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Borderlands 2 Review

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Borderlands 2 gives you more Borderlands. No more, no less.

There are some solid explosions in Borderlands 2, but you might not want to look at all of them.

Borderlands 2 feels like someone sat down and built a checklist of the first game's issues--simplistic AI, PC interface issues, bad boss battles, the lack of a trade interface--and set out to fix them. By that standard, it's certainly a better game than the original, and it backs these additions up with smart online updates, an even more expansive random loot generator, and a revamped set of character classes that make every piece of gear and every skill point you spend feel like a tough trade-off between different types of character growth. It feels very iterative in spots, and it often feels like you can see the parts where Gearbox ripped out an old system and swapped it for a more robust and balanced replacement. It also maintains its strong sense of humor, but the various characters in play throughout Borderlands 2 can be a little hit-and-miss, leading to cases where I just wanted the game to shut up and let me get back to shooting stuff and opening chests.

Borderlands 2 is set five years after the events of the first game and features an all-new cast of playable characters, who are again cast as "vault hunters" en route to Pandora to make a fortune. The cast of the first game now exist as full-on characters in the world, complete with dialogue that helps flesh them out as actual people, rather than mostly silent player characters. Most of your missions will come from Roland and the gang, though since they were barely characters in the first game, I never really got attached to any of them. The original gang serves as leaders of a resistance movement that's attempting to fight against the Hyperion Corporation, led by a smarmy prick named Handsome Jack. It seems that Jack swooped in after the events of the first game, took credit for the vault hunters' actions, and is now attempting to mine the heck out of the planet because it's crawling in priceless alien ore that, naturally, is one of the keys to awakening some ancient alien power. You, as one of the new vault hunters that's been screwed over by Handsome Jack and left for dead, quickly team up with the old crew to do their bidding, seek revenge, and collect a whole lot of loot along the way.

Though the first Borderlands certainly had more than its fair share of loot variety, the sequel really blows this aspect of the game out by bringing more and flashier effects to weapons as well as shields, class mods, grenade types, and relics. You'll find large capacity shields that lower your health, or shields that give you a deep bonus to melee damage when they're depleted, or shields that reflect damage onto melee attackers with an elemental bonus. Grenades can have elemental effects as well, along with statistics such as fuse time, radius, and overall damage. But the grenades can still be bouncing betties, transfusion grenades that leech health from your targets, and other types that appeared in the first game. Class mods and relics spread out quite a bit, too, giving you items that give you more experience points for kills, larger magazine size for weapons, or even bonuses that only work when you're firing guns from a specific manufacturer.

Though some of the characters may seem similar, the skill trees are different enough to make them all feel unique.

Gun manufacturers are one of the ways that Borderlands 2 gives method to its madness, and each weapon manufacturer specializes in a different style of weapon. Hyperion guns, for example, gain accuracy when you hold the fire button down, so instead of getting wild and all over the place like you'd expect, you actually get deadlier in longer bursts. That's weird. Jakobs tends to deal in revolvers and other Western-themed guns that have your character fanning the hammer as he or she squeezes off rounds as quickly as you can pull the trigger on your controller. Maliwan deals in weapons with elemental effects. Bandit weapons all have misspelled names and tend to have larger magazine sizes than the others. You get the idea. On top of that, it's sort of easy to get a sense for a weapon's basic style by just looking at it. Assault rifles with huge, open-ended barrels probably fire tiny rockets instead of bullets, for example. It'd be nice if there was an easy way to see a weapon actually firing without going through the process of actually equipping it, but after a dozen or so hours, you start to get a sense for which weapons fit with your play style and which weapons are just vendor trash.

