Gaming: ‘Borderlands 2’ Wacky humor and action meld in a colorful masterpiece

By Ian Ording | | @IanOrding
Rating 5/5

While many would argue there was almost nothing to improve upon with the original game, Borderlands 2 breaks the rule of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Luckily, it succeeds almost entirely without fault. Toting comic-book style graphics, a pop-culture laden sense of humor and an arsenal of millions of guns, Gearbox Software’s latest game is an absolute thrill-ride that cannot be recommended highly enough.

On a quest to the planet of Pandora to seek out the fabled Vault for its treasure, a quartet of adventurers are ambushed by the corporate villain Handsome Jack in the opening scene. Predictably, this is the player’s cue to select between the four very different warriors to guide through the game.

The differences that separate the characters are more tangible than mere statistical variations. Each has its own special power to be implemented in battle. Maya the Siren can use psychic powers to pick up and hold enemies. Axton the commando throws down turrets to offer backup firepower and defense against the dregs of Pandora. Salvador the Gunzerker can go into a rage and blast through baddies with two guns at once. Finally, Zer0, the awkwardly named assassin, turns invisible and produces a hologram to confuse his foes.

This choice is integral to your Borderlands experience as it will dictate how you’ll play during the entire game. While this may sound intimidating, it just means there’s a built-in reason to play the game at least four times; all four classes are a breeze to get a hang of and their combat styles evolve wonderfully as you level up and progress through the campaign. This ensures you’ll have a much more layered and complex strategy for late-level fights than at the start of the game.

Do not make the mistake of thinking this is an average shooter; just because the game is in first-person and uses guns doesn’t make it a Call of Duty wannabe. Borderlands 2 is first and foremost a role-playing-game. Your main motivation is improving your characters’ stats and gear. These are both a blast since the skill trees are greatly expanded from those of the first game and the second still boasts millions of different guns. Yes, millions. You will never see the same weapon twice while playing and there is endless room for improvement.

Although the game is an RPG, that doesn’t mean there is any shortage of action. Every firefight becomes supremely tense with large groups of enemies and a near-constant stream of boss battles. You’ll be strategically switching between machine-guns and shotguns and using your class ability every time there’s an altercation rather than just at the big ones, which is not something every RPG can boast about. Every time you finish a battle alive, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment and relief. As a result, none of the action feels shoe-horned in and players will be much obliged to take on every bad guy they come across.

One of the few things the first installment faltered on was the story. While there was some funny writing here and there, it lacked in overall motivation and quantity of voice acting.

The sequel fixes the former problem immediately by presenting a great antagonist within the first three minutes of popping the disc in. Handsome Jack, capturing America’s newly reemerged fear of corporate greed, is equal parts sociopathic and hilarious incorporating a dialogue delivery style not unlike that of the titular character of the show Archer.

The latter stumbling block is completely reversed with tons of spoken dialogue from almost every character. To make matters better, the majority is somewhere on a spectrum between tongue-in-cheek and laugh-out-loud. Between the beatboxing robot Claptrap and missions that that reference everything from Dark Souls to Top Gun’s volleyball scene, even the most jaded gamer will chortle throughout his or her playthrough.

Gearbox provides a sensory assault both visually and aurally. Rather than utilizing the now industry-standard gritty, dismal graphic scheme of so many other modern games, Borderlands 2 looks much more like a comic book. Its thick outlines and bright color palette sets it apart from much of the rest of this generation’s biggest titles. Accompanying the refreshing art is a stellar soundtrack that would feel at home in a space odyssey or a western.

In short, if you’re not playing Borderlands 2, you should be. Gearbox has crafted an experience wholly unlike almost everything else on the market and definitely as good as any game released this year, if not this console generation. The brutal action and zany sense of humor accent excellent gameplay and character progression. Borderlands 2 is a veritable Vault in its own right containing a deep and priceless vein of entertainment.

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