The original Borderlands had me excited from the start with its stellar use of “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” in the introduction cinematic.  Though I recognized the game’s faults and somewhat tedious structure, I came away happy with, if not overly enthused by, the gameplay and lagging story.  Similarly, Borderlands 2 hit me from the start, echoing the original introduction with a fantastic video set to The Heavy’s “Short Change Hero.”  And though things began in a similarly stellar way, Gearbox Software‘s Borderlands 2 maintained that thrill and excitement throughout my time with the game.

In short, I’m hooked.

Meet the latest gang of vault hunters. Yes, they are as cool as they look.

Borderlands 2 resolves many of my qualms with the original title, and none have been as markedly improved as the narrative.  I remember vaguely setting out on my adventures in the first game, and opening the vault only to have to defeat a giant monster and be rewarded with a lackluster ending.  Occurring five years after that vault ending, Pandora has now been ravaged by corporations and more hunters.  The real treasure of the vault has been found, and the charismatic Handsome Jack is not only the closest to obtaining that fortune, but will destroy anyone in his way to attain it.

Choosing from another set of four characters, players will venture out on a quest to stop Jack and obtain the treasure for themselves.  While the start of the quest is a bit slow, the writing almost immediately has received a major progression.  Characters feel more fully rounded; Handsome Jack is in your face and frequently talking to you, building a relationship through his smarm.

Handsome Jack is as vain as he is hilarious in the game's villainous role.

The game’s secondary characters, both good and bad, all have distinct (if crude) personalities, and nearly all of them are well written.  I loved the introduction of every friend and foe, but what impressed me most came from the first game’s protagonists.  The four playable characters from the first game had personalities, but they have become fully fleshed out people this time around.  I won’t spoil their incorporation, but I fell in love with these characters and now look at them more fondly than I did when they served more as blank slates for the players.

And though the playable characters for Borderlands 2 certainly allow a bit of the players to put themselves in the game, they still have distinct character traits that I came to appreciate.  I predominantly played as Zero, the assassin, and from the, for lack of a more accurate word, badass opening, I had a sense of who all four vault hunters would be, and I felt connected to my character from the moment that annoying yet amusing Clap Trap opened his mechanical mouth.

Pandora has been overrun by corporations, creating a much more diverse landscape.

The improvements to story and character felt like massive leaps in the right direction, but that is not to say gameplay did not receive some much-needed attention.  The core of the Borderlands franchise focuses on first-person shooting in a loot-laden world with a mission system not unlike most popular MMOs.  It’s an amalgamation to be sure, but one that feels much more cohesive in this sequel.  Shooting still feels great, with each obtainment of a weapon coming as a surprise.  Guns are randomized, and never knowing what you’ll find makes opening each loot chest feel like unwrapping a Christmas present.  Every few minutes.  It’s both a blessing and a course as a bit of an OCD gamer – I found myself having to open every ammo and weapon hiding spot – but it rarely felt like a waste of time even if my actions boil down essentially to grinding.

On the subject of grinding, Borderlands 2 rarely made me feel the need to engage in that tedious act to complete a story mission.  I still enjoyed completing each task, no matter how base or mundane they appeared.  Many quests will have you hunting down a certain amount of an enemy or item, which can turn monotonous, but peppered in throughout the eccentric campaign, the lesser missions come off as little more than slight speed bumps.

Some missions will task you with taking down some particularly nasty foes.