Welcome back to the planet of Pandora, Vault Hunter. If it’s been awhile, things may appear much like how you left them last time. The cell-shaded art direction is seemingly the same. Many of the friends (and enemies) make a return. And of course, your primary motivation to explore this world is to collect increasingly superior loot.
But as you play through Borderlands 2, it’s clear that this isn’t just a new coat of paint. Granted, the added polish on the graphics look great. However, almost every other aspect of the game has seen meaningful upgrades that really refine the original vision.
One of my biggest gripes with the original game was its mechanical quest structure. Almost every quest boiled down to one objective, which you then turned in for profit. This time, the quests are designed with a lot more thought, and play out more organically. Case in point, the main story quests usually start out with one objective, but due to the way the story unfolds as you play, objectives are added, revised, or removed. This change is made more meaningful by much stronger writing, which provide weight to everything you do. Even the side quests have just enough meat to them to make them worthwhile. Most of the time, the characters, dialogue, and story beats are humorous, though some of the jokes definitely fall flat. In particular, I found that all of the one-liners from my main character, Axton, were awful. Do we really need him to say, “Cool story bro!” every 30 minutes after killing something?
While the guns are as appealing and interesting as ever, all of the other loot types have been greatly upgraded. Shields and grenades are generated in the same fashion as the guns, so you’ll come across a ton of unique types of secondary gear that are are almost as cool as the guns to collect. There’s also the opportunity to collect skins for your character or your vehicles. Maybe the coolest thing to collect are the badass skill points, which give you account-wide boosts. Therefore, when you create a new character, you’ll start out with the same badass upgrades that you earned from the last one.
I played through single player, which is how I generally like to play this game. I prefer having full control over where to go and what loot to pick up. With that said, some of the bosses and side missions suck to play alone. In missions where you have to escort something, or deliver something within a certain amount of time, it can be nigh impossible to complete these by yourself. Thankfully, the drop-in-drop-out multiplayer is excellently done. It’s so easy for players to join or leave at any time that there isn’t much reason not to spend some time traversing Pandora with your friends.
Over the course of two weeks, I powered through the main story quest and almost every side quest. It was one of the most engrossing experiences of the year for me, and once I finish off my self-induced hiatus from it, I’ll jump back into Legendary Vault Hunter mode for more. Once Borderlands 2 sinks its teeth into you, it’s hard to let it go.