Borderlands 2 – Xbox 360 review

It’s crazy to think that there was once doubt about whether Borderlands 2 would happen. The original entered the UK chart at #7 and proved to be a slow and steady seller, very much a game that sold on word of mouth alone. A strong following and a bigger advertising spree helped Borderlands 2 to become the UK’s biggest launch of 2012 (prior to FIFA 13), outselling even Mass Effect 3. Like we said – it’s crazy that at one point this sequel wasn’t a sure fire thing. Crazy.

Fallout 3’s hyperactive cousin – that sums up Borderlands 2 nicely. The plot isn’t particularly deep but that’s not a problem – as you travel the hostile world of Pandora to prevent the charismatic bad guy Handsome Jack opening an almighty vault, there are plenty of creative sub-missions thrown your way. It also helps that Pandora is full to the brim with distractions.

There’s plenty to impress here with the first thing being the character customisation options. Four different classes are yours to choose ranging from a Ninja Assassin to a hulking Gunzerker, while an extra character class – a Mechromancer who can summon a robot – is now available as a download. Rare artefacts let you kit out your character with that extra personal touch as do the not quite as rare ‘class only’ upgrades. New clothing colour schemes and changeable heads are gained throughout.

In typical action RPG fashion skills are improved by levelling up but there’s also something new called a ‘badass rank’. There are near countless challenges that, upon completion, give you the chance to increase a skill by a tiny percentage. Most of these are completed on the fly simply by playing in a normal manner, mainly for killing X of one enemy, or getting Y kills with weapon Z. It’s the rate that these challenges are completed that not only makes Borderlands 2 scarily addictive, but also makes you feel that you’ve achieved something in very little time.

The weapon assortment too is superb. Loot is found just about everywhere – even in grotty toilets – and just when you’ve found a gun that you honestly believe won’t be bettered any time soon, something even greater is found. There are guns that can be thrown as grenades when ammo is depleted, quadruple-barrelled shotguns, shields that adsorb ammo and add them to your inventory and even grenades that pull enemies into a vortex before exploding. At the start your backpack space is limited and only two guns can be held, but later you’re allowed four in your possession and a much bigger backpack.

Dialogue and mission objectives have clearly had a lot of time spent on them. The opening takes place on a snowy landscape where intentionally irritating robot Claptrap rescues you from near death and thereafter refers to you as his ‘minion’. Claptrap has some great lines and a few off-beat missions like handing out invites to a birthday party that raise a smile, while Handsome Jack’s brilliantly twisted radio conversations also amuse.

Surprises are frequent, especially for those who step off the beaten path. The opening ice world is full of bandit hideouts and no matter where in Pandora you are one-off boss-style enemies can appear without warning. While searching a graveyard for loot, which resulted in a three-way stand off, we accidentally disturbed the nest of a colossal Spiderant and a raging battle ensued. Another decent mission sees you helping a town which has been forced into slave labour which involves building and then testing a giant shield to protect the town.

A few hours into the game you find yourself in Sanctuary. The world of Pandora is a hostile place but Sanctuary is the closest it has to a safe house. Here there are a few familiar faces plus extra missions to pick up. Just when we thought that we were starting to bring the story to a conclusion about ten new missions appeared which then took another 15 or so hours to complete. This truly is the game that keeps on giving. More than one mission can be on the go at any time – we were once out searching for documents for one character while killing wildlife in the name of research for another.

Online play has been designed to be part of the experience instead of some sort of ‘bolted on’ extra. Three other vault hunters can be joined and missions completed cooperatively. Be warned though – other players can take loot before you’ve even had the chance to examine it, and if they rush off and complete missions without your involvement then you might miss out on a few minor plot details. As a whole though online play is very well balanced. The more players there are the stronger the enemy gets while loot drops become more common. Everybody gets a share of any cash picked up too plus a small amount of XP from every kill. Thanks to the unique ‘second wind skill’ – get a kill while downed to be instantly revived – you don’t end up respawning miles away from other players too often either.

Our highlight with the co-op mode was spending two hours with three other players trying to get the achievement for surviving five increasingly difficult waves of enemies at a slaughter house. This mission in particular has a brilliant emphasis on teamwork.

Borderlands 2 is one of the few games out there that does very little wrong. It’s impressive in scope and scale, impeccably designed and has an addictive streak that not commonly found in games of this ilk. The only gripe we had is that there’s a fair bit of backtracking due to the sheer size of the environments, but to complain about the size of a game – especially when there’s always something to kill and loot – is a bit like complaining about getting too much cake for your birthday.

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