Review

Borderlands 2

Guns Blazing

Borderlands 2 sports a deep, combat-ready arsenal.

By Russ Fischer • September 24, 2012

If a guess had to be made about subtitles that almost made the cut for Borderlands 2, one top contender would be Borderlands 2: The Game You Wanted Last Time. The original 2009 release, a loot-heavy blast of cel-shaded violence, was a hybrid that combined a first-person shooter approach with a Diablo-inspired drive to amass an endless collection of weapons and gear. But while the game worked well when adventuring as a four-player team, solo play didn’t shine as bright, and the somewhat unstructured game world eventually turned into a grind.

Borderlands 2 is similar to the first game in many respects: same action, same loot, same relentlessly escalating violence. The difference this time is that Gearbox Software has given the underlying systems a huge overhaul. The environment is bigger, the weapon load-out more varied and ultimately more powerful, and character classes are customizable to suit your play style. Borderlands 2 may superficially look like its predecessor, but it’s a bigger, more addictive, gun-blazing beast.

Once again players start as a “vault hunter,” freshly arrived on Pandora to score fortune and glory. The planet has become an even more hotly competitive zone than before, with the Hyperion Corporation seeking to control its riches. Hyperion’s point man is Handsome Jack, who is a lot like the animated super-spy Sterling Archer with extra-unhinged homicidal tendencies. Players set off in search of Handsome Jack and ultimately join a resistance effort that employs characters from the original game as officers.

Borderlands 2

The story provides more directed exploration of Pandora’s tundra, deserts, hideouts, and other areas, but story is just an excuse to wander; the real narrative here concerns weapons and the evolution of their use. Borderlands 2’s view of Pandora sometimes seems a little more broad and a little more varied than in the original, but mostly it just offers better ways to kill everything.

You start with one of the four character templates. There’s the Gunzerker, who can dual-wield weapons. The Siren is possessed of abilities that are essentially telekinetic, with the ability to lift enemies in the air (and to their death). The Commando has access to machine gun turrets. And Zer0 (The Number) is a slick assassin who can earn bonuses for sniping‚plus he can turn invisible for a moment, which is a nice trick.

So each character has a core skill. But beyond that there are three prongs of development to refine their abilities. On the assassin’s foundation you can create a ninja able to sweep unseen into battle and deliver a single lethal blow or a sniper able to provide the best cover known to man. When you complete Badass Challenges (essentially requests to kill lots and lots of people with a variety of weapons) you can tweak your character in more subtle ways—so that she loads a gun more quickly, maybe, or fights a little better with her fists.

Working in tandem with the skill system is a weapon set that is more fun and devastating than the original. Some of the weapons offer a mild twist—guns shoot flames or explosives, or you might find a “bouncing betty” grenade that breaks into a dozen baby explosives—while others are even less conventional. There are pistols and rifles that spit out a bonus grenade every time they’re reloaded, and others that become more accurate as the trigger is held down.

Borderlands 2

In keeping with the game’s combination of Mad Max and Alice In Wonderland humor, weapons are divided according to manufacturer, with Jakob building steampunk-looking gear, while Bandit foists off misspelled, occasionally misbehaving knockoffs of other swag. The manufacturers offer colorful detail, and they help players organize their massive Pandora experience, as you’re likely to find that one make is better for your tendencies than others.

While there is an in-game money system, weapon loot becomes the game’s major currency, and it provides a reason to push forward. Playing cooperative multiplayer still has some rudimentary treasure-hunter aspects, as you still race your compatriots to grab new gear before they can reach it. But a new trade screen makes it easier to swap and divide accumulated stuff, and the drop-in multiplayer system makes it easier to get into co-op in the first place. Play with a crew you know and trust, and everyone can get what they want.

Enemies are more powerful in co-op, but the game ensures that even a team with the vaguest coordination of members and specializations can counter that challenge. If anything, the game is so driven toward making the action and violence bigger with every passing hour that there is little room for nuance—it’s all about who can blow stuff up best, and fastest. But Borderlands 2 is more than capable of accommodating anyone ready to get on board with that “kill ’em all!” mentality, multiple guns in tow.

Borderlands 2
Developer: Gearbox Software
Publisher: 2K Games
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC
Reviewed on: PlayStation 3
Price: $60
Rating: M

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  • HobbesMkii

    It’s interesting to me that somehow what is a rather lackluster game (I can’t think of a single opinion I’ve read where the person was tripping over themselves with praise for the first Borderlands) obtained a sort of hotly anticipated sequel. Or perhaps 2K seeming to have spent an absolute mint advertising the hell out of it warped people’s minds.

    The consensus, at least, seems to be trending in the direction of “worth hotly anticipating” which is nice. I probably won’t pick this one up until its price is low, though, just like the last one.

    • Pgoodso

      The consensus on Borderlands was “almost attaining excellence in several areas, but by just missing it in several areas, it brings it down to merely ok”. The review is right, they didn’t change much at the core of the game in terms of concepts and base gameplay. Just added more incident and less empty space in the game, less bugs, better framerates, better conception of the character classes, more variety. You have no idea how apt that first sentence of the review is.

      • Aaron Riccio

        Ditto to this. Borderlands was a great pitch for Borderlands 2, and the concept — Diablo meets FPS — was a solid one, bound to appeal to various types of gamers. Sort of like we had to suffer through Assassin’s Creed to get to Assassin’s Creed II. Now. Where the hell is Mirror’s Edge 2? 

        • boardgameguy

          amen to mirror’s edge 2.  can i kickstart this project somwhere to  make it happen?

      • Raging Bear

        Further ditto. Everything about the game – EVERYTHING – has 10x the variety of the same element from the first. Not just the weapons, but map layouts, enemies/attack styles, quests, just all of it. Very well done.

        If it wasn’t for the writing, I wouldn’t have anything to satisfy my perpetual need to complain. Seriously, though, “Bonerfarts”?

        • http://twitter.com/Tooitchy Darren Kehrli

          The game is meant to be comedic, and it succeeds in that area. The writing is actually quite good this time around, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and the bonerfarts quest was pretty funny when you understand the context.

