We loved the original Borderlands for all of its first-person-shooter action, varied gameplay (there was shooting people and driving over them, for example), and lots and lots of guns. In fact, the official claim from developer Gearbox Software was that the game offered 16,164,886 guns, which is almost as big as Gordon Mah Ung’s personal collection. Despite its glorious carnage, it also had a few glaring problems, foremost of which was a horrendous PC port that was so bad Gearbox publicly apologized (via a love letter written by the game’s annoying NPC Claptrap) and promised to make it right with Borderlands 2.
Menus overlap one another in a console-ready attempt to fit everything into the middle of the screen.
There’s good news, kids: Gearbox kept its word and has more than made up for its past transgressions with this awesome sequel, which goes above and beyond what we even thought possible from a franchise like Borderlands. The sequel is better than the original in every way imaginable, making it a must-have for PC gamers.
All of your firearm fantasies are fulfilled in Borderlands 2, with shotguns that shoot acid, rockets that shoot homing missiles, and grenades that explode into more grenades.
Like the first game, the sequel takes place on the mythical planet of Pandora—and once again you are a rogue vault hunter determined to unlock a secret relating to some ambiguous mysterious Vault. As before, the story isn’t terribly important, but it’s definitely more tolerable thanks to a liberal infusion of humor and memorable characters, such as the friendly Ellie and the too-hip annoyathon named Tiny Tina.
Claptrap and Scooter return as your BFFs, too, and they are much improved, but neither is as memorable as the game’s antagonist—a megalomaniac named Handsome Jack who tells you as soon as the game begins that he is buying a pony made of diamonds and naming it after you, “Piss for Brains.” Jack keeps up the wisecracks throughout the 30-plus-hour first play-through, and by the time the final battle arrives, you are itching to pile-drive his face into the ground. This intense desire to kick his ass is a testament to Gearbox’s pitch-perfect writing, as it never gets old and is always funny. Even the bad guys scream funny sayings like, “I’m going to wear your head like a condom!” as they rush toward you, though at times there’s so much chatter you can’t hear mission details as they pop up on your intercom.
Just like the first game, you have to choose one of four character classes—Commando, Siren, Gunzerker, or Assassin—each with a unique special ability; we liked Commando and its upgradeable Sabre turret the best.
One of the biggest sins Gearbox committed in the previous game was its console-centric HUD, and it has largely redeemed itself this time around, but not completely. You can now adjust FOV and HUD size via sliders, and everything is mouse-and-keyboard friendly, but the weapon- and perk-management screens are still more difficult to deal with than they need to be. For example, on the level-up screens where you assign skill points to different strengths there are three columns, with only one fully visible at a time, so you have to click over to one to make it pop up, but we didn’t even see the screen on the left because it’s mostly covered up by the stats of whatever current skill you are examining. Luckily, we were able to respec our character for a small price, but there’s no reason why the menus need to be squashed together like that on a PC, which packs more pixels.
Gunfights are nonstop and intense, and often end with the bad guy exploding and littering the battlefield with his remains.
The layout of these screens is important because you are constantly managing your inventory, trying to figure out which weapon to use, which grenade mod is best, which relic to try out, and which class mod fits best with your current situation. Like the first game, the possibilities are seemingly endless as the game randomly mixes and matches stats and capabilities for weapons and gear into a dizzying array of options. You can have guns that spit corrosive goo, a sniper rifle that is also a Gatling gun, grenades that suck people into a vortex before exploding, and much more, and all of them are fun to use. Gearbox puts the weapon count this time around at “87 bazillion,” which sounds accurate to us. Sadly, we never saw a legendary “orange” weapon the entire game, and the golden chest containing epic loot at Sanctuary never opened for us since in order to have a key you needed to have either pre-ordered the game, bought the DLC, or snagged a free key on Twitter. Though it’s clever marketing, a way to earn a key in-game would have been appreciated.
Each of the four classes has a special ability, and here we see the Commando class’s Sabre turret go to work on a feral Bullymong.
The final pieces of the puzzle are co-op and performance, and Gearbox has pulled these off quite nicely. You can easily add any of your Steam friends to your current game or join a random game with people of a similar level as you. Squadmates can heal one another and collectively decide who gets what loot according to their needs. It’s all very slick and well-implemented, and the preferred way to play through the more difficult levels. Performance is also quite good at 1080p with everything turned on, but bump the resolution to 2560x1400 and Borderlands 2 will require a beefy rig to run. The game was unplayable at times at 2560x1440 with a GeForce GTX 670 with all PhysX effects on High, but played fine on a GeForce GTX 690 (imagine that). Though taxing on your GPU, the PhysX effects are totally badass. Downed enemies leave pools of blood on the ground, and particle effects explode constantly, raining down shrapnel during battles. We’ve never seen PhysX look this good in a game, or add such immersion, making it a must-have feature here.
Though it’s not without flaws, Borderlands 2 packs so much awesomeness into its virtually endless campaign (you can play the very long full campaign with side missions twice for each character class) we largely didn’t mind the small annoyances. It’s entertaining from beginning to end, and with the four character classes, True Vault Hunter mode for the hardcore, and online co-op, we’ll be playing this game for a long time to come.