After playing it with all four different characters I can safely say that it is an awesome game and far, far better than the first one. It took just about every single complaint I ever had and fixed them! Why can't more sequels be like this?
For those unfamiliar with the Borderlands series, Borderlands 2 is a first person loot shooter which you can play with up to four friends. A loot shooter is a game where you run around shooting things and collecting anything and everything dropped by monsters that even remotely looks like it would be fun to play with, and it is certainly not lacking at all for loot. From pistols to rocket launchers and shields (and all of the weird variations of those in between), half the fun of this game is in seeing what ludicrous piece of loot you will find next!
Players run through Pandora as a group of vault hunters looking for a vault that will undoubtedly grant them fame and fortune if they don't die trying. Oh, and there's also a guy named Handsome Jack, who tries to kill the vault hunters as well as beat them to the vault.
Guns, Guns, Guns! And all those other nifty toys!
Did I mention Borderlands 2 wasn't lacking at all in the loot department? The original game had promised to have a bazillion or so guns and while it did have a massive variety of weapons with randomly generated stats, it didn't have much in the way of weapon variety. At most the weapons changed color and had a scope of some kind; the actual weapon model generally stayed the same. There was nothing really special about any of the manufacturers other than the stats that generally went with their brand name. There were still the ultra rare weapons which gave weapons unique attributes, but there wasn't enough variety in the way things looked to bring the extra satisfaction of having an amazing looking toy to go along with those awesome stats.
Borderlands 2 fixes that in droves. You've got big guns, little guns, guns that shoot rockets or grenades instead of bullets, shotguns with four barrels instead of one, assault rifles with a gatling gun barrel, bayonets of different sizes and configurations... At one point I found an SMG with two bayonets instead of the standard one and then a sniper rifle with a bayonet that could have easily been a sword if you replaced the gun with a hilt. There are even different stocks for all the weapon types, as well as unique skins associated with the corporation behind the weapon. There was obviously a lot more detail going into the weapons alone in Borderlands 2. Also, if you enjoy checking out all of the details of your gun, you can actually inspect the weapon on a pull-up a model viewer that lets you check out every nook and cranny.
But that's not all Gearbox has done with weapons. They also took the manufacturers and gave them all their own unique design philosophies, ranging from perfectly reasonable to hilariously ineffective or awesome. For example: Jakobs weapons fire as fast as you can pull the trigger, with a lot of stopping power and initial accuracy (they kick like a mule though). On the other side of the spectrum, Vladof weapons have a quality all its own. Their philosophy is to carry as many bullets as possible and throw them down range as fast as possible, but they're kind of hit or miss on accuracy.
My favorite weapon brand of all has got to be Tediore. There's nothing more satisfying (or hilarious) than running out of bullets and throwing your gun into the enemy's face and watching it explode. One of my friends discovered a Tediore masterpiece that made me quite jealous - a self propelled, homing and self firing shotgun.
Even the shields in the game look better than they have before, with much more variety added to them. Previously they had maybe three or four different types of shield, which mainly varied between capacity, recharge time and whether or not they exploded when depleted. Now there's even more variety to them! Shields that capture enemy munitions and add to your own stock pile, as well as enemies that actually amplify the damage of your next shot (provided you still have shields) are just some of the new shield types they added, and some of them even have those mysterious red text attributes that don't really tell you what they do! It's always fun to find out though.
So many different flavors of death.
Four, very different characters, all of which are actually awesome? Good Lord they really did listen. I remember when I played the first Borderlands game I looked through all four of their characters and only found two worth playing; Roland (Four man Roland group was always good fun) and Mordecai. Lilith and Brick were interesting ideas, but they weren't really executed well enough to be as fun as they could have been. Especially poor Brick. His weapon specialty was rockets, and rockets were all flash and not much punch. This time around, I can't think of a reason not to play all of the characters.