    • EmperorNortonI

       I wonder how much the original set of reviewers managed to play it for the long haul in co-op with a friend.  Pretty much all the flaws of the game disappeared into the perfect hang out and kill stuff game system.  It was perfect to play on a lazy weekend afternoon with a moderate buzz.

      I may be a bit on the extreme end of things, but I absolutely loved Borderlands, with an intensity that made its sequel hotly anticipated by me (and my co-op buddy) regardless of its original reviews.

      Playing on PC also helped, of course.

    • AHyperkineticLagomorph

      I think lackluster is good word to describe the original Borderlands. I don’t hate the game by any stretch of the imagination. But I never really felt anything special to make me keep playing.

      That said, it’s at least nice to know they’re actually improving on the original formula. I’m not sure the series will ever “work” for me as I dislike Diablo-style hoarding.

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

        I’m with you all. The first didn’t really interest me at all. It wasn’t bad or anything, just not that great. I really was surprised by all the hype this sequel has been getting. Though I guess a lot of it is due to the marketing peeps appealing to that wholly exploitable “internet nerd” demographic with “wacky” humor and junk like that. 

        Oh well, it’s just not my bag I guess.

        • http://twitter.com/Tooitchy Darren Kehrli

          the game is far more than “wacky” humor. It’s a legitimately fun, well made game.

  • Cloks

    I didn’t like Borderlands that much and I didn’t anticipate picking this game up, but once my best gaming bud did and wanted to play co-op, I ended up with it in my Steam library. I think a large reason for me not liking the first one was it using Gamespy, an unfortunate relic of times where coordinating online game-play needed such a terrible service. With the ability to seamlessly drop into another person’s game, Borderlands 2 turns a lackluster shooter into an all-out, guns-blazing good time. It’s not the greatest game but it’s a hell of a lot of fun to just sit back and shoot monsters and robots with friends. 

    • Pgoodso

       I prefer Tediore and Maliwan, mostly just for the elemental characteristics. Good Lord do the robots go down easier with acid weapons.

      One thing: there’s a VERY broken unique grenade mod, “Bonus Package!”, that I’ve gotten twice, and it’s turned even the toughest mobs into piles of goo. It’s basically a double-MIRV. I got my first one at level 6 or so, did 250×7 damage (9 smaller grenades pop out to do 250 damage each) and then a single extra MIRV grenade drops from each of THOSE explosions. Basically, in an enclosed space, it allowed me to do 3500 damage in an area with a SINGLE grenade toss. This not only takes care of most rooms, properly placed, it took care of a hell of a lot of bosses, too. I got ANOTHER one that does 650×9, meaning it does nearly 12000 damage. With a single grenade. I’m level 15.

      Playing a healing Siren is pretty damned awesome, by the way.

      • Aaron Riccio

        I wonder how random it is. I’m playing the game much as you are and have picked up the same early double-MIRV as you (off the Big Betty boss fight). Also doing a healing siren, although I sometimes switch to Bullet Witch, especially now that I’ve got a really heavy turtle shield that pretty much means I never tap into my health bar unless I recklessly charge in. (And I tend to snipe regardless of character class, though I’ve got a sweet shotgun for those few enemies I feel like scooping up into my TK attack.)

    • EmperorNortonI

       Thanks to Steam’s bloody region delay, I’ve not played this one yet . . . but . . .

      Jakobs was always a lot of fun – I loved their elephant guns and big revolvers.  They tended to suffer from small magazines, though.  I can’t remember if it was Hyperion or Tediore that specialized in high rate-of-fire weapons, but those tended to be my favorite.  In particular, there were those little auto-pistols that just ate through the ammo with insane fire rates.  I loved those little guys.

    • wzzzzd

      I haven’t played 2, but my favourite weapon in the first was this Atlas sniper rifle with no gimmicks and no bullshit. Just good accuracy, huge damage and a giant crit modifier.

      I get that Borderlands is a big, wacky, over the top game but I like a weapon that feels like a tool, not a toy.

    • Molemaniac

       I’m liking Jakobs, but that’s because I’m currently running as Zero with a sniper focus, and some of the other manufacturer bonuses interact weirdly with sniper rifles.  Hyperion’s poor initial accuracy which improves on sequential shots thing translates to ridiculous scope sway on zoom, and Dahl rifles all burst fire on zoom- which means maybe 1 out of 3 shots go on target.  Next time I see a Vladof sniper I may play around with it, as the Jakobs all have pretty high recoil.

      Outside the rifle though, I’ve been using a mix of mostly Maliwan and Vladof ARs/SMGs/Machine Pistols for when I get forced into close range for either specific elements (or just applying slag to big enemies) or just sheer volume of fire, which seems to be the Vladof thing.  Or Torgue, just because explosions are fun.

  • Spacemonkey Mafia

    I’m awaiting Staggering Stewbum’s stream of consciousness missive in the vein of James Joyce’s Ulysses on his lifelong struggle dealing with his equally felt desire and repulsion for Borderlands 2.
       Of course I say that, but if its at all like the actual Ulysses, I’ll just try reading his post on three separate occasions, get about five words in, get distracted and go re-read a Dark Tower book instead.

    • Aaron Riccio

      Because Stephen King isn’t wordy as all hell? 

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Peter-Kovalsky/1504237433 Peter Kovalsky

        There are words, and there are words, my friend. King uses the former; Joyce, the latter.

    • Staggering Stew Bum

      I got 38 pages into Ulysses before deciding that it is unreadable and it now gathers dust on my bookshelf. Instead, I will leave you with my final thoughts on Borderlands 2 in the vein of another overrated writer:

      I have of late, but wherefore I know not, focused all my mirth on Borderlands 2. And indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly game, set again in Pandora, seems to me a sterile promotion. This most excellent sequel, Borderlands 2, look you, this bland o’erblown gunplay, this majestical roofy fretted with bullet fire, why, it appears nothing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of cliches. What a piece of work is Borderlands 2! How noble in co-operative multiplayer! How infinite in loot system! How like an Eridian in apprehension, how like The Destroyer! The beauty of Pandora! The paragon of skags and rakks! And yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Borderlands delights not me. No, nor Borderlands 2 neither, nor Borderlands 2 neither.

