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Borderlands 2 Review

Mike Kayatta | 18 Sep 2012 21:53
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Perhaps it's best to just get this out in the open right away: Borderlands 2 is more Borderlands, and if you liked the first, it's extremely likely that you'll end up loving the second. It seems a pretty safe wager - after all, Borderlands 2 is essentially its predecessor in nearly every measurable way, just more full, like the same suitcase stuffed with twice the clothing. A joke every ten minutes has become a joke every five, those six types of bandits you faced in each base are now twelve, and the millions of guns available to your first Vault Hunter has become hundreds of millions for your second. In that sense, Borderlands 2 isn't much of a "new" game at all, simply a more saturated one. And honestly, there's just nothing wrong with that.

The game picks up five years after the first, a short enough time gap to make sure nearly every character that didn't wind up dead on your last go-around gets to make an appearance. Despite a few nuances here and there, the general flow of the story should feel pretty familiar. A group of vault-seeking mercenaries has shown up on Pandora just in time to get on the wrong side of nearly everyone else who's looking for the same thing. A primary antagonist is a bit more defined from the start this time, but for the most part, the main quest still serves as little more than what's often a greatly entertaining vehicle for the true reason you picked up your controller or keyboard: killing everything in your path.

There are a few surface improvements - like the addition of mild character customization and the removal of fall damage - but the soul of Borderlands 2 is still seated squarely in the series' famed frenetic gunplay. Quests force you across giant swaths of Pandoran terrain, each peppered with varied battle zones. Most encounters aren't random; each zone has telltale markings of what you're likely to face there. Jagged holes along glaciers are a sure sign of the car-flinging yeti-like Bullymongs, while slipshod tin housing covered in signs reading "Piss Off!" generally point to a resident clan of psychotic, gun-toting bandits. While these area landmarks take the surprise out of what's coming, they do let you stop and consider the fight ahead. If the whole of the game's combat experience was a series of ambushes, you'd probably never take the time or risk to change from your favorite tricked out weapon to something unproven, but by always letting you know where and what the next fight is going to entail, Borderlands 2 consistently encourages you to take that five minutes of pre-battle inventory shuffling to experiment with new skills, items, and tactics.

Once you fire that first shot, though, you're in it. Because 90% of the enemies "enter" each zone instead of starting there (suddenly emerging from area nests or housing), you never know exactly how many monsters to expect or exactly long a fight's going to last before you can breathe again. Some of the game's best moments involve skirmishes that go on too long, when your best three guns have been drained of ammo and your shield's been dangerously depleted for what feels like an eternity. It's a phenomenon that can't and shouldn't happen with each encounter (that would suck all the fun out of it) but when it does, almost nothing makes you feel like more of a badass then the moment when you mow down the tenth wave of rampaging Varkids - a full seven more than you'd been expecting.

When sheer volume isn't enough, Borderlands 2 throws a variety of technique at you - something the first game had tried with far less success. This time around, more enemies require thought to defeat, ranging from something as simple as matching elemental damage types to preventing a thief from permanently absconding with valuable items from your sorely-limited backpack. One of the most interesting additions is the Goliath, a new, hulking, bandit-style enemy that flies into a rage when decapitated (and who wouldn't?), attacking everything in sight - other bandits included. The Goliath becomes more powerful with each bandit he kills, and while his XP value soars exponentially, you consistently have to consider how much is too much, and just how troublesome he's going to get when the bad guys are gone and you're the only meat left on the menu. Choices like these keep the combat in a controlled chaos, forcing you to master an adrenaline-driven mash of reflex and quick-thinking to come out of the scrum in one piece.

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