I don't know how you played the original Borderlands, but at some point, my Soldier character became practically unstoppable. With the ability to regenerate ammo and health, he became almost completely self-sufficient, and armed with the proper combat rifle, it was trivial to pick him back up if he ever managed to fall. Borderlands 2's skills feel a bit more balanced, making it more difficult to simultaneously spec in every direction. And the classes that appear analogous to classes from the first game aren't, so even if you think you know how the guy who tosses out a turret will play, the Commando feels very different from the Soldier. Even though you can easily respec your character at any time, I found myself agonizing over every skill decision because none of them were perfect fits for every situation. The loot, also, forces those decisions. Equipping a shield with a high capacity but also a penalty to your health might sound like a great idea... until you encounter a crew armed with shield-draining shock weapons. The only constant is that corrosive weapons, which chew through armored targets quite well, seem way more useful here than they were in the first game, because most of the villain's forces are armored robots.

Though questing in the direction of Handsome Jack is the entirety of the main line in Borderlands 2, there are plenty of side missions to find along the way. These are the missions that take you in wild different directions as you attempt to help find a new name for one of Pandora's creatures, help out a robot that wants to be human, or decide whether you want to return lewd photos of Moxxi to Marcus or back to Moxxi herself. In this case, the periphery of the experience is more interesting and fun than its core. The main quest pits you against Handsome Jack, who comes across as a one-note villain with very little to offer beyond a thick layer of smarm that gets old after the first few hours. I kept expecting some sort of meaningful progression for the villain, but the end result is a flat character that's more annoying than anything else. It was more of a "I wish I could disable this character's dialogue" feeling than a "boy, I can't wait to shut this jerk up with my guns" situation. In contrast, the rest of the game is lush with great little touches in its dialogue. Some of the best writing in the entire game, in fact, comes when you take a little too long to take action, be it holding for a moment before freeing Claptrap from the snow to waiting for the Guardian Angel to get impatient before you insert Quest Object A into Mission Advancement Slot B. These little gags are often worth waiting for, and even though they're usually only a couple of lines, they're some of the funniest moments in a game that, with a glaring exception or two, is generally pretty funny to begin with.

Zero's decoy ability makes him way more than just a simple sniper.

But the story and characters aren't everything. Playing with other people is what Borderlands does best, and that aspect of the game has grown up quite a bit. At any time you can pause your game and bring up a network menu to make your session publicly accessible, friends only, invite only, LAN, or totally offline. You can do this on the fly, without having to quit out or anything like that. It's really nice. Once players are in your game, you can open up the all-new trade interface to pass items around without having to drop them on the ground and expose yourself to potential thievery. In general, playing with other people is pretty much painless, even on PC, which now uses Steamworks across the board instead of that GameSpy nonsense. The PC version of the game is much friendlier overall, and the in-game menus for inventory are easily manipulated with a mouse. Playing the game with a mouse and keyboard feels just fine, but you can still play the PC version with a controller just as easily. Over on consoles, you'll still get a good sense of the game's terrific art, but the frame rates get quite dodgy when then action picks up and there's still scads of texture pop-in whenever you change zones. The PS3 version of the game, sort of like its predecessor, looks a little grimy and jaggy when compared to the 360 version, but it's certainly not a crippling issue.

I obsessed over the original Borderlands in spite of its flaws. Earning loot and exploring every little corner of the world became top priority for me when that game was released, and I kept up with its DLC add-ons, doing my best to ignore their decidedly uneven quality. Borderlands 2 is a better game in most of the ways that matter, but some of that is brought down by the familiarity of the experience. Perhaps some of that is on me and spending a couple hundred hours with the first game has rendered me resilient to some of the new game's charms, but as someone who went into Borderlands 2 with a sickness that I thought only more Borderlands could cure, I'm left feeling like I didn't receive a full dose this time around.

Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
162 Comments
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Posted by yami4ct

Woha

Posted by SymbolliC

success!

Posted by Solh0und

It's basically more Borderlands with some of the criticisms fixed. Which is fine for me!

Edited by FoxMulder

OMG THE END OF GAMING AS WE KNOW IT!!!! Playing it not matter what!!!!

Posted by vaportra1l

Woooooo it's unlocking!

Posted by oobs

well i am guessing i wont be liking this game to be going out and getting it if i didnt like the first one

Posted by therealminime

@Solh0und said:

It's basically more Borderlands with some of the criticisms fixed. Which is fine for me!

