The self-professed Diablo of FPS games, or Role Playing Shooter is back with the second iteration of Borderlands and it doesn’t disappoint. A few niggling issues as well as a little repetition do little to sour the greatly satisfying experience of running and gunning with even more modifiers than before, and some wonderfully crafted environments all wrapped in a great sense of humour.
Starting out in a Borderlands game for the very first time can feel a little slow, but I suspect it’s because you don’t really know how equipment, leveling, missions and narrative beats will be paced out. Upon starting the first game for the second time around, the very beginning isn’t as slow as I originally thought, and the same goes for the second game. Right from the very beginning, Borderlands aims to cater to existing fans by throwing several familiar elements right into the mix, as well as showing its first moment of self awareness as an NPC proclaims that a Bounty Board, a familiar mission dispenser from the first game returning in the second, is out of order and that you can just talk to him to get missions. This is one of the first significant design changes in Borderlands 2, as it feels like a much more personable experience. The odd mission will be turned in at a Bounty Board here and there, but most missions are acquired from and turned in to people.
Where the first game may have felt like a list of odd jobs posted on boards, more or less emphasising that the narrative took a back-seat to shooting and looting, the second game focuses on a main villain, the charismatic Handsome Jack. What’s amazing about the new story is that it’s very well told while still retaining, and greatly increasing the hilarity and comedy that is synonymous with Borderlands. As always, the game can be played through solo and also offers four player online co-op, as well as two player split-screen on one console. Adding players adds more numerous and difficult enemies, but the reward is better and more numerous loot spawn.
The catch-phrase for the series is ‘87 bazillion guns’ which comes from the procedurally generated weapons and items in the game. This means that there are very few prescribed items at all as elements of each item are randomly generated upon spawning in the game-world. There’s a healthy amount of balancing math running in the background, so there aren’t terrible weapons per se (other than being below your character level), for example a gun that has low damage might have a high fire-rate, or a super powerful weapon may have a long reload time. Where Borderlands 2 has evolved to is that there are more random elements that modify guns. Some will cost more than one ammunition per shot whereas others will increase accuracy the longer the trigger is held. Some weapons even have a chance not to consume ammunition which previously was only available as a skill. Extra modifiers have also been added to grenades and shields as some shields actually reduce your nominal health-point total due to their larger capacity. Worth noting is that the Transfusion (healing) modifier for grenades is now often combined with other elemental or particle effects, so players should make sure they look out for Shock Transfusion MIRVs and the like.
Keeping It Classy
The four classes on offer with the core game are Siren, Commando, Assassin and Gunzerker, each with a little twist on the originals. Gone is the Siren’s Phasewalk as it’s replaced with Phase Lock which allows players to target one enemy and levitate them on the spot, preventing them from moving or attacking and taking increased damage for the duration of the lock. Targeting specific enemies carries tactical importance while keeping the Siren engaged in the battle, and higher levelled skills offer damage effects as well as the ability to pull targets towards the locked enemy. The Commando is the equivalent to the Soldier in the first game, giving players a turret they can deploy, only now the turret is thrown rather than dropped, and has a 360 degree range. One of the Commando’s top-tier skills provides a second turret to devastating effect.
The Assassin can deploys an optical illusion duplicate of himself while allowing him to move with invisibility. Any shot or melee action will immediately render him visible again, but skills on offer can greatly modify these conditions, even allowing him to chain fatal melee strikes while coming in and out of invisibility. What’s great about the Assassin’s skill trees is that one offers sniping and shooting benefits, allowing those that want to engage from a distance to augment their prefered style of play. The Gunzerker may potentially have the highest Damage Per Second (DPS) of all the classes. At first I was skeptical of how useful his dual wielding Gunzerking skill would be, but playing with a shotgun and rocket launcher soon put that to bed. His skills also can greatly change the way he deals damage, one in particular that grants him damage bonuses when his ability is in cooldown.
No Frills Skills
One of the greatest strengths of Borderlands has always been that due to the cut-down nature of its Role Playing Elements, placing a point on the skill tree yields significantly measurable results. The game has greatly improved on the skills on offer, facilitating specific roles such as support and ranged, as well as heat-of-the-battle roles. Gearbox have really thought outside the square when it comes to some of the abilities on offer, as some come into effect when swapping weapons whereas others will actually change the function of your melee action. One thing that’s also great about the skills on offer is that it’s easy to create a character well-suited to playing solo, with re-spec’ing available at a moderate money cost allowing players to change their configuration.
All About Modification
Dealing damage in Borderlands contains considerations for base or normal damage, then elemental effects of which are fire, shock, corrosive and explosive bonus damage, and now Slag in the second game. Slagged enemies will take greater damage from all other sources for as long as they are under the status-effect, but on the flip-side, players can themselves be Slagged. Wrap all of that up with gun and grenade modifications as well as skills and abilities, and Borderlands 2 offers one of the broadest selections of play-styles available in a single game. The variety in options on offer to address zone control, direct damage, support and buffing and everything in-between is fantastic, and it becomes more apparent the more co-op buddies players have accompanying them. While it offers a better single player experience than the first game, it’s still a much more robust and enjoyable experience with friends.
Still Not Perfect
There’s no mistaking that Borderlands 2 is a fantastic game, however there are a few niggles worth mentioning. The first game seemed to have some bizzare clipping issues for players navigating the environments, often getting stuck on tiny bumps in the ground or at the edges of ramps. This hasn’t improved and unfortunately may actually have gotten a little worse as it seems to happen more often.
While the environments of the second game are gorgeously created, early in the game there are optional missions offered in areas that players visit as part of the story. It’s particularly noticeable in the first half of the game and strangely almost absent from the second half which is strange, given how stunning much of the later areas are. The missions themselves are great, but it feels like you revisit certain areas all too soon. Also there are one or two enemies that can be difficult to overcome on first encountering them, thereafter becoming a nuisance once players are levelled up. These are middling concerns though as the game still offers wonderfully robust play affording it much grace.
A Note On Player Progress
In the first game, players who wanted to buddy-up for co-op, but who hadn’t fulfilled certain story-logic missions that the host had completed were rendered ineligible for any further mission experience. This now isn’t a problem as players can jump into a friend’s game at any point and complete any mission (hopefully surviving them if they’re low-levelled). When players return to their own games, they’ll be given the opportunity to skip past missions they’d completed in someone else’s hosted game. Playing the missions again will still offer standard play experience, but will not pay-out mission XP or rewards again.
A Note On Sound (couldn’t resist)
While the music in the first game was perhaps a little serviceable, it’s absolutely amazing in the second. Background tracks are heavily influenced by the likes of Massive Attack and Nine Inch Nails in the best ways possible, as well as amazingly blending acoustic and electronic sounds to suit the various environments visited and combat situations engaged.
Sound effects are as strong as they were previously, and enemy call-outs are even funnier than the first game. Now that voice-acting takes a greater role, dialogue spoken by NPCs is brilliant and humorous, especially after encountering some old friends from the first game.
Great For Players Old And New
Some who played the first game solo understandably found it to be a little lacking which is a fair assessment. Borderlands 2 has so much more to offer and new players can sink their teeth into the abilities, skill trees and myriad of items. Players of the first game will enjoy the refinement that has gone into every aspect of play and narrative, as well as find more than a few callbacks to the first game that feel super rewarding to discover and encounter. It feels like it’s almost twice as big as the first game and at times, it’s easily twice as fun.