      • Captain Internet

        Hey, Withnail & I is not overrated, and despite what you might think about How to Get Ahead in Advertising neither is Kevin Jackson. 

        You’ll be having a pop at Shakespeare next…

        • Staggering Stew Bum

          How dare you. How DARE you!

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       I’m waiting for him to finally snap and go Finnegan’s Wake on us.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Peter-Kovalsky/1504237433 Peter Kovalsky

    This is a funny case of me liking everything about a game except its genre. I like the art style, and the humor, and the underlying mechanics… but I just can’t stomach the first-person shooter thing. That’s just not a control scheme that makes sense or feels natural to me, and it was definitely the part of Mass Effect that I found most frustrating.

    Actually, I’d be interested in seeing a Q&A thinger on games you liked (or almost liked) but wished had been different in some fundamental way, like genre.

    • DjangoZ

      Same here.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      BioShock should not have been a first-person shooter (or it should have been at least 70% less shooty). And that’s coming from someone who generally likes first-person shooters. I just want to explore Rapture; let me freaking explore it!

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Peter-Kovalsky/1504237433 Peter Kovalsky

        That’s one of the games that I keep meaning to play but never actually getting around to playing.

        • Kevin_The_Beast_King

          Bioshock suffers from comparison to its lineage. It’s a good, occasionally great game that is not the revolutionary experience System Shock 2 was. 

        • Aaron Riccio

          @Kevin_The_Beast_King:disqus Yeah, and the photography was better in Beyond Good and Evil. But hey, *FOR* a First Person Shooter, it’s a pretty damn good game. The only other game I’ve found with the same atmospheric effect on me has been Metro 2033, which apparently nobody has played.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

           It sounds like you have a similar antipathy to FPSes as me… You may hold out a bit longer, but I got sick of Bioshock after about 1.5 levels.

        • djsubversive

          @google-19efbd0104cbaffa5782aef5b7104019:disqus Metro was excellent for setting the atmosphere. The dad in one of the stations, telling his kid that mom will be back soon, she’s just out getting supplies, and just… draw her a picture. And you just *know* that he’s lying, because you’re playing Metro 2033.
          Also, the first time you go outside was a pretty great moment.

          So many good things in that game: bullets as currency, the gas mask (the air filter time was bullshit though, at least on Ranger diff), the recharging mechanic for the flashlight and other tools, the hand-built guns, and even the “immersion” of having your objectives be on an in-game notebook that you have to check, using a lighter to see if you need to (and of course, when you do that, you don’t have your gun ready, so you better be somewhere safe).

          If you like Metro 2033, might I recommend the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games Shadow of Chernobyl and/or Call of Pripyat? The games have some connection to each other: a couple of the guys who worked on Shadow of Chernobyl moved on to the studio that made Metro, and there’s a few dead stalkers hanging out topside in Metro (with loot to scrounge), dressed like Loners from STALKER.

          The biggest problem I had with Metro was that it was WAY too linear. STALKER is a much more open game, with a vague goal that’s just a thin excuse for you to wander around in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, fight bandits and mutants, collect artifacts, and try to not die. I had a written a whole big thing describing STALKER, but it boils down to this: if you liked the atmosphere in Metro 2033, you’ll love Shadow of Chernobyl. And after you’ve played that, Call of Pripyat, since a couple of places in that one have a bit more impact if you’ve played SoC.

        • http://www.facebook.com/gareth.hughes.1253 Gareth Hughes

          Bioshock was disappointingly linear so exploring is out. Now an open world Rapture is an idea I could get behind, as long as they reduce the amount of combat as discussed. It turned into a slog pretty quickly.

          I’ve put a few hours into the first Stalker and the initial difficulty will put most people off at first, and then the fact that the underground and lab levels are terrifying will reduce the number that stuck with it even further. I remember using about 170 pistol rounds taking out the guys guarding the first checkpoint and the game just shrugged; it just wasn’t an achievement even though it felt like one.
          If you play smart and get the good armour almost immediately and the SMG that uses pistol rounds in the 2nd area then that gives you an advantage in the early couple of hours but it’s still not easy by any means. 
          As for Metro 2033, I have it but the first 10 minutes put you in an un-winnable situation which I hate in games so I’ve not given it a proper try. One day.

        • djsubversive

           @facebook-1192385620:disqus (and hopefully this will appear in the proper place, since I can’t actually reply to your comment): The first hour/hour and a half of Shadow of Chernobyl is definitely the hardest bit, since they give you a leather jacket and a shitty Makarov and tell you to take out a bunch of enemies by yourself.

          Killing the bridge checkpoint guards *is* an achievement, just not in the sense that most people are used to. Since weapons in the Cordon are so “low-tier”, it means you’re smart enough to not get murdered by a group that outnumbers and outguns you. You’re learning to be a stalker.

          The shooting mechanics turn a lot of people off, but the atmosphere really kicks in around Agroprom Underground and the first Lab you explore (X-18, I think). I actually turned off the game for the night when I first hit Agroprom and heard… something… moving around in the dark, and it wasn’t the military dudes who had popped up on my PDA.

      • Enkidum

        Yeah, even if you want to go for occasional shooting madness, making it much more infrequent might have kept the scares much scarier.

      • EmperorNortonI

         I love shooters, but I entirely agree that BioShock should not have been a shooter.  It made it unplayable for me, actually.

        • http://profile.yahoo.com/7434UGH3EEMU2AUKTGMU3NLDZA JoshJ

          Bioshock was a really shit shooter. What killed it for me was the spawning behaviors. Two rooms and you could practically see the onheartbeat script on the floor. Same with Dead Space. How can I be scared when I always know exactly which floor tile triggers the three spawns every time?

      • Shain Eighmey

        I agree. I enjoyed BioShock, but it felt to me as if it was an FPS simply because that is the default genre. An adventure game would have been a great deal more enjoyable.