Pretty much this.

Posted by Animasta

MORE LIKE MOREDERLANDS

(why am I the first person to say this)

Posted by jozzy

Steam is extracting the she-bang while I read this, still very excited to get my hands on it. I don't think I OD'd as hard as Jeff on Borderlands.

Posted by Silver-Streak

Sounds like valid opinions on Jeff's behalf. As I never finished my Playthrough 2 nor nay of the DLC in Borderlands, I'm pretty sure I'm up for Morederlands.Which is unpacking right now.

Posted by animathias

Thanks for the review, Jeff. I've been on the fence for a couple of weeks now, and this is the nail in the coffin. I should have loved the first Borderlands, but something about it just didn't sit right with me. Hearing that this is more of the same (more or less) means I shouldn't waste my time or money.

Posted by Anathem

...and there's the quicklook.

Posted by Phatmac

Seems like a solid sequel that improves on the first game's problems. I didn't feel motivated enough to do quests in borderlands so hopefully the story and situations are better this time around.

Posted by mewarmo990

Yay, more Borderlands! I'm running through the DLC content I haven't had time to play since the Steam sale a year ago -__-

I just realized that there hasn't been a video review since Skyward Sword (November 2011!). What happened to those?

Posted by benspyda

Good review. I'm in the same boat of playing 100s of hours in the first game. I still can't wait to play it and find out if its charms have worn off me like they have you. I doubt it though.

Posted by RedSox8933

Yeah, I didn't really expect this to be much more than more Borderlands. But man, I could really use some more Borderlands, so this works out perfectly!

Posted by mrfluke

@therealminime said:

@Solh0und said:

It's basically more Borderlands with some of the criticisms fixed. Which is fine for me!

Pretty much this.

yeepppp, seems thats the case, but man im so glad i never played the first game, that means i should love this one/

Posted by Prymet1me

Works for me, hurry up steam jeez

Posted by Deathpooky

I'm definitely up for more Borderlands, especially with improvements to take care of the only things I didn't like from the first game. And it's interesting to hear that the Commando simply isn't a reskinned Soldier. I'm still tempted to go with the turret again since I like soloing a fair amount, but I might switch it up this time around.

Posted by NekuCTR

Ya, that's about what I expected, was holding out hope for something truly outstanding, but more Borderlands (Morederlands?) is far from a bad thing. On a side note, unless this or Assasins Creed 3 blows me away Walking Dead will probably be my GOTY, which is pretty crazy.

Posted by laserbolts

After reading this I cannot wait to get this game. More Borederlands is exactly what I want.

Posted by Brisaac

I'm totally okay with more Borderlands. I never thought a sequel would see the light of day.

Glad to see Gearbox take the needed time for BLT!

Posted by Apocralyptic

Did they smooth out the difficulty curve at all for the multiplayer? I got frustrated with the first Borderlands because I could never play co-op with anyone except friends who were almost the exact same level as me. Anything else was pointless because one of us would be way overpowered.

Posted by felakuti4life

I'm sure it's fine. Recently I've been more into games that surprise me with their quality. Spec Ops, Walking Dead, Sleeping Dogs come to mind. I'll pick it up when I'm ready for more grindy stuff, I'm still in a post Diablo haze.

Posted by tourgen

I liked the first one quite a bit and this just sounds more but better. It's been quite a while since I played too - so pretty good timing. I like the idea of better distinctions between the weapon manufacturers. That's something Mass Effect 1 tried to do too and I thought it was pretty cool.

Posted by ApolloBob

I've been playing a lot of the first Borderlands to get ready for the sequel (and to knock out the last two DLCs I hadn't finished). It occurred to me watching the trailers that maybe this wasn't a great idea, because it did seem to be "more of the same" - as if someone magically doubled the content of the first game. I'm sure I'll enjoy it regardless, but I can totally see how the number of hours spent in the first game and/or how much time has passed since you played it could affect your response to the sequel.

