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Review: Borderlands 2

Do you enjoy shooting things?  Do you also enjoy collecting tons of loot?  Oh, and do you have a somewhat twisted sense of humor?  Then Borderlands 2 is for you.  If you’d like to know more about exactly why that’s the case, keep reading (and please do keep reading – after all, I did go to the trouble of writing this review!).

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Keep shooting!

Borderlands 2 is set several years after the original.  You play as one of 4 (5 if you purchase the Mechromancer DLC) all-new vault hunters.  You see, it turns out the vault you found at the end of the original game was only one of many, so vault hunters have begun flocking to Pandora in hopes of striking it rich.  Shortly after you arrive you have your first run-in with Handsome Jack, resident bad guy extraordinaire  and then you’re off and running.  Or shooting, as it were.  While the plot has been greatly improved over the original, it’s still not that important to the overall game.  The action takes front seat here, and the characters themselves a close second.  I often found myself more interested in the characters themselves and the inconsequential but hilarious missions they would send me on than I was the overarching plot.  From returning favorites like Claptrap and Scooter to new faces like Ellie and Tiny Tina (my personal favorite), these guys will have you busting a gut while you’re busting a cap.  Ahem.

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Zero also has nice melee options, if you like to get up close & personal

The action is almost non-stop in this game.  Each of the four (or five) selectable classes can use any of the available weapons, but they each have their own approach to things that makes them unique, typically centered around their special moves.  For my first playthrough I went with the gunzerker, who’s special ability is dual wielding.  This made my approach – typically charging into the fray guns blazing – very different from a friend who chose the sniper class and preferred to stay back & choose his shots more carefully.  However you choose to play, some things will remain the same – mainly, loot.  You will get a LOT of guns.  Guns of every size, shape and configuration.  And you’ll spend a lot of time sorting through those guns, making sure you’ve got the best one available to you.  A lot of that is based on stats, but a good bit of it is also preference.  There are several gun manufacturers in the game that each have unique characteristics, and you will form a personal preference for them.  For my money, the best bet for a shotgun is a Bandit gun, but others might rather have the higher damage output of the Jackob’s (at the expense of not being automatic weapons and often having smaller clips).

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Decisions, decisions…

In typical RPG fashion, you gan XP which levels you up, and leveling up in turn grants you a skill point that you can spend in one of three class-specific skill trees.  Deciding between them is often not an easy task, since they each have advantages and disadvantages.  Again, a lot of this will come down to your personal preference of how you like to play.  The name of this game is customization, and you always feel like you have a ton of options available to you.  In addition to gaining XP, you also gain “Badass Points” for completing certain challenges.  These points can be spent to permanently increase a large number of stats.  Even better, these stat increases apply to any and all characters you create.

In addition to everything else the game also looks fantastic.  It continues with the exaggerated cell-shaded style of the first game, but improves upon it by adding more detail to the world along with more variety to the environments.  One of the main drawbacks of the original game is that it felt like the entire game took place in a desert – this is definitely not the case this time around.  One of the many draws of this game is seeing what new environment is around the next corner.  Another addition this time is the massive number of unlockable skins for each character and vehicle.  While you can’t go extremely in-depth in creating your character like you can in, say, Skyrim, you can select a skin for them which changes color schemes and clothing.  You have a few of these from the start, but will discover many more throughout the course of the game.  The only graphical drawback I noticed is the texture pop-in when you first enter a new area, but this didn’t detract from the game at all.

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Midgets strapped to shields, just another typical day on Pandora

While you don’t see your own character skin very often, these really come into play more in the co-op mode.  Up to 2 players can play split-screen or up to 4 online (and yes, you can play split-screen AND online at the same time).  The more players, the stronger the enemies & better the loot.  While playing single player is a blast, and is how I spent the majority of my playtime, playing with someone else opens up an entirely new aspect to the game.  When playing with someone else, all money and ammo is automatically split between the characters whenever one person picks them up, and eridium – a new rare form of currency used on the black market for character upgrades – is duplicated among everyone playing.  One drawback, the other big loot games this year – Diablo 3 and Torchlight 2 – both employed a system where whatever loot dropped was yours alone, everyone saw their own drops and nothing more.  This allowed you to grab everything that dropped without worrying about being greedy.  But in Borderlands 2, loot drops are shared among everyone playing.  As long as you aren’t playing with someone who’s overly greedy this isn’t an issue, but it is something to keep in mind.

Like pretty much everything else in this game, the sound design is phenomenal.  The music is great but also does a good job of staying in the background most of the time and only becoming noticeable during big story events or boss fights.  And the gunfire, which is probably what you’ll hear for most of the game, sounds amazing.   But it’s the voices that really put this game in a league of its own in terms of sound – not only are all of the voice actors top notch, but the things they say are extremely funny.  I’ll say this here, if there isn’t a DLC pack that focuses on Tiny Tina, then someone has dropped the ball.

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“Best day evaaaa”

It’s  very hard for me to find anything to complain about with this game, but I do have two very small nit-picks.  The first is the map, it doesn’t show you multiple levels.  A good example of what I mean by this, I was in an area that showed the icon for a vending machine, which I was standing on – but the vending machine was actually underground below where I was standing – there was no indication of this on the map.  You’ll learn the areas and work around this, but it is an annoyance.  Secondly, the game is FILLED with audio logs and random moments where characters will speak with you, and the voices are so great you’ll want to hear them all – but they will occasionally be drowned out by gunfire or cut off by a story event you’ve accidentally triggered.  This is to be expected, but the unfortunate part is that there’s no way to go back and replay these recordings – once you’ve missed them, your only hope of hearing them again is to catch them on another playthrough.

But again, these are nit picks – this is one of the few games that I’ve beaten and still haven’t been able to put down.  I’ve started my second playthrough as well as the first DLC pack that’s just been released.  The game will take around 40-50 hours for your first playthrough, easy, and if you’re anything like me you’ll still want more.  Borderlands 2 gets its hooks in you and refuses to let go, providing what is easily the best game I’ve played so far this year.  It has out-looted, out-shot and simply out-classed every other game out there.  Unless you have something against fun, you need to play this game.

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