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The Good and Bad of Borderlands 2

For a game that was one of my most anticipated of the year, I haven’t played Borderlands 2 for nearly as much as I would have liked. Alas, just as I got started getting into it, something else for review dropped into my lap and I had to devote some time to it. Such is the way of a game reviewer, you go where the money takes you. Wait, we’re not getting paid for this?

Get my agent on the phone!

I have put in enough time with the game to talk about some of the stuff that I like, and some of the stuff that I don’t, though and I’m happy to share it, thereby gaining me a small respite from Bill’s incessant cries for a piece about my Borderlands 2 impressions. A real taskmaster, that Abner.

The Good

The Siren

I played through all of Borderlands and all of the Borderlands DLC as a siren, switching over to other characters only long enough to get their respective achievements. I don’t know why I picked her in the first place, but being a female redhead with psychic powers and a propensity for SMGs certainly didn’t hurt. I mean, she’s Commander Shepard, just on Pandora. In practice, my use of the Lilith’s powers were, shall we say, less than effective. Oh sure, I killed plenty of dudes, but more often than not, I’d leave myself behind enemy lines with no way to pop off my power, instead having to shoot my way back to the safety of my co-op partner. This time around, Maya’s power, the phaselock, can be used on an enemy without exposing yourself to any more enemy fire than when shooting them normally. Not only that, but the various bonuses that can be built upon the ability (healing orbs, elemental damage, sucking in other enemies) makes it a powerful crowd control tool as well as a more easily planned tactical tool. It’s also a lot more effective when I don’t have a co-op partner to run back to, a situation I will no doubt find myself in as my time with the game progresses.

The Weapon Freedom

While I appreciated the weapon proficiency stats from the original game, as you got deep into the higher levels, those weapon skills felt more like a limitation than a boon. If you found a really awesome assault rifle, how did it compare to your SMG, knowing that your SMG proficiency was much, much higher? Those proficiencies are gone in Borderlands 2, so you’re free to use whatever weapon you want, or whatever weapon best fits the situation at hand. There still are some character specific weapon skills, Zer0’s sniper rifle skills for example, but for the most part, if you just picked up an awesome new shotgun and you want to use it, go on with your bad self. Give them psychos what for.

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The Skill Challenges

Weapon proficiencies have been replaced with badass points earned by completing skill challenges. I love, love, love games that reward you for not just playing, but for playing around. Look, I’m going to get the challenges for killing bad guys with SMGs and using phaselock and probably setting dudes on fire, as I gravitate towards weapons with fire damage. Tell me that I can get points for killing guys with sniper rifles or barrels, or melee attack or a bunch of other weapons and environmental items that I may not have looked at before, and I’ll try them too. Maybe I’ll find something I like that I wouldn’t have noticed before. Frost that cake of experimentation with a tasty buttercream of attribute progression and I’m one happy camper. Having these skills go up a percentage point, or half of one, at a time isn’t going to let you wade through crowds of higher level monsters with impunity, but when I start up another class from scratch, I’m sure I’ll appreciate the little bumps in skill. I also like the fact that you can turn said bumps off if you so desire. Not sure why you’d want to do that, but it’s your game, do whatever makes you happy.

The Villain

I’ve only heard his voice over the radio, and seen him him in the opening movie, but I already like Handsome Jack more than any enemy encountered in the original game. Granted, I couldn’t tell you who the main enemy was in the original game, but that’s beside the point. Jack gives you someone to focus your ire on, and his taunting words drives you forward through the main quest. Jack and I also share an affinity for gem encrusted ponies, so there’s that too.

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The Inventory

Maybe this stuff was in the last game, but there seems to be a lot more in the way of inventory management this time around. Trading weapons with co-op partners is no longer an exercise in vomiting up your gear and making your partners stare at the ground for ten minutes. You can go into a trade screen and trade weapons for weapons or weapons for money or whatever. Granted, true co-op partners give away guns, they don’t sell them, but if you want to merc your friends over a corrosive sniper rifle, I guess that’s your business. Being able to stash unwanted weapons away for other characters is also a welcome addition. Lord knows you’ll need it.

