The original Borderlands ended up being more successful than first expected, netting about three to four and a half million units sold. A sequel would definitely happen, and happen it did. Borderlands 2 was a phenomenon when it finally released, managing to become one of the highest selling games of 2012 and having moved roughly thirteen million units by August 2015. For a brief moment in time, Gearbox found themselves on top of the world, with looming failure and bitter disappointment just beyond the horizon. Still, before everything went horribly, horribly wrong, they managed to create a sequel that improved so much on the previous release that it basically made its existence obsolete. To say Borderlands 2 is a good game is an understatement, and it has ended up becoming massively influential..for better and worse.
Set five years after the original four vault hunters opened the vault to find only a monster, the Hyperion corporation has gotten a grasp on Pandora to mine a new mineral produced from the event – eridium. The valuable substance has all sorts of strange properties, including being useful as an energy source and a genetic mutator, but the new head of Hyperion has different plans for it. CEO Handsome Jack has come to tame the borderlands, hiring vault hunters to help him find another vault on Pandora and open it for whatever valuables it contains, but it’s clear more is going on after he tries to kill his newest hires. Pandora is in a desperate fight against the wealthy despot, and a group of six new vault hunters are pushed right in the middle of it. These vault hunters include…
Axton the Commando – A former Dahl corp commando, Axton was kicked out for his tendency to cause unnecessary destruction and loss of life on his missions. He now looks for money and thrills where he can, thus bringing him to Pandora to find a vault. He plays a similar role to Roland in the last game, complete with turret summoning, but now with a focus on doing damage in flashy ways over healing support (distractions, explosion buffs, ect). Notably canonically bisexual, due to a line bug where he’d hit on male and female characters the developers decided to leave in and make apart of his character officially in DLC.
Maya the Siren – A former resident of planet Athenas, Maya used to be a sort of living deity in a religious order. When she found out said order was using threats of her siren powers to control the populace, she killed them all and journeyed to Pandora to learn more about the origin of her strange magic abilities. The actual leader of this group and Lilith’s replacement, though her power levitates and locks enemies in place instead of creating explosions. She focuses on healing, status effects, and defensive abilities. Hinted heavily to be asexual.
Salvador the Gunzerker – Pandora native, Salvador joined up looking for excitement and the chance to kill bad guys in a variety of awesome ways. When Jack turned on him, he still got what he wanted. He’s the Brick of the vanilla version, except his specialty is gun combat, allowing quick change and dual wielding for massive damage. He also can get buffs when at low health.
Zero the Assassin – The single most mysterious character in all of Borderlands. Nobody has any idea what their gender is, or even their species. All that’s certain is that Zero loves a challenging kill and speaks in haiku. They’re basically if Grey Fox was an FPS gamer. Zero’s the Mordecai replacement, complete with sniping tree that comes with huge critical boosts, and gaining a character ability that functions like Lilith’s, leaving a hologram out as they goes invisible to get a massive critical and damage bonus with the next hit. Also has a melee tree, strangely enough. Difficult to play as, especially with a lack of defensive options, but incredibly powerful when mastered.
Gaige the Mechromancer – One of the two DLC characters, Gaige is a tinkerer who accidentally killed her rich rival in a contest. This eventually brought her to Pandora and the vault hunters. She can summon a powerful robot she calls Deathtrap to wreck havoc, plus invest in elemental damage and risky big hits at the cost of her accuracy. She’s tricky to use like Zero, but managing to get used to her low accuracy has big rewards. Huge dork, somehow hornier than Axton.
Krieg the Psycho – The other DLC character, Krieg was a vault hunter experimented upon by Hyperion, making him far stronger, but almost stripping him clean of sanity. He grew an attachment for Maya, acting as his sanity anchor (though he can only say random nonsense instead of what he wants to). He’s closer to Brick than Salvador, with an action skill that causes him to get out a buzz saw and go to town, regaining health with every kill. He can build up his gun skills, melee skills, and ability to cause and take fire damage. Note that some of his skill upgrades have unintended side effects, like a 12% chance to hit himself in melee, or changing the buzz saw move to running around while tossing explosives everywhere. He is a psycho, after all.
Everything in this sequel was a massive leap up from the previous game, and that goes especially for the narrative. Anthony Burch is the main person to thank for this, as he handled duties as head writer, supposedly brought on for his work on the web series Hey Ash, Whatcha Playing? His script is a breath of fresh air, adding in tons of humor to the proceedings, the stinker gags quickly covered by a much better joke not far behind. He also injected a sense of personality and texture to the world, expanding on all the established characters, their relationships, and even how the world of Pandora and the wider universe functions and moves. The Pandora on display here is a place that feels worth saving, and the original vault hunters have been turned into entertaining and likable quest givers who fight alongside you through the whole main campaign. While the new vault hunters still have limited impact or presence within the main campaign, the DLC campaigns try to fix that with more unique dialog lines.
