The original Borderlands achieved something that wasn't easy to pull off, which was combining the cooperative action RPG, traditionally played from an isometric perspective, with the manic mechanics of a first-person shooter. Though it wasn't the first attempt at blending the two genres, Borderlands was the first to retain the "feel" of each game type. The fast-paced combat, distinctive art style, deranged humor, and crazy combinations of randomly generated weapons made the game one of the surprise hits of 2009.
The sequel has the same attitude, play mechanics, and action as the first game, but it now has an actual, bona fide story instead of a loose collection of fetch missions. Moments after you begin the game, you'll be "welcomed" by a slimy, psychotic nemesis who wants you dead. Trying to stop this antagonist, known as Handsome Jack, is the focal point for the majority of missions you undertake, and your rival will periodically critique your efforts through voice-overs in a manner reminiscent of the Joker in Rocksteady's Batman games.
Borderlands 2 introduces four new character classes, from the dual-weapon wielding Gunzerker and turret-dropping Commando to the stealthy assassin Zero and mystical Maya. Each character earns experience to level up and acquires skill points for use in three talent trees. New to Borderlands 2 is a "badass challenge" system that awards players tokens over time that can be spent on improving things like shield recharge rate, accuracy, maximum health, and gun damage. Whether it's shooting a specific enemy type or using a certain weapon, nearly everything you do in combat earns you progress toward the different ranks, so it feels like you're always working towards a goal. Better yet, these stat boosts are shared among all characters on your account.
While these badass stat boosts aren't huge, every little bit helps, as the combat in Borderlands 2 is much more challenging than in the first game. Gun battles involve constant movement, aiming on the run and formulating a game plan with how to tackle certain enemies. You'll need to keep a stockpile of different weapon types, as you'll encounter an assortment of enemy types with specific vulnerabilities. Corrosive damage can eat away at a robot's plating, for example, while fire is most effective on animal and human flesh.
Environments also seem a bit more open than in the first game, and the enemy AI better utilizes the space to do more than simply stand in one spot or run straight toward you. Wounded enemies will retreat and take cover, psychos will attempt to dodge fire by somersaulting or flipping away while still running full speed toward you, bat-like Rakks swoop down from the sky and dive bomb you, and some creatures will toss rocks or fire other projectiles. Combat is far more satisfying and challenging in Borderlands 2, particularly with four players.
Adding to the challenge is the randomized loot system. Rare guns are actually rare in Borderlands 2, making it more difficult to find the perfect weapon. Even when you do find a suitable upgrade, it often may affect another stat negatively, such as taking longer to reload or being less accurate than another model. It's tough to decide which guns to keep and which to sell, but you'll be forced to make a choice since space is a constant problem. The most you can carry on your character is 27 items, which you'll quickly find is not nearly enough. While there is also a bank and a shared stash between characters, slots are limited.
In addition to the limited space, there are a few more issues that weren't addressed from the original Borderlands. Once you've completed a battle, you'll go around the area looking for chests, lockers, safes, and other storage units for a few dollars here and a few bullets there. Each and every time you have to sit through a brief animation of a lid being lifted or a door being slowly opened and have to hold down a button to loot the items, even needed bullets. Why not have more items fall on the ground instead of having to go to each and every container? Why can't players automatically scoop up bullets if they are needed? It slows the game's pace down considerably.
Another irritating aspect of Borderlands 2 is that while there are multiple checkpoints available during missions, you can't save your progress at the precise point where you left off. If you want to continue a mission at a later time, you'll be taken to the start of the area and have to go through the same areas until the mission is completed. This can be a pain, since some missions can take an hour or more to complete.
While the developers have added a trade system to Borderlands 2, they still left the free-for-all looting system untouched from the first game. This means if you join a co-op game with random folks, you might not end up with any new weapons if you aren't the greedy type and scoop everything up. This discourages people from playing cooperatively in a game that's best enjoyed cooperatively. At the very least, a rolling system used in MMORPGs could be incorporated on every item blue or rare, with the highest roll automatically earning the winning players a weapon. The best solution, as adopted in such games as Guild Wars 2 and Diablo III, is loot that appears for each player.
If you didn't care much for the first Borderlands, Borderlands 2 probably won't change your mind, as the sequel stays close to the original's design. The art style hasn't changed, the role-playing elements aren't much deeper, and the motivation is largely based on finding more powerful guns. Yet if you had fun with the first game despite its shortcomings, you'll fall head over heels for the sequel. Borderlands 2 offers significantly improved combat, more diverse missions, an engaging story, and some of the funniest dialogue you'll likely experience in a video game.
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