I really liked the first Borderlands. In the end, I think I beat the main campaign four times and all the DLC campaigns twice. I put a lot of hours into that game. Gearbox did an amazing job of fusing two genres that shouldn’t go together at all and I loved it. And I craved more; much, much more. Three years later, Borderlands 2 is out, and it sure as hell is more Borderlands.
Picking up after the first game, Hyperion, led by a man called Handsom Jack, has taken over the planet Pandora since the Vault was opened. It turns out there’s another Vault, even better than the last one, and a new batch of Vault Hunters has come seeking that treasure and glory. There’s Maya, another siren, with the magical power to trap people in the air. Or Salvador, a gunzerker, who can dual wield any two weapons, even rocket launchers and sniper rifles. Plus Axton, the commando, with a turret somewhat like Roland’s from the first game. And don’t forget Zer0, a haiku-spouting assassin with stealth abilities and a sword. No matter who you chose, you’ll arrive on Pandora to a rude surprise: Handsom Jack’s been killing all the new Vault Hunters.
And so you’re taken on an adventure to defeat Jack with the help of damn near every character from the first game and its DLC packs. Simply having a story makes Borderlands 2 a better game, but it’s actually pretty good, too. Anthony Birch of HAWP fame wrote the game, and did a pretty good job. It’s not amazing storytelling, but it gets the job done. Jack is a real dick, which makes him fun to hate, although probably not as funny as intended. I feel like the whole game just tried to be funny, which is a shame, because it can’t be funny the whole time. That’s impossible for a 30+ hour RPG, especially when most the jokes are about Internet memes and dated pop culture. I don’t care for Axton, my character of choice, saying “cool story bro” when he kills a guy.
Much of the gameplay is the same as it was in the first game: that is, a solide shooter MMO-style fetch/kill quests with loot constantly as a motivator. The random gun generator still does an amazing job popping the most random and wonderful weapons out of enemies corpses. I have a sniper rifle that criticizes me whenever I shoot or reload, an assault rifle that shoots flaming grenades and a rocket launcher that I functions and an additional rocket when I run out of ammo: I literally throw it and then a new rocket launchers is digitally constructed in my hands. If you are at all susceptible to loot lust, this has the potential to ruin your life.
But really, what’s disappointing about this game is how much it feels like the last game. They fixed a lot, but there’s still some things they haven’t addressed. I still can’t track multiple quests at the same time. I still can’t fast travel whenever I want, meaning constantly backtracking across entire maps when I finish a quest. Each class only gets one action ability, which, although they’re all more customizable this time around, is disappointing. There’s still no crafting system or really anything worth sinking my money into, except for vending machines, which seems to have nice gear way less, and slot machines, which are about as good an investment as they are in real life.
Imagine if this game went more in the direction of other action RPGs and MMOs. Imagine it with a crafting system, where you could actually have some control over your weapons, choosing your favorite barrel, elemental effect, grip and whatever other parts guns have. If all the characters had more defined roles and powers that supported that. If loot was instanced, instead of a mad dash whenever a big enemy dies. Because right now, there’s little incentive to play with friends, unless you like enemies taking more shots to kill and getting less loot for it.
But do I still love Borderlands? You’re goddamn right. And I can’t fault Gearbox for playing it safe and giving us a slightly improved, bigger version of what made the first game fun. I’m still addicted, I’m still going to play through it a second time and I still am looking forward to more in the series, especially since no one else is really doing what these games do. But Borderlands 3 better make some serious changes, or the series runs the risk of getting stale.