Borderlands 2
Developer: Gearbox Software
Publisher: Take Two
Release Date: Out Now
Players/Online features: 1 to 4 co-op, online & system link
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Three years after the remarkably popular Borderlands, there’s trouble on Pandora again and a man named Handsome Jack has claimed all the loot from the vault and bought the Hyperion Corporation, so you can bet any visitor to Pandora is in for a rough time. You arrive and choose to play as one of the four new characters, the object being to reap revenge on Jack for ripping you off and leaving you all for dead on the frozen tundra. So once you’ve been saved by returning robot Claptrap, off you go, shooting mutants and various indigenous Pandoran monsters, looting vaults, taking on mercenary missions and generally exploring Pandora, both on foot and in vehicles… this forms the core of Borderlands 2’s gameplay.

One of the first things I immediately noticed is that the menus and selection screens are a much cleaner, slicker design and work a lot better than the original game’s. Some real thought has clearly gone into the design of the interface and there are several little tweeks and shortcuts to make things simpler or quicker.

The weapons in Borderlands 2 are more varied in both appearance, attributes and performance (there seemed to be millions of identical weapons amongst the “bazillions of guns” in the original) and many do certain types of elemental damage such as fire or corrosive damage. Certain enemies resist certain types of weapon effects, so this encourages you to carry a varied weapon set. The weapons system has received a significant overhaul with a number of different class mods, artifacts and new Eridian enhancements (Eridium is an extremely sought-after element discovered on Pandora.) One new weapon type even allows you to throw it as a grenade when the clip is empty (at which point it magically appears back in your hand fully loaded and ready to go again-it’s just one more reminder that Borderlands is as mad, fantastical and unscientific as a first person shooter can be, and probably all the better for it.

In Borderlands 2 you earn XP (experience points) by killing enemies and completing in-game challenges (such as getting a certain number of kills using a specific type of weapon.) There is also a new ‘Badass Ranking’ which is linked to your overall ranking. The harder or high level the challenge is, the more Badass points you’ll be awarded upon completion. After amassing a certain amount of Badass points you will be rewarded with a Badass Token, which can be spent on various incremental stat upgrades. Your Badass Rank is shared between and applies to all of your characters.

In Borderlands there were four classes to play as; Berzerker, Siren, Hunter and Soldier. There are now five classes, including the new Mechromancer class that’s available as a bonus with some versions of the game and as DLC for everyone else. Each class has three skill trees that can be upgraded by allocating skill points earned during combat. This can substantially change the way the class can be played, altering and enhancing many abilities, but often at the cost of degrading the base level of others. The characters’ appearance is customisable in a very limited way (presumably limited for plot purposes and to avoid loading issues in online) but being restricted to change of hairstyles and the colour of their outfit seems weak to say the least. There are collectible heads to be found but I’d have liked to see a lot more options here in terms of physique and even the gender of the character.

The Gunzerker is a stumpy, muscle-bound midget-dwarf named Salvador whose specialist skill is dual-wielding weapons for a limited time. The Gunzerker acts like a “tank” in traditional MMORPGs, and deals a huge amount of damage; a good Gunzerker will draw the hate from a group of spawning enemies, allowing the other members of the group to pick them off at their relative leisure. By buying various upgrades and using the skill trees wisely, you can extend the length of time your Gunzerker can dual-wield, increase its defence capabilities and even regenerate ammo-which is obviously very handy. Gunzerker is great fun to play, an excellent choice if you choose to play solo and equally makes a vital member of a 4-player co-op team if you jump into an online game.

The Siren is a girl named Maya who possesses an ability called ‘Phaselock’ which suspends and immobilizes enemies in midair! Her abilities revolve around and are enhanced or hindered by the game's elements (fire, electricity, corrosion, explosions and slag.) A Siren’s Phaselock can be upgraded to expire with a devastating explosion (often finishing off Phaselocked enemies damaged by Maya’s weapons or other team mates attacks) or even made to convert enemies into temporary allies-and this can, if used wisely, be one of the handiest and most damaging abilities in the entire game.

The Commando character is a guy named Axton. Commando class relies on a remote turret to aid in the decimation of his enemies and most closely resembles the popular Roland (the Soldier class from Borderlands) in abilities and gameplay. While most of a Commando’s abilities are geared towards upgrading his turret with additional features like extra gun barrels for more damage, remote detonation and the ability to stick them to walls and anything that overhangs a battle area. Using your Commando’s skill points on one of the skill trees allows two turrets to be deployed at once, and this means a Commando can obviously do a great deal of damage.