      • Ghostfucker

        Bioshock was one of the most disappointing games I’ve ever played. Beautiful rendered and interesting world…absolutely appalling gameplay that has no connection to the stated themes of the game. I have no idea how Bioshock became such a critically lauded game; it felt like an abject failure to me, a betrayal of everything it promised to be.

    • http://www.facebook.com/msilvester Mike Silvester

      Mass Effect is not a first person shooter in any shape or form. 

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Peter-Kovalsky/1504237433 Peter Kovalsky

        Is it played from a first-person perspective? Does combat consist primarily of shooting things? QED.

        But I take your point — Mass Effect’s differences from a typical FPS are probably what made it possible for me to play it at all.

        • HobbesMkii

          I think @facebook-579257173:disqus’s point is actually that it’s mostly played in 3rd Person (over-the-shoulder) like most RPGs. But you’re right in that it’s quite a bit of shooting.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          “Is it played from a first-person perspective?”
          To be honest, every screenshot or video I’ve seen of Mass Effect, including the combat, has been from a third-person perspective. Not having played the game, though, there could be FPS sequences that I’m unaware of.

        • hastapura

          Yeah…visually speaking, there is no first-person perspective in Mass Effect at all. There is shooting.

        • HobbesMkii

          @paraclete_pizza:disqus Sniping in Mass Effect (and pretty much every other 3rd Person shooter) requires that you enter into the first person.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          For reason I can’t quite fathom, over the past few years “FPS” has come to be a generic term for shooters, both first- and third-person. It’s really confusing. (I’d appreciate if we could go back to “FPS” and “TPS,” but I don’t think the Internet will agree with me there.)

        • Pgoodso

           @HobbesMkii:disqus Huh. That makes me wonder how 3rd person sniping would work… I guess sort of how artillery works in strategy games: you gain control of the target reticle and move it around in 3D space. Maybe just zoom to a 3rd person perspective that is a set distance away from the object you’re zoomed on (instead of dealing with a solid magnification), so you could still be aiming traditionally and still be “over the shoulder”. That’d be sort of interesting, though certainly not a replica of real sniping.

        • aklab

          I prefer second-person shooters.  

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Peter-Kovalsky/1504237433 Peter Kovalsky

          You know, it’s telling that my memories of playing Mass Effect are all tagged as “FPS” even though, on closer inspection, you’re right that it’s all third-person (aside from the sniping, which I’ll admit I did a lot of, particularly in ME1). 

          Whether it’s telling about the game or about me, however, is an entirely separate question >_>.

        • Fluka

          If you do a biotic class, you’re barely even shooting things by the end of ME3 at this point.  *Killed all of her banshees by vanguard smacking into their faces over and over and over again.*

          @aklab:disqus Dang, I’d actually like to see some indie came company try to do that.  It’d either be a brilliant experiment with the medium…or the shooter equivalent of QWOP.  No middle ground here.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          @Fluka:disqus and @aklab:disqus: Isn’t that kind of what an RTS is? “You go here and shoot this.”

    • blue vodka lemonade

       Well, Mass Effect is third-person, though the distinction is more or less arbitrary.

      I think that preference for different genres, at least in terms of mechanics, comes down to what you’re most used to. My first direct-control games (ie, not point-and-click adventures) had tank controls, and when I first started a game that used a more “natural” 3rd-person control scheme, it took me a long while to adapt. Even though tank controls are horribly clunky, it was what I was used to using, so they felt better to me.

      There are definitely games where I wish they were a different genre, or think they would have been better in a different genre. I always come back to BioShock: the shooting and plasmids and whatever are all pretty middling, but the setting is detailed and well-realized and right up my alley in terms of atmosphere. The FPS gameplay, I think, takes away from the experience by not giving you enough time or reason to really explore and take in detail.

      I got Borderlands cheap in the summer Steam sale, and while I don’t regret spending (insert whatever tiny number of dollars here) on it, I’m not sure I’ll ever finish the game. It sounds like the sequel does this better, but there’s just so little to see spread across such a large map that even minor sidequests feel like a game of Desert Bus.

  • The_Quirk

    Unemployed in 2009, which is probably the reason I played so much Borderlands.  Don’t know if I’ll have the patience to get through #2.  Still at level 5, trying to take Captain Flynt.  The game seems intent so far on giving me nothing but pistols, some of ‘em pretty good, but still. . . .

  • TheMagicLemur

    You know, I never thought of it, but Jack does remind me of Archer.

    Honestly, I enjoyed the first game quite a bit. Of course, a friend gave it to me as a gift with all the DLC, so I wasn’t in a position to feel ripped off. So far I’m enjoying the second one, although my only minor complaints are that the cel-shaded art style seems to have been reigned in a little, aiming a bit more towards realism, which shooters have enough of, and a bit more of a shotgun-blast approach to humor. Not that it isn’t consistently pretty funny, but occasionally it’s like “I get it, you’re not taking it seriously, now shut the hell up”.

    • Raging Bear

      I guess everyone finds it funnier than I do. I’ve been amused precisely twice since starting it last Tuesday.

      • TheMagicLemur

        Well, the internet-y thing to do here is say you’re an idiot, you don’t get it, I hope you get super-raped etc, etc, but honestly I’ve matured enough to just accept that humor is subjective to a really weird degree. (Ex. A lot of people find DeathSpank funny; I played the demo for 5 minutes and was like “Eh. Done.”)