The Bad

The Pistols

Look, I get that you’re not going to give a level one character a rocket launcher that shoots acid-spewing kittens, but for the love of Roland, can I please find something other than a pistol? Here a pistol, there a pistol, everywhere a pistol, pistol. Seriously, it’s getting pretty old. I’m not looking for pearlescent weapons at this point, but seeing how the bandits I’m killing are armed with weapons that are far, far more powerful than my cruddy little popguns, it’s not entirely out of the question to ask for an assault rifle or an SMG. I’m hoping that once I get to Sanctuary, the loot river will begin flowing because if not, Mama’s gonna be unhappy. And when Mama’s unhappy, ain’t nobody happy.

The Save System

Borderlands 2 quests can be long, both in time spent and distance traveled. If you need to quit your game prior to completing the quest, when you come back you’ll be at the entrance of the last level you entered and you’ll have to do everything all over again. “But”, you say, “who cares, when more fighting means more loot and more experience?” That’s true, but if in attempting the quest and failing, you go up a level or two, the experience gained by killing dudes all over again is downright piddly. The weapons probably won’t be that much better either, not to mention the money spent on ammo used to kill people you’ve already killed. I know that this was also the case in Borderlands, but these quests seem longer and tougher, especially solo, so it’s more of an issue this time around than the last time. Note, this does not include if you complete the quest but just haven’t turned it in. This is only if you haven’t completed the quest objective.

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The Lower Levels

I know that this isn’t the game’s fault, but when you consider how much time I spent playing Borderlands, including all of the DLC, I spent much more time as an unstoppable killing machine than as a gun fumbling newbie. When you burst into flame upon killing someone, can run like a jackrabbit, do increased damage, have increased reload speed and increased weapon speed, that’s a hard thing to give up. It certainly doesn’t help that those abilities fueled a lot of my behaviors, behaviors I have retained for Borderlands 2 only without the abilities to support them. I know that this isn’t the game’s fault, but hot damn, it is taking some serious getting used to. I used to be Death, destroyer of worlds and now I’m a lady with a disco ball. No wonder the enemies all run right at me. I can’t hit the broad side of a barn.

The Telescopes

If you are playing co-op and you should come across a telescope, do not, under any circumstance, look into said telescope at the same time that your co-op partner is looking into said telescope. Trust me.

I’m looking forward to spending some time with the game when I can sit down and really dig into things. Hopefully that will be tonight. My overall impressions of the game are positive, despite my complaints and I think that spending more time with the game, especially in co-op, will go a long way towards addressing my issues. Before I know it, I’ll be back to tearing up the battlefield and playing a chorus of destruction on the strings of my SMG, or shotgun, or assault rifle. You know, whatever works.


Brandon loves games, which shouldn't be a surprise given where you're reading this. He has written for GameShark, The Escapist and G4, and made them all less relevant as a result.

14 thoughts to “The Good and Bad of Borderlands 2”

  1. I LOVE LOVE LOVE that the weapon proficiences are gone. I mean, it’s a game about guns FFS. Don’t tell me “well, you can’t use that one so good”.

    I HATE HATE HATE that I can’t find anything other than god damned pistols in the first ten levels. It was like Christmas when I found an assault rifle…really more of a burst-fire grenade launcher. I haven’t seen a single SMG. FWIW, I’m running a Gunzerker because…well, Gunzerker.

    In all, I’m thinking it’s better than the first so far. It’s really damn good, but there are still some issues with pacing and tedium that I’m worried about. I’m already fatigued of picking up $2 everywhere or finding a ton of bullets I can’t use or don’t need.

    Also, how is it that no one has noticed that Claptrap is really just Spongebob Squarepants as a robot?

    1. Hey, I found that burst fire grenade launcher too! Twice.

      I dunno. Spongebob seems somewhat more oblivious than Claptrap. Don’t get me wrong, Claptrap is an idiot, but Spongebob seems blissfully unaware of just about everything.

