|System: Xbox 360, PS3*, PC|
|Dev: Gearbox Software|
|Pub: 2K Games|
|Release: September 18, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Josh Wirtanen
The original Borderlands was a great game. It was this bizarre "Space Western" with a cast of absolutely insane characters, a morbidly dark sense of humor, and a randomly generated loot system that led to the proclamation that the game contained "bajillions of guns." Needless to say, the game quickly became a cult classic.
Now, Borderlands was certainly not without its flaws, and Gearbox was fully aware of this fact going into Borderlands 2. Instead of getting emo haircuts, moping in the darkness, and writing bad poetry about how nobody loves them, the folks at Gearbox took all this media and fan criticism and used it to refine their particular formula to produce a sequel that addresses literally every concern I can remember having about the original.
No, I'm serious. Every complaint I remember being levied against the first Borderlands has been addressed in some way, shape, or form here. In fact, in the opening sequence, the game pokes fun of the original's ending, which was seen by many to be completely lackluster. It's this self-awareness, this ability to fully embrace all the negative criticism, that makes Borderlands 2 such a great game.
So what's changed?
First of all, the Pandora of the original Borderlands was a fantastic environment, rich with quirky details and interesting characters. However, that environment was composed of very little more than brown sand, rusted trash, and only minor variations of the same few creature types. The final portion of the game switched it up, and the eventual DLC missions showed off some fresh environments, but that did little to alleviate the "samey brown" fatigue players no doubt experienced.
Borderlands 2 features a Pandora that's both familiar and fresh, including nods to the old while integrating brand new details. Apparently, Pandora features some bizarre weather patterns, and that makes for these weird little pockets of contradictory climates existing within a very tight space. Yes, there are places where you can literally lift a foot in a blizzard and set that foot down in a sweltering desert. It's weird and improbable, but it's not un-Borderlands.
Additionally, the variation in enemy types is far more pronounced here, with a host of new creatures and bandits alike. It's a glorious buffet of Pandorian terrors and delights, all presented with that classic cel-shaded style that made the first one so much fun to look at. In fact, the graphics quality has been upped a bit, though probably not enough that this will be immediately apparent. (I played both Borderlands games on PS3, and while the second one still has some texture pop-in when new scenes are loaded, this pop-in seems to have been reduced since the first game.)
Another complaint many had with the first game was that the vehicles were awkward to control. And that's valid; they absolutely were. Borderlands 2 features vehicle controls that actually feel refined and intuitive. I will admit to driving off a cliff at one point, but the blame for that blunder rests squarely on my own shoulders; I legitimately can't make up an excuse about having trouble with the controls.
Thirdly, people were disappointed by the story of the first game. While I disagree with this for the most part (besides the fact that the ending was a letdown), and I can't speak for the ending of Borderlands 2 since I didn't receive my review copy until launch and had a very tight deadline to work under (I still managed to log about 18 hours of game time), I can say that Borderlands 2 has a much more coherent and complex narrative, one with an actual villain and a more obvious conflict.
That villain? Handsome Jack, they call him. He's introduced in an opening sequence that's a riff on the original Borderlands' opening: A group of vault hunters rides off to the promise of wealth and glory while a scag is relentlessly abused for comedic effect. This time, though, the vehicle is a train instead of a bus, and rather than dropping the passengers off in some untamed wasteland, the train explodes, sending all these wannabe vault hunters to a fiery demise. Only, the four main characters somehow survive this ordeal and are thrown into a conflict that involves a rogue faction of deserters hell-bent on bringing down this Handsome Jack fellow, who has made no effort whatsoever to hide the fact that he was the man behind the train explosion. He's also a hell of a narcissist.
Of course, the narrative is really just Gearbox making an excuse to let you use their "gazillions" of randomly generated guns. And while no one complained that Borderlands didn't have enough weapons, Borderlands 2 raises the bar even further. There's even a new weapons manufacturer called Tediore.