Borderlands 2: Electric Gundaloo
If you haven't played the original Borderlands, allow me to quickly catch you up. It was a first-person shooter with role-playing game elements tacked on, and randomly generated loot. What this ended up creating was a shooter with some of the feel of games like Diablo, where there's always that perfect weapon left to find. While the maps were static and not procedurally-generated, the loot wasn't, and combined with the choice of character classes and skill choices made a game that warranted multiple playthroughs. The story began on the distant planet of Pandora, an alien world with a landscape inspired by the Mad Max franchise, full of colorful characters and humorous contacts and enemies. Eventually our heroes found the vault, and its contents proved to be less than all they had dreamed for, and the quest for more experience and more guns continued on.
Borderlands 2 picks up five years after the end of the first game, and we are told via narration that a second vault is allegedly on Pandora and that the Hyperion corporation is looking for it. A man named Handsome Jack was able to steal credit for the finding of the first vault and take over the Hyperion Corporation, and now he's leading the efforts to uncover the second vault. Handsome Jack tries to kill off our new vault hunter protagonists, they somehow miraculously survive, and the stage is set for a whole new game.
The game doesn't stray far from its ancestor, keeping the same gun-hunting formula at work, while also adding new brands of guns, as well as more gun modifiers into the mix. One of the first guns I found had an effect so that when it was reloaded, it was thrown at my target and exploded like a grenade, then warped back into my hands fully loaded. Besides just letting me live out any Police Squad! fantasies I might have had, it was a pretty handy addition. In Borderlands, one of my favorite weapons was a shotgun that shot rockets, and the rockets subsequently lit my targets on fire. All of these combinations and more await vault hunters on Pandora.
Like before, there's four character classes to choose from. They are somewhat analogous to the previous game's classes, with some tweaks. The siren has a different psychic power than in Borderlands, and the gunzerker is less focused on melee combat than the berzerker was. The sniper class has been replaced with the assassin, who instead of using a pet, projects holographic duplicates to act as a distraction. The commando utilizes turrets like the solider from the original game.
The fast-travel ability is unlocked as soon as the player finds a second teleporter, instead of being dangled a few levels in the future like it was before. This makes getting around a little easier from the start. There's also new "customization stations" that contain the customization options from the New-U stations in Borderlands, plus some new options. At the customization station you can choose how to color your character, and swap heads and hats around to make your particular vault hunter unique. Added into the loot drops this time around, are character and vehicle themes that are unlocked in the customization stations when used.
PC Gamers: Claptrap Wants You Back, Baby
One of the most criticized aspects of Borderlands was that the PC version felt like a hastily made port of a console game, because it was. Back in May, Gearbox Software posted a love letter from Claptrap, the game's mascot, detailing how the PC version would be better this time around. While making good on most but not all of their promises (more on that shortly) the PC version this time around does feel like more effort was put into it. Configuration options that were previously only available by editing configuration files by hand or forcing them on via video card drivers are integrated into the game. Multiplayer uses Steam integration rather than GameSpy to find friends to play with. Performance seems to be better optimized for PC as well, with the game feeling more responsive out of the box, even when running on the same graphics card I used for the original game.
However, like any jilted lover writing a please-take-me-back letter, Claptrap is not without empty promises. While promising that no port forwarding would be required, at least at launch, that is not the case. The only folks I know who were able to enjoy multiplayer games either had to forward ports or move their PC into their firewall's DMZ, which is pretty much how Borderlands worked. Multiplayer games are really the best part of the Borderlands formula, planning attacks with your friends and reviving each other when necessary, so it's unfortunate that they're still difficult to make work out of the box.
The inventory UI is still rather clunky to use. While it has definitely gotten a nice face lift from its predecessor, it's still a pain to move guns around, and given the number of guns found and sold during the course of a game, it detracts from a good experience. The quest UI is likewise nearly similar to, and just as frustrating as it was in the original. Granted, both of these issues are related to the game's dependence on the UT3 (Unreal Tournament 3) engine, but more time spent on these interfaces would have been greatly appreciated, since so much time is spent comparing gun stats and swapping guns around.
Conclusions: Is Vault Hunting for You?
If you played the original and enjoyed it in spite of its flaws, then Borderlands 2 is definitely for you. It's also a good jumping-on point in that the events of the first game while occasionally referenced, aren't needed to have been played through. With its clunky menus and multiplayer support, however, what could have been a stellar game is bumped down to merely a good game. So unless Claptrap makes good on his previous promises, players need to enjoy playing alone, or jumping through some firewall configuration hoops to make things work. For me personally, there's still my quest for that perfect gun out there that will keep me playing.