        I can totally respect not finding the game funny. The humor is very hit-or-miss; they’re taking an almost Mel Brooks-ish rapid-fire joke approach, and for me, they hit more often than miss.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/himversushergames?feature=mhee thewayigetby

     The first thing I thought after playing Borderlands was “the sequel is going to be SO much better”

  • Effigy_Power

    Oh, Cell Shading. Why are you? Why do you? What is your message to us who can’t seem to stomach even a minute of your fake, comicy ugliness and are repulsed instantly by tacky black lines around everything? Us, who have longed for games to look like the real thing and not like the unreal thing of something that shouldn’t be moving, but be confined to panels with speech bubbles and spiky fields saying “thwack”.
    Seriously, what is the appeal of this? I can somewhat understand why a sort of cartoony style would fit a game as silly and over-the-top as this, but every cynical bone in my body (There are about 270 of them. Bones. Not bodies. Regardless of what you read here, I do not have an underground lair in the Antarctic full of clones.) tells me that this was done to hide what is essentially an ugly game.
    Regardless of stills or videos, the depth perception is horrid, monsters only lift themselves from the background because they are so gaudy in color that it seems they fell into a hippie’s dye-cauldron and the constant stream of numbers and flashy bullet effects…
    It’s giving me visual diarrhea just looking at it and I can’t get over that. I seriously like the idea of loot-based sort of future-shooty action, but a game would have to look a lot less like it’s made with crayons in order to make me want to play it.
    Shame, but there we are.

    • HobbesMkii

      I’ve heard it said that the developers were putting together a much different post-apocalyptic shooter and the cel shading was from an early on build and accidentally made it further along in the development than it should have and took what was a very bland game and made it pop, so they kept it and changed the tone of the game. 

      So, it could be considered an accident, like when a bus runs over a pedestrian.

      Actually, in all seriousness, I like it, if only because it’s different from every other shooter out there. It reminds me of A Scanner Darkly being rotoscoped, where the visual effect didn’t quite justify its existence, but was certainly a novel way to present the material, compared to everything else.

      • Aaron Riccio

        I thought Linklater just did that because nobody had watched him do it with “Waking Life.” 

        • HobbesMkii

          Budget concerns probably helped, too. Those blur suits would have sucked up money to do in CGI, and Reeves and Ryder both worked for scale in the film as it was.

    • TheMagicLemur

      There are plenty of non-brightly-colored, grim, realistic shooters out there. I don’t see the point in complaining about the one that isn’t.

      I mean, I respect your right to want everything to look boringly realistic, but meh. I’m happy for cel-shading’s continued existence.

      Also, I have zero problem with the depth perception. Maybe it’s you.

      • HobbesMkii

        Having read some of her opinions before this, I don’t think @Effigy_Power:disqus is really complaining that the cel shading prevents it from being like Generic Contemporary Conflict Shooter 3 with its drab greys and browns, but rather that video games have the promise to render fantastical worlds in hyper realism, and that cel shading represents a step back (or, perhaps, a standing in place) from that goal.

        • Effigy_Power

          I am not even sure it’s full on realism I am looking for, since a lot of game-makers seem to fail at that the harder they push. It really is just a strange thing for me to see this in motion. And to make this clear, cell-shading for me isn’t like a cartoon, but it certainly is cartoony.
          If the game had been seriously hand-drawn (which for a FPS is not a good idea), that would have been strangely fascinating.
          This to me seems just like a weird filter trying to hide (at least the first game’s) sort of uninspired appearance.

        • Pgoodso

          I was actually thinking about this in relation to the Emmy award for best animated series going to Penguins of Madagascar. It won against 4 adult oriented shows; Family Guy, Futurama, The Simpsons, and Bob’s Burgers. Now, all 5 at least partly use computers in animating, but Penguins is the only one to fully embrace the possibilities (or at least the artifices) of 3D computer animation (using full 3D models, lighting, and backgrounds). The others (aside from Bob’s Burgers) will occasionally use 3D animation to render scenes and characters, but they use it to ape traditional cel animation as closely as possible. It’s interesting how different people use the different possibilities of technology (why South Park or Archer didn’t get nominated over The-goddamned-Simpsons I’ll never understand).

        • TheMagicLemur

          That’s fine, but I feel it’s fundamentally a weak argument, and really an entirely subjective issue anyway. Not everything needs to be hyper-realistic.

          But at the end of the day, it’s just a stylistic conceit, and the end of the day, if it’s not your thing, it’s not your thing. And frankly my point about depth perception is legitimate; I have no trouble with it, nor does the cel shading give me a headache, so I think that is a personal problem. Sucks, but there it is.

        • Effigy_Power

          It is a weak and subjective argument because it was never supposed to spark a discussion really. 50% of the posts on GS are people talking about what they like and what not and usually without being labelled as “complaining”.
          I don’t really see a need to go down that route.
          I dislike cell shading, you don’t, that’s really all we can take from this and that didn’t need implying things like “your right to want everything to look boringly realistic”.
          Maybe just a thought for future conversations, for everyone including myself.

        • HobbesMkii

          @TheMagicLemur:disqus I don’t really see how someone saying that the cel shading fails or is being used to cover up what would have otherwise been a drab art direction is a fundamentally flawed argument anymore than I see your (and my, see above) argument that it’s better than the non-cel shaded drab art directions in other shooters is a fundamentally sound argument. As much as it pains me to link to this particular website, here’s a Gamespot article that demonstrates how uninnovative in its art the non cel-shaded Borderlands was, and how very little of it was changed outside of that cel-shading (although they did up the gamma levels):
          http://www.gamespot.com/features/borderlands-2-and-artistic-evolution-6380816/ 

          On closer review of those images, I’d say Eff does indeed have a valid point about depth perception. To me, it does appear as though many things in the original game occupy the same visual plane (the rock to the far left of the third image in that article, for instance, looks to occupy the same space as the mound its on), and that perspective is being forced, either by drawing dynamic shadows for the enemies, highlighting others in some way (lighting them on fire, for instance) or unfocusing some set pieces to draw the player’s attention away from them. The screen of the sequel looks much, much better (noticeably absent is the presence of the thick black outline).And of course this is a subjective argument. That’s what criticism is. If someone is engaging with (or finds him or herself ungaged by) a piece of art, then it’s entirely a subjective experience. Given that, it seems fundamentally flawed (subjectively to me) to dismiss an argument as being subjective. I think that perhaps Eff’s arguments were a tad hyperbolic in her summation of the art direction’s flaws, and it’s absolutely right to call her on that, as it is to point out the drawbacks to the hyper realism that seems to be plaguing game design recently. But it’s not right to hand-wave her argument away by vaguely implying she’s some sort of philistine who doesn’t appreciate Gearbox’s attempt at visual variety or that it’s a minor thing that may simply not be her cup of tea. She’s given it a critical eye, failed to engage with the game (though she hasn’t failed to engage with the game’s actual loot-based mechanics), and identified the thing that turns her away from it and accurately (and again, with a degree of exaggeration) summed up why this has occurred. It seems pretty valid to me.

