xbox 360, PC