Game Review: Borderlands 2

There seems to be an unfortunate trend in first person shooter games these days. Namely, they all seem to be trending towards the hyper-realistic military shooter. Like the Call of Duty series or Medal of Honor or Battlefield 3 or…I could go on, but I think you get the point. The big names all, at some point, have you shooting at people with an M4. Which is why I loved the original Borderlands so much, because it fit none of those tropes whatsoever . . .

Yes, I’m reviewing a video game. If you haven’t progressed any further than solitaire, this might be a good time to grab a cup of coffee while the next article warms up. BTW, the only spoilers here will be about side quests.

When the original Borderlands came out, it was absolutely perfect. In a field where realism was the name of the game, Gearbox decided to give everyone the middle finger and go for an exceptionally stylized look and feel and basically throw everything out the window. The art style is called “cel shading” and gives the game a comic book look and feel, which goes right along with the characters and storyline. The game was a hilariously dark, futuristic shooter that had everything you could possibly want in a game. Unless you were looking to kill some Taliban, that is. It didn’t have that.

The overall style is one familiar to Cowboy Bebop fans, specifically that of the Space Western. Like getting peanut butter on your chocolate, its a combination that leads to some amazing story lines and visuals and gives the game a look and feel that you just can’t beat. Unless you hated Cowboy Bebop, in which case you won’t like this either and probably don’t like nice things.

When I heard about Borderlands 2 coming out, I was cautiously optimistic. The first game was so brilliant that I was worried they were going to have trouble staying true to the formula with a sequel. There’s been a wave of disappointing sequels recently (Valve, I’m looking at you…) and I was worried that this would be yet another one. But from the moment the game opened, I realized my fears were unfounded.

The plot itself would be compelling even if it were done in a straight and conventional game; bad guy and evil corporation take over planet, inhabitants irked, need to free themselves and kill bad guy. I know, it sounds damn near Avatar-esque, even down to the planet name (Pandora), but the distinct lack of blue elves and touchy-feely morals does a fine job of distancing the two stories. Plus the fact that Borderlands (1)’s Pandora came first.

Building off that solid plot, the game designers shoveled in just the right amount of dark humor to keep the player laughing while they were blowing their enemies’ faces off. The best example is a side quest in Borderlands 2 from Tiny Tina, a 13 year old with a penchant for explosives. Her mission (“You are Cordially Invited”) asks you to round up a “guest” for her tea party, who turns out to be the bad guy that killed her parents and left her an orphan in an unforgiving wasteland. You then defend her from his buddies while she tortures and eventually kills him. And while that all sounds grisly and terrible, the writing hits just the right note that you’re simultaneously getting a glimpse into the deep backstory of a relatively minor character and laughing at the absurdity of the conversation. Its like a modern day Pulp Fiction, but without the boring parts. And better guns.

Speaking of guns, did I mention yet that the guns in this game are PROCEDURALLY GENERATED? Oh, yes.

For those who aren’t aware of how awesome that statement is, let me explain. Most games simply design all of their guns ahead of time (with some minor changes based on chance, like attachments in Call of Duty). You get twenty, maybe thirty guns tops. But Gearbox decided to simply list a database of features, and let the computer choose how to put those features together into a gun based on random chance. For the first Borderlands the count of possible combinations was somewhere north of 17,750,000 — that’s seventeen million unique firearms. for the sequel, they added more. exactly how many they’re not saying, but one of their employees was quoted saying “there are enough where it doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t matter. If you imagine there’s a lot more, but you also see the variety is wilder than Borderlands 1.”

See, RF? Guns! Relevant! Moving on…

While there is a definite linear story to the game, the side quests really make it enjoyable. Those familiar with Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas will instantly recognize the mechanics. Also like Fallout, the game truly is an “open world” for the player to enjoy, providing wide open spaces to explore at the player’s leisure instead of being funneled down the traditional “long hallway” that most first person shooters employ. It makes the game feel much more open, especially when you realize that there’s a fast travel station near the arena for the final boss that allows you to change your mind and go do some more quests before the big showdown. Even at the end you have the option to roam around more.

The gameplay is fantastic. The art is beautiful. The guns are insane. And the characters and dialogue is well written. But the real yardstick for how well a game is designed is how long it holds the player’s attention. Half-Life (the original) was an 8 hour game for me. So was Half-Life 2. Medal of Honor (the latest installment) was only a 4 hour game. Sniper Elite V2 was only 3. But Borderlands 2? So far, 30 hours. Beaten only by Fallout New Vegas at 33 hours, but I haven’t finished all the side quests yet in B2. Add on top of that the downloadable content that’s coming and you’ve easily got yourself 40 solid hours of gameplay.

