Borderlands 2 is better than its predecessor in almost every way, from its visuals to its gameplay. It's very hard to go back to its roots. After beating the game and bringing several characters to their max levels, we've compiled a short list of why we feel that is. Without further ado, and in no particular order, here are our top five improvements over the first game.
The first Borderlands was not exactly remembered fondly for its story. There were plenty of moments where I felt I was simply being pushed along from dungeon to dungeon and boss to boss. Its ending in particular left many people disappointed, myself included. I was still interested in finding the vault, of course, but I cared less about pushing the story forward and more about skill points and loot.
That hasn't the case with its sequel. Its story is a much greater driving force through the game, plentiful of twists and a wide cast of characters that have deeper interactions with the player and events. One cinematic moment actually gave me shivers. And special mention has to be given to Handsome Jack, the wonderfully well-written villain that I absolutely loved to hate instead of just being a cardboard box to simply hate. Despite being a completionist, I almost wanted to skip side-quests just to continue the story and see what would happen next.
Gearbox promised that Borderlands on PC was the definitive version, and while it did look better than its console counterpart, it distinctly felt like a port. Not only did it lack several graphical and audio options in its menus – vertical sync, anti-aliasing, push-to-talk – its interface didn't work entirely well with a mouse. Its online component also required Gamespy, an aging service even then and one I will not miss.
Those issues have all been addressed with the PC version of Borderlands 2. Many new graphical options have also been added, all of which can be configured before even starting up the game. Best of all, Gamespy is gone. Borderlands 2 fully utilizes Steam for its friend lists and matchmaking. Every active player on my friends list – including their level and selected quest – is displayed on the main menu or when the start menu is brought up. I can easily join or invite players from there without having to bring up the Steam overlay or add my friends to yet another list.
One complaint I've often heard about Borderlands was its lack of customization for the player characters. There were different skins to equip, but they were simple color swaps for clothing and hair. The fans wanted more.
Those skins make a return in Borderlands 2 and in greater numbers, but Gearbox included more additions to the system than just extra colors. Numerous skins now alter the clothing designs or add face paints to the characters. Better still, players can now choose from a wide variety head models, each with different hair styles and accessories. Skins and heads can be found as loot or earned through in-game challenges and gambling, which often forced my friends and me to excitedly return to the central hub to try out our new digs upon every unlock and discovery.
Enemy Variety & Reactions
Borderlands was filled with different bandits and alien creatures to fight, but Pandora is now even more dangerous. Aside from the additional enemy types, they now better compliment each other with their strengths and weaknesses to make every engagement a harrying affair. One bullymong may leap toward the player to attack up close while others throw large objects from a distance. A raging goliath bandit can become stronger by attacking its allies. Rakks now circle and dive in succession and from different angles instead of all at once.
Enemies have greater physical reactions to player attacks, too. Limbs of robots can be blown off, forcing them to crawl if they have no legs. Humans can be staggered and stunned with each blow. It made me feel more like a badass and the combat itself more visceral.
If you've ever seen to the marketing for this series, you've probably heard it has "bazillions" of guns. There are certainly a lot of guns, but visually it did not feel that way in the first Borderlands. The first submachine gun I found looked very much like every subsequent gun all the way through to the end. It was my greatest disappointment with the game.
Now on my second playthrough in Borderlands 2, I'm still surprised by what I find. Every gun manufacturer in its world produces weapons that now look and behave much differently from each other. Maliwan is all elegance and curves. Jakob guns evoke the Wild West. There are eight manufacturers in total, making it so the first submachine gun I found very much does not look like the one I'm using dozens and dozens of hours later.