Our close personal friend Claptrap slipped us the final game code a little earlier than he should have. Thanks little buddy – your minion will now do the review and paint you in a favourable light. After some minor hoop jumping and installing software we’ve never heard of before, things were ready to roll. Even Steam was in on the gig reporting some ‘Steam error’ to anyone trying to see what game was being played – very sneaky indeed. Here is a close look at Borderlands 2 and what we thought about it.
There ain’t no rest for the wicked…
What you need to know about Pandora is that everything is trying to kill you. Some of these things may end up eating you while others are happy just stomping you into a red paste with crunchy white bits. But this isn’t big news – from the original game we know that Pandora has always been a hostile and unforgiving world and now in Borderlands 2 we get to see (and feel) a lot more of it. There’s ice and snow, mossy, rocky hills, pools of green corrosive goo, underground lava-filled caverns, futuristic cities under construction, dust bowls, barren outcrops and Eridium everywhere. Eridium: a new and mysterious mineral that appeared after the original vault was opened in the first game. It’s purple, valuable and glows and is worthwhile collecting as a ‘currency’ you can later use to upgrade your ammunition/backpack storage capacity.
Some locations from the original game can be found, like Fyrestone in the Arid Badlands. Not that you’ll recognise it, because the Hyperion Corporation has built a highway right through the middle of it. Still, it’s good to visit old places for a little bit of nostalgic killing. As a bonus, early on, you’ll even get to see where Claptrap lives. Love him or hate him he’s back for the sequel and plays an important role in some of the game’s missions. Your new base of operations is Sanctuary (mentioned in the original game) and you’ll find many familiar faces from the first games and even some characters from the different bits of DLC that Gearbox released during the lifespan of Borderlands. The developers have spent some time getting the look and feel just right in Sanctuary; it’s a nice place to visit if you’ve played the first game – like coming home after a long time away. It all looks and feels different but there’s enough familiarity to make you smile at each new (and old) NPC encounter.
The game world is essentially divided up into the wild outdoors where creatures live and lurk and fenced/walled off encampments, outposts and bases where the motley inhabitants of Pandora live. The creatures are a mixture of new and old favourites – favourites as in which ones you enjoy killing the most or enjoy being killed by the most. Your first new encounter will be with a Bullymong – four arms, two legs and apparently twice as many teeth as a human with the ability to leap great distances and/or throw things great distances. The first one you see steals Claptrap’s eye and of course you, as Claptrap’s minion, must get it back, but not before finding your first weapon and locking and loading as the commando types say. So begins the kind of game Borderlands 2 is, action with some light RPG elements all covered in funny sauce. Your typical Bullymong can be found in various strengths and colours and all over the game world – there’s even a side-mission where you’ll be directly involved in renaming them, because Bullymong sounds silly.
Another notable addition to the Pandora zoo is the Varkid; usually found in larval state. Attacking a Varkid only angers it and causes it to form a cocoon out of which hatches a larger, more deadly version of the creature – now with wings. This cocooning upgrade can occur twice with a rumoured third version. Some new creatures burrow underground to get to you while others drop valuable yellow crystal shards when attacked. It’s even possible to initiate interspecies fighting (if you’re being swarmed and are having a tough time, try running into a new area) between some of the creatures on Pandora that really don’t like each other… They also don’t like the bandits and nomads living in the camps and bases dotted all over Pandora. Most of your missions involve visiting these specific locations and sometimes if you’re lucky that Varkid that followed you in to the bandit camp will start attacking them. Not only have the creatures received a revamp but also the actual bad guys. They will attack you with fire, bullets, blades, grenades and even each other. They come in all sizes and shapes, some will hide behind cover and others will charge you with a lit fuse. They seem a little smarter and less predictable since the original game, but not by much. The level of difficulty is ramped up by increased numbers of enemies and higher-level enemies – and not because they’re doing anything tactical. The fact that they charge at you and dodge sometimes means you can’t just sit back and pop them off. It’s not a cake walk, especially not when playing the next level of difficulty (the Vault Hunter Mode) – here you’re going to need a little planning and strategy.
In terms of bad guys, the biggest new addition to the game is the Hyperion Corporation and their robot army. This impressive force is controlled by Handsome Jack – someone you’re going to learn to hate over time. The robots all look similar but pack different attacks. Some shoot rockets, some rush and explode, some shoot flame and others create a shield barrier while smaller drones repair the damage you’ve done. They also have a bigger brother, the Constructor – a robot that makes new robots to fight you while you’re fighting it, making it very, very tough to kill. Overall there’s enough fresh new content here to keep you entertained and always discovering something new right until the end of the game.
