Borderlands 2 is a spectacular accomplishment that as many people will bounce right off of as will take it to their hearts and declare it game of the year. It is all sound and fury signifying nothing, but that’s exactly what it intends to be – a tsunami of cartoon violence, compulsive behaviours and screaming, shouting, cackling, hyperactive insanity. For some, the sheer noise of the thing will prove too much. For others, it’s a joyfully unrestrained deep dive into fantastical indulgence that only videogames can offer.
Like its 2009 predecessor, Borderlands 2 is a hybrid of first-person shooter and roleplaying game, identify the constant collection of ludicrous guns with bigger numbers as the meeting point between the two. Nominally there is a story, and characters, and purpose, but all this fades into the background, hard to follow amidst the endless explosions, death cries and numbers, numbers, numbers. If you’re looking for an even passingly meaningful experience, steer well clear of Borderlands 2. If you’re looking for dozens of hours of actions in a gorgeously excessive world populated by freaks and monsters whose sole purpose is wanton destruction. Of you, ideally.
While you’ll be talked at – well, yelled at in a steady stream of crazed gags and invective – by a vast cast of characters, the real heart and soul of Borderlands 2 is its guns. Randomly generated and offering millions of different combinations, they’re a big amplification from Borderlands 1’s already vast arsenal, it’s the all-out excess of the weapons, at least if you get lucky drops, that makes the game sing.
Shotguns that fire rockets, sniper rifles that fire at the speed of machine guns, acid and fire and cold and electrical side-effects, handguns which are hurled at the enemy when they’re out of bullets… More likely, though, you’ll see none of those – instead a mad arsenal all of your own.
It’s perhaps tricky to identify concrete, game-changing ways in which Borderlands 2 differs from Borderlands 1. There are numerous new features, and a new quartet of playable characters to choose from, but really it’s an amplification rather than an alteration. The first few hours of the game are little flat, a less distinct retread of the first game’s earlier stages, but past a certain point it unleashes the crazy, doling out unpredictable spectacle on a huge scale, bombarding you with swarms of unhinged enemies big and small against dramatic, esoteric backdrops.
Played solo, the game can feel a bit of a grind even despite this, as the focus becomes about hunting for guns with better stats, but in co-op, with up to four players waging a mini war, it’s much more about ‘look what we did!’ and ‘how did we possibly survive that?’ It is the best way to play Borderlands 2, to the point that if you are resolutely a solo-only player this may not the game for you.
You’ll get something out of its many graphical achievements, and the power trip that comes with finding some of the more ludicrous guns is hard to ignore, but if the thrall of chasing bigger numbers ever wears off then the dread question ‘why am I doing this?’ can loom large. Couple with that the risk of Borderlands 2’s unending frenzy will simply feel exhausting for some players.
If you’re pretty sure that’s not you, then you can be rest assured this is one of 2012’s strongest first-person shooters, and one that, with its absurd number of weapons, side-quests, secrets and unlockable perks, will keep you busy for a long, long time.