Borderlands 2

I can’t talk about Borderlands 2 in 2017 without talking at least a little about Gearbox Software’s shady business practices. This game benefits greatly from the draining of money away from Aliens: Colonial Marines, another Gearbox project which was sabotaged to give BL2 a boost. And in the years since the release of BL2, Gearbox and Randy Pitchford have done all they can to prove that they never deserved success in the first place, partnering with a shady key-selling company, cramming as much scummy DLC into their games as possible, and mouthing off at every opportunity about how they would have changed all the things fans love about their games, given the chance. BL2 comes with a host of baggage in this regard. Even if you can ignore the industry politics surrounding the game, there is a LOT of pointless cosmetic DLC in this game, and the pause menu will advertise all of it to you.

It also comes with a built-in chest that dispenses vastly-overpowered gear for your current character’s current level, using a currency shared by ALL characters (gold keys) that can only be earned by entering codes gained outside the game, by participating in now-defunct social media promotions (or entering them from a list you can find online). Once you’re out of gold keys, no more loot from that chest for you, ever again. For ANY of your characters. While this isn’t a massive complaint, it speaks to Gearbox’s overall scummy, mobile-esque, ad-heavy, DLC-nickel-and-diming strategy that they really went all-in on starting with this game. While (spoilers) I do think it’s worth buying the game even so, you need to know what you’re getting into ahead of time. If you find this stuff as distasteful as I do, you may want to think twice.

In terms of game design, if you think of Borderlands 2 as Diablo from a first person perspective, you won’t go far wrong in how you approach it. The focus here is the loot, not the story, although the story does try pretty hard to be interesting (your mileage may vary on whether you agree or not). I definitely found the villain of the piece, Handsome Jack, to be eminently dislikeable in a good way. I wanted to put bullets into this guy, so as the villain, he’s doing his job pretty well. Much of that is down to his voice actor, Dameon Clarke, who paints a really fantastic picture of a sociopathic corporate asshole in Jack with his flippant, arrogant, pseudo-casual delivery. Spot on, “pumpkin”. In any case, the story has its share of problems, but it primarily exists to ferry you from one loot arena to the next, and it does what it’s supposed to do. When the writing isn’t veering off into wackytown, I actually found a lot of the intended emotional beats resonated with me, and the more understated instances of humor didn’t fall flat. This is a game that thinks it’s a lot funnier than it is, though, so be forewarned. The tone is all over the place.

Anyway, on to the loot. The weapon types are pistols, shotguns, submachine guns, assault rifles (of which miniguns are a subtype), sniper rifles, and rocket launchers. Each is randomly generated from a pool of manufacturers and parts that lend them particular characteristics, with stats determined by a dice roll. You can also find grenade mods which determine the characteristics of the grenades you throw, and shields (in the Halo sense of a personal energy deflector) for defense.

This is a massive game, especially with all content DLC installed, and you can easily play it for hundreds of hours without really being “done” with it, even on a single character. So, how you spend the bulk of your time will end up being a personal choice. You could level as fast as possible and focus on fighting raid bosses with online friends/strangers for the highest-end loot you can. You can play through all the stories and call it quits (which alone will take you probably 50-80 hours depending on DLC). You can try and complete every sidequest in the game. You can aim for completing the main story in each of the unlockable difficulty modes. When you wake up on the glacier at the start of the game, it’s hard to wrap your head around the sheer size and length of the journey ahead of each new character. There is a lot more here than meets the eye.

The playable characters have some nice variety to them, although they grew on me a bit slower than did the heroes of the first game’s cast. BL2 went all-in on the characterization of everyone except the main characters, and it shows that they were designed with mechanics in mind first and foremost. Zero, for instance, plays like a combination of the siren and sniper from BL1. Axton plays like they had a chance to redesign Roland and iterated on his mechanics. Salvador is Brick, but with guns instead of fists. Maya’s power (the new Siren) is the only entirely new, original idea in the cast, and it’s on the one who’s a carbon copy of a character from BL1 in physical design. These don’t feel so much like character traits as they do a list of patch notes. The 2 DLC characters, the Mechromancer and Psycho, both have better personal characterization as well as really fun mechanics. I recommend purchasing them both.

I also recommend acquiring the content DLC, starting with the Tiny Tina module, then adding Captain Scarlett. If you enjoy those and just want more BL2, grab the rest. They all come with a variety of new enemies to shoot, loot to find, and bosses to fight. Be advised that, if you don’t intend to play online with others, BL2 contains several bosses that are designed to be fought in a group and that have particular mechanics that make them prohibitively difficult to go at it alone. Think of them as raid bosses in an MMO.

So, okay. Enough faffing about. Is Borderlands 2 fun? Yes. It feels good to play. Shooting the guns is nice, they have impact. The enemies scream and writhe around satisfyingly. Elemental effects are impressive. The visual style is fun, different, and nice to look at. It drags a bit in the early game, especially very early on before your characters get their defining ability, but everything up to arriving at Sanctuary can be pretty boring and eminently linear. However, once you’re farther along, BL2 blossoms into one of the best Diablo-like loot-focused slot machine type games available. There’s a reason it’s still so active on Steam multiplayer even in 2017. It’s very very good. Just be advised going into it that it comes from a very scummy company, and is tainted by their shotgun approach to DLC. Don’t get suckered by them and you’ll have a great time.

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