As a kid I once watched my brother electrocute himself while trying to fix our very old floor-model television set. He was behind the TV and I heard a loud ZZAPP as my bro jumped about five feet in the air and screamed. After his jolt he stared at me for a few moments, face twitching, his glasses slanted across his shocked face and he snapped out, louder and more abrupt than normal conversational tone: "WOW!"
This was the same feeling I got after playing Borderlands 2. And, like sticking your finger into a high voltage outlet, it'll give you a jolt, and a little pain.
Like open electrical equipment, this game is not suited for youngsters. The ESRB rates this title as "M" for Mature, meaning you'll need to be aged 17+ to buy it. BL2 comes with lots of violence, plenty of blood, strong language, booze, and sexually suggestive themes (and plenty of innuendos).
In fact, check out the very ESRB synopsis. Truth be told, if I'd never even heard of the game the ESRB would have sold me on it by their description alone. Sounds AWESOME!
Gameplay - 90 / 100
Among its strengths Borderlands 2 offers a captivating character progression system. You begin by selecting your class, whether it be the turret-dropping Commando, the mystical Siren, the dual-gun toting Gunzerker (yes, you can dual-wield shotguns. Or sniper rifles. Or rocket launchers), or the stealthy ninja-sniper Assassin. As you complete missions and kill things you gain experience. As you gain experience you can allot points into various skill trees. Each of the four classes has three separate trees available to them so there is a wide choice of what kind of character you want to play and how you develop him or her.
In addition to the experience-based progression you can further customize your characters by unlocking achievements. Kill X number of a certain monster type, perform X amount of headshots, kill so many baddies with shotguns--that kind of thing. As achievements unlock you earn Badass tokens, which you can then spend on perks like increased health, more damage, faster shield regeneration, and so forth. The best part? The rewards from Badass ranks are applied to ALL your characters, not just the one you're playing when you spend the points.
To further customize your character you can find various cosmetic unlocks, which include new heads to use on your toon, or new skins and clothing. Customization of vehicles works the same way as you unlock new skins and colors for the vehicles you drive in game.
The character dialog, pop-culture references and humor in the game add equal weight to making this game a memorable and addictive one. The characters in the story are rich in depth and have such defined personalities (even if a bit cliché at times) that you'll actually be excited to see new characters introduced to the plot. (Footnote: Tiny Tina is awesome. That is all.) With a bounty of witty dialog and zingy one-liners you'll have a constant smirk on your face as you play through the game, interacting with these characters.
But alas, the energetic jolt you may get from all of the cool character customization, progression, story and plot, is hindered by the horrible menuing system. The game runs fluidly and quickly until you have to go into your menus to assign skill points or manage your inventory. This is where Gearbox dropped the ball in design. The menus are awkward and difficult to navigate. A task as simple as swapping out a gun for a new one can easily be done incorrectly as you fight with the klutzy menus. Perhaps so much time was spent making the gameplay so enjoyable that there was no time left to make a menu that could be navigated? I don't know, but those menus are a real killjoy.
Graphics - 87 / 100
The style of the graphics is superb and the game isn't technically demanding, making it a perfect recipe for a successful FPS. The colors and textures are vivid and thematically the environments and art fit together well.
However, the aliasing is somewhat noticeable in certain areas, causing pixelated angles. This effect is reduced by enabling FXAA (a faux-trick emulating anti-aliasing by using shaders) but I would have liked to have seen a full anti-alias option. FXAA is appropriate for a FPS since it causes much less of a performance hit, but let's face it; if I'm running the game on a PC that can handle proper anti-aliasing, I'll pick that any day over FXAA.
The comic-strip outlining, for the most part, works well and adds to the visual flavor of the game. However, since this is automated there are occasions where outlines will overlap, causing a bit of distorted perspective. These effects are minor, but do lower the overall score in the graphics category.
Sound - 90 / 100
There's much more to the sound of Borderlands 2 than blazing guns (though that's a big part of it).
First, a giant kudos goes out to the voice actors of the title. They nailed it. The dialog is extraordinarily well-written but without the timing and tone of the actors voices a lot of it would be lost.
The second point worth mentioning is the mechanical aspect of it all. Unlike some other games Borderlands 2 does not require you to spend a lot of time reading text dialog. The missions and lore bits are done in complete voice-overs. To add to this-- you don't even need to be near the character who is speaking. You can simply walk away from him or her and s/he will continue speaking through your radio. This effect is especially appreciated in multiplayer when there's not always a guarantee that all your teammates will be in the same place.
The musical score of the game is befitting of the environment and packs the appropriate crescendos during combat. Although the music itself isn't necessarily memorable it does convey the spirit of the environments well enough that it feels like it belongs.
Multiplayer - 97 / 100
Borderlands 2 is nothing without its unmatched multiplayer mode. For reals. The game is "okay" if you play alone but it really takes multiplayer to push it into the "great" ranks.
