Borderlands was an odd game. It wasn’t the most complex game ever, its story wasn’t exactly mind blowing and at times it could be pretty slow. But you know what? It was damn good fun – and even more so with a few friends. So picture Borderlands 2 offering more of the same in terms of core gameplay experience but promising a better storyline, more interaction with characters and something a little less by the books. We got to check out Borderlands 2 last week and pass judgement over the new content introduced by Gearbox.
From the moment you start running around Pandora’s new locales, it’s instantly evident just how much more social and interactive the game’s towns are. NPCs walk around the streets talking as you pass, people do things other than standing in one spot looking bored and quest-givers actually talk to you rather than present you with a massive block of on-screen text. It’s such a simple set of features but when you compare it to the original Borderlands’ acceptable but rather lacklustre way of presenting the story, it’s almost unbelievable that this is a new thing.
One major thing Borderlands 2 does successfully is introduce a brand new story, but not alienate those that played the original game. You’ll quickly spot characters from the first game including those that you might have actually played as and rather than portray them as people you should know, the game only puts them in the plot in supporting roles. If you do know them, then there’s no doubt their presence will bring a smile to your face. Marcus the portly gun merchant returns, Claptrap is still bouncing around Pandora humming to himself, and the original cast members all have unique roles to play.
Perhaps the most interesting new character I had the pleasure of meeting during the preview was Tiny Tina, a thirteen year old girl who likes to throw tea parties with her toys. Sounds innocent enough but when you get to meet her, it’s clear she has a few screws loose. Despite being clearly mad, she’s portrayed in such a way that you don’t mind helping her out instead of slowly edging away from her. Sure she’ll ask you for explosives and other dangerous objects to complete quests but then the innocent side of her comes through and asks you to complete an optional objective of finding crumpets for her tea party. Her voice acting is also fantastic, a mix between sassy and street, with some Internet lingo thrown in. She’ll greet you with things like “oh hai!” but pop out with slang (and sometimes strong) language, ending statements with things like “boyeeeee!”. It’s the level of characterisation the original Borderlands often cried out for.
Moving away from the game’s narrative, Borderlands 2 is for the most part identical to the original Borderlands. You talk to people or read notice boards and you’re given quests to complete. Sometimes they’re simple fetch quests, other times you’ll need to kill a specific target. You get the general idea – follow a waypoint, complete objective. The waypoint system in Borderlands 2 has seen a small change in that it’ll slowly update as you approach your final target. For example, the original Borderlands would put the waypoint at the final goal or target. The sequel however will periodically update the waypoint, giving you a clearer indication of where you’re going. It’s not exactly hard to get lost in Pandora, but it helps anyway.
Seeing as the original title’s four main characters are now part of Borderlands 2’s narrative, it means we’ve got a new ensemble charging through Pandora and murdering anything that moves. Unfortunately, due to preview limitations, I only got to take one of the four out for a play so I picked Maya, a character fairly similar to Lilith, the character I’d played as in the original Borderlands. Like Lilith, Maya is a Siren but unlike Lilith’s ability to become invisible and move like greased lightning, Maya uses an ability called Phaselock. When activated by aiming at an enemy, your target is hoisted into the air and held for a few seconds, completely unable to fight back. Naturally you can’t abuse the ability as it has a recharge period, but when you find yourself up against tougher, often armoured enemies, it can be a godsend.
Other small features worth briefly mentioning include the fact that the game has a fully realised world map. Whereas Borderlands’ areas were connected by gates and a list of names and nothing more, Borderlands 2 has a full viewable world map which indicates exactly where you are. Minor, but useful. A minor gripe would be that some lootable objects including piles of bones now require you to melee attack them rather than just holding a single button as in the first game.
Borderlands 2 is definitely a better game than the original and you can tell the development team aren’t bringing out another one with the sole intent of making more money. It’s clever, funny, enjoyable and retains the original titles addictive exploration and loot mechanics without ever getting stale. Fan of the original? Don’t miss this. Not played the original? It’d be great to play that first, but it’s definitely not necessary.
Any excuse for another journey through Pandora is a good excuse.