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Borderlands 2 review

Great
AT A GLANCE
  • New depth
  • A storyline that's goofy, but good
  • Grandiose encounters
  • Disconnect between online co-op and your campaign
  • Feels artificially long and bloated
  • Side quests are uneven

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.

More Info

Release date: Sep 18 2012 - Xbox 360, PC, PS3 (US)
Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PC, PS3
Genre: Shooter
Published by: 2K Games
Developed by: Gearbox
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Language, Sexual Themes, Use of Alcohol

A great FPS / RPG hybrid, Borderlands 2 is a hilarious, fantastic co-op experience.

This game was reviewed on Xbox 360.

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30 comments

  • shawksta - September 17, 2012 9:46 p.m.

    NICE, great to hear it improves from the original, Im kind of a fan of Treasure Hunting/Collectathons so this pleases me.
  • MadMan - September 17, 2012 10:06 p.m.

    Short and sweet review, I like it. This game is already a definite buy for me and this makes me feel better about my purchase.
  • Redeater - September 18, 2012 12:09 a.m.

    "Feels artificially long and bloated Side quests are uneven" Ugh, I had the exact same complaints about Darksiders 2. I ended up enjoying it in the long run so I may give this a try tomorrow as well.
  • patbateman17 - September 18, 2012 7:27 a.m.

    I'm glad you mentioned Darksiders 2, I'm playing through now and just got into the City of the Dead, I feel like the missions are becoming super repetitive and am not sure if I can stomach a second play-through or a collectable hunt (of which there are a million collectables). I did preorder BL2 though on a whim...so let's see how that goes :)
  • jackthemenace - September 18, 2012 10:05 a.m.

    Finished Darksiders 2 a little while ago, and, I don't know if you'll be different, but I just have no compulsion to play through it again, which is the same drawback the first one had. It's a pity, too. I went through once I'd finished and collected all 40 Book of the Dead pages, and I haven't touched it since.
  • patbateman17 - September 19, 2012 2:27 p.m.

    Whew, yeah I don't know if I can even do the collectable (sic?) hunting, there's just so much with the pages, relics, stones, etc. I wish they appeared on the map after you beat the game once, maybe they do - but I doubt it. I don't like having to slowly go through each and every area all over again just to find these things. I'm currently on the Rod of Arafel mission and may just need to take a break, of course I've put in 15 hours, so that's not bad :) It's just getting a bit samey.
  • Redeater - September 18, 2012 12:09 p.m.

    Sadly I don't think I will ever do a second play through. I'm glad I bought it to show support but I think it would have been better if they had shortened it up and given better side quests. Lets face it, bout 90% of the side quests all revolve around you collection 100 of something. Funny that you should mention City of the Dead......that is EXACTLY how I felt when I hit that point in the game.
  • patbateman17 - September 19, 2012 2:30 p.m.

    I definitely agree. I swear, if I have to collect three more of something in order to get to the actual objective of the mission... it's almost a given that you have to do it. Also, a few side missions had me traveling to one location, then another, then another, which then resulted in finishing the side quest...totally pointless. Also, screw the side quests to collect relics and stonebites, I mean really, unless you can purchase from Vulgrim or something the ability to have them on your map, it's ridiculous. The levels don't flow well enough for me to want to jump in and find these obscure items. Just beat City of the Dead and am about to jump into the Rod of Arafel, which I'm pretty sure means you have to collect 3 pieces only to get to the real objective, only to go back to the Archon and get your initial objective...only to be sent across the map to collect something else. I like this game, I really do (15 hours in) but I might just need a break. Good thing I have Borderlands 2 hahaha, ah well. Still a decent game, a solid 7 or 8 though.
  • doominatorx6 - September 18, 2012 12:19 a.m.

    I ordered this on a whim, but I was bored to tears playing through the first one. Does playing it in co-op really make that much of a difference? Because from what I've heard, it does. Also, split-screen coop?
  • Bloodstorm - September 18, 2012 7:03 a.m.

    Borderlands is the most boring, insufferable game when you play it alone. That said, I've beat it 2 times with friends and had a blast. It makes all the difference.
  • Turtman - September 18, 2012 3:10 a.m.

    Artificially long and bloated? So the same reason the first borderlands sucked so bad.
  • KnowYourPokemon - September 18, 2012 5:21 a.m.

