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Borderlands 2 nearly perfects the blend of shooter and role-playing game (review)

Image Credit: 2K Games

Loot. It is the desire of every fan of role-playing games. The need for better stats, the want for something that looks cooler, the desire to know that your items are better than your friend’s.

Guns. The addiction of the shooter player. They come in many shapes and sizes, but they all serve one goal: killing.

The original Borderlands gained a lot of praise for combining the shooter with loot-based RPGs like Diablo. Developer Gearbox Software basically invented a genre. And now, it nearly perfects it.

WHAT YOU’LL LIKE

Bang for your buck

Borderlands 2 is a huge game. Completing the story while doing only a fraction of the side quests takes about 30 hours. Now, add to that all of those extra missions, and you have an even longer experience. If you still crave more, you can then replay the game with four classes, each with three different skill trees that alter their styles.

But I’m not done! After you beat the game, you unlock a harder difficulty to challenge your decked-out character. Simply put, I’m not good enough at math to properly calculate exactly how many hours you could spend playing Borderlands 2. Let’s just say it’s a lot.

To me, the best RPGs smother their players in content. Borderlands 2 does exactly that, but with action that’s far less likely to get dull than the boring grind of turn-based battles. Something’s gone right when you’ve spent 30 hours on a game and know that you could easily spend another 100. I can’t ask for much more than that.

Claptrap and the funnies

It may seem weird to devote so much of a review to a character who primarily serves as comic relief, but I freakin’ love Claptrap. The lovable little robot from the original Borderlands returns with an expanded role, especially in the early parts of your adventure.

I experienced something that I call “so funny I have to pause.” This is the rare occurrence when a game gives me a case of the giggles so hard that I have to pause the action. Few games achieve this. The last that I can remember was Valve’s hilarious Portal 2. But Claptrap had me bursting in fits of laughter several times, with lines that I dare not spoil for you (besides, they’d lose their effect if you don’t hear them from his funny voice).

Borderlands 2

Claptrap isn’t the only successful humorous aspect of Borderlands 2. Gearbox Software littered Pandora with quirky, memorable characters, including a 13-year-old demolitions expert and a grotesquely overweight mechanic. Even the text that flashes on the screen upon completing quests contributes to the game’s great sense of humor.

Idealized customized

Borderlands 2’s marketing materials proudly proclaim that the game has “bazillions of guns.” While I didn’t actually count, I can confirm that the chests and corpses of Pandora spew out a “crapload” of munitions. While guns come in only so many types (shotgun, pistol, sniper, and such), a multitude of variables make each firearm stand out. Besides from the usual stats (damage, accuracy, and things like that), guns can deliver different types of elemental damage. Some abilities are more unusual, like weapons that shoot out a rocket while you’re reloading them.

It’s even more fun seeing how different all of the guns look from each other. I can’t imagine how many models Gearbox had to create for this ungodly arsenal, but in 30 hours of gameplay, I never felt like I had two guns that looked alike.

You can also customize your character with skins (these drop from enemies). Some skins drastically change the appearance of your Vault Hunter while others just mix up the color scheme. Still, it helps to differentiate your adventurer from the hundreds of thousands of others that would otherwise look exactly like them.

You can grab all of these, plus equally varied grenades, shields, and other buffing equippables, from hundreds of boxes, carts, chests, and even Porta-Pottys. Plus all of the items that drop from killed enemies. Oh, and rewards for completing quest. Plus all of those vending machines. So, yes, Borderlands 2 has a lot of loot.

A worthy foe

At first, I found the game’s villain, self-proclaimed ruler of Pandora and billionaire Handsome Jack, a bit annoying. He comes off incredibly strong in the beginning of the story, committing horrible acts of murder while laughing at his own jokes, resorting to childish name-calling to get under your character’s skin, and just acting like the biggest douche ever. I felt like the game couldn’t try any harder to make me hate him. Besides, his motivation seemed unclear, other than “he’s evil.”

Borderlands 2

But slowly, Handsome Jack begins to lose his composure, transforming into a character that, while still an annoying jerk, oozes an underlying menace. Maybe it’s just because I got used to his sarcasm, but it was a real stand-out moment in the story for me when Jack finally gets pissed and his threats become less cute and more serious. Despite my early reservations, he’s one of the better villains I’ve seen in recent games.

Co-op made easy

While you can still have a great time playing through your Pandoran adventure solo, fans love Borderlands for its cooperative play, which is just as much fun in Borderlands 2 as it was in the original. Having friends join your current game is as easy as pressing a few buttons in the start menu, and they don’t disrupt your current action at all upon entering your world. While the game scales the difficulty for each added player, it’s definitely easier and more rewarding to play with friends.

WHAT YOU WON’T LIKE

Repeated dungeons

While plenty of Borderlands 2’s side quests send you to interesting and new locations, too many require you to transverse large dungeons that you’ve already cleared. These levels are fun the first time, but it’s annoying and tedious to play through them again, with little (sometimes very little) changed. It happened enough, at least three times in one session, that I began to lose the will to tackle any more extra quests for a while, especially when one of them sent me back to a bandit lair that I had just cleared out.

Borderlands 2

Difficulty spikes

While the difficulty in the game is usually manageable, I would randomly run into enemies that would utterly decimate me, even during quests that I was technically overleveled for. Sometimes I would get through these sections simply by running through them, hoping I don’t get killed before my overpowered foes give up the chase. Sure, I progressed, but I couldn’t help but feel like I cheated.

Can’t take you seriously

I praised Borderlands 2 earlier for nailing its humor. On the flip side, its silly nature makes it hard to take its more serious moments … well, seriously. When an entire game spends 20 hours showing a comical disregard for human life, it’s a bit much to ask a player to suddenly care about the death of anyone, no matter how much you liked them. Some characters give “rousing” speeches to pump you up before a mission, but they really just make me roll my eyes.

It’s not that Gearbox poorly wrote these moments — it’s that they just don’t fit in with the goofy world of Pandora that they’ve created. One of my least favorite characters is the Guardian Angel, an unfunny artificial intelligence who acts as your guide (yes, the same one from the first game). She just doesn’t seem to belong, especially when that weird, almost live-action looking video of hers pops up on the screen every time she talks. Seriously, why is that there? Everything else in the game looks like a cartoon but her. And when an emotional crux of the plot falls on her shoulders, it falls hopelessly flat.

Borderlands 2

CONCLUSION

Borderlands 2 is everything fans of the original could have hoped for. No, it doesn’t mess with a formula that already proved itself. Instead it supports the framework for a great role-playing game with a bigger world, while offering more customization options for its players. It’s also one of the funnier games you’re likely to play this year.

It’s hard to imagine this kind of game getting much better. The few complaints I had were minor and easily overshadowed by the ridiculous scope of the experience Gearbox offers.

If you liked Borderlands, you’ll love Borderlands 2. If you missed out on the original, don’t make that same mistake twice.

Score: 92/100

Borderlands 2 was released for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC on September 18, 2012. The publisher provided GamesBeat with a copy of the Xbox 360 version for the purpose of this review.

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