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Okay, the title’s a little misleading. Don’t get me wrong: Ellie is pretty much the greatest thing ever, but there are other great things about the Borderlands 2! Here’s a list, gleaned from my first few hours of play:
Auto-loot: The single best quality-of-life tweak in the game. In Borderlands, you had to manually pick up ammo and cash. No longer!
Precipitation: Depending on the zone you’re in, weather causes snow or ash to land on the “camera lens.” While this little touch broke the grand illusion at first, after I got used to it I found the effect improves the experience.
Vehicles: The Catch-a-Ride in Borderlands had horrible handling. The cars felt way more difficult to drive than they needed to be. The ride is smoother in BL2, and now I find I’m actually excited when I get to gun down a few bandits with my mobile rocket launcher.
The Gunzerker: I started out playing a Commando, but I decided I wanted to mix it up in melee more often, so I switched over to Salvador. It could just be my imagination, but the camera seems to be set at a lower angle when I’m playing him. I can’t think of another game that accounts for a character’s height in this way. This is probably my favorite detail in the game.
Ellie: The first game didn’t have her. Oh how I wish it did. She may have some outrageous proportions, but I find her dialogue hilarious (and a bit creepy), and she manages to be menacing without sacrificing her femininity. The interplay between Ellie and her brother Scooter really epitomizes the snappy, eclectic dialogue that makes me want to keep coming back to play.
Narrative: Speaking of dialogue, this game has it. I’m not sure what the tally for the number of lines is, but it has to be huge. Some of the NPCs even gabble at you every time you complete a sub-objective (Sir Hammerlock’s Bullymong renaming quest jumps to mind here). This kind of piecemeal delivery really suits the game’s loot-and-run mechanics.
Music: I hardly noticed the music in Borderlands, but while I won’t be demanding that all my friends buy the soundtrack for BL2, I think it really suits the game’s raunchy vibe.
And because I’m intensely critical of everything I play (blame the liberal arts education), a few areas where I think BL2 could still improve:
Psuedo-silent protagonists: You get a bit of a view into your character’s mind from his or her grunts and flavor phrases, but there’s still a bunch of awkward moments in the storyline where you’d expect the PCs to shout back at the sea of yahoos trying to skin them, eat them, or whatever.
Voice acting: Salvador will always be my favorite, but his voice work makes him sound Russian or Eastern European, not Latino. The voices of the enemies also sort of start to blend together after a while, but most of them are mooks, so that makes sense in a way.
Frustration threshold: I’ve played Dark Souls, and I was way less angry when I died than I am in BL2, although each death in the Souls universe was substantially more punishing. This is probably because deaths can feel so random in BL2. Helicopters gun me down from off camera. Bullymongs chase me down and knock me off a cliff. That’s entertaining the first time it happens, not the successive twenty more times it happens.
These are really just quibbles though. Borderlands 2 is a wonderful game. It has a special place in my heart because not only is it amazing to play; it helped me reconnect with a friend I hadn’t spoken with in over a year. Thanks 2K!