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Borderlands 2 review: Huge scale and loot addiction papers over the cracks

Brilliant central mechanic keeps things ticking over

Borderlands 2 was made in Dallas, it will surprise no one to discover. The grindy first-person shooter is obsessed with guns, does a nicely textured line in abrasive toilet humour, and is in love with giant things, most obviously itself. Short of wearing a ten-gallon hat and slapping its thigh, it's the ultimate expression of the state in videogame form.

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And it turns out that Texas is great fun to play. The basic format hasn't changed since the first Borderlands game, so what we have is an XP and customisation-heavy shooter with a distinctive inky-outlined style and a big emphasis on co-operative play.

The game's spidering quest system ensure plenty of meandering and digression...

As before, what makes the co-op particularly significant is the class system. There are four playable characters with different heard-it-before skills: Salvadore the Gunzerker (a square man who can dual-wield guns), Maya the Siren (an elemental mage lady who does big damage, goes invisible), Axton the commando (who can deploy turrets and heal like Roland from the first game) and a sneaky, critting assassin called Zer0. There is a story, about a villain called Handsome Jack who's racing a small faction of rebel forces (including the first game's Roland and Lilith in non-playable form) to open a new vault, which you obviously want to stop him doing (it's full of power, or chocolates, or something). But at no point does this feel like a particularly urgent mission.

Basically, Borderlands 2's spidering quest system and increased size make for meandering and digression, with non-essential side jobs sending you criss-crossing several pages of the new joined-up world map in a dune buggy to hunt down items (everything from animal skins to small, combustible cultists) and hand in completed tasks.

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DISTRACT-O-VISION

And of course you'll get distracted along the way, by packs of wild animals and hideouts full of bandits, and wondering if you can get to that weapons box up there, on that high roof, if you spend enough time looking for a ladder. And the reason you want to do that is because, underneath the surprisingly sharp dialogue, (Claptrap returns and says three genuinely funny things in the first five minutes) and smooth first-person shooting, Borderlands 2 is a greedy conveyor belt of power, guns and things, a sort of consumerist Eden - or a den of aggressive, extremist capitalism. (We did mention it was made in Texas, right?)

This is what the cynically-received 'gazillions of guns' line in the trailer is essentially referring to - that given the loosely tied narrative thread and repetitive dungeon crawling gameplay, what you become focused on isn't the next story beat - that could be hours away - but the next time you open a box that has something you want inside. And those boxes are absolutely bloody everywhere, stacked in every room and corridor, with bigger, meatier ones hidden on high ledges and behind simple puzzles.

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Mostly they're just full of ammo, because unless you're revisiting an area after you've levelled significantly higher than its inhabitants you'll pretty much be firing an endless stream of bullets. But occasionally they contain things that make you better at killing and staying alive: a new sniper rifle, a tougher shield, a class-specific stat boost, a grenade mod, and so on. These loot drops are ruled by random generation - no two runs through the same area, with the same boxes and the same bosses, will yield the same items. Not that they'll be that different, either - they'll be roughly the same level, with some variation in stats and bonuses, like a grenade mod with corrosive effects (good against robot enemies) rather than fire damage (handy against puny flesh), or two shields with minor variations.

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