Since its 2009 launch, Borderlands has captivated millions with its unique fusion of first-person shooting and loot-centric role-playing action. With its sequel, Gearbox Software's genre splice offers up some sorely needed improvements to the formula. It's not always even, but there's no argument that Borderlands 2 is an exceptionally fun experience.
Like its predecessor, Borderlands 2 takes place on the alien planet of Pandora, a mineral-rich land in which mega-corporations mine planetary resources for profit. You take on the role of one of four Vault Hunters, a special breed of mercenary who loot and raid their way to the planet's most treasured resource, vaults full of untold riches (or so it seems). They're tasked with taking down the villainous Handsome Jack, head of the Hyperion Corporation--and one of the most gloriously sneering nemeses seen in a video game in some time.
Borderlands 2's main hook is its focus on "shooting and looting." To that degree, the sequel offers significantly more choice and customization than its predecessor. Guns are broken down into brands and damage modifiers. So, for example, a gun made by Hyperion will have a more high tech feel, whereas another line may provide punchier gunplay.
The damage modifiers--fire, acid, and electricity, among others--all factor in heavily when selecting the best tool to take down enemy types. It provides a strong sense of strategy to how to approach a mob of hostiles. Though the early stage weapons lack certain tactility, there's a heft to higher-level guns that's truly satisfying.
On the go
While it's pretty amazing a game as big and detailed as Borderlands 2 can be played on the PlayStation Vita, it's by no means the best way to experience the game. The visual quality is--unsurprisingly--noticeably inferior to the Vita's console counterparts, but looks totally fine in action. Unfortunately, the clunky control scheme and frequent framerate stutters transform intense gunfights into frustrating slogs that only the most diehard Borderlands fans would bother to put up with. Scroll down to the bottom of the page for more detailed impressions of Borderlands 2 on the Vita.
You also have more ability to customize your character. Whether through in-game collectible skins or the base choices, you can pick from multiple face types and outfits to give your Vault Hunter more personality. Each Vault Hunter has a different specialty class, from the dual-wielding Gunzerker, turret-toting Commando and sneaky Assassin to the returning Siren class.
Alongside the satisfying gunplay, Borderlands 2 continues the tradition of four-player online co-operative play. The game scales difficulty according to how many people are participating in the game and with higher difficulty, the opportunities increase for rare items, more experience, and shared money. But there are some problems within the framework that are annoying. Death is inevitable, and it's irritating in some spots to spawn away from teammates and have to backtrack across some big areas to reunite with your squad (or fall into some geometry and get stuck).
The bitterest pill to swallow is that in sections of the game, you can earn experience and loot playing co-op in someone else's missions, but won't always have that progress reflected in your own campaign. For some missions, there's an offer to skip past something you've done, and in others, it's never provided. Nor is it ever clearly explained why some missions allow for this hop and some don’t. Make sure you're playing with friends, and if you plan multiple playthroughs, let someone else host another game so that they get the story progression.
One of the biggest complaints about the first title was its lack of in-depth story. Although Borderlands 2's narrative may not rival the likes of Mass Effect's arc, it does a great job of toeing the line between morbid goofiness and somber emotional beats. The Vault Hunters of the prior game return, and whether you've played the first game or not, you'll be very attached to them before long. More than anything, it's a game propelled by a strong villain who's a vain sociopath. You'll want to endure some lackluster moments solely to make Handsome Jack eat his words. It's a great hook.
The lackluster moments are certainly there, though. Although speedier players can likely clear the game in 30 hours, it may take others upwards of 40 to 50, and it feels like a chunk of that is filler.
Granted, loot-based RPGs are all about grinding your way up to the best weapons and armor, but Borderlands 2 feels artificially long in some stretches. Some side quests are funny, or they provide more color for the NPCs you encounter. Others feel less inspired and more designed to pad the experience. If you're playing through mostly solo, you'll feel the effect even more strongly, since level progression feels like it comes to a screeching halt at points.
But for the grievances that make Borderlands 2 feel like a slog at times, it also rewards you through many other means. The boss battles, from zany characters to gigantic, exaggerated robots, all feel grandiose in scale, and even if they can be frustrating to beat, they're memorable to battle. Also, with the right mix of co-op teammates, the combination of multiple skill sets provides profoundly satisfying moments.
Borderlands 2 is a fulfilling experience. The improvements to gunplay and customization take it further than its predecessor. Its story gives you enough hooks and motivators to want to see it through to the end. Unfortunately, it may feel like a bit of a slog to get there, and you'll want to sort out exactly who's hosting that game between you and your online friends very early on. However, with a well-balanced squad, there are few more pleasing experiences than taking down a gigantic robot constructor through four unique skillsets. If you like to shoot, and you dig collecting loot, Borderlands 2 has enough to scratch your itch for some time to come.
This game was reviewed on Xbox 360.