Borderlands 2: BOOM Baby! – Spoiler Free Review

The Premise: After the Vault Hunters in Borderlands introduced “Eridium” to Pandora’s market, the valuable substance caught the attention of the Hyperion Corporation and its leader Handsome Jack. In an attempt to control the resources, Jack has set up a violent empire and hunted Vault Hunters to keep them from finding a rumored second Vault hidden on Pandora. It is now your job to overthrow Handsome Jack and make yourself rich!

The Gameplay: The combat is extremely intuitive. Within about 2 hours you will be cackling with glee as you destroy enemies far more powerful than you with surprising competence. I highly recommend playing Borderlands 2 with a friend, because smart co-op tactics can make or break a mission. There is incredible potential for awesome team syngergy through the different player classes. The game can be brutally hard at points, and you never rest for long. The boss fights, even in side quests, can smack you around- but it makes success all the more enjoyable.

Character customization wise, it’s lacking severely compared to other RPG games (this ain’t no Elder Scrolls). Still, there are more options available than in the original Borderlands and you find appearance and gear upgrades with great frequency over the course of the game.

There are four potential classes to play in Borderlands 2:

  1.  Salvador: Dual-wields any combination of guns. His skills can be upgraded so that he can throw multiple grenades, regen health and ammunition in massive quantities, or attract the attention of enemies. He’s a striker/tank combination.
  2. Maya: Casts Phaselock, which suspends and immobilizes enemies for a few seconds in the air. Maya’s abilities rely on the various elements: (fire, electricity, etc.) Her Phaselock can be upgraded to explode, mind control allies or even heal an ally if a target it killed while it is under the effect. She’s a controller class.
  3. Axton: Relies on turrets to kill enemies (similar to an Engineer in Mass Effect 3.) Axton’s turret is not to be underestimated, in can be upgraded with additional gun barrels and explosives. You can even eventually control 2 separate turrets! Mostly a striker class.
  4. Zer0: Turns invisible and leaves a digital copy of himself behind. While in this mode, he can see enemies’ weak spots and deal critical damage. He is skilled with sniper rifles and pistols, but has potent melee damage potential. Pure striker baby.
  5. (There is a 5th character, Gaige, a cyborg who can summon  a D374-TP (a flying machine) but she will be released on October 16.)

Within each of these four options, there are three character class trees to choose to develop. These skill trees are especially helpful if you are playing consistent co-op with a friend because you can appropriately compensate for their character’s short comings. For example, in my playthrough I played as Maya and my friend Benjamin played as Zer0. Because Zero fights up close and personal, I trained in Maya‘s Harmony skill tree so I heal allies with my powers. There’s also the addition of ‘Badass Ranks’, where after completing certain in-game challenges you receive tokens to buff universal abilities like Shield Recharge Rate, Elemental Effectiveness and Gun Damage.

The loot is as glorious as ever. Borderlands 2 is very considerate when it comes to rewarding the gamer for throughly investigating areas – around every corner you will find ammunition or health or even a new gun. Every gun is just a bit faster or stronger or just plain shinier … and the quest for the next best thing is INCREDIBLY addictive.

There were a few bugs and glitches in my playthrough (I played it on PS3) but nothing that a reload of the area didn’t fix. Still a hassle to deal with though.

The Look: The cel-shaded graphics look amazing and really work for the context of the Borderlands 2 universe. The campy, satire like feel is greatly enhanced by the game’s appearance. Such a funny and unrealistic game would just look ridiculous with a Skyrim real-world graphics style. On the whole, the animation felt smooth to me with minimal lag or awkward graphics glitches. When an area first loads, it might take awhile for the textures to finish loading – not more than several seconds though.

The Plot: The narrative of Borderlands 2 is certainly improved from it’s predecessor. With a defined antagonist from the get-go, you feel as though there is a purpose behind your quests and killings aside from finding a Vault and striking it rich. The plot is fairly cliche and sci-fi/fantasy troupe driven, but the side characters manage to feel nuanced and real. The characters & their introductions are often my favorite part – the freeze frames with snarky text are straight out of a Quentin Tarantino film.

The dialogue is by far the best part of the writing. Rarely do games make me laugh out loud, but the tongue and cheek phrases and ridiculous nature of the game make me laugh constantly. With small touches like Yu-Gi-Oh jokes and Zero only speaking in Haiku, there’s always some small nugget of dialogue to enjoy.

The Sound: I have a lot of love for the soundtrack of Borderlands 2. It has a strong punk/industrial sound that I found very fitting for the game. Jesper Kid does some fantastic work for this soundtrack, here’s the proof!

The Scores:

Gameplay- 9

Graphics – 9

Sound – 9

Entertainment – 10

Overall Score: 9.25

Borderlands 2 is a game worth adding to your shelf. It’s witty dialogue, various play style options and endless parade of loot keeps things fresh and entertaining. Playing alone is fine, but playing with a friend is by far the better way to experience the game. One of my top game picks for 2012!

– E.B.

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