Despite the litany of delays we’ve seen throughout the year, we’ve still managed to see the release of some pretty incredible games. Mass Effect 3 (despite all the controversy) was a fitting conclusion to the series, Kingdoms of Amalur (again, despite all the controversy) was a fantastic new IP, Darksiders II was a fair sequel to the original, Sleeping Dogs has been an absolute gem of an open world game…the list goes on and on, surprising even a cynic such as myself who was losing faith in 2012 after so many of my anticipated games were moved.
But after spending several hours blasting away anything that moves on Pandora, I feel pretty comfortable saying that Borderlands 2 is definitely one of my favorite games of the year.
It’s really everything a sequel should be; it’s more Borderlands, but it’s more improved Borderlands. From top to bottom, developers have taken a good look at the original shoot-and-loot fest and figured out ways to make it better. The HUD is new and improved with a well-organized menu system, quest log, and an actual mini map instead of the annoying arrow to guide you on quest objectives, enemies have varied intelligence and strategy, the world feels familiar, but with enough changes to be different, and with a slew of new weapon types and frequent drops, shooting has never been so fun.
Strangely, though, I find myself looking at Borderlands 2′s story as its strongest point.
Let’s be honest; the original Borderlands didn’t have much of a story. It was weak, feeling a bit like it was shoehorned in at the last minute. There wasn’t much revealed about the characters, the vault was kind of a vague carrot-at-the-end-of-the-stick that didn’t do much narratively, and I found it difficult to stay on task with the main quest due to its weak plot development.
But Borderlands’ lack of story was saved by fantastic and innovative gameplay and design that gave Pandora a unique feel all its own.
Borderlands 2, however, returns with a vengeance, delivering a story and characters that I not only care about, I also can’t wait to hear more from.
It starts off with you being left for dead after the evil Handsome Jack has disposed of you. The annoyingly endearing Claptrap finds you and helps you back to his lair, promising to get you safely to Sanctuary, the hideout of the rebellion against the Hyperion corporation Jack runs.
Borderlands 2 is so tongue-in-cheek that it becomes both believable and funny. It starts off with a narrator taking a jab at the original by saying that the vault hunters were disappointed in what they found with the vault at the end of the first, but that it was also really just a smaller vault leading up to a much larger one. By saying this, the game pretty much openly admitted to fan’s distaste for the ending of the original, suddenly taking that and tying it in with a much more well-realized story arc. And that all took about thirty seconds to achieve.
And the dialogue of Borderlands 2 is what really stands out to me the most. Characters are just as quirky and off-the-wall as they were in the original, but the fact that they actually have a place in a stronger narrative suddenly makes them really interesting in 2. Claptrap is annoying, but funny, the Guardian Angel has a stronger presence throughout the game, Psychos will yell random things like “What about the cake we were supposed to make!” as they die, and Sanctuary characters like Scooter have lines funny enough that I found myself laughing out loud at them.
But it’s the game’s villain Handsome Jack that I find to be the most interesting. As far as I am in the game, I haven’t actually met him yet. But he still checks in with me occasionally, telling me about what his plans are for my friends, bragging about purchases of diamond ponies, and really attempting to discourage me throughout the game’s main quest. In all reality, he feels a lot like GLaDOS with his random check-ins and black humor jests, which, being the massive Portal fangirl that I am, is pretty awesome.
But it’s his lines and fantastic voice over that really flesh him out as a character and make him into a guy that I both dislike and can’t get enough of. He’s a total jerk, and his delivery conveys this well as it casts his realistic-feeling lines with blatant snobbery and selfishness. And the check-ins from him only serve to keep me engaged in the game’s main story as I try to reach the vault before he does.
Borderlands 2 is great, and it’s an improvement on the original in nearly every way. But the writing is strong and impressive enough that I can’t help but feel like it’s reached Portal quality with its dark use of humor and irony to bring together both the loose ends of the original and the sequel and weave a compelling narrative.
And for all his pretzel-munching and snide mockery, it’s safe to say that Handsome Jack is probably my favorite villain since GLaDOS.