Borderlands 2 Review
While refined in almost every way, does Borderlands 2 do enough to differentiate itself from its predecessor?
There's no doubt about it, in a direct comparison Borderlands 2 is a flat out better game than its predecessor. The gunplay is a little tighter, the story and characters are better developed, the levels and enemies more varied, and the skill trees and loot systems are more expansive. However, if you are like me and overdosed on the fun, unique, but somewhat hollow and repetitive original, does the sequel bring enough to the table to warrant a full price purchase? While there is no easy answer to this question, I found that while the loot heavy formula wasn't quite as compulsively addicting in its second dose, the great writing, level design, enemy variety and the crazy weapons did eventually win me over.
Improved enemy and level variety are some of the best parts of Borderlands 2
It is clear that when developing the sequel Gearbox analyzed the major complaints about the original and focused on dealing with them. The biggest problem with the first game was that the world, while visually stylish, felt devoid of any real life apart from crazed bandits and wildlife, with NPC's basically acting as sign boards for quests. The story fell flat as well, with one rambling villain replacing another every so often in a vague quest for some kind of super-vault. The story, writing and characters are therefore where the biggest improvements have been made. There is much more dialogue this time around, and it is consistently well written and often incredibly humorous.
The story is also much improved, with the diabolically hilarious Handsome Jack making himself known as the primary antagonist from the get go. You as a vault hunter join up with a group of other vault hunters alongside some colourful residents of Pandora who are being directed by some of the characters from the first game. While their names and appearances may be familiar, the personalities of the likes of Roland and Lilith have seen significant makeovers, which is probably a good thing given their cardboard like personalities in Borderlands 1. This group is based out of the town of Sanctuary, and from here you are guided by a mysterious AI in an effort to bring the tyrannical Handsome Jack to his end. It will take you a good 20-30 hours for a single run-through of the campaign, more if you are thorough with side quests. The new game+ option, as well as multiple characters and builds, give lots of incentive to go through the game multiple times; content shortage is not an issue this game suffers.
Some familiar faces return with rather unfamiliar personalities
Once you peel away this more elaborate context, the game design is essentially unchanged from Borderlands 1. You talk to NPC's in towns to get quests, walk/drive/fast travel to the quest location, kill some dudes, find some loot, level up, then turn in the quest and pick up a harder one with tougher enemies, better loot and bigger experience rewards. While many of the quests in Borderlands 1 would have felt at home in a MMO, for the most part they are a bit more interesting in the sequel. Even quests that at a glance seem grindy, such as one where you need to kill a certain number of monsters, become more interesting with requirements for killing the monsters in certain ways, such catching three of them on fire at the same time while they are still alive. Other side quests will take you to interesting areas not even seen during the story missions, and often feel just as well put together as the exciting story levels.
Another complaint levelled against the original borderlands was that the levels and enemies lacked variety. It is clear that Gearbox has made an effort to improve on this by introducing new environments and bad guys. While the variety of environment types has been improved, the different levels still feel somewhat indistinct. A snowy wasteland isn't much different in practice from a dusty one. There is some improvement in level variety in the form of more urban levels, but in practice it is the new enemy variety that makes exploration interesting.