Borderlands 2 reviewed: A beautiful PC game that doesn’t try as hard as it could

Borderlands 2

By on September 25, 2012 at 2:26 pm

The original Borderlands was an ambitious, well-intentioned experiment that, for many, ultimately didn’t quite work. Full of a zillion different ideas and directions, it did as much wrong as it did right, being wholly the result of development hell combined with a sharp u-turn of focus halfway through creation. While the console versions were playable, the PC version was atrocious, becoming almost the poster-child for ‘how not to do a UI’.  But the risk ultimately paid off in the end, with the title selling millions of copies while at the same time carving out a niche within a niche — the shooting-and-looting cherry on top of Fallout 3‘s FRPG hybrid.

We all knew a sequel was coming eventually, and the one we got was basically what was overwhelmingly expected, because — well, Borderlands 2 is a bit of a do-over.

If we could go back a few years and tell Gearbox everything that was wrong with the original: too many creatures, not enough carnage, awful story and terrible PC port, they’d end up creating the revision that we now have in front of us. There’s little here that wasn’t drip-fed out over many months of trailers, screenshots, interviews and news, and playing through the game won’t shock you in any way or form. Frankly, the original meat of the Borderlands burger was tasty enough that it only needed a bit of extra salt and pepper to be truly palatable, and the gherkin relish that Gearbox added in the way of proper skill trees, refined classes and a proper target to aim at story-wise completes the package.

Finally, a great PC version

From the get go, it’s obvious that the various angry cries from the PC community were heard, loud and clear, and as a result we’ve been provided with easily the best version of the game by a large margin. We’ve got an extensive array of graphical options, to the point where it becomes almost ridiculous: want to change the amount of UI sway? No problem. What about HUD bounds and foliage distance? Sure, why not. You can cap the framerate in a variety of different ways, alongside mucking with vsync, FOV, view distance and PhysX effects amongst others. At maximum specifications, the game looks absolutely stunning, with an incredible amount of detail across the environment, vehicles, weapons, and the various enemies and allies you’ll run into along the way. Thanks to the comic style art design, even slower PCs will still be able to appreciate the level of detail that has been put into the world.

The UI has had a drastic overhaul as well — although it’s still full screen, it’s much less intrusive and doesn’t need to be accessed as often (especially during crucial and crazy battles). The inventory system, is still a little clunky, since you can’t simply drag things back and forth between your bag and your back, which feels like a holdover from the console version. But I’m not complaining — it’s much easier than navigating the original game’s atrocious inventory system with a keyboard and mouse, and that’s just fine by me.

Quests are dynamic: once assigned they’ll automatically change based on your location and level, meaning if you blitz your way through and become too powerful for a quest, the game will lock it out so your alt can have a crack at it. It’s an interesting system, and means that you will still likely have some variety if you decent to play co-op with a friend using a different character.

See the world, kill everything in it

Exploring the environment hasn’t changed much at all. The world is broken up into medium-sized zones that consist of a few quests, many of which, like the original, are multi-step branching missions that wind their way through long, well-designed shanty towns, cave systems and various other types of areas full of people and creatures geared up to kill you. If you’re a loot fiend (and if you’re not, why are you playing this game?) then Borderlands 2 still has you covered with the (literally) thousands of chests, buckets, safes, letterboxes full of ammo, weapons and other equipment. It’s actually a little silly how many things there are to open, with a ratio of about five chests per axe-wielding maniac. I think I actually spent more time opening things than fighting for the first 10 levels.

Thanks to Steamworks, joining and creating games on the fly is effortless, as all available games with your friends are listed on the main game screen. You can easily jump in and out at any time

The weapons are just as quirky, varied and fun to use as the original, thanks to the addition of a few more variables for destruction. Elements now make up a huge part of any strategy, and it’s not just simple enough to blast away with the same rifle when certain mobs or bosses may have a resistance to a particular kind of effect. Other than that, you’re looking at the same randomized stack of names, stats and mods all scrambled together to create that mix of both completely useless and horribly overpowered gun-porn joy. Even with the similarities between the weapons systems I found myself enjoying Borderlands 2 much more, likely due to the sheer number of weapons you find, which ends up providing a larger choice over many of the samey firearms that started to duplicate around the end of the original game.

Thanks to Steamworks, joining and creating games on the fly is effortless, as all available games with your friends are listed on the main game screen. You can easily jump in and out at any time, and the game does a great job of highlighting if your level is too high or too low for the experience. I did, however, notice some framerate issues and latency spikes in situations where things got a bit hairy, but these situations were rare at best and will likely be patched out over the next week or so. Steamworks integration allows for some very deep data collection which should make it easier for Gearbox to solve a lot of the bugs that plagued their original post-launch period. I also hope they decide to implement some sort of proper looting system, before people start nailing each other to the wall after their buddy ninjas the blue item that boss just dropped.

