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Jonzor's Video Game Reviews (41)

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Batman: Arkham Knight 4.5/5
Magicka 4/5
Bravely Default 4/5
Awesomenauts 4/5
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon 4/5
Far Cry 3 4/5
Halo: Combat Evolved An... 4/5
Crysis Warhead 4.5/5
Crysis 4.5/5
Final Fantasy: The 4 He... 1.5/5
The Legend of Zelda: A ... 4.5/5
Borderlands 2 4/5
Final Fight 3/5
Command & Conquer 4: Ti... 1.5/5
Resident Evil: Revelati... 3.5/5
Bastion 4/5
Defense Grid: The Awake... 4.5/5
Borderlands 4/5
Mass Effect 3 4.5/5
Mass Effect 2 4.5/5
Mass Effect 4/5
Batman: Arkham Asylum 4.5/5
Ikaruga 4/5
The Legend of Zelda: Oc... 5/5
Mario Kart: Double Dash... 4.5/5

Next 16
 

Borderlands 2   PC (Steam) 

Everybody gets a bullet!    4/5 stars

Well… if it isn’t broke...

Borderlands 2 really IS the sequel to Borderlands. Largely unchanged from the original, the offspring of loot-grinding RPGs and wild FPSs will feel awfully familiar to anyone who played the previous game. That’s my way of saying I’m not going to rehash the entire game as if you’ve never played the original.

That’s not to say NOTHING is different. Several small tweaks have been made to make the good parts better, and they even found a way to patch a few of the smaller leaks in the boat.

Borderlands 2 takes place five years after the events of the original. Opening the Vault at the end of the main story released a giant monster, no loot, and then caused a mysterious mineral known as Eridium to spread throughout the planet. Leveraging this new mineral for his own gain, Handsome Jack took control of weapons maker Hyperion, and then used it to essentially take over the planet. Rumors begin to spread of another Vault, and you - a member of a new wave of Vault Hunters - are on your way to chase glory, because you don’t watch the news and didn’t hear what happened the last time someone opened an ancient vault on Pandora.

The good news is that this ridiculously familiar story gets figuratively and literally derailed in the opening cinematic when Handsome Jack blows up the train that you’re on, because luring people to hunt this new Vault was a trap, and you spend the rest of the game out for revenge. The previous game’s heroes now appear as members of the resistance fighting to dethrone Handsome Jack, and they’re really excited to hear you’ve taken an interest in the Jack-dethroning industry.

The story from here is of a slightly-higher quality than the previous one, if nothing else than in presentation alone. Story details and development of some NPCs were pretty bland, boring and sometimes easy to miss (if you didn't read mission details) and in Borderlands 2 the game’s fantastic writing and strong NPCs don’t get separated from moving the story along as often. So whether you think the overall story is any better (and I would argue that it is) or not, it will at least be more fun to watch this time around.

Although... I’ve discovered something about a Borderlands story: avoiding side quests makes the main story a lot more engaging. I played through Borderlands 2 several times, and on the repeat trips through when I would stay on task, I found myself a lot more interested than when the storyline was brand new to me. The point is that I think diluting the main story with side-questing makes it seem a lot less interesting when in truth, if it was presented all together, it’s actually not too shabby.

But here’s the other thing, even if the story isn’t great… do I care? I’m starting to get frustrated with the trend of deciding which genres or franchises don’t “need” a story and then banging on so-called terrible stories in games that clearly succeed at being great without a strong story. It’s borderline hypocrisy that some franchise I like can have a terrible story and I can just write it off because “Oh, this series has never been about the story,” but then I can turn around, take a game like Borderlands that’s just trying to give you an excuse to have some fun, and blast them for not having a story up to Mass Effect standards. Ugh… I could do this for a while, so let’s get back to the review:

One thing about the story we can all agree on is the characters. Borderlands was bursting at the seams with memorable writing and NPCs, and Borderlands 2 does the impossible in better writing and better characters while keeping it fresh and natural. It would have been SOOO easy (and I honestly was EXPECTING them to make this mistake) to try to “copy” the style of the first game to the point where it just seems like they’re trying too hard.

As of writing this, I’ve played the main game, and the first four DLC expansions in their entirety, and the new characters not only hold their own against a stellar cast, but pro wrestler-spoof Mr. Torgue and the demolitions-expert-slash-13-year-old Tiny Tina actually surpass the old favorites. The writing usually peaks in the DLCs, with Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep being an absolute avalanche of fan service hilarity. But in truth, hardly a character comes by that isn’t worth keeping, and nary a joke falls flat for as long as you’re willing to keep playing. Playing through multiple times, I find myself looking forward to certain lines like my favorite lines in a movie... this writing gets better with age, not stale, which is incredibly hard to do.

Borderlands 2 wouldn't be complete without everyone's favorite characters: the guns. The single biggest improvement to the Borderlands formula was providing an improved structure for farming rare and awesome gear. All bosses now respawn if you revisit their area, and each has a rare drop or two with a much higher drop rate than other rare stuff. So now farming for specific gear is much more structured... but let's be clear, it can still be a grind.

Each of the major weapons manufacturers on Pandora has done their best to set themselves apart in recent years, meaning the difference between a Dahl and Vladof sniper rifle is something players should keep in mind when comparing stats. Sure, that Jakobs rifle has much higher damage, but did you know it has awful recoil whille that Hyperion gun has essentially negative recoil, and actually gets MORE accurate as it fires? Might change the way you see things...

