Owing to a slew of mediocre releases, the past two decades have not been great for Texas-based Gearbox Software, as far as critically successful releases are concerned.. with the wild exception of their iconic Borderlands franchise, that is; this unique FPS/RPG hybrid which spawned its first entry in 2009 (for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360) was lauded by critics and gamers alike for its comic-esque cel-shaded graphics, crackpot humor and tight loot-driven gameplay.
But it wasn’t until the 2012 sequel, Borderlands 2 that the studio cranked it up to 11 to deliver a game just shy of being a magnum opus – but was sadly held back by some poor game design choices. I won’t be covering these here, that’s an article for another time; with this editorial, allow me to gush about one of my favorite games of all time.
One of Borderlands 2’s most striking features is its cel-shaded artstyle; it was not just a vibrant upgrade from its predecessor’s brown and gray tone, but also made a colorful splash in the sea of last gen’s gritty, realistic shooters. Now, that sort of visual design obviously didn’t appeal to everyone back then, but those that found themselves lured by the interesting artstyle stayed for the quirky nature of the game world and it’s denizens as well.
From the moment your character wakes up in the frozen dump of Windshear Waste and lays their eyes on the annoying, talking hunk-of-junk robot Claptrap till the final moments as you take down the monolithic behemoth, the Warrior – the game introduces you to an extremely varied and personable cast of characters: like the polite and charismatic hunter Captain Hammerlock, bold and fiery Siren Lilith, eccentric but 13-years-crazy explosives engineer Tiny Tina and the genius yet calculating antagonist Handsome Jack; Jack is, in fact, such a likable character with his own set of ideologies and humane motivation that he’s essentially an “anti-hero” than an outright villain. And this aspect holds for most major characters in this second adventure in the “borderlands” – most entities in the game aren’t black or white, rather, each have their gray areas; personalities that truly make them feel like actual people who are acted upon by their own moral compass, and are responsible for their actions, whether good or bad.
Even the Vault Hunters themselves come from violent backgrounds and other than personal fame and gain, have no other reason for pursuing the mythical Vault – and they’ll go to any length to prove that point. This moral ambiguity is why the characters in Borderlands are so loved – there is no good or bad on Pandora.
And this sense of world-building, while subtle, is continuously prevalent throughout the game – but sadly, because this is a title primarily known for it’s looter-shooter gameplay, the lore and world building is overlooked by most people. In a way, it’s a smart decision on Gearbox’s part; they want to players to search for and figure out stuff by themselves. To support this, they’ve also been somewhat secretive with regards to a plethora of queries like “Who is the last unknown Siren from the total six?”, “Why are there gigantic skeletal remains of monstrous beings scattered throughout Pandora?” or “Why does Zer0 only have 4 fingers? What is his true identity?” – no one knows the answers to these questions, at least not yet.
While Borderlands 2 features a wild, Mad Max-ish tone with a strong showing of it’s ruthless, alien world it also injects a healthy dose of humor and charm, with easter eggs/pop-culture references and the signature, sometimes-LOL-worthy-and-sometimes-cringy jokes. Again, not everyone will like the self-aware humor, dialogue and overall writing (which can underwhelm every now and then acting as a double-edged sword) so there’s that to consider.
But let’s get to the most important aspect of the game, something you, the reader, have been thoroughly anticipating since you clicked on this article – the RPG and loot systems. Advertised as “Diablo With Guns” (referring to Blizzard’s Diablo series of isometric looter action RPGs), Borderlands 2 boasts 17.75 million weapons (thanks to a procedural generation algorithm) – even though the truly unique feeling weapons are drastically less, the number is still much, MUCH more than your standard shooter.
I won’t delve into technical stuff like gear parts and combinations and character builds, but know this – Borderlands 2’s gameplay mechanics have enough depth to keep the player invested, both in terms of combat and RPG systems.
The first-person shooter combat is a brilliant barrage of elements, resistances, and explosions, with numbers flying all around the screen as you pump a shotgun magazine into a bandit’s face and see it satisfyingly explode into a geyser of blood as his health drops to 0. This is aided by a somewhat robust skill tree setup that allows a decent level of customization; investing in the proper skills that suits your playstyle and more importantly, synergizes with your favorite weapons, is crucial – it’s a true adrenaline rush to see your character mow down waves after waves of enemies after figuring out the right setup.
Plus it’s this fluid gameplay married with the bittersweet RNG loot mechanics that makes Borderlands 2 so addictive – nothing’s more satisfying than finally getting the item drop you wanted after farming dozens of times, like grinding on for weeks for that perfect 94% Sham shield. The game’s formula is simple: kill things to get weapons, so that you can kill bigger things to get better weapons; this engaging loop will certainly keep collectors occupied for a while as there’s a good amount of legendaries and rare gear to collect – especially with up to 3 more friends in co-op.
With 700+ hours so far into Borderlands 2, I certainly see myself staying in Pandora for a bit longer. The game also has a surprisingly active player base on Steam for a 2012 title, and even more so on consoles (PS4/XB1). After all, it’s got a ton of replayability due to the multitude of DLC content available for the game and for me, it’s money well spent.
Also considering that multiple rumors about Borderlands 3 have been floating around as of recent, it’s never been a better time for a newcomer to become a Vault Hunter – and luckily enough, the game is on sale right now on Steam; you can buy it here – It’s recommended to buy the GOTY Edition and the Ultimate Vault Hunter Upgrade Pack 2 DLC add-on for the essential BL2 experience. Happy looting and shooting!