Awesome! The first actual review for Holygrenade! And what better game to give the royal treatment than Borderlands 2? A decisive sequel for an experimental IP, and the first major title leading to Christmas. Important stuff if you follow the industry intently. Anyway, here is my review of Gearbox’s Borderlands 2.

Before Borderlands, rarely had a game idolized the Diablo formula–the loot-driven, co-op enabled experience which first put Blizzard on the map over sixteen years ago. Gearbox then took that formula and turned it on its head, added a quirky world and characters, and a whole load of guns. The product, and now its sequel, have received exorbitant praise and an adoring fan base.

Borderlands 2 evolves on many gripes of the original, with seamless drop-in, drop-out co-op, a vibrantly colourful side of Pandora, and the same wacky weirdness that charmed so many. Randy Pitchford, Gearbox’s CEO, has said since the first game was so experimental, Borderlands 2 is “how Borderlands is meant to be played.” And it seems many of us agree.

Pandora is back and in a mighty way–this time, instead of opening a vault filled with riches, Handsome Jack and his Hyperion corporation have economized Eridium, a priceless element, and brutalized the planet’s people. The new cast of Vault Hunters are dead-set on removing Hyperion’s figurehead and restoring some form of order to Pandora.

Starring in the sequel are Axton, possessing a turret like Roland; Maya, a Siren who uses “phaselocking”, a crowd control ability; Salvador, a gunzerker who can dual wield at will; and Zer0, an assassin that can highlight weak points and wreak havoc. These “action skills” heavily influence gameplay and choosing the right character is critical. Personally, I’m swayed into using elemental weapons and Maya’s “Cataclysm” tree is best suited.

One complaint of the first Borderlands was the loss of a story, which Borderlands 2 improves on mildly. The plot is told through ECHO transmissions between various characters, meaning the broadcasts are often played during combat. Because of the wildly brilliant dialogue this is a major hurdle and important details and references go over the head in the heat of battle. If Gearbox were to include cutscenes, it could easily nullify the problem.

It’s a foregone conclusion weapons are the greatest prize, so through quests and dumb luck you can amass a huge collection. Finding the most unusual or destructive ones is a mini-game in itself, and many values (Fire Rate, damage, etc.) are tied to the ultimate weapons so it’s best never to be hasty. Thankfully, every weapon’s stats are displaying in full view so it’s easy to compare.

Gameplay itself is quick and fluid, as guns switch flawlessly and different elemental types make for on-the-fly decision-making. With increased AI, combat is smarter and more calculated, as enemies will actively evade bullets and work together tactically. It makes for an overall more joyous experience, unlike the bullet sponges of Borderlands, and effectively utilizes co-op. Thus, playing solo is more difficult, so take things slow or bring in a pal for some friendly carnage.

Side-missions are where the game is at its most charming, using humour and seemingly innocuous references just because Gearbox could. One mission stands out: Moxxi asks you to deliver a pizza to the sewer, but as you place the pizza down, four sword-wielding midgets named Dan, Ralph, Lee and Don attack you. It’s the little things which make Borderlands 2 so engaging–and Gearbox’s effort is way beyond the point of absurdity.

Even Borderlands 2 isn’t perfect, and sadly I’ve encountered some frame rate issues on Xbox 360 and broken quests. Nothing that wasn’t solved without leaving the area and coming back. Otherwise, Gearbox has ramped up expectations for the coming Christmas shopping season. All the while stamping their reputation as an elite developer.

I hate numbered rating systems because it doesn’t provide enough clarification. In my view, the pros drastically outweigh the cons, so please purchase the game. If you prefer your shooting with friends, that’s even better.

Also, one thing to add: I’m excited the first review is finally out after three or so months! I’ll develop some sort of system later. Right now I’m too busy pillaging the deepest caverns of Pandora for loot. Catch you guys later.

Image courtesy of Gearbox.

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