The centerpiece of this new direction isn’t in Pandora or the vault hunters, though, but rather new central villain Handsome Jack. There’s a reason why the character has become such a popular and celebrated figure among fans, and so well known even outside of the Borderlands fandom. Jack is a delightfully cruel and hilarious character who eggs you on through the game, but when he really becomes something special are the few times you get a feel for who he is as a person, and it’s there that the game finds some really unexpected emotional depths. There’s a late game segment where Jack is absolutely furious with you, both with justification and none at all, considering just how he’s the central reason that scenario even existed at all. He’s a fully fleshed out person, and none of that depth ever once excuses the horrific actions he does throughout the game and even before it. In fact, it further shows just how horrible a person he truly is.
The downside is that the low moments are very low. Tiny Tina’s introduction is ear grating, and the saving grace is that she’s barely in the game after her segment. Her entire joke is that she’s a little white girl who speaks like a black stereotype in a Michael Bay movie while making sexual innuendo towards her stuff animals, and it wears out its welcome within seconds. The last stretch of the main campaign goes on a bit too long, requiring more set-up for the finale instead of just getting us there while emotions are high. A few characters also don’t get the fleshing out they sorely needed, particularly Jack’s cyborg henchman Wilhelm, something the next game in the series would have to do. There’s also a lot of dated memes and references that do not stand the test of time, but these are a minor complaint where there’s an actual quest in the last DLC campaign where you punch a man so hard that he explodes because he was very rude towards a lady who didn’t come on to his advances. The quest ends with the quest giver deciding that you must next blow up the ocean (sadly you do not get to do that). There are lows in the game, but moments like that balance things in a much better direction.
The loot system has been tweaked significantly, so you can’t find broken loot anymore, but manufacturers now have more importance. You can really feel he difference between brands, like Torque weapons always having slow but high damage explosive shots, or Hyperion guns starting extremely wobbly when aiming and becoming deadly accurate the more shots in a clip you get. This encourages a lot more weapon switching than before, as long as you ignore the balance breaking swift code system. Gearbox tweets out and shares codes for this game and The Pre-Sequel every week or two, which can be redeemed in game for gold keys that can be used with a gold chest for rare loot around your level. It’s good if you’re a completionist, as it’s surprisingly easy to go overlevel in the main campaign if you do as many side quests as you can, but should otherwise be saved for streamlined co-op campaigns.
Mechanical tweaks are everywhere, making the firing of guns more satisfying, and now you even hive a wider selection of possible grenades and shields. The progression system was also changed for balance purposes, giving you badass ranks instead of giving passive buffs with weapons that increase the more you use said weapons. Just by doing a mess of different feats on a list, you can earn points to give you new passive, wide ranging buffs that carry over from character to character, never letting you get insanely OP but helping in a very noticeable way. This new system encourages more types of play, so even if you want to specialize in sniping or shotgun strafing, you’re often thrown challenges with other solutions you can reasonably use. This lets co-op campaigns flow better, with people sometimes having to break from their roles to do the most for the team.
These changes are a net positive, meshing better with a greater variety of enemy types, especially in the DLC campaigns and headhunter packs. You can now get skins and heads to customize your characters instead of a basic selection of color pallet changes, and the headhunter packs were made solely to get special heads and have smaller stories not grand enough for a full on DLC campaign. They’re all cheap at three bucks and a ton of fun, with very strange scenarios that make up a solid hour of questing, each with a new boss or two that offers a fresh challenge. Mr. Torque’s Thanksgiving pack might be the highlight, giving more time with one of the game’s best characters and a side quest where all you have to do is listen to an old woman’s story and occasionally answer questions or else the story will never end.
All of theDLC campaigns this time around are excellent in one way or another, outshining most every campaign from the original game (except the zombie campaign, which was beyond inspired). The pirate themed Captain Scarlett and her Pirate’s Booty is a solid start, making up for a lack of familiar faces with a lot of pretty witty lines from the new cast. Mr. Torque’s Campaign of Carnage has some of the biggest laughs in the game, plus manages to make good use of vehicle combat for once (fixed a bit with less overpowered enemy vehicles to deal with). Sir Hammerlock’s Big Game Hunt is unfortunately the weakest, with an insanely racist premise on the level of the river village from Resident Evil 5 and some truly obnoxious damage sponge enemies, but it ends up being vital to the story of Telltale’s spinoff game and closes on a really strong note. The best of these, however, is easily Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep, which manages to redeem the truly obnoxious child from the main campaign, has some of the heaviest pathos of the whole franchise, and even has a ton of fun with enemy types through the premise of some of the characters playing everything out like a tabletop role playing game. A fifth DLC, Commander Lilith & the Fight for Sanctuary, was released for free in July 2019, in order to promote the upcoming Borderlands 3.
If you still haven’t tried Borderlands 2, you may want to change that. Even in the new age of the loot shooter, it manages to stand out as one of the best in the field, even if it lacks massive multiplayer components. Few games ooze personality like this, and fewer still manage to offer so much to do, and of actual substance now. Quests have been improved, giving each voiced narrative and comedic outcomes and scenarios. No matter what part you’re in, you’re going to have something engaging you beyond the tight main loot loop, making this, by far, Gearbox’s best game. That doesn’t mean The Pre-Sequel isn’t worth your time, though…