Gearbox Software’s focus on story in Borderlands 2 is evident from the onset. While the super-villain versus band-of-renegades plot is standard fare, the development of the characters themselves becomes nothing short of wonderful. The game’s iconic antagonist, Handsome Jack, makes a strong argument for character of the decade. With a personality that is hilariously egotistical and evil from the onset, Jack’s character evolves in a profoundly emotional way that is rarely seen in videogames.
Borderlands 2 brings to life the brutal survival-of-the-sickest alien world of Pandora. The planet’s colorfully twisted inhabitants bear no clear boundaries between good and evil. Even though many of these characters are the worst human beings imaginable, they manage to become endearing and memorable.
Unfortunately, brilliant storytelling can’t mask repetitive fetch-and-kill quests that make up the bulk of the gameplay. Backtracking across the many zones that dot Pandora’s landscape in order to complete the hundreds of side-quests available quickly becomes tiresome as the same enemies spawn from the same locations and offer the same resistance each time you visit an area. Story missions offer much of the same, though they typically take longer to complete and are punctuated with menacing boss fights.
Questionable balance plagues these insanely-powerful encounters. Though bosses are insanely powerful, failure means little more than paying a small re-spawn fee. Encounters are easily rejoined where they were left off after death, so success often becomes nothing more than a cycle of attacking and respawning. This combination of steep difficulty and lack of any meaningful death penalty manages to produce fights that are both too difficult and too easy.
The heart and soul of Borderlands lies in its prolific loot. Boasting “bazillions” of guns, grenades, shields, and boosts, Borderlands 2 is a treasure-hunter’s dream. These numbers realistically translate to a lot of incremental stat-bonuses where minute differences in numbers often mean very little. Managing inventory is also a chore. While Borderlands 2′s menus are an improvement over its predecessor’s, item comparison and organization remain clunky and cumbersome. Without a streamlined way to sort, store, and compare gear, the millions of minute weapons variations are often more trouble than they’re worth.
Despite these issues, rare and epic weapons are always exciting finds. Endlessly bizarre weapon effects are a joy to wield in battle, and elemental damage effects add a layer of strategy to the gun play. Encounters are frantic and brutal, and vast array of enemy types feel unique even when they’re just variations of a base entity.
The frantic gun-play benefits from multiplayer cooperation at the cost of devaluing the ingenious writing. Mindlessly blasting endless waves of foes is much more fun when you have a group of allies at your side, but unless you’re playing through the game with a handful of dedicated friends, you’ll likely find yourself jumping between various points in the game’s chronology while completing missions out of context. Split-screen local co-op offers a viable option for friends or family to play through the game together, and the ability for two players on split-screen to join up with a full party online is a feature every multiplayer title should have.
Repetitive gameplay and questionable balance do their best to get in the way of Borderlands 2′s unique sense of humor, but brilliant characters and dialog manage to keep the game moving forward. Local and online co-op features allow gamers to take on the world of Pandora as a group, though players who prefer to work solo will have no problem in doing so. The later provides the best opportunity to fully enjoy the game’s wit and dark-charm, but blasting apart foes is a joy when with the right group of players. Either way, Borderlands 2 is a game that is worth some time, and with the hundreds of quests and a raft of planned DLC including the already released Captain Scarlett and her Pirate’s Booty, there is plenty of game to explore.Posted in Reviews by Steve R Gibson on October 26, 2012