Borderlands 2's lineup includes Axton the Commando, the turret specialist, but unlike Roland he's not 100% self reliant. He still has a turret like Roland but it is much beefier and angrier - even more so if you look at both of them side by side! It does not, however, give you god mode like Roland's amazing health, shield, ammo, and cover providing turret. Also if you're familiar with Orcs Must Die, you'll immediately recognize Axtons voice actor and probably find him that much more amusing!
Salvador seems to take Brick's place as a tank, but he is also made that much more amazing by his special ability, Gunzerking. As Gunzerking, Salvador runs around with two of his four weapons out, screaming all sorts of things as he empties his guns into his enemies. In this mode he can regenerate health and ammo, making him that much harder to kill. Give him two Tediore guns and he'll be tossing guns left and right! It's rather amusing to watch.
His ultimate abilities for each tree also let him shoot faster the longer you hold down the trigger and reload faster (which works wonders with Vladof weapons), do extra damage to enemies based on the excess damage of the previous enemy you killed and finally, taunt enemies to come at you while you take little to no damage (best popped when in low health).
We also have Maya to play with. Like Lilith she is a Siren, but her special ability is much more useful for single play and especially for group play. She basically holds the enemy up in the air for everyone to shoot at. She can also be built to provide heals to the group or further improve her abilities with elemental weapons, killing enemies with her siren powers. She can also use her phase lock ability to mind control enemies and turn them on their friends (which is awesome). I wish I could go more in depth about her abilities but I really spent most of my time playing Axton and Zero.
Finally, we have Zero. Some players may find him underwhelming because his personality isn't as out there as the other three characters and his special ability isn't anywhere near as flashy as the others, at least not early on. He's also much more specialized, being an assassin and all. His skill trees consist of sniping, which is obviously for sniping, and the least flashy of his skill trees (but extremely useful) since it really focuses on getting single shot kills.
Bloodshed, which is a melee focused tree with a lot of growing pains, gets very flashy with the ability to dash at enemies while using his deception (cloak/decoy) ability, as well as being able to infinitely reset itself with the Many Must Fall skill. Once a player has that ability, every time they kill an enemy in melee while deception is active they will refresh their deception timer and spawn a new hologram. If done properly, a melee zero can be like a ninja from the, popping in and out of the shadows, sowing chaos among the enemy ranks as their group falls one by one. This is easier said than done however, especially in a group mainly specialized in covering the general area in bullets.
Last but not least is the Cunning tree, which is a general purpose skill tree built for both melee and ranged combat. What makes this one interesting is that while a player uses deception, they throw out a handful of kunai at the enemy. It can be done up to five times per deception, and each kunai explodes with a random elemental effect!
I have to say that Zero is probably the skill heaviest character in my opinion.
Each one of these characters also have their own class mods, which boost some of their attributes as well as some of their skills (as long as you've spent at least one point on them). They also show up on each character with their own look, which was a nice detail. Borderlands 2 seems to know exactly what I'm looking for though, since it never gives me the class mods I want!
I feel pretty! Oh so pretty!
Borderlands 2 character customization also saw some nice improvements from the previous game. Players could originally could choose between ten or so colors to dye one of three different pieces of their character's gear. Now, instead of choosing a color combination for our characters, we chose skins. It may not be as free form as the originals customization, but the game has about 88 or so different skins for each character. Some of these skins are unique in that they're more than just a recolor, and actually having unique details. Each character has their own selection of heads they can chose between, 15 or so per character, so no two characters of the same class ever have to look the same. I fully expect to see future DLC to add on to the character customization this game has. Maybe they'll even add different models for the characters!
Even the vehicles have some customization options to them. Much like characters, you can find, rarely buy, or earn skins for each of the two vehicles in the game, the Runner and Bandit Technical. They range from awesome looking to just plain silly.
So you want to hear another story?
Borderlands 2 is once again set on Pandora, a few years after the events of Clap Trap revolution. Hyperion is the corporation currently in power over the world and it is led by a very morally confused man named Handsome Jack. After he tries to kill the vault hunters on their arrival, our heroes set off on their mission to try and find out why Handsome Jack, who invited them in the first place, would want to kill them, along with any leads on the second vault hidden somewhere on Pandora. Along the way you will meet new characters as well as old ones, all with their own strange and hilarious personalities. Even the original Vault Hunters come back as NPC's. It was nice to see how them as fully fleshed out characters.
