Wednesday , 16 April 2014

Review: Borderlands 2 (PC)

Borderlands 2 (PC [Reviewed], Playstation 3, Xbox 360,)
Developer: Gearbox Software
Publisher: 2K Games
Genre(s): First Person Shooter
Released: September 18, 2012
ESRB Rating: M – Mature

For the Borderlands fan in a hurry: Yes, it’s everything you hoped it would be and then some. Everything you loved about part 1 taken to the next level. Buy it immediately. Thanks for reading!

There. That would be enough for me personally and I knew this was going to be the case in the months leading up to release but I had to come up for air and share the good news.

Now for anyone else who wants to take a few more moments on this subject before determining a purchase let’s set up the basic premise.

The Borderlands games are essentially a first person shooter/light RPG hybrid game set in a unique cell shaded world that’s strikingly gorgeous in its own right. Some people refer to these games as the Diablo of first person shooters and what they mean by that is the level of outright addictive qualities and asinine amount of lost free time that happens when playing.

Borderlands 2 is even bigger and more refinement has been shown for player menus and quest structure in general. There’s a little bit more quest variety and a touch more attention shown to story narrative which continues to play heavily tongue in cheek for satire and laughs. These games don’t take themselves very seriously…at least until you have swarms of enemies coming at you.

These games are about addictive gunplay and accomplishing quest in a world filled with an insane amount of enemies to kill and great loot to be had.

A typical Borderlands fan is someone that will think about shutting the game down and then they decide “Oh, I’ll just play for a few minutes to see if I can find this type of gun somewhere over there” and it’s another two hours down the tubes.

The amount of loot is mind blowing in this game. There’s always some new weapon or some other toy to try and go hunt down. You can have an inventory full of “favorite guns” and you’re still going to be out there looking for “that next big thing” because you know it’s out there.

I mentioned a light RPG element and the best proof is to show it direct from the game developers.

http://forums.gearboxsoftware.com/showthread.php?t=146107

Most FPS don’t bother with character trees and things of that nature. As in part 1 your character will improve on abilities, skills, and capabilities as you advance levels. You improve by doing quests and killing LOTS of enemies.

You can specialize your character’s approach in the game with arguably more distinction than you could in part one.

It’s partially laziness on my part but again showing is better than telling in terms of improvements from part one for this game

http://www.borderlands2.com/us/#pandora

As you click on the interactive art they tell you and show you right there just how much stuff is in this game.

The developers have done a slew of interviews and the following is a summary of SOME of the improvements in part 2 over part 1 that have been mentioned publicly numerous times and can easily be verified with any search engine of your choice.

The Borderlands games really shine if you join other plays online in 4 player co-op situations. Single player is very solid but to really get the most out of these games, even you shy folks out there owe it to yourselves to take some turns doing co-op runs. I’m happy to say for part 2 Gearbox wisely shifted all online management to Steam and it’s a world of difference in terms of stability, performance, and reliability.

The online component for these games should flourish on all platforms but most certainly the PC version with the strong Steam community will have a long life methinks.

Story:

Set 5 years after the events of the first game, four new characters for the player to choose from hit Pandora with aid from the characters from the original game and a slew of old and new faces join in the fun against Hyperion’s self appointed dictator of Pandora: Handsome Jack. All while trying to solve the overarching mystery of the Vaults.

The developers know and admit story is second place to gameplay in these games but promise a more satisfying story with meaning in this game. Handsome Jack is an idea Borderlands antagonist. It’s either love to hate or hate to love the guy.

The quests are a bit more diversified but standard Borderlands fare: Go kill or fetch something and get a bunch of great loot and weapons. I STRONGLY recommend doing as many sidequests as you possibly can and there’s more incentive this time to try each of the four characters out. They’re more distinct and each of them really brings a distinct bag of tricks to that action.

http://www.borderlands2.com/us/

Hit Characters and then you can look over each character and see their skill trees and other relevant data. It’s just there for show. This a perfect example of the RPG side of this game. One can easily see after looking over all four characters that each character will present a different gameplay experience in a world that’s much larger and more diverse than part one.

Graphics:

Before the first game came out I was a harsh skeptic and critic of the cell shaded approach but the game had enough good things clearly going for it that I bought it with confidence. About 5 minutes into playing the game I “got” the cell shaded approach. It works. In some instances it’s downright gorgeous in this game with may different, vibrant colors and increased graphical detail vs part 1 and especially if you can max out the eye candy options on the PC. I find in part 2 there are more instances where I stop and look around and just take in the unique and striking game world I’m in at any given time and I feel like extra attention was paid to art direction as there are some downright gorgeous set pieces in this game.