          Also, since I don’t think I’ve seen you around here before, Welcome to the Gameological Society.

      • Effigy_Power

        Sheesh, way to assume. I am just as sick of the slew of beige war-”sims” as most people, but that doesn’t mean that going exactly the other way is in any sense better.
        Incidentally I think you may have a cell-shaded chip on your shoulder.

        • HobbesMkii

          Well, you’ve succeeded in causing a cascade of people to misname it “cell shading” rather than “cel shading,” so, in some regards, all these Borderlands fanboys have scored only a Pyrrhic victory against you.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cel 

        • TheMagicLemur

          I have a grim, realistic chip on my shoulder. I just legitimately think the game looks good, and that realism is overrated. *shrug*

        • Aaron Riccio

          I, too, dislike cell-shaded games, as they’re way too prison-y for me. If I wanted to be in a gulag, I’d opt for the real experience and oubliette it up. 

          To be clear: I *don’t* want the real experience.

        • Asinus

          Hi! It’s the future! Have you seen  Wreck-It Ralph yet? The animated short that precedes it would be really cool as a game. I guess (and I think I heard this on a Reasonable Discussions) it’s a computer animation engine that turns hand-drawn art into 3D animation. It has the look of classic hand drawn Disney but exists in 3D space. It’s really cool. 

          I LOVE cartoony games (and I love cel shading, but I respect your opinion on it) and think that an honestly cartoony look for a shooter, or any game for that matter, would rule. 

          When the demo (or maybe it was pre-demo) for Quake 2 came out, some people were kind of annoyed at the “cartoonish” look of the badguys and the silly death animations they had. I loved that and was kind of disappointed when it released and had more of the dramatic death animations built in (grabbing at their chests, slumping onto their knees, reaching helplessly upward, firing impotently) instead of the cartoony “bad” ones (hopping up, legs flying up like some kind scissor kick, flopping onto their backs). 

          Oh, the short is “Paperman.” If you haven’t seen it: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-O-NzO7ftSE8/T-9ChHDPjVI/AAAAAAAAHHU/dC2MT8owews/s1600/Paperman_still_1.jpg

    • saabmanlutz

      Cuz it looks cool

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      You have about 270 bones? Do you have an extra leg or something?

      • Effigy_Power

        Sorry, 206… I just inherited this fresh clone and it’s still fusing… I mean I misread the Wiki article.
        <..>

    • Pgoodso

      I would say the cel shading was DEFINITELY done to hide some of the ugliness of the first game, especially because it dealt in a LOT of the traditional “dirt on dirt on concrete on dirt” color palettes that many games, especially shooters, get trapped in.

      (Side story about color palette exhaustion: In 2009, I lived with a roommate who was very erudite about film, but never played a video game in his life, and so looked and played from a childlike critical standpoint (having to explain the evolution of menus and controllers to him was actually an interesting thought experiment for myself). Anyways, in relative sequence, I played Gears of War 2, Fallout 3, Borderlands, Chronicles of Riddick: Butcher Bay, and Resident Evil 5. He wondered why “all” video games had to exist in such bland and ugly worlds; he’d never seen so much brown and grey in his life. He preferred the art style of Smash Brothers Brawl to any of those.)

      Anyways, I feel like this one, as said above about many other facets of the game, does cel shading better. For one thing, poiygon counts went up, especially in faces, and the outlines have become a little more muted than the first one. As well, there are a lot more color palettes in the backgrounds (from more varied settings). As for depth, well, the interesting thing from actually playing the game is the nice camera touches with focus, especially aiming weapons. Not just scoped zoom weapons either, always creating a gradation of focus in the center of the screen to off focus on the edges, AS well as focus changing depending on distance to the object being aimed at.

      Granted, your argument is that you just don’t like cel shading anyway, so, to each their own. But I would never have called the colors in the original Borderlands “gaudy”, that’s for sure.

      • Effigy_Power

        Granted, I might just remember it a bit worse than it was, and you are right about the “cartoony” lines being a bit more subdued. I do stand to the point tho that it makes the game look washy and things odd to distinguish, which I guess they realized and then applied the blur and focus effects to make things pop out a bit more. I just can’t shake the feel that I am looking at a game that was finished before they had time to put the real textures on it. It just looks unfinished and odd to me.
        It really is, I think I make that clear, a personal preference. Or in this case the opposite.

    • rvb1023

       Cell Shading definitely works for certain games (Killer 7,  Viewtiful Joe, the recently re-released Jet Set Radio) but they seem to have a certain style to them where it benefits the game overall.  While most of the time it’s still probably the case that it is meant to cover up a bad looking game, Borderlands feels even more so because I remember what the game looked like before the switch to Cell Shading.  But hey, game looks fun regardless.

      • Aaron Riccio

        I feel like most artistic choices work in a Suda51 game just because, well, the gameplay is already “Hell, why not” so the visuals might as well be that way, too. 

        With the comic tone of Viewtiful Joe, Jet Set Radio, and Borderlands, cel shading seems to be the only thing that would really fit, though that’s hindsight vision once again blinding me, especially since I never saw early builds. (For instance: you wouldn’t imagine Castlevania with cel shading.)

        • Max Taylor

          Shhh! Konami’ll hear you!

      • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp David Dalrymple

        Cel Shading was fine in 2003. Games like Dark Cloud 2 and Magic Pengel looked really nice.

