Borderlands 2 is one of those games where it’s a damn shame the people who made it are such total creepos and jerks, because it really is quite good but the experience of playing it is ruined if you know anything about them.
Pandora, the planet Borderlands is set on, is a crazy funhouse version of Sakaar, from Thor: Ragnarok. The planet is covered in trash, and peopled by psychos, and even the friendly people who speed you on your way are total lunatics. (Nor are the player characters the very model of mental stability, come to think of it.) This planet must be the dumping grounds of the entire galaxy, the one benighted planet where every single bit of trash—human, robotic, and otherwise—is permanently exiled, in an effort to keep the rest of the galaxy clean, peaceful, and tidy.
I hope it’s working.
Borderlands is an FPSMMRPG: a First Person Shooter Minimally Multiplayer RPG. It’s called a “shoot and loot” game: you shoot bad guys and loot their corpses for leveled, randomized gear. You frequently break up the “shoot, then loot” rhythm by opening boxes and looting them, but the core of the game is the shooting of bad guys and the looting thereof. It’s designed for a group of up to four friends to play simultaneously. You get together, shoot bad guys and monsters, and collect loot. With the right friends, it’s a hoot.
There are four main classes—Commando, Assassin, Gunzerker, and Siren—which which neatly map to traditional MMO party roles (respectively): DPS, One-on-One DPS, Massive DPS, and Healing / Crowd Control. Each has their own unique power: the Commando spawns a turret which shoots bad guys for you, so he can loot them, the Assassin stabs bad guys, so he can loot them, the Gunzerker dual-wields any weapon in the game (even rocket launchers) so he can loot them, and the Siren phaselocks bad guys in place, so they can be shot and looted. It makes for a nice bit of teamwork.
If you’re running solo, I’d suggest choosing the DLC Mechromancer class, who summons a robot who can fly through terrain and deal out frankly unfair amounts of damage. Given that there is absolutely NO courtesies for solo players—being balanced for minimally social dudes, not misanthropic digital hermits—the Mechromancer is your best bet for surviving long enough to finish a solo run.
The loot comes in various color-coded categories of ascending rarity (white, green, blue, purple, orange). Taken in combination with elemental damage types (corrosive, explosive, incendiary, slag, shock) and weapon stats (fire rate, reload speed, etc.), the game boasts MILLIONS of possible different unique weapons. How many? Nobody knows. The original Borderlands had 17.75 million different possible weapons, and Borderlands 2 has lots more than that. You just have to keep killing people and / or monsters until you find the one you need.
If this sounds familiar, well it should. It’s a time-tested formula in video games, and Borderlands 2 does it pretty well.
Speaking of monsters, they are varied and interesting, requiring you to master a new behavior pattern with each species: shoot Crystalisks in the vulnerable crystalline patches on their legs (but beware their long-distance artillery-like attacks), Threshers tunnel through the ground and surprise attack you, and Varkids are pretty easy to kill, unless they spin a cocoon and hatch into a larger, tougher flying version that can spit acid at you. Each has their own unique attack forms, movement types, and vulnerable spots (shooting vulnerable spots is the only way to score a Critical Hit, which gives bonus damage.) In fact, the game could serve as a class for game designers to learn how to distinguish different enemies from each other.
What holds the whole experience of the game together is the same thing that holds a MMORPG together: the grind. You kill enemies for loot (to increase your character’s stats), kill enemies and complete quests for XP (to level up and increase your character’s stats), finish challenges (like “Kill a lot of Enemy X” or “Set X number of enemies on fire”) for badass tokens to increase stats across ALL of your characters, loot boxes and kill enemies for Eridium, so you can buy a large enough backpack to fit all the loot you got by killing a lot of Enemy X, and so forth and so on. You play the game to get tougher, to take on tougher enemies, who drop better loot that makes you tougher, so you can take on tougher enemies, and the cycle continues.
Don’t get me wrong: I found the non-player characters funny (especially Tiny Tina, though Claptrap can go die in a fire, and Marcus is no longer funny-psycho, just chilling psycho, which is a disappointment), Handsome Jack is a merrily obnoxious villain it was a genuine pleasure to shoot and loot, and the story is entertaining (by turns surreally bizarre and cheerfully brutal), but the central focus of the game is the grind. Each higher level is just out of your reach, and for a certain kind of person there’s an almost overwhelming need to chase it. Civilization is notorious for its “just one more turn” gameplay, Borderlands should be notorious for “just one more fight”.
Borderlands 2 is very successful. It sold 13 million copies, making it 2K’s best selling game ever, and topping every single game in the famed Halo franchise. (Of course, Borderlands 2 benefitted from being a platform slut, being released on no less than nine different platforms, including the PS Vita. The best-selling Halo 3 was only ever released on two, making it, at best, a platform bigamist.) When all is said and done, I found the game interesting enough to play through multiple times.
Shame about the makers, however. Creepos and jerks, the lot of them.
If only there were a planet we could exile them to, so we could help keep the gaming industry clean, peaceful, and tidy…