The Average Gamer

Borderlands 2 Review (Xbox 360)

Borderlands is back. The highly successful looter-shooter gets the blockbuster sequel treatment, even boasting that it has the best intro of any game ever. It doesn’t, but it’s fun and sets the tone well. Gearbox has used this opportunity to improve the experience as much as possible, tweaking every area like a direct sequel should.

Borderlands 2 is a first person shooter, retaining its predecessor’s RPG elements that were similar to your Fallouts and Diablos. You choose from one of four new vault hunters, all different characters from the first game and each with their own unique ability. Axton the Commando can drop turrets, Salvador the “Gunzerker” can dual wield guns for a limited time, Maya the Siren has a immobilising ability, and Zer0 the robotic Assassin uses cloaking and stealth. Each of these classes provides slightly different tactical approaches, such as going in all guns blazing or stealth-killing everyone.

Borderlands 2 is once again set in Pandora, the vast wasteland setting, and it’s up to you to ultimately locate and stop the evil Hyperion Corporation – who have taken over Pandora – and its somewhat insidious leader, Handsome Jack.

Looting is vital to surviving in Pandora, and quickly becomes the main hook of Borderlands 2. All items are useful to either keep for use, or sell towards fancy new hardware at vending machines. Every piece of kit is easily comparable to another using the on-screen comparison tools. The augmentations and stats appear complex at first, but not so much that they’re hard to understand.

Pandora is huge, much bigger than before. The first 30 minutes or so of the campaign does not give this fact away at all, with the first few missions just a few steps away from each other. Once this initiation period is over, Pandora really opens up, with multiple missions there for the taking. It follows a typical sandbox style and of course, that means even more to loot.

You may choose to opt for the story missions only, but such is the size of Borderlands 2, you’d be a fool not to experience the many side missions. Most consist of basic fetch/assassination scenarios; it becomes a JRPG-style grind tactic for much needed XP and useful kit, particularly at the beginning of the game, when the first bosses are hard to tackle. You can more about Tiny Tina’s mission in Mat’s earlier preview.

Although a first person shooter in execution, it’s the RPG/MMO elements that make Borderlands 2 a very addictive, roaring success. Skill trees, inventory, map and mission screens are all easily accessible with a single press of the back button, with shoulder buttons to tab through each screen. They’ve also been redesigned for better viewing on a split screen. There are skills aplenty to unlock, and every aspect of your character is there to be improved or changed how you want them.

Looting (that word again) not only provides equipment and health, but also attributes to customise your character appearance. However, this area is pretty threadbare, as it’s limited to changing heads and body shapes only.

Borderlands 2 prides itself on its class skill customisation. Although you initially choose from one of the 4 vault hunter classes, with unique ability, you can tailor your skill tree for each one to suit your play style, without deviating completely to another class completely. Your assassin class could be converted into a sniper master, as opposed to sneaking behind enemy lines.

A new feature for this sequel, humorously named ‘Bad-ass rank’, is a very welcome addition. For achieving a required amount of headshots, as an example, you will acquire a token, which you then use to upgrade an attributes such as Gun Damage, Melee Damage, and so on. Each token only provides a very small percentage of growth to the chosen attribute, but working your way through a multitude of mission’s leads to many more tokens, which ultimately leads to attribute development.

There are some minor gripes to Borderlands’ ‘Pandora’s Box’, if you will. The driving component has not improved, and is still largely underutilised; the only incentive of them is to get from A to B that bit quicker. Where Halo series has always provided levels designed around vehicles and their use, here it feels like a superfluous feature.

The tone of the game dialogue was confusing. Initially, it’s all rather a bit silly, comical (given its cel-shaded look) in its execution, and almost gives the impression that killing is fun and for cash. But as you plough through the campaign, the main story becomes more involving and moving, its characters endearing, so essentially Borderlands 2 is a little at odds with itself. The first few hours have no emotional attachment to your character at all; you’re literally moving from one place to the next, which may put a few off from continuing.

The local multiplayer is also a mixed bag. If up to four local players want to start a campaign, everyone starts from level 1. Should you start a campaign and earn up to level 10 alone, then a mate comes over and jumps in (which can be done anytime), they will start at level 1, have no overshield, and only a lowly pistol to defend themselves. It then becomes obligatory to share your own wealth with them, something many players I would expect to begrudge doing.

All XP is shared, which might leave you feeling a little robbed and looting is basically a free for all, so be careful who you opt to play with. It’s hard to distinguish whether Gearbox intend the experience to be primarily single player or multiplayer. It certainly works more consistently from the single player perspective, or if you have a consistent and co-operative team of people.

Borderlands 2 is a video game bursting with character as much as it is violent and fun. It takes a little while to get going, but there is a wealth of items and weapons to collect, areas to explore and tons of missions to complete. Hours will pass in what seems the blink of an eye. It still needs some tweaking to perfect the experience, but this sequel certainly does improve all areas of the original, with a little extra thrown in for good measure. Borderlands 2 is indeed, in a Bad-ass rank of its own.

Borderlands 2 will be released in the UK on Friday 21st September on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.

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