Borderlands 2 review
Getting stranded on a hostile planet ruled by a psychopathic dictator doesn’t sound like much fun, but it definitely is when that planet is Pandora, home to the colourful cast of Borderlands 2. It’s the cell-shaded sequel to the Gearbox Software’s surprise 2009 hit, and it’s bigger and better than ever.
Five years after the events of the original game, Pandora is now under the control of the evil Hyperion Corporation, run by the psychotic Handsome Jack. It’s up to you (and up to three friends in co-op) to free the planet from his tyranny and liberate its people. That all sounds pretty serious, but Borderlands has its tongue firmly in cheek – it’s got almost as much witty dialogue and pop culture references as it does guns.
After all, Borderlands is all about the loot – everything you find is randomly generated so there are literally tens of millions of possible combinations. Each item has around six base stats that determine damage, rate of fire and accuracy, so no two weapons are the same, but it’s the rarer pick-ups that are worth hunting for: they add elemental bonuses, critical hit boosts or other unique abilities such as exploding like a grenade when reloaded. You can quickly build up an arsenal of unique and powerful weapons, as well as shields that bite back when enemies get within melee range and grenades that suck their targets into the blast radius like miniature black holes.
It’s not all about the guns though – the character you pick at the start of the game will determine your overall play style. We started with Maya the Siren, whose phaselock ability locks enemies in place, revealing their weak points to make scoring critical hits easier, or removing them from battle for a short time while you concentrate on other targets. If one gun simply isn’t enough, Salvador the Gunzerker can wield two at once, while assassin Zer0 can use his Deception skill to turn invisible, confusing enemies with a holographic double and scoring critical back stabs with his ninja sword. Axton, a soldier, feels like the weak link, as his deployable turret ability has been carried over almost exactly from the original game.
Each character has a branching skill tree which lets you choose between attack, defence and support actions – some refill your health when your weapon is fully loaded, others imbue your attacks with elemental damage and others morph your special ability – we particularly liked using Axton’s turret to activate a miniature nuclear blast every time we deployed it. The further into the game you get, the more specialist you can become, but you can always re-spec for a small fee at a character upgrade station.
At the time of writing, the Mechromancer downloadable content had just gone live – this adds a fifth character class to choose from, adding to the original four. Gaige is a tech-savvy teenager with her own attack robot, which can deal melee damage while you stay back and attack with long-range weaponry. One of her skill trees is designed specifically to ease in new players, adding bonuses that make the game less of a challenge, but conversely another tree gets reserved for Borderlands veterans who find the game just a bit too easy.