Return to Pandora in Borderlands 2

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by TRACY-MARK GORGAS / Special contributor to NWCN.com

NWCN.com

Posted on September 28, 2012 at 4:41 PM

Updated Friday, Nov 1 at 6:45 PM

In 2009 Gearbox Software released a new game onto the world and hoped for the best.  Borderlands went on to become a surprise hit and Game of the Year.  Now, in 2012, Gearbox Software releases the sequel, Borderlands 2, with high expectations from the gaming public.  Does it meet or exceed those expectations?  Choose your favorite gun, you have over 87 bazillion to choose from, and get ready, we have a planet to save and a vault to find.

Story

In the five years between the first Borderlands and its sequel the planet Pandora has under gone some significant changes.  After the defeat of the "The Destroyer" in the first vault found on Pandora, the changes started.  No longer a desert planet, Pandora now has multiple climates, ranging from snow covered tundra to green grasslands.  The most significant change is the sudden appearance of the powerful mineral Eridium.  The Eridium attracted the Hyperion Corporation, and Handsome Jack, to strip mine the planet.  Rumors of another vault has attracted more vault hunters.  This second vault has also attracted Handsome Jack,who with the power of the Hyperion Corporation, has effectively taken over the planet.   Ruling with an iron fist Handsome Jack states that everything he does is for the betterment of Pandora.  In reality it's all for the betterment of Jack.

The players take the role of one of four new vault hunters: Salvador, the two gun wielding Gunzerker; Maya, one of six powerful, mystical, Sirens;  Axton, the Commando controller of powerful turrets; and finally Zer0, the deadly Assassin who speaks in haikus.  Handsome Jack attempts to eliminate these new vault hunters by blowing up the train they are traveling on to reach the heart of Pandora.  Left for dead, the vault hunter is found by CL4P-TP (commonly known as Claptrap) who realizes that with the vault hunter's help, he can join the resistance against Handsome Jack in the town of Sanctuary.

From there your adventure begins on Pandora.

Gameplay and Controls

Borderlands 2, like its predecessor, is a hybrid of first person shooter (FPS) and role playing games (RPG).  The game is played in the first person perspective, where your character earns experience points (XP) that can be used to upgrade them via their skill trees.  Not much has changed here, with the exception of the "Badass" challenges.  Much like the original game's challenges, the Badass Challenges not only award XP, but also award Badass Tokens that can be exchanged for character upgrades.

I found that the controls for Borderlands 2 are the same as they were for the first game with the exception of driving a vehicle.  Here they have added on one control and swapped another.  The added control is for a hand brake that allows for drifting.  There is even a Badass Challenge for killing creatures or enemies by drifting over them.  The swapped control is exiting the vehicle.  In the first Borderlands it was the "X" button ("square" for PlayStation players), but now it's the "B" button ("circle" for the PlayStation).  This, for me at least, has been a point of contention as I am so used to the first game that I always hit the "X" button to try and exit.  Why they changed it heaven only knows.

Borderlands 2 can also have up to four player online co-op like its predecessor.  Unlike its predecessor though is the two player same system split-screen co-op, that can now go online, whereas before the split-screen co-op was locked to local play only.  This is a welcome addition to the game.

Graphics and Sound

Borderlands 2 retains the same cell-shaded hand-drawn look of Borderlands.  This gives it a comic book feel which fits perfectly with its over-the-top antics.

Many sound effects carried over from the first Borderlands.  Opening chests and firing guns are familiar sounds to long time players.  There are some changes, for example the Runners now sound more like a real engine and less like some electric/gas hybrid.  The sound track continues with its western blues sound and the occasional electronica club music thrown in.  There are also radios that can be found in Pandora that you can not only stop and listen to, but change the stations.  These also provide news reports that convey what's happening in the game as you finish missions. 

The voice acting cast from the first game have, for the most part, been brought back for Borderlands 2.  Interestingly while all of the other enemies have been re-recorded with new lines, the bruisers have the same lines as they did in the first game.

Overall

Borderlands 2 has been highly anticipated since its announcement.  The original game set the stage with its mix of FPS and RPG gameplay, over-the-top crude humor, and Mad Max-like setting.  One of the big selling points of the first Borderlands was that the weapons you find were procedurally generated which allowed for millions of different guns.  Borderlands 2 expands on this with not only guns, but it extends into grenades, shields, and class mods.

Borderlands had a huge world with lots to do, Borderlands 2 has expanded on that, a lot.  I'm thirty hours into the game and have not even reached the halfway point.  In the first game I would find myself in one area for quite a long time working on missions.  Each area represented what level you were and, unless you really wanted to, you would not return to later on.  Borderlands 2 does the same to an extent, but it keeps you moving.  I have yet to feel like I have spent any overly long amount of time in an area.  Another nice touch is that the areas vary in setting.  Before much of Pandora was a desert-like junkyard, now you have the tundra, plains, a toxic swamp, and industrial areas giving you a variety.
 
Speaking of variety, let's talk enemies and creatures. In the first Borderlands there was a decent variety level-wise, but in most cases it was the same creatures from area "X" just tougher.  The creatures from the first game have been brought over, but Gearbox has added many new creatures.  This gives the world a better feel of something more natural and evolving.  The skags, rakk, and spiderants are here.  Added to them are bullymongs, threshers, and varkids, among others.

Borderlands 2 takes everything from the first game and expands on it ten-fold, but it does have problems.  First is challenge and balance.  My character is currently level 20 and many of the missions I have taken on are now "trivial" in their rank.  I don't know if I have managed to outpace the natural progression of the game or Gearbox just wants me to feel really bad ass, but it does seem odd.  Second is bugs, and I'm not talking the creature variety.  No I'm talking about the computer glitch kind.  Currently that are a few.  The one I have involves the non-player character, Patricia Tannis.  If you talk to her across a counter, but before you are given a mission that involves her (called "Do No Harm") the glitch occurs.  That mission, Do No Harm, becomes completed, but you can't turn it in.  Another glitch involves the Badass rank system where players are losing their points for unknown reasons.  Currently none of these are game breakers.  The good news is Gearbox has acknowledged these glitches; they are looking into them and promise to fix them as soon as possible.   Meanwhile the Do No Harm mission mocks me every time I open my quest log.

Gearbox has done a lot of expanding on Borderlands with the sequel.  Bigger areas, more enemies, and a "bazillioner more guns," it all makes for a huge improvement over the original.  The only thing holding Borderlands 2 down right now is the glitches and even those don't hold players back from playing the game.  More guns, more crude humor, more action, but annoying bugs gives Borderlands 2 a 4.5 out of 5.

Borderlands 2 is rated M for Mature for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Language, Sexual Themes, and Use of Alcohol by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB).

Borderlands 2 is available now for Windows PC, Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3.  For more information see the Borderlands 2 web site.

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