I also suspect that Jeff is a little bummed that he can't make the same "This is the only class anyone should play" pronouncement as last time.

Posted by AlwaysBeClothing

More Borderlands ass Borderlands son

Posted by bybeach

It's like they well surpassed the minimum, and fell bit short of the max. Who could blame them? They already had something that worked....Sounds like handsome jack needed some more work. They've done good with characters before....

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Posted by DoctorWelch

I'm not opposed to some Borderlands, because that game was the shit, it's just really disappointing to know my fears of it being simply more Borderlands have probably come true :/

Posted by gregoryc

@mewarmo990: Pretty sure GB has ditched the idea of video reviews. Not sure if any bombcast episodes went into an explanation on the subject.

Posted by ShaggE

Morederlands (now with more color!) is exactly what I wanted, so I'm pleased, despite multiple reports of excessive solo difficulty. It's not time to overhaul the formula yet, after all. Maybe when 4derlands comes around, they can rejigger it all.

Posted by CharAznable

I'm much more into the gameplay than the story or characters, so I'm excited by what I read in the review. It sounds like the stuff I care about has been beefed up in every way. Can't wait to play it tomorrow.

Jeff, were you satisfied with the final boss, in comparison to the first game? That was such a letdown.

Posted by MormonWarrior

Welllll...I don't love Borderlands, mostly because it's awfully dull alone and I have nobody to play it with, so I guess I'll probably skip this one.

Edited by RiccochetJ

Like Jeff said... It's Borderlands, but better.

I'm in.

Jeff just sounds salty that his turret doesn't heal.

Posted by iceman228433

A 4 star this game must be shit.

Posted by JackOhara

YO WHITE CITRUS, WHY YOU SO HARD ON RANDY PITCHFORD

Posted by Dryker

@gregoryc: Jeff once said that Quicklooks were pretty much video reviews.

Edited by CraftySkills

Does anyone else have the problem where the text is over the pictures? It blends in with the image and it's hard to read the review.

Posted by DefAde

Jeff has summed up my main worries about this game... Like him, i played a shit ton of B1 plus all it's DLC - maybe 300 hours or something.... and i feel done with the whole franchise. There's not enough new here for me to get re-invigorated about MORE Borderlands, and i suspect after just a few hours of playing i'd get Call of Duty Syndrome... that horrible gaming experience of deja vu, and having already "done all this before".... As much as i really want to play this, i am falling more towards just giving it a miss, or waiting until it's dirt cheap somewhere.

Posted by ArbitraryWater

I never finished the first game. Something about the grind really threw me off. This game looks super similar, so I'll probably get it when it is on sale.

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Posted by Cybexx

So Syndicate and Mortal Kombat Vita remain the only games Jeff has given 5-Star reviews to this year. I wonder if that speaks more to the year or Jeff? It has been kind of a weird transitional year and less games overall than last year. Brad has also been reviewing the stand-out downloadable games this year which is where most of the best games have been published.

Posted by aceofspudz

Well written review. I'll wait for it to go on sale!

Posted by Etnos

Borderlands, bores me.

no disrespect to fans.

Posted by honkyjesus

What turned me off on buying this, and waiting for the GOTY edition in a year or so, was the way too early talk of DLC and season passes. Don't tell me all the things you left out of the game before it even releases.

As usual, a good Giant Bomb review, and appreciated. Always good to hear differing opinions, something Gerstmann is infamous for. Sexually.

Posted by honkyjesus

@CraftySkills: Nope, not on Chrome.

Posted by PresidentOfJellybeans

So glad this game got a standard quicklook on top of the ex one.

Posted by FCDRandy

@Animasta: I know Jeff said that on the podcast when they played it at PAX East this year.

Posted by honkyjesus

@Animasta: I just copyrighted it.

Posted by wewantsthering

@Etnos said:

Borderlands, bores me.

no disrespect to fans.

Your loss. Did you play it with three friends?

Posted by gb09

StillBoredlands

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