This edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Gearbox Software's first-person shooter/RPG Borderlands 2, which reviewers describe as "one of the most rewarding gaming experiences of this console generation." Borderlands 2 currently earns a score of 90 out of 100 at Metacritic.com.
Dan Ryckert at Game Informer scores Borderlands 2 at 9.75 out of 10, calling it "a genre-blending triumph."
"Three years ago, gamers were treated to an ambitious title that appealed to fans of first-person shooters, lootfests, and RPGs alike," he explains. "Its sequel would have been a step up (and a multi-million seller, assuredly) even if Gearbox only expanded upon the narrative. Instead of taking the easy route, the studio has taken everything that impressed in the original and greatly enhanced it."
The story aspect has seen a noticeable upgrade. "Unlike the first game, players have a very specific enemy in mind as they shoot their way across Pandora," Ryckert notes. "With an entertaining antagonist, some surprising twists, and cutscenes you actually want to watch, the story is one of the many significant steps up from its predecessor."
The numerous character abilities allow for varied gameplay and strategy. "My playthrough was a blast as Zer0, the robotic ninja with the ability to cloak himself and deal massive damage with sniper rifles and his sword," Ryckert recalls. "His deception ability is more flexible than I anticipated, and it saved me in numerous scenarios."
"All of the improvements would make for a standout title even if it were constricted to single-player," Ryckert writes. "Considering Gearbox has continued to put this franchise in a league of its own when it comes to co-op, it elevates the game to something more. With its unmatched co-op gameplay, intense shootouts, addictive loot collecting, expansive skill customization, hilarious dialogue, and insane level of replayability, Borderlands 2 is one of the most rewarding gaming experiences of this console generation."
GameSpot's Chris Watters rates Borderlands 2 at 8.5 out of 10. "In Borderlands 2, the novelty is gone, but all of the other elements are back and better than ever," he begins. "This sequel doubles down on the successes of the original and shores up its shortcomings, improving the familiar formula and delivering dozens and dozens of hours of immensely entertaining gameplay."
"Perhaps the most notable difference is that Pandora now feels like a vibrant, living place," Watters continues. "What once was a lonely frontier planet populated primarily by savage men and feral beasts is, well, still a planet populated primarily by savage men and feral beasts. But it isn't so lonely anymore, thanks to an expanded cast of diverse and entertaining characters."
Watters finds that Borderlands 2's writing shines throughout. "The huge amount of high-quality voice acting required to bring this world to life is fueled by excellent writing, which provides some genuinely nasty tirades and surprisingly tender moments amid the avalanche of laugh-out-loud funny lines," he praises. "The breadth of personalities invigorates your adventure and makes Pandora a lively, engrossing place, the kind of place it fell short of being in the first game."
"Borderlands 2 doesn't reach far beyond its predecessor's scope, but it does do almost everything better," Watters says. "Additions, refinements, and fixes all combine to create an appreciably improved experience, one that fully delivers on the promise of the first game. While Borderlands felt empty at times, this sequel is bursting with content and brimming with life, making it an absolutely delightful way to spend hours and hours and hours of your free time."
Polygon's Arthur Gies gives Borderlands 2 a score of 7.5 out of 10. "Borderlands was, in hindsight, propped up largely by a hope and a prayer," he notes. "Taken only by its design, itís a collection of parts from multiple genres -- the quests of an MMO, loot influenced more by action RPGs like Diablo, and shooting out of, well, a shooter. None of these parts were exemplary, and they were even combined in what could be affectionately labeled a haphazard way."
Gies continues: "Gearbox has taken a fresh look with Borderlands 2 at the often weak connective tissue linking the pile of divergent ideas that defined its predecessor. The story is developed and surprisingly thoughtful, and systems link together more. The result is a better game in almost every regard and, interestingly enough, a more ambitious one. However, a clearer vision from the start doesnít prevent Borderlands 2 from straining in several design directions at once."
A slow start doesn't give a good first impression. "Borderlands 2 starts slowly -- the first few hours are a tutorial, more or less -- and it often falls into the strange trap of yo-yo mission structure," Gies recalls. "Too often, quests involve a character or place as a sort of hub from which you'll be thrown into an environment you've already explored to find or kill a thing, at which point you'll return to the hub, turn in, and be sent right back out to find/kill the next thing on the list."
In addition: "There's a sense of a constant grind. The basic gunplay that underpins Borderlands 2 is adequate to get things done. But it's nowhere near the responsiveness and encounter design of more dedicated shooters. The left-trigger aiming mechanic is paired with very aggressive auto-aim, so hitting things isn't a problem -- it's just not very exciting. This makes clearing areas devolve into a same-y sort of job, rather than something fun."
"Borderlands 2 is unquestionably a better game than Borderlands," Gies concludes. "The new emphasis on elemental weapons and dismemberment make for better combat scenarios, and the constant character improvement is a great push forward for players looking for long-term rewards. But sticking around for those payoffs requires more patience than I'd hoped."