      1. Claptrap is a mix of Spongebob and Squidward Tentacles. He is as annoying (and funny) as the former, and as cynical as the latter.

  2. Sounds like maybe their loot algorithm needs some tweaking, especially if you both found the same weird weapon that Brandon found twice.

    That was one of the huge pluses of Borderlands One: the crazy variety of weapons. I loved my Acid shotgun.

    Maybe they’ll patch it? There’s already been some patches for the Steam version. Of course, the patch notes said “minor bug fixes” and nothing else.

  3. The dubstep version of Spongebob. The game starts of incredibly slow and narrow and each character feels essentially the same, until you get that first mid tier ability 15’ish.

    It also seems that there’s really no reason to use anything but, sniper rifles. Empty your ammo and then move onto whatever sidearm you have. Definitely agree with Barnes, i’m sick of being compelled to open the endless amounts of small green LED boxes for pittance

    Other than that i think the best thing to say is that it’s just more of the same stuff we enjoyed (and did not enjoy), polished up a bit; a game best enjoyed coop.

    1. Yeah…I keep finding myself thinking “I need a sniper rifle”. Something about the level design or something really, really lends itself to them.

      I almost wish that you could automatically open the boxes and get the loot just by walking near them. It’s not gameplay to go up and press X and then X again to get whatever lame crap is there. I mean, come on. Surprise us some time.

  4. I hear/read many people think Borderlands 2 is harder than 1. I really didn’t notice until I tried the playing solo. It’s like playing Halo on legendary difficulty without a Co-Op partner out the gate. Friends are key, at least for story mode quests.

    As for anyone “wanting more” from the start (I’m assuming ya’ll didn’t pre-order), go under “Steam/steamapps/common/Borderlands 2/DLC/POPremierClub/Lic” and edit the WillowDLC.ini via text edit & add these lines (sans “<" description);

    +UnlockId=1 <Car Skin Unlock?
    +UnlockId=2 <Pre-Order, starter Relic/Sniper/Sub/Assault guns on all toons
    +UnlockId=3 <OP'd starter grenade mod on all toons
    +UnlockId=4 <Head Skin Unlock?

    If you're feeling nefarious, you can edit the golden keys up to 254 (480 is done via hex editing your save file, which I wouldn't do).

  5. The Catalyst Siren build in the original was completely broken. You really had to be completely and utterly careless to die if you specced it right. The little playing around I’ve done with the new Siren, she’s been brought down to earth, or at least it seems that way so far. Then again, the game in general seems like they made a real effort to stop you from just breezing through the game with brazen run and gun tactics. This was much needed, I think. The game felt too much like auto-pilot in the end game.

    Playing with friends is a lot more fun, btw. You really ought to at least try it out.

  6. I went a melee/shotgun only build for Zero. It’s pretty much the best. Just don’t even pick up a sniper rifle and stab everything.

  7. Once I hit level 10 with Axton I felt like I was playing Borderlands. I started getting stuff other than pistols and the game became more balanced. I didn’t die fighting a few bandits.

    If anyone wants to play my GT is the same as my name here.

  8. I absolutely love the fact that any ammo you pick up while playing co-op is immediately distributed to everyone just like the money is. Now while 4 of us are running around we don’t need to worry about constantly asking if anyone needs each and every little pickup. Means that we can focus on having fun and keep the game constantly moving forward.

    1. Assassin is the new Siren. Like “disappearing” and cutting down enemies from behind? That’s Assassin now. I took Siren through Lvl 7 and into the first decent mini-boss, and he just pummeled me. Re-rolled as Assassin and took him out in one try.

      I am finding tons of kinds of guns–but I actually beat BORDERLANDS on this account, so I start with a 5% bonus on loot. Maybe’s that’s the difference?

      Everyone finds that grenading shotgun thing–it’s a programmed drop of one of baddies. Also, if you complete the quest for billymong furs, you can pick between a Sniper Rifle or a Shotgun.

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