Like the first title, the game tweaks its difficulty based on how many players are participating in the game. I did find, though, that the tweaking could have been twunk a tweak more. I had relatively no difficulty playing single player missions, a little difficulty in some areas playing duo, but once there were 3 or 4 players in the game some of the fights were just downright difficult. With good team play the obstacles can be overcome but there's little room for independence once you've committed to a multiplayer game. The team must work together as no man can stand alone in a multiplayer game (at least, not without being splatted a few times). If all your teammates go down you can only hope that you're in close proximity to each other or that a baddie is close to death because at full health the 4-player mobs aren't easy to take down by one person to get a second wind. (Second wind happens when you are downed but able to finish a kill, which will get you back on your feet). Perhaps even just adding a small spattering of low-hp mobs mixed in with the difficult dudes in high-risk areas could help here.
Joining a multiplayer game or inviting friends to join your game couldn't be easier. The game's menu will display all of your Steam friends who are currently playing so all you need to do is click their name to either invite or request a join. The display will even tell you the levels and missions your friends are working on, so it's easy to pick friends who are close to you in the story or in level. Thankfully the home menu doesn't suffer the disorganization of the in-game menus.
Once invited into a multiplayer game you then have the ability to rejoin that game at any time. Should you see the host of the original game playing, just click their name and join their game. In this method you can drop in and out of games with your friends with much ease, as the game dynamically changes the difficulty of the mobs with the amount of people playing.
Worry not if there is a big gap in levels between you and your friends. Lower levels joining higher level games will catch up quickly in experience and given an hour or two you will all be the same level. This is a huge win as it's near impossible to have all of your friends sharing the same amount of play time.
As pivotal to the game experience as multiplayer is, the game also suffers more of its downsides in multiplayer mode. For instance, the menu system is already difficult, and only gets worse as you complete a multiplayer mission. The player turning in the mission will be able to see the reward immediately but the other players won't even know they received a reward unless the player who turned it in lets them know, or they open their horrific menus and lumber around through the navigation to try to figure out what they just won.
Also of note is that at the time of writing ammo pickups in multiplayer seem to require self-policing. In a single player game the game will simply not allow you to pick up any more ammo if you're already carrying your maximum. The same does not happen in multiplayer. The result is that a lot of ammo ends up wasted as players pick up ammo they don't need, depriving players in the game who do need it. I suspect, however, that this is just a bug as the mechanic works fine in single player.
Value - 97 / 100
I wasn't overjoyed when the standard price of PC games went up from $50 to $60 as the games got shorter. But for Borderlands 2, that's not the case. The game takes about 60 hours, give or take, to complete. (For those of you keeping score at home, that means about a buck an hour). But I'm willing to bet most of you won't leave it at that. With four different classes, an addictive and unparalleled multiplayer game, myriads of weapons and upgrades, and the ability to play through multiple times on the same character, the replay value is through the roof.
Spend the $60. Get the game. It's worth it. You can even save a few bucks if you have some friends who want to play by buying the 4-pack priced at $180.
Lasting Appeal - 97 / 100
As redundant as shooting baddies over and over again sounds, it really isn't. I haven't found a point yet where this game starts to feel old. In fact, I haven't yet reached a point where the first Borderlands has gotten old or boring. There's just too much to keep you going.
There are thousands upon thousands of weapons to find. There are tons of skins to unlock for your character and vehicles. There is nearly unlimited progression to be done with the Badass Ranks and tokens. There are 4 classes in game and a fifth, the Mechromancer, on its way and each of these classes can be specced in at least 3 different ways, making for over 15 different play styles. There are plenty of easter eggs and collections. (Yes, as you've probably seen elsewhere there is an entire Minecraft area where you break through walls and fight Minecraft monsters).
And best of all, this game will age wonderfully. The art style and accessibility has seen to that. There's more than enough content here to keep you going for months, or even years, depending on your hard-coredness. Plenty to last you until Borderlands 3. If there will be a Borderlands 3. There had better be a Borderlands 3.
Pros and Cons
- Responsive, addictive shooter
- Accessible without requiring a beefily spec'ed PC
- Rich character progression and customization
- Brilliant humor backed by top-rate voice acting
- Unmatched multiplayer co-op experience
- Nearly unmanageable menu system
- Minor graphical nuances
- Multiplayer games can get a little too hard in certain areas
- Playing solo is a touch underwhelming
There's really only one conclusion to be made with Borderlands 2. Despite its flaws it really is some of the best co-op gaming you're likely to see in recent years. Sure, the menus will get you frustrated, and you may yell at your PC (or your teammates) in some difficult areas, but the overall experience is energetic, entertaining, and addictive. You'll never run out of things to do, you'll constantly be chuckling at the story and dialog, and you'll get a rush-a-minute by finding bigger, newer, badder upgrades.
After playing the game for many hours with some friends, laughing at the one-liners, gawking at the killer weapons, proudly strutting new skin and head unlocks, and firing dual-freakin-rocket- launchers, my hair was disheveled, my glasses askew on my face and it was all I could do to puff out one word: "WOW!"
Yup. For the co-op multiplayer fan Borderlands 2 is a must buy.