It’s time to move the formula forward

But there’s something about Borderlands 2 that just doesn’t grab me in the way the original initially did. There is not enough evolution here, as if Gearbox just decided to focus on developing an expansion pack that redeemed themselves of their mistakes and omitted taking any risks. Which is strange, since the original was an enormous risk, a brand new IP in a sea of sequels and stagnant gameplay mechanics. Yes, the story is deeper, the weapons feel great, the humour is bang on (Butt Stallion), and it’s still incredibly fun to set rampaging crazies on fire as they scream expletives at you. But it just feels like I’ve done all of this before, and after killing my millionth Psycho or running over my thousandth scrag I’m finding myself just a little bit, well… bored.

Borderlands 2 is essentially what the first Borderlands should have been. It’s polished, PC friendly, lots of crazy fun and has a fantastic co-op system, but in the end it’s really just more of the same. But if we are judging it on its own merits, (and pretend the PC original never happened) there is really nothing else like it on the market. Killing things with crazy new weapons has this addictive quality about it that can only be compared to ripping mobs apart in Diablo or Torchlight, where every time you feel like you should stop there’s yet another wave of enemies waiting to be slaughtered in the name of loot and cash. Because, really, that’s what Borderlands is all about – killing lots of things with your friends.

Good:

  • Perfect Fantastic PC version (finally)
  • Improved co-op and matchmaking
  • Great story, crazy weapons, and Claptrap
  • Gorgeous graphics and an interesting world

Bad:

  • Less a sequel and more a big expansion
  • Very few new mechanics or innovations
  • Some of the classes have been nerfed a bit
  • Difficulty curve in multiplayer is too high
23 comments (Leave your own)

hardly a perfect version

the inventory is by far the worse i’ve seen in a game

 
James Pinnell

jonlee:
hardly a perfect version

the inventory is by far the worse i’ve seen in a game

I did mention the inventory, but I honestly didn’t find it as annoying as others.

Frankly, the “perfect” part was related more towards controls, graphics, framerate, matchmaking, FOV, and the “overall” menu system, which is a zillion times more mouse friendly, accept for the lack of drag and drop in the inventory.

I think Tim may have been a bit overzealous with his tagline (I don’t write them :))

 

Yeah… Definitely have to disagree with the ‘perfect PC port’ comment. Movement feels very clumsy, the interface still feels absolutely terrible, texture fade in is terrible.

As you have mentioned, the inventory system is just an absolute joke, and if anything is more annoying than it was in the first. I really don’t understand why they won’t just look at how other RPGs do it, and try and emulate that rather than try and make their own.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the game, but to call it a perfect PC port just highlights how little we expect as PC gamers for a port now…..

 

The main issue I have with the new inventory is when you look at a weapon and the pop out box blocks the left most column =/

 
James Pinnell

Movement clumsy? Really? I didn’t find the movement clumsy at all – I found that depending on what weapon I had or my character’s form (assassin was quick, gunzerker was not) I would move slower or faster. The only time I saw texture pop-in was when the game tried to load ammo, whether in a chest or in the store.

 

I pretty much agree! The UI isn’t terrible (See Borderlands 1 for terrible), but it’s not great, the only other issue I have which could well be my hardware is very mild texture fade in (When I open a chest takes half a second or so for textures to sort themselves out from a blurry mess).

Those two issues aside, I also think this is a fantastic port, looks great and runs well on my sort of old hardware, huge array of options to nail down an exact performance/quality point that I like, UI setup for my 24″ screen running 16:10 not 16:9, a lot of little things that all count toward making it a fantastic port.

 

Atrocious is a pretty strong word for the Borderlands 1 PC version. A lazy port no doubt, but it really wasn’t that bad.

Thanks for the good review though. I can’t think of a game I’ve enjoyed more this year, or an FPS that I’ve enjoyed as much as this in a long time.

 
James Pinnell

My atrocious comment was largely leveled at the UI (not the content) from the original. I wrote a big piece on proper UI design which referenced it on the old GON which I cannot link anymore sadly.

 

Actually prefer BL1 inventory to BL2. The biggest flaw with BL2′s being that it is inconsistent. Sometimes mouse scroll works, sometimes it doesnt. Sometimes drag and drop works, sometimes it doesnt. It also obfuscates itself even though there is miles of screen real estate to use. I can scale almost everything UI wise in the game….but not the inventory screen. The skill trees? What muppet thought of only displaying one at a time?

Apart from being able to use the mouse, I fail to see how BL2′s inventory is an improvement.

At least BL1 was the same all the time, I could get used to it and get my mojo flowing.

 

hellboy1975:
I can’t think of a game I’ve enjoyed more this year, or an FPS that I’ve enjoyed as much as this in a long time.

