Welcome (Back) to Pandora – ‘Borderlands 2’ Review

The Handsome Jack Collection contains far and away the best version of Borderlands 2, but it doesn’t fix some of the issues that existed in the original 2012 release.

Borderlands 2 is a game about a group of hunters who are out to stop an evil corporation called Hyperion from fracking Pandora for a rare mineral called Eridium. As one of the hunters, you share an interest with Hyperion CEO Jack – a Vault that would grant absolute power to whoever unlocks it. Jack has the hopes of using the Vault to control Pandora and pillage the planet for all of its precious elements, and, of course, as the protagonist, you have to foil his diabolical plot. While the shell of this plot seems rather unoriginal, the way developer Gearbox uses humor and entertaining combat mechanics to keep the plot fresh and engaging is truly unique.

If you’ve played any Borderlands titles before, you know that the games are nonsensical and fun with occasional dark or somber tones. One moment you’ll be throwing a birthday party for a robot and the next Handsome Jack will be threatening horrendous violent acts on you and your comrades. Luckily, the tone never stays serious for long, and an AI companion is always nearby to lighten the mood with a cheeky or funny comment. However, it is worth mentioning that the game’s humor is pretty raunchy at times, and if you find yourself offended by crude or “bro” jokes, Borderlands may not be the best title for you. In my opinion, however, the humor really helped pacing and kept me wanting to see what would happen next in the story.

An example of Borderlands 2 tasteless yet hilarious sense of humor
An example of Borderlands 2 tasteless yet hilarious sense of humor

By the time the story wrapped up, I felt like I had chuckled my way through a goofy space odyssey. Friends were gained and lost and loot was adored and sold for scrap. The story is full of clichés and tropes, but that is what makes Borderlands 2 so great – it doesn’t take its story or characters seriously.

What the game does take seriously, however, is the slick gameplay that feels incredibly polished and distinct from other first person shooters. The class I chose (there are six total) was called the “Gunzerker.” This class allowed me to dual-wield any two weapons I had equipped and fire simultaneously. When I first started and was low-leveled, I found the ability somewhat useless. As I approached the low teens in level count, the power the ability granted became apparent as I could now clear a room in a matter of seconds. A sense of weakness never lasts long.

On top of smooth first person shooting mechanics, Borderlands 2 (and all core Borderlands titles) relies on an RPG class based backbone. I started out a weak and incredibly vulnerable soldier and turned into a near-unstoppable tank by the time the story wrapped up. As you level up, points are allotted into three skill trees that you can then assign to strengthen your play style. Fighting lower ranked enemies to boost experience points paired with the attack and defend tact necessary to defeat bosses remind me of ‘Dark Souls 2’ – and that’s a good thing!

“Gunzerker” skill tree – Note: a significant amount of grinding would be necessary to complete all branches

Besides its humor, people often associate the Borderlands franchise to its shoot and loot mechanics. As you play, enemies will drop weapons that have superior stats to your own, but in order to use them you must be a high enough level to equip them. This decision by Gearbox incentivizes playing side quests to boost your level. Even when I was tired after a long day, I always had that “One more side quest” desire before logging off.

Speaking of side quests, there are a ton of them. Some are short – run through town and deliver this message – and some are lengthy – go to position ‘X’ then to ‘Y’ then back to ‘X’ then over to ‘Z’ for the reward. The long side quests actually made me feel a little bit bored with the mechanics of the game at times. Once you realize that you just keep running errands back and forth for hours on end, the game sort of loses its addictive grinding magic and becomes more of a chore than anything else.

Lastly, we should talk about performance. Being ported to next gen consoles shows obvious improvements, but the game doesn’t run perfectly. Now, I did play the game on an Xbox One which has less power under its hood than the PS4, but it is still worth noting that some scenarios caused the framerate to drop from buttery 60fps down to probably mid-40s. While still higher than the 30fps lock of last-gen, the horrendous jagged movement and input lag when frames were lost really took me out of the hilarious and engaging world of Borderlands. The PS4 performs better in this regard, but it also has been reported to have minor drops here and there.

An area of the game where I experienced frequent fps drops
An area of the game where I experienced frequent fps drops

Despite its shortcomings, Borderlands 2 is worth playing today more than it was when it was released years ago. The extra content, improved graphics and framerate make it a premiere first-person RPG. While the Handsome Jack Collection leaves out the original game for financial reasons, this final verison of Borderlands 2 and the Pre-Sequel have an extremely high value-to-price ratio. Veterans should consider the value if they already own one or both of the games, but by all means, if you haven’t played the series before and you aren’t easily offended by crude humor, snagging The Handsome Jack Collection is a no-brainer.

The Handsome Jack Collection is available now for Xbox One and PS4.


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