Around the time I was putting together the 2012 Sarumarine Awards, I was playing Borderlands 2 along with two other friends. Having beaten the game once and the DLC in the form of Captain Scarlett and Mr. Torgue's respective adventures, I wanted to write some stuff down about it. Mostly because it falls in a really weird spot where the game is solid and fairly entertaining... but I found it lacking that certain something.
At the risk of sounding reductive or down on Borderlands 2... it really is just more Borderlands. And that's not terrible or anything. Maybe it would be more accurate if I said it fits in a spot where there's no rush to go out and play it, but if you get the opportunity you should have a good time.
Borderlands 2 (People Talking at You During Gunfights: The Game)
The biggest thing in Borderlands 2 that sticks out in my mind is the amount of dialogue I miss because the characters have a insatiable need to talk during huge gunfights. Between switching weapons, using action skills, dodging bullets, and generally trying to stay alive or keep my friends alive, I feel like I miss 70% of the material written for the various sociopaths and psychopaths of Pandora. Especially Handsome Jack who never shuts up. Now, you could build a case that it really doesn't matter since Borderlands 2 has that MMO quality where all you have to do is run to the objective marker to complete missions so who gives a damn about the who or why... but I care about stuff like that. I like characters. And story, even if it's flimsy. As long as someone goes to the trouble of trying to give a narrative reason for tracking down loose change or someone's pet, I will be there to take it in.
Unfortunately it feels like they don't even care about this stuff. This is especially bad when they place ECHO recorders one foot away from spots that trigger story dialogue. There's area in the Wildlife Exploitation Preserve where an ECHO recorder for a side mission is immediately cut off by Handsome Jack when you pass through a nearby door, like they expected you wouldn't try to pick up everything that wasn't nailed down on your first time through an area. I find it really frustrating.
And I know, why am I stressing story and dialogue in a game like Borderlands? Well, mostly because there's nothing to talk about gameplay wise. It plays like Borderlands with a few flourishes. It's a quirky first person shooter where you pick up weird guns to shoot even weirder creatures. Especially since the narrative is just about the biggest difference from the first game. Gearbox went through the trouble of putting together a real nemesis to direct your impressive arsenal at for the majority of the game. There are actually plot points and stuff happens.
The Man Who Would Be Jack (and did someone say EXPLOSIONS!?)
Not to reopen wounds or pour salt on sensitive areas left from the Giant Bomb 2012 GOTY, I saw a lot of people confused (or incensed) why Handsome Jack didn't make any character awards or even get a runner up. I could probably guess why at the risk of making people angry, but Jack runs real hot and cold. He talks a lot. Oh god does Jack love to talk. Which works perfectly for his role as an egotistical CEO that values looks over everything and loves to shoot people in the face for fun. But not all of his dialogue works. He's got a few really good lines in the form of a violin joke after the plot point at the W.E.P. and some great exclamations about trashing his statues in Opportunity. The rest of it however, not so much
Then there's the plot point in the middle of the game or so where he suddenly wants you to take him seriously. Which, personally, is my real problem with Jack. He's such a goofy over the top villain with so many petty insults and blatantly evil plots that the death of one person making him turn serious is... hard to take seriously. Jack stops being fun at this point. Especially since Borderlands 2 doesn't do serious well. Once you have characters like Tiny Tina and Face McShooty running around, there's no room for tearjerkers or introspection. Your sniper rifle is talking at you trying to make you feel like garbage while you throw your submachine gun at psychos to reload. Also, bonerfarts. Granted that joke only lasted like five seconds, but still.
Also, nearly all of Jack's material is done over a radio where you never see his body language or his model animate. It hurts his presence in more ways than one. Especially since that one trailer with Handsome Jack setting up the player characters has him doing all sorts of stuff like strutting and winking. It would have been awesome to see him try to play a violin. That's all I'm saying.
EXPLOOOOSSSSSIIOOONNNNSS!!! BUY TORGUE!
At the same time, Borderlands 2 has one of my favorite characters ever in the form of the enthusiastic and dangerously genre savvy Mr. Torgue. His Campaign of Carnage DLC really doesn't do anything different in the grand scheme of things. It's Borderlands, dawg. You're going to shoot dudes, shoot things, pick up stuff, and turn in quests. Sometimes the things you shoot are much bigger than you. But the real highlight is pretty much every single thing Mr. Torgue says as he gets hyped about EXPLOSIONS, battles to the death, the dangers of alcoholism, betrayal, treating women nice, and everything else that comes out of his mouth. Especially things that are badass. He has no indoor voice, but it really helps sell some of his greatest lines and makes it really easy to hear him over all the gunshots.
This man is an entertainer and he certainly knows how to entertain in his own special way. I have a hard time figuring out how any future DLC release for Borderlands 2 is going to top Mr. Torgue.
Still Fun Though
Borderlands 2 may not stray far enough from the first game to really stand out, but it's still fun. I find that all of the character classes are pretty cool, even the Commando who is dangerously generic compared to the others. The guns and their various manufacturers are still cool to look at and scrutinize. I tend to go Maliwan and Torgue a bunch, but there are some cool Jakobs spiniguns and that bolt action elephant gun is tons o' fun. I think the backlash against internet jokes and referencing memes are a little too scrutinized. Borderlands was never exactly a super classy game to start with, and humor is so hard to pull off that it's only natural you'd find some really lame or uninspired attempts here or there.
Of course, only you can decide where to draw the line.