I begged people on part 1 and even more on this: If the cell shade look is the only thing holding you back don’t let it! It works. I was a huge skeptic going into it myself and I’ve never looked back.

Audio:

Jesper Kyd and Team Velasco all return to share music duties and come up with some more perfectly appropriate for the game world music, some tunes more memorable than others.

The voice acting and voice overs are varied from enemies to characters and it’s all played up maximum tongue and cheek and often times played for comedy to good effect. There’s a wider variety of enemy voiceovers this time around which is welcome. Special props to Dameon Clarke who does the voice work for the game’s main antagonist, Handsome Jack.

Weapons all sound satisfying and overall sound design is excellent. Crank this on your sound system or use quality headphones and you’ll definitely appreciate the benefits.

Gameplay:

Standard FPS setup in terms of core gameplay with fully remappable keys and mouse. Mice options in the menus give control over acceleration which I always recommend turning any of that off.

A PC gamer will have no problems dialing in the keys and the mouse exactly the way they want them to be and this is how it should be for any PC game.

A game controller also another option. A wired Xbox 360 controller, for example, works just fine. Everyone wins.

PC specifics:

For PC folks, there are free SMAA mods out there that they can try that supposedly benefit cell shading more than some other applications. I have yet to try this myself simply because I’m already very pleased with what I see here at 1920×1200 with all the eye candy maxed out. I’m getting excellent performance as well so this game has been well optimized for the PC out of the box. I’m currently using an Intel qx9650 OC’d to 3.6GHz, a GTX 480, and 8GB of PC8500 for frame of reference.

From Gamespy:

http://pc.gamespy.com/pc/borderlands-2/1225861p1.html

These pictures alone should remove any doubts about Gearbox’s sincerity in terms of “making things up” to PC gamers on Borderlands 2. For me, these menus arguably set a new standard in PC gaming.

EVERY PC game should have most of those options and especially an FOV Slider. This game will be my poster child for what a high quality PC port of a multiplatform title is supposed to be like.

This video from Newegg really is worth a thousand words. PhysX from Nvidia has been mixed feedback. It does great things in some games if you have an Nvidia GPU that enables it but law of diminishing returns can be harsh when it comes to eye candy vs performance trade offs. In this video you see two identical situations side by side, one with and one without PhysX and I believe it’s a clear win for PhysX and Nvidia here.

Game length/Replay Value:

Off the charts. Four distinct characters each worth taking for a spin, a huge world, tons of loot, single player, 4 player co-op, New Game+…hundreds of hours of potential gaming here easily.

Final Thoughts:

If you loved the first Borderlands you might be into religious epiphany territory with part 2.

For people that weren’t interested in the first game there’s enough improvements and refinements here on this one that you might want to keep your eye on it for consideration and give this series a chance. I repeat: Don’t let the cell shading stop you. It works.

I have a hard time coming up with any serious complaints about this game and can’t fathom any serious first person shooter fan who wants a break from military shooters not finding a whole lot to like with the Borderlands games and especially this one.

It’s great and it’s going to be a serious threat to my free time for the forseeable future.

3stars

We’re giving away a copy of Borderlands 2 for the platform of the winners choice. Click here for details, enter the contest, and you could win a copy of Borderlands 2.

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  1. Great review! Really loving this game so far, can’t wait to get more into it. The Newegg video was really interesting, great insight into how the physics engine works.

    • Thanks for the kind words. :)

      I hope you’re enjoying the game as much as we are around here. It’s HUGE.

      On part 1 I easily clocked in at least 150 total gaming hours on it with single player and co-op runs so this could get out of hand since it’s so much more of everything.

      Batman Arkham City was another recent game on the PC that made a lot of heads including mine turn with PhysX implementation. I’m a believer.

  2. Great review Eric, my PS3 one will probably end up the same score wise. Definitely a superb title, and right now a top contender for Game of the Year.

  3. Great review, Eric. You really nailed it with this paragraph:

    A typical Borderlands fan is someone that will think about shutting the game down and then they decide “Oh, I’ll just play for a few minutes to see if I can find this type of gun somewhere over there” and it’s another two hours down the tubes.

    That has happened to me far too often already. I have had way too many late weeknights thanks to Borderlands 2. My sleep schedule is not happy about it. :)

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