My sentiments exactly. It’s hard to think of more entertaining co-op FPS game in the last year or more. Even the “chore” of doing side-quests is a joy, creating some of the most memorable and hilarious moments of BL2.

The main story campaign was a blast to play. Handsome Jack is one of the best antagonists in PC gaming, right up there with GLaDOS for me. Every time he speaks, I stop to listen because I know he’ll crack me up.

It’s interesting to me when people say “BORDERLANDS 2 OFFERS NOTHING NEW” like it’s a bad thing. Borderlands always felt like a proof of concept game to me; an awesome idea that fell short of the mark due to a variety of poor design decisions.

With time to iterate on that original concept, and a lot of feedback from the community as to what we wanted, Borderlands 2 is the realisation of the FPS-RPG-BBQ concept. It’s everything I thought it would be and more.

 

Everything seems fine and dandy, having a few texture streaming issues on my rig but nothing too bad. My only gripe about the game is the vehicle controls. Sweet jesus it’s awful. Seriously, WSAD to accelerate/brake/steer + mouselook. Space for drift, shift for turbo. it surely can’t be that hard.

 

It’s true, I put ‘perfect’ in the tagline. I have now nerfed it down to ‘great’. Stay tuned for further patch notes.

 

I didnt play the first one for more than ten minutes.
But after a bit of alcohol and my mate pestering me to buy number 2 I went ahead.

Im not able to play Co Op [Dodgy Telstra 4G internet doesn't work for it]
But the SP isn’t bad. I do get slightly annoyed occasionally at the constant respawning.
I’ve just killed 30 enemies. and the area is EMPTY and then another 10 pop up GAR.

Vehicle controls are the worst I’ve seen on PC ever.
I literally need to swap to my 360 controller everytime I get in a vehicle.

Still I am enjoying the game

 

I think you’re way, way, way too harsh on Borderlands 1. I only got it when the GOTY edition came out, but I didn’t find the interface noticeably worse than any other multi-platform game that’s come out lately. And graphically it was awesome – what was wrong with the port apart from (apparently) a few menus?

 

Sounds like it’s a good thing I never played the original lol. I am indeed enjoying the game with friends even if the actual shooting mechanics are a bit on the ‘eh’ side.

Are the classes much different? So far they don’t appear to be with only a single ability for each. I’m running sniper rifles on my Siren instead of playing an Assassin for them rofl.

The two main negatives for me is the items interface, it is quite poor (not comparing to the original which I don’t know of) and driving drove me up the wall instantly. It works in Halo, not here (or at least not without a controller).

 

“..Fallout 3‘s FRPG hybrid.”

Really not the best example..

 

hmm ill be honest i played the pc version of borderlands 1 and i loved it and wouldn’t call it atrocious.

borderlands 2 is really fun as well.

A lot of people seem to be complaining about the inventory and interface, i didn’t like it at first either compared to the one in borderlands 1 but now i’ve gotten really used to it and it is quite easy to use for me.

overall i think they did a really good job with both games.

while i know everyone else may find faults with it like you guys have, i just wanted to share my opinion and i am in no way saying you guys are wrong with yours.

 

caitsith01:
I think you’re way, way, way too harsh on Borderlands 1.I only got it when the GOTY edition came out, but I didn’t find the interface noticeably worse than any other multi-platform game that’s come out lately.And graphically it was awesome – what was wrong with the port apart from (apparently) a few menus?

In a game where a good chunk of the gameplay is about THE LOOT

having a poor inventory UI to manage said loot is equivalent to shooting your own foot, either that or they really wanted to make Marcus rich by making players give up on managing them and just selling everything that was not very distinctive (special guns/items).

 

Awesome we are managing to nerf article titles :D

I’d have to agree on the new inventory system. It’s crap. Mainly because it’s unintuitive and doesn’t allow the player to seamlessly use it correctly. Again failure to use screen real estate properly is a problem, then the scrolling…
WHY SCROLLING for the inventory? It’s like they saw Skyrim and though “OOOH that’s shiny” and copied it, when it is also a pretty poor UI from the players point of view.

Other than that, gotta say the rest of it is so polished it shines like a new penny. Awesome voice acting, integrated vehicles and much more fun to be had. The first set the stage, this one is the encore.

 

The UI isn’t that bad. It takes some getting used to, but I can use it and others I’ve played with have said “yeah it sucks, but it’s not affecting my game”.

The story is great, wouldn’t say it’s just a big expansion. I’ve played the game for about 20 hours and still not even close to finishing. The weapons are great, although a lot are similar, just look different.

The game as a whole is excellent. It’s honestly one of the best games I’ve played. It looks great, never experienced any clumsy movement controls etc.

Only issue I had was with the frame rate, but a download of updated drivers and a little bit of fiddling with the card and it’s fine.

Whinge more.

 
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