Now as much as I tried to reach the end of Borderlands 2 before this review, the game proved to be much, much longer than its predecessor, so I can't really say if the ending is good or not. I can, however, say that the journey there is a really fun ride and worth every hour. Even if they took away the awesome loot that the game is really all about, I would replay it over and over again just to to enjoy all of the humor and references stuffed into Borderlands 2. I have to say there were more than a few times where the humor got really dark, and I wasn't sure if I should feel bad for laughing or not. Most of this came from Handsome Jack, who is now one of my favorite video game villains. It's definitely a much better story than the first and I am genuinely happy to see that Gearbox took the time to improve Borderlands as much as they have.
Gameplay: Bullets! Bullets everywhere!
The gameplay itself hasn't changed too much from the original Borderlands. You run out, shoot things, collect loot. It's pretty simple but also good fun. Enemy variety has been improved - there are at least seven or eight main groups of enemies, each with their own variety of baddies to throw at you and their own tricks to play. Bandits and Hyperion troops have got to be my favorite to fight, mainly because of what they shout when charging players or being taken out.
Players can help each other by picking up downed friends or they can help themselves by killing an enemy before they bleed out. I have noticed some enemies tend to be smart about this. The ones that aren't blatant psychopaths or savage beasts will actually back away from downed players and try to get to cover. Which is why I recommend playing with a friend so they can try to help you up!
Gearbox even added in a trading system, so you no longer have to use an honor system for exchanging equipment and money with other players. With friends this is also rather useful for fighting over equipment. That's right, fighting. If you and a friend both want an item, but can't agree on who gets the shiny new toy, you can always duel each other over it in the trade menu - winner takes all. Of course this doesn't really work with most random players since they still have to be able to accept duels and agree to it.
Borderlands 2 is also home to the first (as far as I know) gun dispensing slot machine. I'm normally not a gambling man since I see no real point to it, but this time there is! If you get lucky with your spins you can win rare or even legendary quality equipment. To make matters worse, there are some enemies that run around with a slot machine strapped to their back (loot crates in some cases). This makes the battlefield a perfectly acceptable place to gamble - the danger just doubles the fun! I think I've spent over fifty thousand dollars on the slot machines trying for legendary drops...
Is there anything wrong with Pandora?
Well besides everything trying to eat or shoot your face off, not really! Gearbox has improved so much from Borderlands to Borderlands 2 that I feel like I am nitpicking to find flaws. I play the game on the PC ,and it has loads of settings to tweak the games visual and audio quality, which was very badly needed in the first game.
I guess the only issues I had with Borderlands 2 were the lack of an Echo Log to listen to any recordings I didn't quite hear while roaming about, and getting used to the inventory/trading UI. It's really nice looking, and I love how it lets you scroll around your character to get a good look at him (or her) but it doesn't really handle the mouse too well. It has some wonky problems and really feels like it would work better with a controller than a mouse. It takes some getting used to and it could use some tweaking to work properly, but those are really only issues I had with Borderlands 2.
Honestly, the only thing that's going to ruin Borderlands 2 for anyone is playing it with a loot hog or someone that just keeps rushing on ahead and making parts of the story or echo logs cut each other out so you miss out on the wonderful details, both dark and hilarious.
I'm fairly confident in recommending Borderlands 2 to just about anyone (unless crude humor is an issue). It's fun, and has tons of loot, as well as four characters to play the game through with at least once. The story is great, and character customization is pretty good. DLC is coming and STEAM even has a Season Pass available, so you can buy it ahead of time, the Mechromancer being one of these DLC which is a pretty awesome sounding class based around Claptrap Necromancy. Well, Mechromancy.
I can't wait to see what DLC does with the future of Borderlands 2.