    • sirslud

      You so crazy, Effigy. It looks gorgeous. What other FPS .. nah .. game on the market these days runs such a gamut of the entire spectrum, from the deepest hot reds to the coldest of blues? I can assure you that the ‘filter’ is not a filter but rather a deliberate artistic direction that required a rewrite of almost every project detail, from pipeline to asset, to achieve – done late in the lifetime of development of the first BL, perfected IMHO here on the second. A deliberate direction that you’re fully entitled not to like. :)

      I’m pretty confident in saying that your opinion, as much as I respect it, is in the minority in this case.

      (It also doesn’t hurt that the game is just flat out fun, aversions to FPSes notwithstanding.)

      • Effigy_Power

        I have no issue with my opinion being in the minority. Judging by the ratings and the general chatter it’s a widely enjoyed game. That said, nobody should be made to feel as thought their minority-opinion is less worthwhile or shouldn’t be uttered. (I don’t feel that, but someone else might pick up that vibe.)
        I am happy a lot of people enjoy this game visually, I just think it’s ugly.
        Admittedly I am also sick of hearing about it. ^_^

        • sirslud

          Sorry Effigy, I didn’t mean to sound like I feel that it isn’t worth hearing differing opinions on the look of the game. On a reread I can understand how some might take it that way. My larger point was just to correct the oft-stated impression that the art direction was somehow guided by a desire to ‘hide’ a visually lackluster game. To the best of my knowledge, that wasn’t the case, although I can certainly appreciate why one might lean towards that assumption if the graphics don’t appeal. Ok, that’s the last you’ll hear me talking about BL2, I promise! :D

        • Effigy_Power

          Eh, don’t worry, it wasn’t even directed at you. Maybe I am just generally poopy about this while Borderlands 2 things because both online and offline I have been hearing about it for weeks now.
          I still think cell shading looks awful, but it probably looks more awful to me since it’s Borderlands 2′s cell shading.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Peter-Kovalsky/1504237433 Peter Kovalsky

      For what it’s worth, several of the Shin Megami Tensei games have used cel shading to great, creepifying effect.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=16831741 Eric J. Baker

      The appeal is I see real looking stuff all the time. In the real world. That gets boring, so I want to see something fantastical and otherworldly in my art media that can offer that. 

      Here’s a good quote about this from Don Hertzfeldt, the Oscar-nominated independent animator of Rejected fame:

      “The point of [animation] is you can do literally anything, you can show us amazing things we’ve never seen before. I want to see animators change the language of cinema! Seriously, we have the means. Push animation deep into the wild new places where the surrealists took their reaction to photography. Rock the damn boat. If you’re going to strip animation of all its subjective power and just show me what things look like in real life you might as well be shooting live action.”

      Since video games fall under animation in all significant ways, I consider the quote applicable.

      Plus, if Borderlands wasn’t cel-shaded, it would look like every other shooter out there. Just saying…

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/7434UGH3EEMU2AUKTGMU3NLDZA JoshJ

     Aw, see and I love cell shading. Makes me think there was an actual artist involved at some point.

    • Cheese

      Agreed. I prefer games to have actual art direction. It makes them more interesting to play and more future proof. TF2 and Jet Set Radio still look great, for instance.

      • Effigy_Power

        I can only say that it’s just a turn-off for me. I can’t really stand the style TF2 uses either.
        Which is odd, I’ve been reading comics for 20 years and made them for 3years, but somehow in a gaming environment it rubs me the wrong way.
        Ah well, I suspect I shall survive it.

        • Logoboros

          Have you looked at the style of Tell Tale’s Walking Dead game? I’m curious what you make of it.

        • Effigy_Power

           @Logoboros:disqus: I have not played those yet or really seen any footage, so I can’t judge them. I am not playing them because I’ve not really started watching the show yet and don’t want to spoil anything, which I am pretty sure the game might.

      • Enkidum

        Yeah, those were going to be my counterexamples too.

    • Fluka

      I’m sort of split down the middle on this, feeling one way or another depending on my mood.  Sometimes I look at it, and I’m happy that it has non-brown colors, and that someone actually had to, as you say, think through some kind of art direction for the game.  It doesn’t *look* like many other modern western games out there, and that is refreshing.  

      Sometimes, though, I look at it, and the cel shading just looks kind of tacked on.  Colors aside, the lines look like someone ran the game through the Photoshop “cartoon effect.”  The comparison to rotoscoping above is fairly apt.

      Occasional ugliness aside, though, I think I’m still grateful that it actually has a distinct, semi-unique visual style.  It’d be great if the future of game graphics was people aiming for amazing art instead of amazing graphics.  Then I go to other gaming sites and see people complaining about the fact that Dishonored’s beautiful neovictorian city looks “shitty” or “like a game from 2007″ and I know that we are doomed.

      • RegularGonzalez

        Well said. 
        I’m not 100% sold on B2′s cel-shading being a feature rather than a cop-out. (This comes from my school days; my style was ripped pretty ruthlessly for using lines to cover my inability to place objects in space, which was true.) It’s pretty in its way, but I will play it for the gameplay with my good buddy, not for the art direction. Edit for typo.

  • wzzzzd

    “Swapping weapons causes your next shot fired to deal bonus damage”
    Good to see someone on the team loves their Counter-Strike.

    That gives me a little hope that this PC port won’t be as awful as the first was. The combination of mushy, smoothed mouse movements and the completely PC-inappropriate default field of view (I think it was 75 degrees?) just made me feel dizzy and sick.

    I did have a lot of fun with the game when I found way to up the fov and fix the mouse filtering but before that it was too much of a chore to play.

