Borderlands 2 Review
Major releases are getting more and more bloated. Genres that used to be loved for their simplicity are inflating to grotesque results with high concept stories tacked on to distant play mechanics. Borderlands 2 is a refreshing change despite being a sequel in an industry looking to get bigger and bigger. The greed of loot based games like Diablo and the violence of first person shooters combine in the world of Pandora to make a game that is, for the most part, very honest.
Anybody who played the first Borderlands knows the allure of looting guns. They’re found in treasure chests or squirting out of freshly defeated enemies along with blood. White highlighted loot is typically junk while the better stuff is accompanied by bright colors. The guns themselves are preposterous. They may fire in bursts of two while having magazines that hold an odd number of bullets or they may be so wildly inaccurate that their carefully crafted scopes go to waste. Others can be tossed like grenades rather than reloaded. Yet for all their eccentricities, the corporations that manufacture the weaponry make some effective toys that truly feel powerful. These people know killing.
The guys on the other end of the barrel can’t help themselves around loot either. They name their beloved shotguns and pray that nobody loots them in their dieing breath. For the most part, the players and bandits are shooting each other for the same reason. One confused robot along the players’ path couldn’t tell if the trait that linked all Pandorans together was committing violence or feeling pain and one can’t help but share his thoughts. However, other inhabitants are just plain crazy. Nomads have a love-hate relationship with little people. They strap the poor guys to shields only to be enraged if they are freed or saddened if the obvious happens and their hostages get caught in the line of fire.
Players are certainly up to the task given the choice of a few different archetypes. The commando class is similar to the soldier from the original game only the automated turret that it throws out is more suited to dishing out and absorbing damage than supporting teammates. The gunserker is comparable to the berserker class with his ability to wildly fire two guns at once leading to a naturally aggressive play style. However, the additional focus on guns (the class used to wield mere fists) ties in much better with the draw of finding loot. The Siren class is completely different this time around with the ability to briefly paralyze enemies. The assassin class is a big improvement over the hunter, sending out a decoy and delicately timing shots for bursts of damage.
Quests exist to spur on the looting and shooting. Sometimes they’ll be found on anonymous boards and other times they’ll be handed out personally by one of Pandora’s residents. Whichever the source, the structure tends to be a role playing game familiar such as killing a certain number of creatures, finding various trinkets, or some other variation. While these may be mundane tasks in other games, they are central to the game world in Borderlands 2. What else would treasure hunters and psychopaths be doing?
Of course, greed also effects cooperative modes. Players can point their guns in the same direction to earn even better loot drops. These drops aren’t automatically split up among the group so there are always races to the shiniest stuff. Ammunition can be hoarded even beyond the character’s capacity to hold it. There is split screen multiplayer as well as a matchmaking capability for friends lists and these types of games are more likely to utilize trades or gifts to sort loot. Character classes can mix well with gunserkers holding the front lines, assassins picking off tougher foes from afar, and plenty of other combinations. However, these elements of genuine cooperation are also largely excluded from public matches as very few people are bothering to tailor their builds to brief exchanges with strangers. The result is that the feelings of attachment are more related to the players than the characters.
The lack of attachment to characters is the only real drawback in Borderlands 2 because, amidst all the extreme violence and the constant stream of jokes, the game asks players to care. A new villain in the form of corporate leader Handsome Jack has assumed control as the dominant figure on Pandora. It has been years since the events of the first game and Jack has been going about his business eliminating marauders and marauder murderers alike. For this, he crowns himself the hero of the story. This was meant to make him seem all the more smug, but it is hard to imagine Pandora much better off without him. The various quests to overthrow him are fun in the way of violent shooters and they spark a need to keep getting more powerful and indulging those fantasies, but they form such a nihilistic world that they don’t inspire any need to save it. Borderlands 2 gives plenty of reasons to shoot things.