It’s not just the addition of new habitats and enemies that makes the game feel so much bigger, but rather in how it’s all put together. This is important in two ways. The first is this amazing and imaginative world the level designers and graphic artists have put together. No area is barren: if you look hard enough anywhere in the game world you’re going to be surprised by a loot box or a grim warning to stay out. It feels like a living real place and one that’s been lived in for way too long. Illiteracy is rife, stupidity is commonplace and there’s ammunition and loot and guns and upgrades and Eridium and cash under almost every rock you care to kick over. “Just look anywhere and you’ll find something cool” seems to be the motto. Some of the missions require visiting specific and different locations ranging from your standard underground base all the way to an Irish-themed bar. Day or night there’s always something interesting to see, fight and find on Pandora. The level of detail here is astounding and even if you’ve walked past the same place a few times already there’s always something new that you didn’t notice before. If you’re bored of all the fighting and mission-taking then why not visit Fink’s Slaughterhouse, where you’ll face fresh waves of tougher enemies all while listening to bullet-tapping techno-rave-something music. Killing has never been this fun – it’s simply remarkable.
The other major hook is the story itself. It’s dead simple – Handsome Jack is trying to find another, bigger vault. You must stop him or it will be bad news for everyone. That’s all you’re going to get because spoilers. The story itself is no major innovation by any stretch of the imagination, but where the game shines is in how the story is told to the player. The humour is spot on and will have you grinning right from the opening cinematic piece. The characters are well-voiced and all have their own motives and reasons for being on Pandora. Your presence is only acknowledged because of what you can do for them. You will be rewarded of course but sometimes the reward is more of an actual curse than anything else. The main plot line will see you rounding up some help for a big final fight. Along the way you fight bosses and run errands and do all the things you’re expecting to do in a game like this. What sets Borderlands 2 apart from the usual fetch-quest dynamic are the incredible side-missions. They’re fresh and different and most important – fun, fun and more fun. The game will have you on a mission to study creature lifecycles, in another you must lure a bad guy to a deranged tea party and in another you must simply shoot a guy in the face – and this mission is given to you by the guy you must shoot. Tips of the hat are made to popular culture icons and in one mission all you need to do is turn around to complete it. There are so many different missions to be done that along with the main story arc you’re looking at 40-50 hours of play. Don’t rush this game – it’s just not worth missing all the cool stuff hiding everywhere.
To get the job done there are four different classes – one to suit most play styles. You can snipe, you can charge in guns blazing, you can use Siren powers or simply drop a turret and run for the hills. Each character class has an upgradable skill tree and with each level achieved a point can be assigned to these abilities – standard stuff. Naturally, four-player co-op is something Gearbox is encouraging and it’s a simple matter to drop into a friend’s game or invite them over to yours. Loot is better playing as a group but it must be shared so choose your “friends” wisely. Some of the marketing on this game talks about a bazillion guns – this is not an exaggeration. From beginning to end no two guns will be the same, they look different, sound different, fire different, hell they even reload differently. Elemental effects are in play so if you’re going up against robots make sure you pack that corrosive gun because metal melts under the green goo – if you’re shooting flesh bring the fire and so on.
The variety is ridiculous and the great thing is that you’re always finding new and better stuff right the way through the game. It makes it worth the effort; sometimes you’ll keep a type of gun even though there are better ones available, just because you like how it fires or how it reloads or how it melts flesh. Besides guns there are shields with their own abilities and upgrades, grenades that do different things and even class modifiers. The game has a colour-coded scale for loot awesomeness. White is at the bottom and orange is at the top. If you like shooting things then Borderlands 2 is something you cannot afford to miss and there are no really strong negatives worth labouring on about. Of course, this is just scratching the surface of the whole thing. If you chopped up all the components of this game and spoke about all of them you could easily get to 10,000-plus words but that would bore you to death. So here are just under 2,000 telling you to get this game and play it, but also to play it carefully and do everything it asks of you. Well done Gearbox: you’ve made us so proud that we cried a little.
Borderlands 2 is out this Friday, the 21st of September, on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. It is lovely, and we think you should play it.
And now, some more screenshots that you should click to make bigger!