Borderlands 2

Borderlands 2

Platforms: PC, PS3, X360
Release Date: September 18, 2012
Genre: First-Person Shooter, RPG
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Gearbox Software
Rating: M
Our Score
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PressPlay Score 10 Borderlands 2With heaps of polish on an already great game’s systems, brilliant writing, and a never-ending drive for loot, it’s easy to get lost in Borderlands 2. It’s the most fun I’ve had all year, and I’m willing to bet you’ll agree.


If you had asked ten people in 2009 how to improve the original Borderlands, they would all give the same answer: spruce up the AI, build better boss fights, and make the co-op experience more fluid. Now that Borderlands 2 has been released, care to take a wild guess what the big changes have been? With their newest entry into the franchise, it feels like Gearbox had something to prove. This time around, we get a sprawling saga with old systems so polished and built out around the edges that it’s easy to whip out the rose-tinted glasses and forget how flawed the first game was. Make no mistake however: this game has been improved in just about every way imaginable, and it’s some of the most fun you’ll have this year.

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You'll need all kinds of new equipment to take down Handsome Jack's baddies.

So remember how Borderlands has always been about having “Bazillions of Guns?” Yeah, well Borderlands 2 takes that to the next level by giving shields and grenades the same treatment. Now in addition to your assault rifle shooting rockets or your pistol never needing to reload, you can find shields with insanely high capacity, while lowering your overall health, or have a chance to drop consumable buffs as you get shot. One of my favorite shields in the game has a chance to absorb enemy bullets, and put them into your own backpack. Crazy! The grenades get even crazier, stacking effects on top of each other to make something like a black hole that pulls enemies in, only to explode with electricity damage.  The same applies to Class Mods and Relics, items you equip to give passive buffs ranging from simple health/shield increases, to increased rare loot drops, to faster reload speed on a specific brand of weapons. Everything has its own randomly assigned stats this time around, so it’s a much tougher choice what to have equipped with so many variables at play- the way it should be in a game so focused on loot.

Brand loyalty is a new concept in Borderlands 2, and it’s one of the strongest features differentiating this game from its older brother. Other than giving the typical aesthetic changes to the guns you pick up, each weapon brand has its own signature features, for better or worse. Jakobs makes mostly “Wild West” style rifles and quick shooting revolvers, while Dahl weapons will switch to burst-fire mode when looking down the sights. This can be hit or miss when using sniper rifles, as you probably don’t want to waste 3 bullets every time you take a sniper shot. The trade-off doesn’t stop there though: every time you reload a Tediore weapon, you’ll throw it like a grenade while a duplicate appears in your hand (just don’t look down while reloading), essentially asking you to save your reloads for key moments. Hyperion feels like the Apple Corp of guns, with a consistently cool science fiction look and stylish flair, but they increase accuracy as you hold the trigger down, asking you to think different when you’re shooting. An understanding of each brand’s idiosyncrasies leads to genuine shifts in play styles as you find the unexpected uses for an otherwise silly sounding trait.

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Only a taste of the crazy skills the Gunzerker can get throughout the game.

You’ll  be choosing from four completely new Vault Hunters in Borderlands 2, who are essentially more polished and sensible versions of the archetypes from the original game. The Gunzerker is a huge tank-like character who can wield 2 guns of any type simultaneously. The Assassin is a sword-wielding, mask-wearing ninja who speaks only in haiku and can throw a decoy version of himself to sneak up on enemies. The Siren can put bad guys into a floating bubble, where everybody can pump him full of bullets, and the Commando, who I chose as my character, can throw a turret to deal extra damage for him. Same as last time, each Vault Hunter has three possible skill trees, each focusing on one special aspect of that character. By the end of the game for example, my Commando had insane health regeneration, while I could throw two simultaneous turrets equipped with personal bubble shields, and stick them to the walls and ceilings. The game does a good job of doling out the skills on each tree in a way that you’re always looking forward to the next cool thing, without making you too overpowered for getting the crazy stuff. There is also a carrot-on-a-stick metagame called the “Badass Rank” system. It allows you to complete challenges and apply permanent stat buffs across all your created characters. Now you won’t feel that you’re starting from square one quite as much when starting a second or third adventure.

As you make your way through the badlands and ore chasms of Borderlands 2, you’re working your way towards Handsome Jack, the evil head of the Hyperion Corporation. He’s basically taken over Pandora, and you’re hilariously reminded of this any time you look up to see the giant Hyperion logo branded on the moon. With the villain much more clear-cut in this game, the story is much more focused and the atmosphere more fleshed out. Since Hyperion has created the Claptraps (who, after the events of the last game’s DLC, are almost extinct) and the respawn stations that we’ve come to know and love, there are plenty of chances to hear of the ideals and propaganda of the company. Handsome Jack himself is, if nothing else, quick with a funny line in a sort of love-to-hate sort of way, as the potential complexity of his character’s struggle is dropped pretty quickly.

