I adored the first Borderlands. The IP has a distinct flavor, a distinct style, that nothing else has emulated yet. It satisfies a craving that nothing else quite can. It tastes like Diablo made from different meat, giving you a difference in the core flavor: a humor and action style that comes from a different team and a different genre.
Borderlands 2 does perfectly what I feel every primal action game should do: make the player feel awesome. Through art, writing, mechanics, enemy design, and even their marketing campaign, the game tells you you’re a badass and no one should mess with you — or face the consequences. You’re here to rock faces and claim loot. You are the alpha predator.
The game starts with some dude (Handsome Jack) blowing up your train. After you survive the explosion, he precedes to taunt you, and taunt you, and continue taunting you, as you quest forward. Handsome Jack thinks he’s a big deal; and he evidently thinks you’re a big deal. I’m a threat to the villain’s success. Mood established.
Then the game play takes over. Guns, guns, and more guns. Pistols with burst fire; shotguns with scopes; assault rifles that have improved accuracy as you fire them; sniper rifles that ignite targets; SMGs that electrocute. The variety is incredible, and the names witty. (I once found a rocket launcher called the “Deep a Deep.”) You can even find guns that explode when reloaded. (Note: this is one of the single coolest ideas for a shooter ever.)
Badass Moment: One mission asked my dino-partner and I to take out a group of tough assassins, each with a bonus objective. One of these assassins happened to be a sniper, with a sniper rifle that shot three bullets at once. Our bonus objective was to kill this guy with a shotgun. My dino-partner, being a commando, was the resident shotgun wielder, so the goal was to let her get the kill. As our prey’s health got low, so did her shotgun ammo. To help each shot count, I (as a siren) Phaselocked the enemy, and, while he was suspended in mid-air, my partner fired her last shot, then threw her gun at the guy’s head. It exploded on contact. Defeat the assassin with a shotgun? Done. Literally.
Each of the four characters come with wicked abilities that can start making you feel overpowered early on in the best way. You frequently fight through hordes of enemies, all screaming, and shouting obscenities, and telling you how pathetic you are – while you proceed to gunzerk, set them on fire, and bulldoze their forces. The enemies get bigger (and adopt names like “Badass Pscyho”) but you continue to plow through them, with just the right amount of challenge. You need that challenge to keep you feeling awesome.
Badass Moment: The siren can Phaselock enemies, which basically means she can hold them paralyzed in mid-air to be easily shot to death. (This is brilliant to do when a nearby commando has a turret deployed.) One mission had my partners and I ramp off of the side of a mountain (there are cars, with rocket launchers) to land in an enemy encampment. Once inside, we had to fight three helicopters. Near the end of this fray, I pondered, can I Phaselock a helicopter? The answer is no. Instead, the helicopter just blew up. Sweet.
Get beat in a fight? Hero’s never say die! If your health drops to nil, either a teammate can revive you or you can defeat any enemy in sight to revive yourself with a second wind. (Note: this is one of the coolest ideas for an action game, period.)
Badass Moment: My teammate went down in a firefight, dropping to one knee and needing to be revived. There was no way the commando would pull of a kill against such tough enemies, so I sprinted to give aid. As I leaped from the top of a building, I caught the assailant with a Phaselock. While the enemy was held in place, I revived the commando. Once back up an running, she promptly dropped a turret to mow down the attackers while I lobbed a corrosive grenade. Another brute was coming and the two of us were weak. Suddenly, his head exploded. The gunzerker had a sniper rifle.
The game makes fun of just about everything. Each of the NPCs are borderline insane in some way or another and none of them are ashamed of it. The local doctor doesn’t have a medical license; the arms dealer admits he kills his competition and takes his stock from dead adventurers; the mechanic is a redneck who fell off the redneck scale and thinks you’re quite possibly the most insane and coolest person he’s ever met. Even the protagonists from the first game, now NPCs, take note of your skills.
Quest and challenge names play along, too. Claptrap (a robot), when referring to you as his minion, gives you a mission to seek out and defeat the destroyer of worlds, then to dance before him for his own enjoyment, for instance. You don’t actually go through with this quest, but the notion of it is fun.
Badass Moment: I quickly learned how to kill birds (called Rakks) by punching them. Later, after equipping a new kind of shield, they began to die from electrocution when they attack me.
Badass Moment: I Phaselocked an enemy hiding behind cover. My dino-partner then blasted him from the mounted rocket launcher on our car.
Badass Moment: The gunzerker regenerates ammo while dual-wielded guns.
Clearly team play is a big part of this adrenaline rush. Everything about combat and working with your allies is satisfying. The characters themselves even lend to the wonderment with quips, shouts, and chants. (Zero, the assassin, will quip “You’ve activated my trap card.” when triggering his Deception skill.)
And in case this all wasn’t convincing enough, completing challenges grants Badass Points which award Badass Tokens. Badass Tokens can then be spent on minor permanent upgrades applied to all characters on your account. This isn’t just about your character being a badass within the world he or she exists in; no, this says that you, the player, are a badass, and all of your characters will be better to reflect that.
Borderlands 2 is delicious. It’s all the things Gearbox did well on the first game improved and refined. The presentation is stylish, the characters are brilliant, the game play is frantic and fun. The game declares you’re awesome and does a mighty job convincing you of it.
Borderlands 2 was developed by Gearbox Software and published by 2K Games. For this post, I played coop only, mostly 2-player, and one 3-player round, for a total of about six hours, getting up to level 13, on the PlayStation 3.
This post was originally written and published on September 25, 2012.