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Borderlands 2 (Xbox 360) artwork

Borderlands 2 (Xbox 360) review

"Because sometimes you just have to gun down virtually every living being on a planet."

If I'm playing a sequel to a game I really liked, what I want is pretty simple to describe: More of the same, but with the experience the programmers gained from that first game allowing them to make it bigger and better.

With that said, there's no way for me to describe Borderlands 2 other than "A ROUSING SUCCESS". Congrats, Gearbox, you satisfied my requirements and made me happy!

/end review

Wait, wait, that's really not sufficient, is it? A big, awesome game deserves a big, awesome (in my mind) review, so let's dig into why I thought this game was totally righteous.

The original Borderlands came out in 2009 and was a really fun mash-up of first-person shooting and role-playing. You controlled one of four Vault Hunters searching the deadly world of Pandora for one of those vaults -- mysterious locations that open under specific circumstances to supposedly bestow all sorts of awesome stuff upon whomever is there for said opening. You'll shoot your way through wild animals, bandits and military personnel, while gaining levels and putting points into a wide variety of skills to make your character stronger and more capable of contending with the more powerful foes standing in your way. While there aren't many safe havens, those present tend to offer NPCs and quest boards bestowing side-quests that prove useful in acquiring additional experience to get more powerful. A big selling point was the massive number of guns available, as tons were generated as quest rewards or from fallen enemies, treasure chests and vending machines. You had to constantly change equipment, so as to not be stuck dependent upon a formerly awesome weapon made obsolete by the passing of time, but could always count on finding something fun and neat to gun down your foes.

Three years later, we got Borderlands 2, a game that contains all that good stuff, but makes it even better. You'll control one of four (six with DLC) new Vault Hunters on a Pandora that's somehow become even more hellish, solely due to the efforts of one man to make it a better place. Problem is that man, Handsome Jack, is a megalomaniac possessing the god complex to end all god complexes and his plan to improve the world is to kill all "bandits" -- a term he uses to describe anyone who isn't directly aligned with him. His plan to do so? Access another vault, open it and use its inhabitant, a massively powerful being known as "The Warrior" to inflict a good, old-fashioned cleansing upon society.

After some early adventures to get acclimated to things, you'll find yourself in Sanctuary, the rebel stronghold, where you'll discover those Vault Hunters of the first game serve as the leaders of the anti-Jack faction. From there, it's a lengthy quest to try to get to that vault before Jack and prevent him from slaughtering every single person who doesn't live up to his personal standards.

Borderlands 2 (Xbox 360) image

The improvements will be noticed as soon as you start getting in gunfights. Bandits are more willing to use cover, while Psychos changed their strategy from "run straight at you" to "run erratically at you", making it a bit trickier to gun them down before they get within melee range. The new forms of wildlife, quite frankly, make returning monsters like Skags and Spiderants seem like the lowest rungs on the food chain, with Stalkers temporarily turning near-invisible and Threshers regularly diving underground before emerging to wildly flail at you with their tentacles. And I haven't even started in on the robots -- in particular, Constructors, which are giant mechanical creations capable of blasting you to hell and back with their attacks, while also occasionally creating a few weaker Loaders to add extra firepower to their hellish onslaught. It says a lot about how tricky some of these foes are when I found myself feeling relief to "only" be stuck fighting Crystalisks. They might be extremely durable monsters the size of a tank that are only vulnerable to damage on the large crystal deposits on their legs AND they might be capable of causing a good amount of damage in a hurry AND they might occasionally erupt from the ground right next to you, but at least they're slow and generally easy to target.

It's pretty obvious that Gearbox geared this game a bit more towards cooperative play than the first one was. With so many deadly adversaries scattered throughout the world, it pays to have the additional firepower a friend can provide, as well as the ability of your pal to resurrect you on those frequent instances when enemies will tear through both your shield and your health. Sure, you can kill something while near death and in "Fight For Your Life" mode to get a stay of execution, but as someone whose played the game both ways, it is nice to know you can depend on someone else to keep your miserable self alive for a little while longer. And nothing quite says friendship like regularly emitting panicked screams of "OH GOD HELP ME I'M DYING AGAIN!!!!!" at the top of your lungs to the dude sitting three feet away from you!

But if you are playing solo, you'll likely be glad to know that the vault hunters in Borderlands 2 seem to be a bit more versatile than their precursors. It didn't take long for Gaige to become a personal favorite. She can regularly summon an absolutely lethal robot to serve as her sidekick -- a mechanical creation that can slaughter enemies with melee and ranged attacks, while also recharging her shields after she's taken a few bullets. She also can give her bullets the ability to ricochet, which causes missed shots to bounce off walls to potentially damage foes who smugly thought they'd literally dodged a bullet. And then there's the Anarchy branch of her skill tree. By putting level-up points into that and not manually reloading, her gun accuracy will plummet, but the damage caused by those bullets will greatly increase, leading to situations where you might not know where a single shot you fire will go, but if it does hit something, that something is going to have a very bad day. I mean, I liked how Axton was a turret-dropping soldier along the lines of my Borderlands pick Roland, but more versatile in what those turrets could do, and I really loved Salvador's gunzerking ability, which allowed him to dual-wield and turn into a damage-dealing machine capable of whittling down any foe's life bar with alacrity while his ammo auto-regenerated, but the sheer number of entertaining ways by which Gaige could kill stuff was what truly won my heart.

Borderlands 2 (Xbox 360) image

When push comes to shove, if I was to make any complaints about this game, it'd be that the end result might have been too big for its own good. I like a good FPS game from time to time, but regardless of how great it is or how many character customization options I have, there's only so long I can play one before feeling the need to move on to something else with a different style of play. Borderlands 2 has a lengthy campaign that'd probably be sufficient for a lot of players, but then there's the DLC. Like the first game, there are four large ones, but unlike the first game, there also are five shorter ones designed to be run through in a couple hours. By the time I was nearing the end, I was burnt out to the point where I found myself even going through the motions on the excellent medieval-themed Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep, regardless of how much I loved its tongue-in-cheek references to tabletop gaming, RPGs and more.

Don't worry, I'm not going to demerit an excellent game because it provided so much content that I started feeling fatigued before doing every single thing I possibly could. There's too much memorable stuff here for that sort of nonsense and it all starts with its villain. The first Borderlands suffered a bit from not having a true adversary. You'd fight bandits in a few areas, with a few of them being local bosses, and then move on to military dudes and weird aliens, but instead of having a true nemesis, you'd just move from area's villain to the next. This game is dominated by Handsome Jack. When you first start walking around on Pandora, it won't take long for him to start radioing you with smug taunts and utterly bizarre insults such as buying a horse made out of jewelry in your honor and naming it "Butt Stallion". As you progress, his taunts become more angry and mean-spirited and when he starts suffering real setbacks, that jovial demeanor becomes truly unhinged and menacing. I don't know if I'd call him my favorite video game villain of all time, but he has to be near the top of that list due to Dameon Clarke's truly superb job of voicing a character who wildly alternates between hilarious and threatening, while somehow remaining a captivating presence throughout it all.

It's hard for me to describe Borderlands 2 without using the word "great" because, until fatigue set in late in my mission to get through all the DLC, I had nothing but a great time. Controlling one of a number of versatile characters through a vast world full of stuff to shoot, most of which was quite capable of giving me a hell of a challenge; while finding all sorts of crazy guns and grenades to add to my firepower is the sort of thing that can keep me entertained for hours. And with a villain like Jack to stalk through the game, that's all the motivation I needed to keep on gunning through the hordes of stuff between me and him.

overdrive's avatar
Community review by overdrive (July 19, 2019)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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