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Tiny Tina - one of my favorite video game characters of this generation.

The original gang of Roland, Lilith, Mordecai and Brick are not forgotten however. Early in the game, you will meet up with Roland in the new hub town of Sanctuary, and help his resistance fight for freedom against Handsome Jack, all while finding out what the familiar faces have been up to in the five years since the events of the first adventure. This story feels almost like a love letter to the first game’s faithful, bringing back beloved characters and giving each of them time in the spotlight. The writing throughout is pretty consistently sharp, and thoroughly hilarious, from the characters’ lines to the in-game achievements’ names to the posters on the wall. Some of the new characters are instant classics, a standout being Ashly Burch-voiced Tiny Tina, essentially a vulgar, American version of Cowboy Bebop’s ‘Radical Edward.” The game isn’t afraid to make huge changes to the universe, or even change the entire context of the first game, either. If you played the original Borderlands, there will be several “WTF” moments as you play through ’2.’

The gameplay in general has been enhanced by the aforementioned AI and boss fight improvements. Though enemies feel a little more MMO-like this time- on several occasions you’ll be basically on top of them before they notice you- they cluster together a lot better and generally seem to put up more of a fight. In addition, many enemies have branching gameplay conditions associated with them. Goliaths for example, will go into a rage if their helmets get shot off and attack their teammates, leveling themselves with each team-kill they get before turning on you. Robots can get their limbs shot off individually, so if one has a shield in one hand and a gun in the other, you can shoot his gun hand so he’s forced to lower his shield and use another weapon. These strategies may seem trivial at first, but they get much more useful when the game gets tougher. Bosses actually respawn this time, allowing you and your friends to go back as many times as you’d like if you missed a certain drop you may have been hoping for. The addition of the ‘slag’ elemental type- which when coating enemies, will make them more susceptible to damage- may seem unnecessary at first, but again, when you get to bigger bosses and especially on the game’s new-game-plus-equivalent, “True Vault Hunter” mode, it becomes indispensable.

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Co-op is much more polished this time, thankfully.

Four player co-op is a big part of why many people play Borderlands, and this time around it’s streamlined to be a much better experience. Any time you pause the game you can see a list of friends who are playing, how many people are in their party, and what level they are. From there you can invite them, join them, and even see the game’s recommendation about whether you should be playing with them as it compares their level to yours. In the first Borderlands, if you joined someone who was playing a mission you haven’t done yet, you’d be met with an ugly screen essentially saying “You won’t get anything for doing this mission.” In 2, you can play as much as you want, and when you reach that point in the story the game will ask if you want to skip ahead, having detected that you’ve already completed the objective. You also get the 4-player vehicle pretty quickly this time, something strangely missing from the first game before its General Knoxx DLC. If you want to add some flair to your co-op (or, I suppose, singleplayer) character, Borderlands 2 adds a whole bunch of different character skins to deck your Vault Hunter out with. It’s pretty superficial, but it’s a nice touch nonetheless.

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There are plenty of ways to customize your Vault Hunter.

In terms of DLC for Borderlands 2, four packs have already been confirmed and are available for purchase as a bundle for eager fans. If the last game’s offerings are any indication, they’re likely to entertain. Another class will also be released in about a month called the Mechromancer. In short, it’s likely that this game will continue to have value for a good while. In terms of extra content already in the game however, there is a whole lot. From side missions directly referencing TMNT and Top Gun to easter eggs involving Dark Souls or Minecraft, Borderlands 2 seems to have its finger on the pulse of pop culture, and isn’t afraid of a little (or huge amounts of) self-awareness. I have laughed out loud several times at the crazy references this game has made, and it’s likely you’ll find some of your favorites in there somewhere as well.

My first story playthrough took me about 40 hours, including a large chunk of the sidequests- remember, this is an RPG at its core, way longer than most shooters! As of writing this review, I’m about 57 hours deep into Borderlands 2, and I’ll just as easily go another 57 hours if my body doesn’t completely shut itself down first. With heaps of polish on an already great game’s systems, brilliant writing, and a never-ending drive for loot, it’s easy to get lost in Borderlands 2. It’s the most fun I’ve had all year, and I’m willing to bet you’ll agree.

PressPlay Score 10 Borderlands 2




Nick Hawryluk is the senior producer, director and editor of Press Play the Webseries. He also runs and contributes articles to the Press Play website.

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Join the Press Play crew Friday @ 9:00pm EST for a Game of the Year SUPER MEGA LIVESTREAM! We’re going to play a crapload of our Game of the Year 2012 choice, LIVE for all you good folks at home to see! Make sure to tune in and join in the...
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Grab your Maliwan rifle and get ready to go Skag hunting with the Press Play crew in Borderlands 2! We’ll be checking out the new features and looting more corpses than we’d care to mention this Friday @ 9:00pm Eastern, so make sure to tune in for the extravaganza!...
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