Have you ever heard of Handsome Jack? If you haven’t don’t worry you will get familiar with the main antagonist right from the start in Borderlands 2 and if you happen to forget who he is; he is the man with all the power and will try and kill you every chance he gets. Opening up with the ending sequence of the first game with the opening of the Eridian Vault on the planet of Pandora, Jack has taken all of the credit for the events of the previous vault hunters as well as declaring himself the ruler of Pandora. As a fresh wet behind the ears vault hunter, Jack has you targeted as soon as you arrive to Pandora.
While the game uses brand new classes I would be lying if I didn’t notice the shared similarities to the classes from the original Borderlands. The expanded skill trees and abilities help round out the classes and make you feel more unique to all of the other players using the same class. Salvadore the Gunzerker, who has more guns than friends can duel wield any weapons – any. Feel like firing rockets and sniping at the same time? Go right ahead. Axton the Commando can deploy turrets to take out his enemies for him. Maya the Siren uses her powers to attack to suspend enemies in the air; giving other vault hunters the opportunity to open fire on them. Zer0 the assassin can vanish and utilize a holographic decoy to get the drop on enemies.
Each of these four classes has three skill trees to customize to your liking. While Axton focuses on using turrets, depending on your play style you may allocate points to increase the firepower of the turret to the point of launching a small nuke or maybe you want to focus on survival and using your points to be able to launch multiple turrets with the ability to stick to any surface. Of course you can divide points into all three of the skill trees to become an overall well-balanced jack-of-all-trades.
The friendly and enjoyable cooperative gameplay is still a staple of the series allowing up to four players to drop in and drop out of matches at anytime as well as a two-player local split-screen option. If Borderlands 2 was released as a single player game it would still be considered a good game, but the multiplayer element is what propels the game into a godly co-op experience. Of course enemies will become slightly stronger with each added player, but the loot becomes that much better as well. If players utilize their class skill set; the payoff can be quite rewarding. Using Maya’s Phaselock, Axton’s turrets, and Salvador’s gun-lust together can easily take down anything that Handsome Jack throws in your path. Let’s not forget about Zero who is perfectly built for sneaking up on enemies.
Expect to see some appearances from the original vault hunters as well as some of the more unique NPCs from the first. The well-written and humorous script plays a major role in making side-quests well worth your time to finish. Feeling down about looking the same as every other Axton or Maya? Customization options are available from the start as well as the ability to change your appearance upon reaching certain spots during the game. The improvements don’t stop there with Borderlands 2 featuring a vastly improved inventory management system as well as a token system the rewards players for completing challenges. Upon completion these challenges will grant stat bonuses that apply to each character that is created. Health kits are no longer stored as an inventory item, but used upon picking them up. If you fall during a fight, you are able to crawl to safety while you try to take out a nearby enemy to revive yourself or wait for a partner to come and revive you.
One thing I still don’t enjoy in the series is that the loot online is shared between all of the characters and is not specific for each player. Open a chest and spend a minute looking at the new guns and expect some random player to come in and loot them all. This is the problem I have found playing with random people joining your match. Having loot specific for each player would be a much more enjoyable experience.
With all of the improvements from the original, Gearbox should be commended in producing a franchise that is questionable untouched in the co-op department. Taking around 40-45 hours to complete the entire story, adding all of the side-quests and you could be spending over 100 hours for each character. Upon completion of the game, True Vault Hunter mode becomes available allowing you play through the game from the start with all of your experience, weapons and skills in order to find even more rewarding loot.
The second title in a series that blends first-person shooter mechanics with RPG elements may be one of the best games of the year. Period. Gearbox didn’t reinvent the wheel here, but instead listened to the fans and improved upon every aspect from the first game. The narrative is still lacking, but you will be having so much fun shooting and looting with friends and enjoying the script you may not even notice.
Note: The Borderlands 2 review was written based on the Xbox 360 version of the game provided by the publisher.