In 2009, Gearbox Software and 2K Games released a game made from love, but one that wasn't expected to earn much commercial success. Three years and 5 million copies later, the original Borderlands is a hit. And now its highly anticipated sequel must live up to fan expectations.
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Thankfully, Borderlands 2 achieve just that by building on everything that succeeded in the first title, and by addressing the problems brought up by Gearbox's rabid community of reviewers. Borderlands 2 succeeds because it builds on what was already a fantastic shooter. Plus, it beefs up the previously weak story and skill tree elements.
Pandora Has Changed
Instead of giving us a simple objective ("There is treasure, now hunt it!"), Borderlands 2 immediately starts us off with a hand-drawn cinematic story. Characters from the previous game initiate events that cause the planet to spit out precious minerals. Like any good story, an evil corporation run by a lunatic comes to ruin the free spirit of the lawless planet, all for the sake of a buck. Evil takes a suave but nasty shape in the form of Handsome Jack, who causes the original cast members to hunker down and defend themselves as he hunts for them -- and for more loot.
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That's where you come in. Vault hunters, the game's treasure hunters, have become a rare commodity, and your arrival on Pandora immediately sparks Jack's interest. You'll soon learn all the ways he plans to kill you, and he remains a constant bug in your ear as you continue along your way.
The original Borderlands took players to a Western-style desert wasteland for the entire game. For Borderlands 2, Gearbox clearly tried to incorporate the game's stylized art into a variety of environments. I spent the first several levels fighting six-appendaged mammoth monsters in a frozen tundra, but was greeted by a beautiful aurora borealis at night.
Each place on Pandora seems lovingly crafted. Any place touched by humans features weird graffiti and posters, encouraging you to look around instead of rushing to loot another chest. There's also Handsome Jack's moon base hovering on the horizon, a constant reminder of your goal.
Still, if you're looking for a very deep story, you probably aren't playing Borderlands 2 anyway. The improvements Gearbox made are solid -- for one, the characters actually communicate your quests, instead of making you read a long text box. While it doesn't hold a candle to an in-depth story you'd find on a 60-hour RPG, it's much richer than the previous iteration.
So Many Guns
Even with a stronger story line, Borderlands 2 is still a very well-polished shooter. It satisfies gamers with its visual style: Damage counts pop from enemies as you wear them down; guns recoil nicely in your hands; and elemental effects explode with dazzling displays. The controls are tight and easy to pick up -- even for novice shooters -- and playing it on a console controller (even if you're on a PC) is a beautiful experience. Plus, you'll be able to collect and share loot around every corner. The loot varies wildly, depending on how large your party is.
Loot is one of the biggest advertised points of the game. Borderlands and its sequel's trailers all mention "bazillions" of guns, and the game doesn't disappoint. So much detail is put into those guns, it's very easy to find favorites from the 11 different weapons manufacturers and six different gun types. You're not overwhelmed by the variety offered, and stat nerds will be able to find a model for whatever attribute they wish to max out.
For those loyal to a manufacturer, you'll be happy to know the gun you carry is clearly distinguishable by other players, whether the weapon is in your hand or slung across your back. It's one of the many small touches that makes it obvious Gearbox is just as passionate and geeky about its programming as players are.
Four Distinct Classes
Borderlands 2's four classes support very distinct styles of play. If you want to run in head-first, while screaming a battle cry, the Gunzerker dwarf named Salvador is for you. If you want to hang back and fight in a more stealthy manner, Zero the Assassin may be more your speed. All the characters can be optimized, whether you are playing the game solo or in co-op, but some may be more useful than others in each mode.
I was assured that Maya, the Siren, whose powers include locking her foes in the air, was just as capable in the single-player campaign as any other character. However, I found she wasn't as sturdy as Salvador. This became less of a problem as I leveled up, though -- Maya's powers became more formidable. But it's important to know that each character has its strengths and weaknesses. Still, all four are well-balanced and incredibly fun to play. You'll probably want to start multiple characters and play through them. Borderlands 2 even encourages this by allowing you to share your weapons stash among characters.
The high level of character customization is another reason Borderlands 2 will have a long replay life. Each character type has three skill trees, and you can't get to the really juicy skills until you reach a decently high level. With the ability to redo your specs available in most outposts, it will be pretty easy to dive down the rabbit hole of each character's skill options for several hours of play, only to switch it up after discovering a new piece of equipment or joining a new group for co-op play.
In conclusion, if you liked Borderlands even a little, pick up the sequel. If you didn't play it, the great mechanics, exhaustive amounts of in-game content and options, and ridiculous humor will make you instantly addicted, anyway. It's great for those new to the shoot-and-loot genre, but is complete bliss to old hands, too.
Borderlands 2 is available Tuesday, Sept. 18 for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.
This story originally published on Mashable here.