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IHC Game Reviews: Borderlands 2

Borderlands 2, the sequel to the sleeper hit of 2009 is out now, and it has quite the hype to live up to. Promised to be bigger and better in almost every aspect from the original, the hype machine has been in full swing over the past few months. The original boasted quite a few original aspects and some pretty unique game mechanics, and improving on them would be quite a task. So how did Gearbox do? Does it live up to the insane hype, or is it another disappointment that doesn’t quite live up to expectation?

It took me a while to discover the first game, but when I did, it blew me away. It was a really unique game with great art direction, a unique take on the genre, and was really inventive. When the sequel was announced, I was excited as crap. Since the first one did so well, they were allowed a bigger production budget, and allowed to get a little crazy with the game. This has been my most anticipated game of 2012, and come release day I was almost giddy with excitement. I think over the past couple weeks I’ve played it enough to be able to write a pretty comprehensive review, so here it is! 

Ok, so if you’ve payed attention to any of the trailers or commercials you know the main gist of the story. Four new vault hunters are on Pandora to look for a new vault and try to stop the new villain, Handsome Jack, from taking over Pandora. As president of the Hyperion Corporation, Jack has all of their arsenal at his disposal, from robots to soldiers, and everything in between. On their trek, the new vault hunters catch you up to what has happened in the past five years since the last vault was opened, and run across some familiar faces. The storyline starts off simple enough, but has some pretty good twists and surprises along the way. It’s a pretty simple storyline, but it’s still fun and engaging. If I had to give it one criticism, it would be that it takes a good few hours to really kick in. The first couple hours of the game just feel like fluff, and it has no real weight on the story. But once it kicks into full gear, the story missions start coming nonstop. 

One thing they’ve ramped up is the locations and the enemies. Right off the bat you encounter a new species in the Bullymong, which is a huge four armed ape. Now there’s different tribes of bandits, a lot more variations of bandits, and tons of new wildlife. It actually mixes things up quite nicely, and some of the new enemies are just downright fun to fight. There’s new strategy in tackling some of the enemies, and even their AI have been revamped to make some of the enemies down right smart. You’re going to have a lot harder of a time with a group of decently armed bandits this time around, and it’s a very nice change instead of just massacring groups of enemies without breaking a sweat. The variation in environments is a very nice change as well, and really shows how well the art direction works for a game like this. Lavish plains look awesome, and the snowy tundras are a complete change from the first game. 

One thing that got a lot of praise in the first one was the art direction, using a cell shaded technique over a realistic approach. That remains largely unchanged from the first game, but it has been refined quite a bit. The textures do have a lot more detail, and the character models don’t look quite a rough as they used to. The upside for using less detailed environments is being able to have huge areas, which happens quite often. Huge environments that are fun to explore, and unlike the first game, are very varied. You go from arctic tundras to lush plains and back to deserts all over the course of the storyline. The only downside I’ve come across is a very poor draw distance when it comes to textures. While there’s hardly any pop up, if you’re speeding around a larger area and stop suddenly, it might take a few seconds for the textures to fully render. Its not a huge deal, but it is something that’s noticeable.  

The basic mechanics of the game are pretty much untouched from the first game. You run around, shoot stuff, and stuff blows up. There’s really not much they could have done to it to make it better, since it was originally pretty good. The new vault hunters abilities are pretty interesting, and vary pretty differently from the characters in the first one. There’s the gunzerker who can dual wield any guns in the game, the siren who can trap enemies in a ball of energy, the commando with his turret, and the assassin with his ability to turn invisible for a short period of time. Each ability is pretty unique and has a different application in battle. While some are better in a multiplayer setting, IE the siren, they all pretty much pull their weight in single player, too. They’ve also ramped up the effects class mods and grenades have, leaving the player with tons of choices. Skill trees have also been overhauled, but still feels familiar. There’s still different tiers and branches, but now they all converge into some heavy duty skills at the end. Now class mods can also modify shields, health, and even put more points into certain skills in your skill tree. Grenades now are a lot more fun, with either all new abilities, or combining a few from the first game. Ever wanted a sticky longbow MIRV? Now you can, if you can find it. 

One aspect that was touted tons in the first game was the guns. It sported a randomly generating gun engine, that promised to be able to generate billions of guns. It worked fairly well, but honestly in the end, there wasn’t a whole lot of differences between a lot of the guns. It was a super neat idea, but it just wasn’t executed very well. This go round though, there’s so much variation and different choices that it pays to pay attention to the loot. There’s different variations of machine guns, there’s different pistols, and they all act very differently. The different manufacturers actually have more of a bearing on the stats, and now they actually affect the weapons in different ways. From one manufacturer who always fires explosive rounds to one manufacturer whose weapons actually double as grenades, every weapon is unique. It’s a great change, and it totally lives up to the promises that were made. 

The biggest change comes in the form of the overhauled menus, and the overhauling of the multiplayer aspects. From the very first menu, its way easier to navigate and set up or join the kind of game you’re looking for. When you start singleplayer, you can totally have drop in/drop out play, which is super nice compared to the lobbies present in the first game. Once you’re actually in the game, all of the in game menus have changed as well. Whenever you open a menu, you switch to a third person view, and the menus are displayed in front of you. There’s still different panes for missions an inventory, and they are still basically the same to navigate. They’ve swapped out the list of weapons and items to a more visual icon list, with a small pane popping up with all the stats of the item. Its a little weird to get used to, but once you do its not that big of a change. Once you delve into the menus, you’ll notice some of the smaller changes, such as replacing the weapon proficiency stats with a badass rank. If you remember the challenges from the first game, then you have an idea of how it works. Instead of experience, you get ranks, and when you get enough ranks, you get a token. When you redeem the tokens, a list of six random stats that you can increase pops up, and you get to choose one to incrementally increase. From reload time to shield capacity and recharge rate, they get buffered anywhere from .5% to 1%, sometimes more. It might not seem like a huge increase, but when you get to the higher ranks it really becomes noticeable.  

So as a whole, how does it pile up? The new characters are interesting, and their skills and skill trees are very interesting and varied. The storyline is great, and it’s tons of fun. While some of the missions, especially the side missions, are very repetitive “gather certain amount of X” missions, most of the important story missions are fun and well done. The new and returning characters are awesome and very well written. There’s so many times I couldn’t help but laugh hysterically at some of the characters, and a few times where I genuinely teared up a little bit. The guns and loot actually matter a lot more, and you’ll be catching yourself comparing stats a lot more. The game looks just as great as the first one, if not just a little bit better. The new changes to the mechanics and menus are a welcomed change, and really only add to a great formula.  

All in all, this is what a great sequel should be.  It only improves on an already great game, and while feeling familiar, it also feels fresh and inventive. Its a great game with tons to do, and judging by the great DLC for the first game, there’s only more to come. If you liked the first one, you’ll feel right at home. If you’re looking for a new first person shooter with some very interesting aspects, you can’t go wrong with picking this up. This is the perfect example of a franchise not afraid to take risks and it paying off wonderfully. 

5 out of 5. 

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