Borderlands released three years ago and brought an ambitious medley of first-person shooter, RPG, and lootfest that gamers everywhere could enjoy. As soon as fans like myself saw the teaser trailer for the sequel, we could barely contain our excitement. Borderlands 2 looked to be an even more beautiful game than its predecessor, and Gearbox did not disappoint. The designers did not merely continue producing what was already so impressive in the original; they enhanced all the finer points of the original and improved upon its shortcomings. Every aspect was modified, from the storyline to the UI to the characters and, Gearbox's favorite selling point, the guns. Some of the tweaks were only smaller details, but the end result is a game that is much more impressive than one which had already blown minds.
Where the first game's storyline felt loose and sometimes a little forced, a very specific enemy now lends much more focus to the plot. The nefarious Handsome Jack has taken control of Pandora, stolen credit for the original vault hunter's actions, and is now attempting to "tame" Pandora. He invites new vault hunters to Pandora and then attempts to murder them in an effort to ensure his own control, causing the newcomers to seek an end to his reign. Fortunately for us, he's not only an egotistic ne'er-do-well, but also quite entertaining in his self-absorption. The story surpasses that of its predecessor with an enthralling plot, twists that won't fail to surprise you, and cutscenes that you won't want to skip this time around. I have never played a game that actually left me laughing out loud, and there were more than a few times where my roommate couldn't help but laugh along with me when he overheard the usually witty (but not above vulgar) dialogue.
One of the finer points of the new game is the expanded class system. The classes aren't unlike those of the original, but the expanded skill trees and more diverse specializations create much more possibilities. Where the first game had four classes with minor specializations among themselves, Borderlands 2 almost showcases twelve distinct classes. Each skill tree lends a different feel to the combat, and the classes themselves are already very distinct from each other. Zero can specialize sniping, with massive critical damage and long-distance one-shot kills galore, or melee, dealing massive damage to enemies in close range with his katana, or even a mid-range style with high reload speeds, pistol damage buffs, and explosive kunai. The action skills really separate the characters and define the classes, but the specializations can redefine the function of the action skill. Maya's Phaselock ability can function as a single stun, a crowd control, or even a mind-control ability. She can specialize to deal massive amounts of elemental damage, pull enemies together for faster killing, or even turn enemies on each other. The classes can support each other and co-op play really does feel like teamwork. Personally I haven't played very much with the other two classes, but I fully intend to give each of them a thorough playthrough.
Another beautiful thing about the game is its replay value. Each class lends an entirely new feel to the combat. Higher levels can allow specializations to overflow into other skill trees, and can only be reached through a second playthrough, called True Vault Hunter mode. Activating the mode allows you to restart the storyline with all of your skills and equipment from before, delving into larger enemies and even more loot. Loot which, even in my first playthrough, often kept me up late at night seeking an even better gun. It doesn't end there, however. Gearbox brought something completely different to the table with its Badass Rank (sic) system. Completing challenges for killing certain enemy types, killing enemies with a certain weapon type, dealing elemental damage, or even completing challenges - Yo Dawg I Herd You Like Chalenges - rewards players with tokens which can be redeemed for small stat bonuses such as gun damage, fire rate, or elemental effect chance. At first the bonuses are small, but after a few hundred the bonuses really start to add up. I should mention that the Badass Rank, and all bonuses associated with it, carry over among all of your characters, lending yet another dimension of replayability to the game.
Let's not forget the guns. Gearbox emphasized their "87 Bazillion Guns" with the first game, and with this one they claimed that the guns got "Bazillionder." As always, they fail to disappoint. The different weapon brands in Borderlands varied inasmuch as the weapon stats; each brand focused on one of the five stats at the cost of the others. In Borderlands 2, much has changed. Of course, Jakobs guns still do the most base damage, Vladof guns still have the highest fire rate, and Maliwan is still the place to go for elemental weapons, but others have more noticable changes. Tediore guns have always had the fastest reload speed, but now you simply toss the gun at an enemy like a grenade (and it does indeed explode) and watch as it digitally reconstructs itself in your hand with a full clip. Hyperion weapons feature stabilizers such that the gun actually becomes more accurate ar you fire it. The differences among the guns are now much more noticable and personal preference can play a much larger role.
Gearbox didn't just expand upon the things we loved about the first game, they also did their best to listen to our complaints. Enemy characters are much more varied and behave differently. Character customization is a little bit more expansive, although not as much as true RPGs like WoW or Diablo III. Fight For Your Life mode now allows you to crawl, letting you move closer to a friend to revive you or skirt cover to reach an annoying baddy who just won't poke his head out. The side quests aren't just fetch or kill style grinders, but have entertaining plots within themselves and let you feel like you're actually achieving something. The landscape is much more expansive and varied, in stark contrast to the largely barren wasteland feel of the original. Inventory management and the UI are simpler to use, and a trade system within co-op makes looting feel a little more cooperative and a little less competitive. Even without co-op, this game would be a standout title, but the ability to play (and often laugh) with your friends makes the game that much more intense, that much more fun. If you enjoy shooters like Battlefield, lootfests like Diablo, or RPGs like WoW, this game might just be the most rewarding gameplay experience you'll have for a while.