- Publisher: 2K Games
- Developer: Gearbox Software
- ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
- Genre: Role-Playing/First-Person Shooter
- Pros: Deep Customization, Depth of World, Incredible Storytelling, Addictive Combat
- Cons: Nothing. No, Seriously. Nothing.
From the very beginning, an opening cinematic that’s more entertaining than most of the action scenes in 2012’s Hollywood blockbusters, “Borderlands 2” feels a step above most of its competition. After the intro, you pick one of four “Vault Hunters,” each with very different combat systems, skill trees, and styles of play. You can head out into the MASSIVE story of the game on your own or engage a friend or three in co-op play to loot, scavenge, and explore the post-apocalyptic world of Pandora as a team. Not only are the four characters distinctly different from the very beginning of the game but the title is built around customization that will be stunningly deep even to hardcore RPG fans. The look of your character is one thing but the choices you make in “Borderlands 2” impact the gameplay of the title at every turn. It’s one of those amazing games in which I can guarantee you that my experience with it isn’t exactly the same as yours. Like almost all of the best games, it gives the player the feeling that they’re authoring the experience instead of just watching it unfold.
After you’ve chosen your character, you’ll embark on a much-more-engaging story than the original “Borderlands,” one that even incorporates the protagonist characters from that game, beautifully expanding on the world of this franchise instead of merely offering a new narrative with the same set-up as the first title. If 2K Games had gone that route – merely produced a new adventure using the same tools, setting, and characters from “Borderlands,” they would have had a creative and commercial smash. But they went further in every area, finetuning the gameplay, enhancing the storytelling, and giving players a more fully-realized and alive world than before.
The story this time centers around an actual villain, a charmingly evil fella named Handsome Jack. He’s constantly taunting and tormenting you as you seek to thwart his attempts to take over Pandora with the assistance of both your co-op partners (if you choose) and dozens of fascinating NPCs. The Douglas Adams-esque Claptrap, the wisecracking robot, is back but he’s joined by faces both familiar and new like the tough Lilith and an otherworldly assistant named Angel. The writing here is simply spectacular. From the progression of the story to the design of the side missions to merely the development of the supporting characters. The main story is so much more engaging than not just “Borderlands” but most games of this type that forgo screenwriting in favor of mere size. RPGs often work from a quantity over quality aesthetic. Give them a lot of game and they won’t notice that most of it isn’t interesting. That was clearly never the creative goal here.
Even the side missions, and there are HOURS of them, feel organic to the world and to the setting that the developers were trying to achieve. Some are silly – setting up a birthday party for Claptrap, delivering packages in a certain amount of time, testing out a new weapon – but some would be major story missions in lesser games. There was more than one occasion in which I was purposefully trying to pound out a few side missions to up my player stats (“grinding” if you will) when I had to check to make sure I wasn’t accidentally doing a story mission when I didn’t want to yet. That's how deep, fun, and well-written even the side missions are here.
“Borderlands 2” is a game in which success breeds new skills and new challenges. Completing missions, killing enemies, even finding new locations in this massive world – every accomplishment earns XP which moves you closer to Level 50 on your player experience progession. With each level upgrade, skill points are given that can be used on separate trees to truly alter your character. It starts with basic health and shield upgrades but moves to very unique skill options, deepening the personal experience of the game. You also earn “Badass Tokens” by completing a myriad of in-game challenges (like headshots, using a certain kind of weapon, etc.) that can be used to tweak your general skills like Gun Damage, Melee Damage, etc. It will not be long before you feel like your character is truly yours – something you have helped design and not merely chosen to play.
Once again, the world of “Borderlands 2” is filled with things for you to take. There are boxes, chests, mailboxes, and even outhouses filled with ammo, health pick-ups, shields, and weapons. Combat in “Borderlands 2” breeds not just reward but choice. Do you take this weapon? Which one will you drop in its place? Which one will you equip? Personally, I favored one kind of firepower for sometime but realized I needed to have an array of options to quickly arm to really succeed.
All of these elements – hundreds of weapons, mods, skill points, etc. – could have led to a game that was cluttered with choices but “Borderlands 2” never feels that way. Everything about it feels refined and perfectly developed to not only allow for customization but amazing repeat play value. Even if you took one character through this massive world, exploring all of its unique locations and completing all of its missions, it would take you literally DAYS of gameplay. And then you could start over with a different character and have a completely different experience (or wait for the inevitable DLC that will include hours of new missions). It’s not just the likely Game of the Year for 2012, it’s one that most people will be playing well into 2013.
Graphics & Sound
“Borderlands 2” has what’s so often missing from most modern games – style. It has a unique aesthetic in that a lot of it looks like hand-drawn cel animation but one shouldn’t think that this makes it any less of a visual accomplishment. The game design is amazing from the way certain creatures move through the world to the consistency of the first-person camera perspective. And the variety of settings in “Borderlands 2” is breathtaking from snow-covered plains to bustling cities to underground caverns. As for audio, the voice work here is perfect as even chatter during combat adds a wonderful layer of gameplay from the way your character yells when he’s out of ammo or your enemy howls when you light him on fire. It may sound like a little thing but the universe of the game comes to life through these little things like the way a Bullymong’s hair moves or how he growls as he races towards you.