The fourth class is Assassin, a character known as Zer0 whose Deception ability allows him to create a holographic version of himself to act as a decoy (similar to the decoy ability in Halo 3) for a short time. When the decoy runs out (as it doesn’t deal damage as such it recharges quite quickly even at the base level) you can unleash a critical hit on an enemy with his sword (Zer0’s basic melee attack) or whichever weapon is selected. A naturally skilled shot Zer0 has a steadier aim and better accuracy than the other characters at base level, but is relatively vulnerable to damage, meaning that the emphasis should be on sniping and using the Deception ability in a timely and skilful manner. Running away (also known as a “tactical withdrawal”) is also a commonly–used tactic by Assassins who don’t want to die too often.

As I mentioned earlier, a fifth playable character (available as downloadable content), a red-haired girl named Gaige, is the new Mechromancer class. A Mechromancer can summon a D374-TP "Deathtrap" robot-an autonomous, hovering battle mech that zooms off to attack any hostile target in the area. Deathtrap will often deal more damage than Gaige is capable of doing herself, thus holding an enemy’s hate and allowing you to either concentrate on other enemies or “double-team” the enemy that Deathtrap is focusing on. A Mechromancer’s specialist skill tree can be used to enhance a wide array of attacks for Deathtrap, such as a mounted laser, bouncing shots or an explosive hand clap for dealing with close-range enemies.

As I mentioned earlier the menus are much better-looking with clearer, easier to identify icons and you can now trade weapons, cash and various items with other players much more easily with a slicker trading interface (you used to have to just drop weapons so a friend could pick them up, sometimes losing them in the process.) Marking weapons and other items as “favourites” or “trash” also speeds up and simplifies what was a painful sorting/selling process in the original Borderlands.

My Borderlands 2 experience (much the same as with the original game) turned out to be a bit of a rocky romance, with some missions/sessions being massively more enjoyable than others, for various reasons. Although the game looks slicker, plays more smoothly and even allows for more accurate aiming, the cel-shaded comic book-style (everything has a black outline like it was pen-drawn) hasn’t aged well, and despite some impressive visual moments the graphics often look flat, two-dimensional and lifeless. There’s also a bit of a clash of styles going on within the game’s design; fairly realistic-looking water sits uncomfortably within the cel- shaded landscape and a recurring photo-realistic AI seems strange set in a world full of cartoony characters.

The gameplay also hasn’t moved on much in 3 years, and while the mix of first person shooter/adventure and RPG elements works for the most part and will supply many more hours of entertainment than the average FPS, there’s still far too much searching, picking up items and sorting for my liking-at times you feel more like some sort of parasite or grave robber than a vault-raiding adventurer. There is also a worrying glitch in the game that, at the time of writing, hasn’t been fixed which means many players have had their characters’ game saves corrupted or had their Badass Ranking reset to 0, losing rare collectible skins as well but with their challenge progress remaining, meaning continuing with these characters is virtually pointless. This glitch is platform-wide and affects Xbox 360, PS3 and PC versions of the game, and Gearbox seem to have no explanation for this problem and are so far unable to patch it, so the only advice we can give is: don’t avoid the game because of this but be sure to back up your game save to a separate device regularly—and for a lot of people this will mean factoring in the price of a memory stick or card to the price of the game, and they shouldn’t have to.

But-and it’s a big but-I think we’ve all had a gut full of over dramatic, overhyped military shooters and po-faced sci-fi shooters (and are just about to be bombarded with another annual round of them) so Borderlands is like a breath of fresh air-well, air filled with the smell of cordite, explosives and blood anyway. Bigger, better, more polished and therefore considerably more fun to play than the original, Borderlands 2 is capable of making you jump with surprise, run away whimpering in fear and laugh out loud at its more humorous moments. Despite more than a few problems Borderlands 2 is a welcome return to form after the pitiable Duke Nukem Forever, and I expect to be playing it for some time to come as a host of DLC is planned.

Best Bits

- An outrageous number of weapons and more individuality.
- More weird and wonderful characters and creatures to meet, befriend or shoot in the face.
- Pandora is a fascinating and dangerous place to explore.
- 4-player co-op and 2-player split-screen.
Worst Bits

- Gameplay can get repetitive.
- The plot is still a load of hooey.
- Corrupted gamesave bug could ruin your experience.

by: Mal Function

Copyright © Gamecell 2012