Borderlands 2 – How a sequel is made.

Managed to get my greedy little hands on  Borderlands 2 last week, and I’ve spent hours playing it since.  I’m always weary when it comes to a video game sequel and try my best to not base my opinion on the original game…  While comparisons are both necessary and unavoidable, generally I’ve found that any time I look at a sequel while factoring in the experience of the original, I wind up disappointed.

For starters, my gaming rig is a 2 year old ASUS G51-J Gaming Laptop, Intel i7 CPU, Nvidia 360GTS, 4GB ram, etc…  Two years ago it could handle anything thrown at it, even today it can hold its own on most games, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that with all of the graphics settings just about maxed B2 ran like buttah.  That’s a good thing, since the graphics – while still cell shaded – appear to have been updated quite a bit, with more open expanses that are an absolute treat and which can also be completely explored (until you find that random area that looks explorable, but results in your immediate death).  One catch to the large open map setup they’ve expanded upon is that if you don’t have a vehicle – it can get tedious running around, and other times you may find yourself completely lost trying to pin down the route to a way point.  Other sandbox titles incorporate a more intelligent waypoint system, or a form of GPS navigation to help you get from A to B – B2 gives you a map and a white diamond to get to… the diamond only entering your field of view when you’re within eyeshot of the destination.

One thing I liked about B1 was the RPG styling as far as developing skills and abilities as you play, this carries over to B2 with the added perk of various challenges and achievements which allow you to boost your characters abilities above and beyond what you get from your weapon and mod selection, and skill tree setup.

From the get go, you’re given some decent hardware but it’s only a matter of time before you start discovering even better weapons and find yourself spending a pretty significant amount of time deciding whether you want to swap your weapons or sell them.  The selection of guns in the game is beyond belief, while you’re still locked in to basic categories (pistol, smg, assault, sniper, shotgun, grenade, and rocket) – there are varying levels of buffs and environment effects offered across the spectrum of weapons.  I generally try to carry at least one of each environmental style at all times as your awesome sniper rifle that does fire damage may be completely useless on some enemies, which is where an electrical, explosive, or corrosive weapon may make short work of the target.

A good rule of thumb I use as far as selecting weapons (mind you, I am not and have never been a fan of the shotgun in any FPS) is the price.  Generally if the resale price is higher than what you’re using, it’s a better gun.  This may not always work, but overall I’ve had the best luck with upgrades when I’ve swapped for a similar weapon with a significantly higher resale cost.  The opposite is true for me when it comes to grenades.  Early on I got a mod that turned my grenade into an instantly exploding MIRV that fired off 9 additional grenades when the first blew up.  That generally made short work of enemies both big and small and allowed a larger margin of error for my aim as normally when I toss a grenade, I’m going for the general direction of the bad guys and not so concerned with pinpoint accuracy.

Vehicles are still very useful, both for traversing massive expanses in a short time as well as for clearing out a lot of bad guys before risking your precious shielding and health.  Something new I noticed is that simply slamming into an enemy isn’t enough to take them out, which was the case with B1… Some smaller enemies may die instantly but most either take damage and keep coming, or lay alive but disabled and waiting for you to finish the job by hand.  I’ve seen some flying vehicles as well, but I’m not sure whether or not I’ll have access in the single player campaign yet.

As far as characters, you’ve got a few varieties to try out, the Gunzerker (can dual-wield anything), Siren (phase shift bad guys out of the fight), Assassin (be sneaky, stab people, snipe people), or my personal favorite – the Commando (deploy-able turret).  I’ve seen some folks complain that the turret has lost its shielding, in my experience I use the turret as a tank.  If I’ve got a lot of enemies to deal with, I’ll toss the turret towards them, then pick them off with grenades or a sniper rifle as they focus their attention on the turret.

Something I’ve noticed about the NPC enemies though – they seem inconsistently oblivious.  In some areas, they’ll spot me a mile away and start opening fire, but in most you could be a few feet away and they won’t start pouring bullets on you until you’ve begun your assault.  They also seem to ‘forget’ that you’re there if you are out of sight for a certain amount of time.  Many times I’ve been sneaking through an area and have one literally walk right past me without acting.  Other times, they’ll duck away for cover and despite not actually hitting me, keep firing away and shouting taunts.

The characters in game are fantastic – while I’m not exactly looking for character development, the ones involved with pushing the story along or providing side missions are more than filler – they provide some valid insight on the mission and the voice acting is the best I’ve experienced in an FPS for some time.  The various taunts and ‘death cries’ from enemy NPC’s are equally entertaining and while some can be overlooked I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of hearing that baby voiced ‘psycho’ cry out after I’ve dispatched it from Pandora.

The good thing is that if you want to just play the story, you can.  If you want to bang out side missions to build up your stats, you can do that as well.  Exploration is encouraged, and while some missions may be marked ‘trivial’ as you level increases, the ability to unlock new weapons, skins, and other aspects of the game through the many side missions is a treat.  Most enemies you meet will be scaled appropriately for your character, but some side missions that require re-visiting an area you’ve already cleared early on can be a practice in tedium and a waste of ammunition.  Sure, its always fun to drop a target with a well timed headshot – but without the challenge it can start to feel like you’ve got God Mode enabled and you’re still expending ammunition that may be needed further down the quest chain.

Money buys guns, Eridium (an element that became available after the vault from B1 was uncorked) allows you to increase the amount of ammunition and other items you can carry at any point.  Since my favorite weapons are assault and sniper rifles, they were the first to get these upgrades, and an early backpack upgrade will allow you to collect more loot which can be cached in for ammo, weapons, shields, etc…  Something that doesn’t appear to be available in this game are health packs.  B1 would allow you to purchase instant health buffs, but also health packs you could carry with you – B2 doesn’t sell any sort of health pack that can be carried.  Once you get your rhythm down and find a set of weapons to your liking, the money will start to pile up – mainly because the upgrades you’ll find are better than what you can buy – so overall its used to buy more ammunition.

Overall – I love the game, its a fantastic product and I can tell that there was a lot of time, effort, and love put into it by the developers.  I can’t comment on the co-op or multi-player because I generally don’t play multi-player and if I was to do co-op, it would be on a console… but I  hear that both are done very well.  Is it worth the price of admission?  Absolutely.  Considering the string of games I’ve dropped $50-$60 over the past couple of months and have gotten bored with (Skyrim, Sleeping Dogs, etc…) a gem like this which successfully puts a dent in my Minecraft habit really stands out.

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