The game also features true "raid bosses" to aid your loot quest. These are tough, tough, tough bosses you're likely not to beat on your first try, and it's assumed that you're bringing friends. The good news is that they are GUARANTEED to drop a rare piece of gear from a small subset, as well as having a boosted chance to drop other rare items. Add to this other enemies with a MUCH higher chance to drop rare gear as well as places to purchase rare gear with a special currency, and you've got plenty of ways to spruce up your arsenal if you do a little homework to find out what to look for. Several rewards from side quests can be better than many of the farmable rare items, so if grinding isn't for you, you don't have to miss out on all the fun.

I was also much happier with the selection of grenades and shields over the previous game. There are several varieties of each that are quite viable for all but the absolute highest levels of end-game play.

The visuals are, again, very stylized and fitting to the atmosphere of the game. Not too stressful on anyone's graphics card, but good-looking and full of character. The best news here is the improved color palette, leading to an appropriate, but more interesting world to look at.

The gameplay is almost identical to the first Borderlands. Four character classes (6 if you buy the requisite DLC) with a special skill are available at the very start of play. Each character has a unique skill tree full of passive boosts and alterations to their special skill. The skill tree boasts some more extreme variations this time around, so character builds have a lot of wiggle room. I played 3 classes pretty extensively, and my group of four humans each played a different class, just to give you and idea of what I experienced. Some characters are stronger in a group than solo (Maya, the Siren) and some characters will need about 20-30 levels to really get going (Zer0, the Assassin), but there really isn't a bad character in the bunch for general gameplay.

Here's a quick rundown of the 4 base characters (I played the first three before writing this):

Zer0 the Assassin has a cloak that throws out a decoy. Zer0 gains a number of bonuses while he's cloaked.

Axton the Commando deploys a Sentry gun much like Roland in the first game. This gun can be jazzed up in numerous ways and can be quite versatile.

Salvador the Gunerker goes into rage mode and dual wields any two guns you give him. Any two. The mix-and-match potential is endless.

Maya the Siren can "phaselock" an enemy to freeze them and suspends them in the air for a brief time. She can also be given a number of abilities for use as the party healer.

The actual combat is the least-changed aspect from the previous game. You’ll each carry (by the end of the game) 4 equipped guns, a shield, a grenade mod, and two pieces of gear to modify your stats in the direction of your chosen play style. Standing between you and Jack is an improved set of enemies featuring more types of bandits, wild creatures, and robots. The variety of enemies in the game is the main source of actual combat variety, because knowing the smart way to take out each enemy goes a long way towards your success. This means not only the type and potential element of the weapons you use, but things like where critical hit zones are located to do the most damage and which enemies will rush you vs which ones will trying and fight you at a distance.

Two big changes to gameplay are worth mentioning. The first is the introduction of a new element for your weapons: slag. Slag will stick to enemies and provide a HUGE boost to all non-slag damage done to them. This is great for teams with one person slagging as many enemies as possible instead of focusing on kills while others do the damage.

The other big change is the removal of weapon proficiency in favor of the new Badass Rank. Badass points are gained through completing achievement-esque goals like 100 headshots with pistols or opening opening 750 chests/boxes. Eventually, gaining points will get you a token you can spend for a permanent boost to one of about a dozen stats. Sadly there is a rule of diminishing returns as you spend tokens, and the game steers you into spreading them fairly evenly. What's really interesting, however, is that Badass Rank is tied to a profile instead of a character, so rank and boosts are carried over and can be built by multiple characters, allowing for nearly infinite Badassness.

Borderlands 2 has nearly infinite replay value. DLC can boost the game's level cap from 50 to 72, and with up to 6 characters, there are plenty of experiences to be had. There are also multiple play throughs, up to 3 depending on your DLC spending habits, with some difficulty tweaks that will make you rethink your strategy from previous trips through the game.

The game isn't without it's flaws, many of them will sound familiar to existing fans. Side quests can get bland. Some generic enemies can be bordering on unfair to take down alone... it's just too much health, too much speed, and too much damage for a non-boss enemy. At some point in the game, you'll find yourself separated from your home base and... well, I hope you pack like a Boy Scout, because you've got a tough stretch in front of you and don't have the option of going home to get the guns you may need. The increased emphasis on some elemental damage types can make areas rather tough if the random drops didn't bless you with a viable gun of a certain element.

As with the original, this game is a wonderful hybrid of genres, but again, isn't especially strong at either. A better FPS would have more punishing AI and a better physics engine, while a better RPG would have deeper skill trees. Improvements in both of these were made since last time, but this is still basically true.

But in the end, these flaws are nitpicks, and merely ways they could IMPROVE Borderlands 3, not "fix" Borderlands 2 (because let's face it, the franchise of 87 bazillion guns has made 87 bazillion dollars and we may as well save room on our hard drives for the inevitable sequel). At this point, Borderlands has almost created it’s own genre. It doesn’t answer to FPS purists about its mediocre firefights just as it doesn’t answer to RPG purists about wanting more character progression.

Room for improvement doesn’t mean Borderlands 2 doesn’t already work. To argue otherwise would be like yelling at a group of 8-year-olds whose game of football inevitably breaks down into some sort of wild-throw-yell-catch-chase-laugh game about how great "real" football is. Maybe they’re not playing football the way you like it… but they’re having way too much fun to hear you.

 

 


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