    This is going to be a wait for me, I've barely played the original Borderlands and with the other titles coming out that I know I'll be playing a lot of I don't see the point in having it sit on my desktop. Probably pick it up at christmas when it goes 33-40% off on steam.
  • FoxdenRacing - September 18, 2012 9:21 a.m.

    So in other words...an improvement over the original, but can't live up to the impossible levels of hype it generated [just like any game with impossible levels of hype]. The 'better but not perfect' drawbacks aren't enough to discourage me from buying; the first's personality was what made it so special.
  • jackthemenace - September 18, 2012 10:07 a.m.

    I'm still pretty psyched about this, even with it's 8- which is slightly lower than the 9 or 10 I was expecting- but I'm most disappointed about the fact that progress doesn't always carry over. Just to be clear, does it not carry over ANY progress if you're in a friends game rather than your own? Because up till now, I've always played the first with a friend, but on the same console, so both of us having our own copies of the game could be a problem for when only one of us is available. I'd understand if only story-missions carried over, and secondary quests didn't, so is that the case?
  • smcgarvey - September 18, 2012 11:26 a.m.

    Basically, if you play on someone else's campaign, you get XP and progress, but not all of the quests you've done will show up when you're playing campaign.
  • jackthemenace - September 18, 2012 12:16 p.m.

    Does that mean if I were to play in a friends campaign- or he were to play in mine- when we returned to playing our OWN campaign, any progress we'd made would be lost, and we'd essentially have to redo the story up to that point?
  • talleyXIV - September 18, 2012 12:37 p.m.

    I don't understand how the first can get an 8 and then the vastly improved sequel can also get an 8. I don't know just kind of seems weird to give it the same rating even though it is miles ahead in many different things.
  • e1337prodigy - September 18, 2012 3:40 p.m.

    You forgot to mention that if you play in co-op that loot is shared. Games that use co-op with loot need to "copy" Diablo 3's idea of loot dropped is yours. Has to be the greatest idea in a game in the last ten years, or if you are in a middle of a boss fight for example its a mad scramble for the loot and players who play as zero have no chance of getting there loot as they will be half way across the battlefield sniping! Not to mention if there are still enemies around and the kind players who like to clear the area first are now forced to grab the loot and then someone ends up getting killed. I won't be playing in co-op. Also I hope the great music from the first borderlands returns.
  • spideralex90 - September 18, 2012 5:46 p.m.

    Whenever me and my friends are playing we constantly call out guns and loot we find and see if anyone needs it more than someone else. Although if you're playing with random people I can see why that could be a pain. Also Zero can be a good medium range character too thus making him not super far from the action.
  • joerevs300 - September 18, 2012 6:15 p.m.

    I don't get this review at all. No clear minded, truly objective individual who played through the SP part of BL1 and has even played the first 2 parts of BL2 can say those games are equal. - The graphics are light years better, starting with the SNOW impacting the screen as you're walking, lighting effects are pronounced, everything looks 10X better. - Now all the "challenges" that became meaningless once you hit level 69 reward you with "badass tokens", allowing you to level up a specific part of your character (gun damage, shield recharge, etc). In theory, you could take one of those to 100% more. How that doesn't put replay value through the roof is beyond me, and that's just 1 example. - Simple improvements (a mini map, pressing square to pick up all ammo from containers, money being automatically drawn to you vs. pressing square) go a long way to making BL2 more streamlined and focused. - Environments are simply more ALIVE. I agree with some of the OP's here about BL1 being a complete slog if you're playing solo. Vast parts of that game were just dead. BL2 (at least so far) doesn't seem like that at all. - Improved and increased dialog, NPC's you actually care about and move you, and an incredible story vs. the disjointment of BL1. And that's just scratching the surface of this game. Perhaps we've hit a point in VG reviewing where we've seen it all, and it's going to take the mother of all games to rate a 10/10. Perhaps sites like GR, etc. are scared to pigeonhole themselves by giving too many 10/10. I mean, honestly, is ANY game without a flaw that would make it 9.5/10? I would say no. In all actually...the players ultimately make the determination of what's a 10/10, as reflected through game sales (the "Madden" series being the notable exception, that game's a shoo-in to sell 3M copies no matter what).

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