"Elbows-Deep in Guns, Neck-Deep in Awesome"
There's a fine line between enhancing a game experience in sequels and losing the identity of a franchise by overdoing changes. In Borderlands terms, it's fine to give a gun a shiny new scope or barrel, but if you swap out too many parts, the gun might explode in your hands. A game like Borderlands 2 has a lot to account for, as the original had great gameplay, a unique art direction and loads of character. After returning to Pandora for Borderlands 2, it's easy to say that to date this is my number one game of the year, with a bullet.
The characters in Borderlands 2 are an evolution of the stars of the first game. In general terms, players can choose from an assassin, soldier and heavy-weapon or support-class characters. However, all of these vault hunters can be molded into any play style you can think of using the skill trees. Each character has three skill branches that focus on different play styles, much like the first game. It takes a long time to build out a character, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Many upgrades are passive, increasing "invisible" variables like damage taken or shield recharge rate. Higher levels of skill branches stack powers, however, allowing players to prolong special moves (which is always a tempting carrot to chase). Spending skill points becomes a cherished, rewarding break from the hectic firefights, and it's always gratifying to watch characters go from average to field-clearing juggernauts.
Adding a sparkling cherry on top of leveling-up, Borderlands 2 has a new feature that gives players statistic boosts for anything from health to elemental weapon damage. Named Badass Tokens, these boosts are little nuggets of gold that don't just affect your current character, but every character a player makes. To top things off, Badass ranks are limitless, so you can in theory unlock endless tokens. Well played, Gearbox.
Like this year's recent The Avengers movie, any piece of entertainment that can mix nonstop action and humor deserves to be recognized. Sure, it all boils down to shooting things with countless bullets, but Borderlands 2 showcases some of the best writing you will see in games this year. You might come for the gameplay, but you may end up staying for the funnies. The story also takes a step forward from the first game, as missions are more memorable thanks to solid writing and tying . The missions are more engaging, thankfully, especially for those who played the first game. Returning characters and consistent audio cues offer some context that help keep players' minds on the prize while diving through mountains of loot.
Speaking of loot, Borderlands 2 smashes a bottle over the head of anyone who thinks less is more. The original game introduced a weapon system that delivers millions of randomly-generated gun, and the sequel somehow expanded the system for even more craziness. New gun designs alone make looting a greedy hoarding addiction, but there are also new weapon effects and buffs that add new dynamics to pairing the perfect loadout for the four main characters and individual play styles.
The Borderlands 2 cooperative play can be the game's greatest asset and greatest flaw. Couch co-op and simultaneous online co-op is a revelation these days. We only hope that other developers follow suit after seeing Gearbox's success with this feature. Players can join games easily, and with just a few buttons switch characters on-the-fly without leaving the game. The downfall of co-op is that missions don't necessarily bring players together. The open world, however, tease inattentive players to run around Pandora aimlessly or chase down a loot chest in the opposite direction of the objective.
Gearbox did plenty to one-up the first Borderlands, but there are some other omissions and miscues that keep the game from turning the dial to eleven. Some enemies in Borderlands 2 don't respond to things like bullets in the face, which takes away from the experience. There are also reports of bugs that wipe out a player's Badass rank. Some returning players may also notice that exploding heads and other displays of pure gore have been toned down in this sequel. We're all for bandit limbs flying all over Pandora, but at the end of the day it's still Borderlands, and it's still a great game.
Nailing down the one thing that makes Borderlands 2 a solid play is like trying to score a headshot with a grenade. Whether it's the flexible, accessible cooperative play, the barrage of one-liners and kooky ramblings of batty Pandorians, leveling-up characters, or the best loot in all of gaming, there are plenty of reasons to book a one-way flight to Borderlands 2 and never look back.
GameDynamo's Score for Borderlands 2 (X360)
John loves gaming and loves writing about games. He wants to become a known voice in the gaming community and a game designer one day.
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