With the end of the summer upon us, cue up the blockbuster new games. Borderlands 2 is the first out of the hatch and boy is it dripping in hype. Read any gaming site — ours included — and you’ll see a plethora of new videos, characters, and pictures showing the glory that is Pandora. Usually, I’d emphasize caution when witnessing so much hype; but, in the case of Borderlands 2, I encourage you to soak it up.
Borderlands 2 follows up the first game of the same name with more four-player cooperative action. In case you’ve been living under a rock or frozen in carbonite, the Borderlands series features first-person shooter gameplay mixed in with an endless selection of weaponry. For every battle you win, a pile of weapons, money, and ammo drops from your enemy’s corpse to be plundered. It’s like Christmas after every battle.
The story focuses on a world overrun with crazed psychopaths, wild alien beasts, killer robots, and other baddies. The main villain is a creeper named Handsome Jack, who has enslaved his own daughter to control the world of Pandora and to oppress the citizens of Sanctuary. Or at least, that’s as much as I could understand of the story. For me, the core of Borderlands is the exquisitely designed combat, the inherent collectibility of the game, and challenge of taking down ever-increasingly difficult bosses. I couldn’t care less about Handsome Jack’s motives, I just wanted to rearrange his face as fast as possible.
The majority of my time playing Borderlands 2 was spent traversing a set path from one diamond to the next as new enemies threatened my life. I spent a lot of time on the main story and only ventured off on side quests accidentally or when I was in desperate need of leveling. Each mission has a level of difficulty assigned to it and just playing through the story straight often left me two to four levels under-experienced. While two levels below is manageable, anything more will result in endless deaths and too much time spent on each enemy.
I typically don’t like to spend time on tangents and found that progressing through Borderlands 2 is nie impossible without completing some of the side quests. I don’t consider the developers’ choice to punish those of us that don’t like side quests a flaw in the gameplay. I understand completely that Borderlands 2 is intentionally made for players to explore side quests. Plus, this design choice fosters better co-operative play when possible. Even if a team of two or three players is under-leveled, they can work together and slay a higher level enemy without wasting their time.
Interesting design choices, like this, make Borderlands 2 a game that can be enjoyed in various ways. Players can slog slowly alone through the main storyline; they can work together like a pack of wolves through the challenging gameplay; or, they meticulously play each and every side mission through and through for a complete 80 billion hour experience. It really doesn’t matter how you choose to play because the developers of Borderlands 2 have crafted a game that works in more than one way.
In addition to these broader design choices, the developers have crafted a near-perfect combat system. Not once did I feel hindered by the controls of the game, cheated by my enemies, or bored by the weaponry. Borderlands 2 is a wonderfully crafted game that shows gamers what the best of the shooter genre should aspire to be like.
My only qualm with gameplay, and it’s a minor one, is that some missions don’t trigger when they’re supposed to. In at least two instances during the story, I made it to a certain checkpoint and the game blocked me from the next scene. These instances were frustrating because the map would tell me I was at the next target but nothing would happen. Hopefully, this issue will be addressed soon in future patches.
Besides this complaint, the rest of the game plays wonderfully. Other exemplary parts of Borderlands 2 include an amazingly large and varied game world, spectacularly rendered graphics, a hilarious story (despite the unnecessarily complex plot), and well thought out enemies that do more than just attack you. I could spend pages on any of these specific topics, but the simple fact of the matter is that the developers of Borderlands 2 brought to life some of the best game design of this generation. I couldn’t be more pleased with my time spent with the game.
All hype aside, Borderlands 2 is a legitimate contender for game of the year. Minor quibbles are just that, minor. When Borderlands 2 is compared to the best that this year (and generation) has to offer, it will easily be one of the all-stars. With the great work in the original Borderlands it was hard to see what the developers could do better, yet Borderlands 2 proves that there is always room to improve on excellence.
CraveOnline received one copy of Borderlands 2 for Xbox 360. Before starting our review, we played through 25 hours of the single player game.