I loved this game. It was an excellent sequel to an already excellent game, with many improvements and an all-star cast. My only regret was that it had to end. For now. Until they release the “downloadable content” that will extend the game yet further.

Borderlands 2
Price: $60
Available on: PC (Steam), Xbox 360, PS3

Overall Rating: * * * * *
Can’t wait for the DLC to start flowing…

avatar

About Nick Leghorn

Nick Leghorn is a gun nerd living and working in San Antonio, Texas. In his free time, he's a competition shooter (USPSA, 3-gun and NRA High Power), aspiring pilot, and enjoys mixing statistics and science with firearms. Now on sale: Getting Started with Firearms by yours truly!

37 Responses to Game Review: Borderlands 2

  1. avatarLoyd says:

    There’s boring parts in Pulp Fiction?

  2. avatarAdam says:

    Ha, ha, ha 33 hours in F:NV?

    ~110 last I checked. On. One. Character.

    But bravo on one of the better video game reviews I have read. May not be the most gun centric, but definitely good.

    • avatarCaseyB says:

      I was gonna say… 33 hours in FNV? I’ve played through it like 8 times and I STILL find stuff I’ve never seen before, sitting right there in the open where I just failed to look.

      • avatarMrA says:

        FNV rules, and one of its lead designers is an M1911 expert and gun rights supporter.

        • avatarAM says:

          I did 250+ hours on Fo3 and still didn’t have every achievement, let alone every possible piece of content.

        • avatarprojectiledysfunction says:

          Yeah, I remember putting something like 115 hours into FO3 and all its DLC. New Vegas was pretty similar iirc

  3. avatarstyrgwillidar says:

    My son has been playing B2 and is on his second run-through. There are some great easter eggs in it, according to him. He and his friends love the on-line multi-player modes. The new playground is virtual, all of them getting together on-line in whatever the current shoot-em-up is.

  4. avatarClaptrap says:

    Best review ever, Minion!

  5. avatarjwm says:

    You got a problem with solitaire? I’ve never played a video game. Big surprise there. But I’ve watched my son play. Typical conversation.
    Me.”You’re cornered in the room. Bail out the window.”
    Son. “Can’t dad, it’s not allowed.”
    Me. “Don’t leave cover. Work your way around the ville.”
    Son. Sigh. ” Can’t dad it’s not allowed.”
    Me. “How can you just keep firing on full auto like that without burning up your weapon?”
    Son. Sighing heavily.” It’s just a game dad, things work differently here.”
    Me. “I’d just set fire to the buildings and shoot what comes out.”
    Son. Pissed.” It’s just a game dad. Oh hell, look what you made me do.”
    Me.”It’s just a game. What’re you pissed about.”
    My wife.”You know, he’s going to be picking your nursing home when the time comes.”

  6. avatarMrA says:

    Video games are great, and from what I’ve seen, are getting a lot of young people interested in the shooting sports. We should welcome them as powerful tool to increase the number of gun owners and gun rights supporters.

    • avatarae4797e3ab0b says:

      I believe these types of people are into guns for the wrong reasons. They want to “pwn n00bz wit da DEAGLE” and “quick scope kids” with a Barret M82. I’ve been next to one of these types of people at an NRA pistol training course and I was scared for my life. They had to tell him numerous times to keep his finger OFF the trigger when his sights weren’t on the target and he got real annoying with phrases like “OMAGERD IS THAT A GLAWK FOTAY?” when I pulled out my personal pistol to fire.

  7. avatarJericho941 says:

    The only problem with having bazillions of guns is that most of them are just vendor trash. You can stumble over something worthwhile occasionally, though. Which is why as Zer0 I’ve got the obligatory sniper rifle and a gun that shoots grenades in three-round bursts.

    So far I’m liking BL2 a lot better than the first one. It runs more smoothly and Pandora has a lot more “life” to it now. BL1 tended to bore the crap out of me with its vast expanses of copy-pasted nothing, and the exact same characters and enemies everywhere.

  8. avatarwlitten512 says:

    COWBOY BEBOP! The original Borderlands was fine, but the end was such a tremendous let down.

  9. avatarRalph says:

    “Wouldn’t you prefer a nice game of chess?”

  10. avatarGyufygy says:

    I am LOVING Borderlands 2. Was sorely tempted to write a review for TTAG, but apparently, you beat me to it. Plus, I got distracted…

    This game kept the goods parts of the first and improved the weaknesses. There is an actual story this time around! The UI on the PC is a huge improvement over the console-centric original. It also runs surprisingly well on my computer, which is probably mid-range now.