  • http://twitter.com/MuMD0G mumd0g

    While much of what you said in the review is true, I think you downplay two hugely important components that make this game so amazing.  First is the humor and tone.  So many games try to be funny and fall on their face (Matt Hazzard, anyone?) but B2 nails it.  And frankly, it has to.  If Jack was anything less than hilarious, you’d want to turn the game off in about 10 minutes.  I don’t think I’ve ever laughed at a game as hard as I did interacting with Tiny Tina.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BeqYf70fC2E&feature=relatedThat plays into the art direction as well.  I feel less like I’m raiding some grim post-apoc world than I’m in a really messed up Hanna-Barbera cartoon.The second is that for console players there is simply nothing else like this on the market, at all.  PC players are spoiled with the riches of Steam and dozens of other indie games where co-op is commonplace.  Not only is it rare on consoles, it is undeard of in the shooter market.  Being able to get four friends together to work together on something is amazing.  In fact, most of the play time I’ve had with friends has been about 50/50 between missions and spending that earned cash at Moxxxi’s slot machines looking for new loot.  And trading loot. And talking about upgrades.  And figuring out which weapons each party member should use.  It is much, much more collaborative than just ‘jump in, shoot stuff, get loot’ when you play with friends. 

    Oh and one more thing: how they managed to integrate jumping between multiplayer and single player so well is absolutely incredible.  Granted, if you are five levels apart, your friends are going to have a tough time.  But I can jump online into someone’s game, play a mission or two with them and jump back into my game with those missions already beaten.  Such a cool mechanic. 

    • djsubversive

      I was playing Jade Empire last night, and regaling the Steam chat with some of the more amusing lines, and I think merve put it perfectly when he said Minister Sheng’s Airing of Grievances is a thing of beauty. I wish I’d saved that chat-log now, because I’m about to head out the door, but “He was instructed to perform acts of deliberate indecency upon himself,” “His cart was stolen, filled with soiled garments, and then returned,” “He slipped and fell in a patch of mud, no doubt placed there by jealous townsfolk,” and “His honor was impugned by bandits. Bandits!” are a few of the standouts.

      Jade Empire also has some hilarious moments is what I’m saying.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        The Airing of Grievances: immortalized here and here.

        • djsubversive

          yay!

  • obiwanchernobi

    I’ve been listening to Kill ‘Em All while I play this. Unsubtle music for and unsublte game. 

  • goawayinternet

    You guys have been shoving this game down our throats for weeks now.  I refuse to read this review.

    • RegularGonzalez

      Cool!

  • khung

     http://lnk.co/I2VI9

  • RegularGonzalez

    If anyone’s interested in sharing gamertags for PS3 for this me and my buddy might be looking to team up. mine is same as this profile except…I think…with a space between the words. You guys seem like OK guys!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=16831741 Eric J. Baker

    This sounds good and all, and I’m sure it’s a blast for Diablo or WoW fans who love loot collecting. But Borderlands is just so… disappointing for me. 

    I love the art style, I love the setting and world, I think it controls extremely well, it marries the RPG and first-person perspectives so well, the character creation is a lot of fun, the writing is fantastic– it’s a very, very well made game, and the sequel sounds like the kind of expansion and improvement that so many other sequels aren’t.

    But loot collectors bore me to tears. I just can’t stand them. I wish Borderlands, with all of its many assets (especially the art style and setting: so unique and well designed) had gone in a different direction gameplay-wise. I was hoping for a Fallout 3 or Oblivion that I actually enjoyed, something that got me excited about the world and felt fresh. And that would be abundantly possible with this game world and the existing framework. But instead it’s a loot collector, and I can’t help but see all the potential for other genres. I hope Borderlands 3 goes in a completely different direction.

    All from a purely selfish standpoint. I completely understand why Gearbox went the direction they did. I just don’t like that direction.

  • Asinus

    I’ve had this for the PS3 since release but have only played it for a few minutes (I’m waiting for my friend who got it for me to play!). I hate playing FPS games on consoles so I just got it for PC today. I’ve already made 2 characters on the PS3 and really hate sitting through that damn intro movie every time. So, if anyone is still reading this, here’s how to kill the intro movies on your PC:
    Navigate to your steam directorysteamappscommonBorderlands2WillowGameMovies and rename 2klogo.bik, nvidia.bik, gearbox_logo.bik, and Megaintro.bik (I just turned the bik into b~k). WHen you start the game, it will go right to the menu with no splash screens, and when you start a new game it will go right to character generation without that over-long intro movie. 

    Seriously, I am sick to death of companies who are so goddamned proud of their drawn out “cinematic” intros that they don’t let you skip them. It really gets irritating if you, say, just want to make a couple characters. I even LIKE the Borderlands intros (though the first one is better IMHO), but don’t force me to watch them. Even if this were a movie I’d be able to skip ahead. 

    • Asinus

      Well, I don’t like Borderlands 2. I like some things about the engine, it looks great with Physx, but overall, as a game experience, I’m not a fan. It feels more linear than the first one; I definitely feel like I’m being forced into the story and being told that I have reasons that I don’t, e.g. I keep being told that i need to save my ‘friends.’ They aren’t my friends, I don’t care about them and the game doesn’t give me a reason to. The first game sets the Vault Hunter as a sociopath who will help others when it is good for his/her own ends. I only kind of worked with angel because I was after the vault and so was she. I didn’t really care about her or anyone else except in as much as they could help me get to the vault. I only wanted to stop the “bad guys” because they would have kept me from getting to it. But now I’m some kind of hero? What the hell is that? 

      Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun to play, but they keep trying to hit these dramatic beats that I simply don’t give a crap about because of the way I played the first one and because of the way the world of Pandora seemed to function in the first game. In the second one, they added too much structure. I know that there was only one way for hte first game to play out, but it really felt like I was exploring and working my way into a story that was bigger than I was. 

      In the second one, I’m told from the outset what I’m doing and more-or-less why. The Big Bad talks to me through the echo net the whole goddamned game and never shuts up. He’s not as funny as the writers think he is– the humor is too forced. I laughed quite a lot at the first one primarily because the humor seemed like a side effect of the characters and the absurdity of the situation. The writing in this one seems tohave been with comedy and forced drama first, all other factors just come from those. 

      Again, it’s fun, I really like the increased view distance for sniping, I like the improvements to the graphics (but am really confused about the changes to the gravity and why they got rid of falling damage. I don’t LIKE falling and getting hurt in games, but it adds a nice tension to exploration that just isn’t there when I can jump off of a bluff and not worry about dying when I smash in to the ground). If there were some way to import BL 1 maps, quests, etc. into BL2, I would do it.