Release Date: September 21 (Europe), September 18 (North America)
Platforms available on: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Developer: Gearbox Software
Publisher: 2K Games
Genre: First-person shooter / role-playing game
The original Borderlands was one of the big success stories of 2009. Its innovative blend of Diablo-esque looting and superlative co-op play ensured Gearbox Software's new property more than held its own against the established franchises. There was much to love about the game - yet room for improvement too - so with the inevitable sequel comes the opportunity to iron out those creases and strive for perfection.
With Borderlands 2, Gearbox has seized this opportunity with both hands, delivering a follow-up that builds on its predecessor's framework in all the right areas. The developers have stuck to their guns for the most part, but an improved narrative and refined class skill design makes this a superior sequel.
Whether tackling the world of Pandora solo or going in with three friends by your side, looting is the essence of the game. There are new guns to wield at every turn, all backed by an array of stats to shed light on their strengths and weaknesses. Players will experience each segment of the game differently depending on the firearms they choose. For instance, scoped weapons go hand-in-hand with stealth and vantage points, while shotguns and other blunt force blasters are ideal for close combat.
It's this part of the game that keeps on giving, and the sheer depth to be found in its arsenal will keep players coming back for more. While many of the guns operate in a similar way, the subtle differences in their attributes allow players to fine-tune their inventory to fit their play style down to a tee.
There are four classes on offer in Borderlands 2, with players able to choose between a turret-wielding Commando, a stealthy Assassin, a psionically-blessed Siren and a dual weapon-packing Gunzerker. Although these classes are all based around specific principles, they are far more flexible than before thanks to improved class skill design and more sophisticated skill trees.
Whatever abilities you cherry pick, characters of the same class will share core attributes, but the new customisation options lets players mould their Vault Hunter to personal preference. It's an RPG mechanic that impacts on the game in a meaningful way. Borderlands 2 might skimp on visual customisation options usually associated with its RPG counterparts, but it comes through where it counts.
Each of the classes has been tailored to complement one another, and the level of balancing is commendable. Our only issue with co-op is that all loot earned is shared, meaning it's a case of whoever can snatch it fastest. This will no doubt lead to divisions within newly-formed teams and one or two falling outs among friends.
Vehicles is an area that has been sadly neglected. It's almost as if the developers have admitted the driving segments didn't work particularly well the first time around, so they've downplayed them here. They feature in a few quests, but feel underused on the whole. Refining the driving mechanics and introducing them into more missions would have provided a welcome change of pace from all that gunplay.
This is a game bursting with personality; it's side-splittingly funny at times and packs emotional punch at others. While many missions are cut from the generic RPG cloth, such as 'kill enemy X' or 'locate item Y', the characters' charisma and the stunning art design breathes life into the 30-hour plus campaign and makes it memorable.
It's also all rendered in the same cel-shaded textures of the original, giving the impression of a comic book come to life. From the icy mountains to the dusty expanses reminiscent of the Dollars trilogy, Pandora has never looked so good. The environments have been given a much-needed injection of variation, and the graphics have been polished up beautifully.
Overall, Borderlands 2 is the sequel we were all hoping for. Gearbox has clung rigorously to what worked the first time around, and fleshed out the experience with refined customisation options, more variety, and a vastly more interesting story. With fantastic co-op support, there's tonnes of longevity on offer here, and no doubt future DLC will sweeten the deal. Looting and shooting doesn't get much better than this.