    The biggest thing I enjoy about the game is the dialogue. Although the story was bare as bones, the actual writing of the characters was hilariously amazing. With a nihilistic bent that is as appalling as it is funny, the second game adds a compelling story into the mix, giving you an actual reason for talking to (and shooting) these goofy-ass bastards.

    Now if only I had enough time to play Borderlands 2 and the new World of Warcraft expansion… and go to the range… and do productive things…

  11. avatarDrewN says:

    Nick, how about the control scheme? I’m a lefty so I reassign all my controls to my spec, but it can be a major PITA with games that require alot of pre set combo’s (Deus Ex 3, I’m looking at you).

    • avatarGeoff says:

      Like any FPS, customization, no power combo’s. Movement keys, crouch, sprint, shoot, zoom and change weapons…

  12. avatarQuake Guy says:

    Near unanimous military style FPS shooters has been going on for a long time. I think its a side effect of the GWOT.

    I would love to see some new Arena style FPS. If you surf game forums, occasionally you get some younger guy who happens to play a Quake style game and questions if all older players used to do crack back in the old days due to the twitch style of gaming.

    Funny when people today think Team Fortress 2 is fast paced, its glacial compared to the old Quake and Unreal Tourney games.

    • avatarDr. Kenneth Noisewater says:

      Friggin’ LOVED UT2004.. Might be worth firing up the gaming PC for that, but I just don’t have the time.. Plus, the XBox 360 has the wicked screen and surround sound, and I’m getting older..

  13. avatarmodnar says:

    Looking forward to the DLC as well. Gearbox did a great job the first Borderlands DLC.

  14. avatarWiebelhaus says:

    I didn’t like the first one at all, it just didn’t grab me but this one is fantastic, they’ve done something different that’s actually holding me and driving me to progress, so far it’s been fun.

  15. avatarOddux says:

    Ah, Borderlands 2: a mature, sophisticated video game experience for the discerning gamer. Never before have I seen such profound and thought-provoking dialog in a game; a game which so delicately and yet convincingly offers such insight into the troubles we face as society, all the while remaining culturally sensitive and gentle-spoken.

    • avatarGyufygy says:

      “All the girlies say I’m the fastest ride in town! Catch-a-riiii… Ah hell, I just realized that’s an insult…”

  16. avatarmatt says:

    I’ve been too busy playing Tribes: Ascend. Its a multiplayer (team death match & capture the flag) FPS where nearly all guns have projectile speeds, rather than a convential FPS where they are hit scan; so you have to lead your targets. There are also jet packs and skiing to make things faster paced, and targets harder to hit. Its free to play too, and not a pay to win based version of free to play either.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcNnU3D5rHc

  17. avatarHuman Being says:

    What did Valve do wrong? The only sequels I can think of they put out recently are Team Fortress 2 (which is a hit) and Portal 2 (which naturally wasn’t as ground-breaking as its revolutionary progenitor but was a good game with added multiplayer puzzles). I more often hear people complaining that Valve *isn’t* putting out sequels because they are still waiting on new Half-Life games.

    • avatardin says:

      well, still waiting on episode 3 is a PITA. longest 18 months ever. but besides that, gabe newell is a fat jerk who always eats all the doughnuts.

  18. avatarCarlosT says:

    I just don’t have the patience to get into open world games. They feel like too much work, and way too much wandering around aimlessly. Also, side quests inevitably irk me. After a while I just want to yell “solve your own damn problems” at the screen. In Red Dead Redemption, I quit talking to people after the old man asked me to become his florist.

    • avatarGyufygy says:

      I don’t know if I’d really call it “open world”. It’s got side quests, and that’s about it. I don’t really see it as similar to GTA, Crackdown, Red Dead Redemption, or whatever the newest Rockstar game is.

  19. avatarWill says:

    I liked the first… don’t have the DLC though. The second one holds an interest for me, but my focus is on grabbing me a S&W M&P22 at the moment, so it’ll need to go on hold. FO3, FO:NV are good games and I have yet to finish NV or the Elder Scrolls games.

  20. avatarg says:

    Nice review… I never really got into the first Borderlands, though as far as RPG / FPS, I am a fan of the Mass Effect series.

    Also, hurray for Cowboy Bebop reference.

  21. avatarphil mag says:

    Borderlands ≠ Cowboy Bebop. Other than a few odd weapons (and guns working in space) Bebop had the most authentic portrayal of firearms in just about any work of fiction. Borderlands 2 has magazine fed revolvers and scope ring sights and insane stocks that would be useless at best.

  22. avatarRigopr says:

    Nice game reviews. Dont forget claptrap “andale andale vamos” ” just follow my stupid voice”.

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