Updated Thu, Sep 27, 2012 by B. de la Durantaye
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!
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.
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.
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.