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There really is nothing else like Borderlands 2. An open-world, free-roaming cross between Skyrim and Adventure Time – a hardcore shooter mixed with a dungeon-trawling loot-’em-up. The kind of game where people call each other ass-hats, then set someone on fire with a drum-fed shotgun that fires flaming rockets. This is a game that has a Top Gun-inspired mission where you steal volleyballs and battle topless Val Kilmer lookalikes in mirrored shades. Yeah, it’s that weird.
However, while Gearbox’s title is bat-fired-from-a-catapult crazy, the core FPS meets RPG mechanics are rock-solid – meaning it’s a shooter that really can compete with the best of them. You won’t find better gunplay, largely thanks to the unhinged take on weaponry.
Guns are made up of various components that are combined at random. Manufacturers, barrels and magazines are mixed with elemental effects like fire or acid to create Smith & Wesson’s worst cheese dream. You might have a pistol that burns, a shotgun that rots armour, or worse. One of the biggest draws is simply collecting absurdly overpowered weapons. Plasma-firing auto rifle? Oh, go on then.
It’s not just the guns, either. You can get grenade mods and different types of shield – things that might add elemental damage, or massively boost your protection while cutting your health. The combinations are endless and further mixed up by the four character types.
There’s Axton the Commando, a basic soldier who comes with a turret he can throw out for support. Maya’s a Siren, essentially a mage/healer who can ‘Phaselock’ enemies to freeze them in place. Salvador, on the other hand, is a Gunzerker – basically a tank who swaps subtlety for the ability to dual-wield enemy weapons. Finally there’s Zero, an Assassin class who has powerful melee skills and a great sniping ability, but no real mid-range strength.
While I’d recommend Axton as a good beginner class, and to play alone, there’s plenty of potential to create almost any kind of combatant. Each has three large skilltrees to develop with XP, as well as Badass Ranks that let you add permanent modifiers to your profile, affecting any character you play.
In fact, for all its fratboy humour and cartoon presentation, there are some serious stat-crunching and gameplay systems to experiment with – especially if you play in four-man co-op. Which you should. While Borderlands 2 is great fun played solo, it really comes alive with friends. Partly because it’s always more fun when you can shout at someone, and also because you can combine abilities and really work as a team.
The Gunzerker, for example, can draw enemies in, letting everyone else hammer them while they focus on him. The Commando can level up his turret so it heals, and so on. There are also character mods that affect individuals or the team, boosting things like magazine size or damage. For those who take it seriously, there are MMO-esque levels of customisation and combination to explore. Or, you can just use the biggest gun.
Be warned, though – playing with friends guarantees a serious case of ‘who nicked all the stuff?’ accusations. Cash and XP can be shared, but ammo and weapons are hoovered up by the greedy. There’s nothing worse than finishing a tough battle, only to discover it was tougher because your Gunzerker saw a really pretty revolver and stopped fighting to get it.
One great touch worth mentioning is that this remembers what missions you’ve played, so if you join a co-op game that takes you ahead of your story, you’re offered the chance to skip those bits later. It also just works – no fuss or faff. If you want to play online, you just play online. It puts every other dropped host and laggy lobby to shame.