Borderlands 2 review: Huge scale and loot addiction papers over the cracks

Brilliant central mechanic keeps things ticking over

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At first this endless (gazillions!) store of equipment is dizzying, and you'll likely spend a good few hours trying out different combinations of weapons and elemental effects before getting any kind of grip on the game's possibilities, and another few before you develop a sense of which particular combination suits you best.

After this period of experimentation it'll take a major item drop, usually a quest reward or the spoils of a successful boss battle, to change your loadout beyond iterative upgrades. And this becomes the de facto narrative path of the game, unless you're really paying extra attention - not how you and Roland are going to beat Handsome Jack and save the world, but how you're going to get your next purple item, and which gibbering bandits are you going to try it out on first?



Borderlands 2 is, in other words, pretty grindy. If you're playing it alone, the meaninglessness of the long-haul travel and painfully gradual kit improvement wears quickly in the absence of a binding, driving story. Which further explains the game's enthusiasm for having you play with others, an enthusiasm happily matched by a straightforward Burnout-style invite system that enables you tosee friends playing the gameand to drop in to their sessions seamlessly.

There's a real benefit to playing together, making co-op pretty essential...

The benefits of actually playing together are also significant. Hewing through waves of tooled-up grunts and big-toothed wildlife is always more fun when you have someone to chat to, and the classes are designed to work together - everything's easier with a Commando to heal the group, a Siren to deal damage, and an Assassin to have a stupid bloody name (the Gunzerker is good for being shot). It means a lot less waiting behind a rock for your shield to recharge, and more killing stuff and (competitively racing to be the first to collect the) loot.

Enemy difficultly scales up when you're playing with a group, and so does the value of their item drops. That provides a double incentive to play together - and play repeatedly - if you're serious about finding the one triple-barreled shotgun that fires electrifying shells and explodes on reload. The only problem is if you ever pause to wonder what end-goal you're racing towards. Better guns, bigger shields, more inventive and Willy Wonka-esque grenades - all well and good. But what are they for, past defeating the big bad guy who'll barely appear in your thoughts for the majority of your play time? It's the same problem Skyrim's story faced, to an extent.


There's no easy answer to this thought, and once it appears there'll likely be a struggle in your mind between this looming pointlessness and the urgent, nagging gratification of opening boxes and finding things inside that you like. The good news is that Borderlands 2 has enough to it that the boxes win out, at least for long enough to make playing the game worthwhile. It isn't just a string of numbers - there's a character and playfulness to the world that fleshes out the underlying mechanics and gives it a twisted charm. And, if nothing else, that makes it a place you're happy to spend your time.

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The verdict

Light on story and heavy on guns. Borderlands 2 is saved from XP strip-mining by a sharp sense of humour and a slick, destructive multiplayer.

  • Lots and lots and lots of guns
  • Utterly compelling, can't-stop-yourself loot collecting
  • Great world, backed by some razor-sharp wit
  • Co-op is laser-focused and smart
  • Story never feels like it's driving the game
  • Easy to get ground down by the grind
Xbox 360
FPS, RPG, Action