Whether you're a veteran of 100+ hours in Borderlands or you're totally new to the world of Pandora, you're going to want to prepare for Gearbox Software's latest adventure. Borderlands 2 presents a much harsher existence for the now-hunted Vault Hunters, and for all the bajillions of new guns that you can play with, there is also a wide assortment of bigger and nastier baddies to shoot them at.
I'm a veteran of the first game, with more than 100 hours logged overall with three of the four characters (sorry, Brick!), and I've also put more than 80 in on the latest for my Borderlands 2 review. I'm here today to share the benefit of those experiences and hopefully get you ready for your own first steps in the sequel's new and improved Pandora.
Your first act in Borderlands 2 involves selecting a character to play as. Choose carefully, since you'll be spending tens of hours with whomever you pick. Gearbox Software has the best resource available to help you make your choice: a skill calculator for each of the four playable characters, accessible from the official Borderlands 2 website. Take a look at what each character can do and how they develop to help you figure out which you'd want to play.
I've found that Axton, the Commando, is a great choice for those who expect to spend some or all of their initial playthough in solo play. His deployable turret amounts to one of gaming's greatest "oh sh*t" buttons, drawing all enemy aggro away long enough for you to slip away, even when you first unlock it at level 5. The same goes for Zer0 and his ability to turn invisible while he draws enemies to a hologram of himself.
Also immediately useful is Maya's Phaselock, which freezes an enemy in place for a brief period at its base level. It's not quite that savior skill that Axton or Zer0 come packing, but it's one of the most powerful and useful abilities in the game once you fully develop it. Salvador, the Gunzerker, also takes awhile to develop. His ability to whip out a second gun and dual-wield for brief periods of time is useful, but it can often be more trouble than it's worth when you're soloing in the early game.
There's no wrong choice, but the skill calculator will help give you a sense of what you're getting yourself into before you even pick up the game. Each character can develop in multiple directions allowing you to really tailor your leveling to specific styles of play. Some are still undeniably better than others for certain situations, so give some thought to how you'll be playing your various characters instead of just picking blindly.
Managing Your Arsenal
Borderlands 2 makes it much easier to keep track of your assorted weapons and support tools than the previous game did. The interface is largely the same, only now there's a new "Compare" feature that allows you to highlight two items from your inventory (or in a store, when you're browsing through one) and look at a side-by-side comparison of their stats. SImply highlight the first item you want to compare, hit X (on an Xbox 360 controller), and then highlight the other item.
You start out with a pretty small inventory cap, but you can grow both that and your storage vault once you reach the main town of Sanctuary, roughly three hours into the game. Storage cap upgrades in Borderlands 2 all qualify as "black market" upgrades that you can only purchase by spending Eridium that you've collected.
You'll run into Eridium for the first time on your initial visit to Sanctuary. It's a precious commodity through the early game, though you'll start to see it more and more as you rise to and beyond level 15. The base cost of any storage deck upgrade -- whether its for your backpack, your storage vault, or any of your weapon ammo totals -- is 4 Eridium. Each successive upgrade costs an additional 4 Eridium until you max that category out.
- Feature: Borderland Gold Key Chest Detailed
Personally, I think the best black market purchases you can make early on are for your backpack and, to a lesser extent, your storage vault. Loot collecting is a major focus in Borderlands 2 and ammo is easy enough to come by that you probably won't find yourself hurting for more too frequently, at least not until later in the game when Eridium becomes more abundant. I'd recommend making backpack upgrades your sole focus until you can max your cap out. The storage vault is also useful since you can stash stuff you might want to save for future characters there.
Speaking of future characters, look for a familiar face once you reach Sanctuary and do a few quests there. You'll encounter a number of returning characters as you explore the town for the first time, but one in particular shows you a second storage container that is especially useful for people with multiple characters. This stash caps off at four and you can't purchase upgrades for it, but anything you put in there can be accessed by any saved characters associated with your profile. So the level 8 pistol that carried you through to level 16 before you outgrew it can easily be passed on for your next character to take advantage of.
The Four Elements
Elemental effects were a big part of Borderlands, but the wider range of enemy types and variants pretty much requires you to have a working knowledge of how these elements work. The four basic ones that you'll encounter are: Fire, Electricity, Corrosion, and Slag.
Fire is best to use against fleshy enemies, with occasional exceptions for flame-resistant baddies like Nomad Pyros or Burning Psychos. The cue that you're looking for is a solid red-colored health bar. Unless you're dealing with something that would obviously not be hurt as much by flames, you can count on seeing some big fire damage bonuses pile up on unarmored, unshielded foes.
Corrosive weapons are also effective versus flesh, but they're most useful against armored enemies. Look for yellow-colored health bars. You'll see these most when you're taking on Handsome Jack's Hyperion forces with its various robots, but you'll also occasionally run into armored humans and other beasts as well.
Electricity attacks are most effective against shields. You can tell if an enemy has shields if there's a blue health bar above the red one. Shields regenerate, so don't let up once you bring any barriers down if at all possible. It's helpful to have a fire/corrosive weapon queued up right after your electro weapon; once you drain someone's shields, it's then a quick button press over to something more damaging.
Slag is new in Borderlands 2. It's not as effective as any of the other elements on its own, but it's devastating when used in tandem with any of them. Slag basically makes any purple-coated "slagged" enemy much more susceptible to damage. Hit a particularly tough baddie with slag and then switch over to another weapon for a big damage boost.
While it's not techincally one of the elements, there's also a fifth weapons buff offered in explosive firearms. Unlike the four elements, explosive weapons offer no lasting status effects. Fire a shot from one and it can explode, delivering a damage boost as well as some splash damage to surrounding enemies.
Using the different elements effectively is a key to success in Borderlands 2. In general, you'll want to make sure that you're carrying at least one delivery system for each type before embarking on a mission.
Becoming A Total Badass
Borderlands 2 introduces a new feature for the series in the Badass Points system. There are tens of challenges to complete throughout the game. Some are character-specific, some relate entirely to one location or another. You'll hit new milestones, as you deal out X amount of total damage to reach level one, then Y amount of damage for level two, and Z amount of damage for level three. You'll find collectibles like hidden audio recordings and Vault symbols.
All of these challenges tie to your ever-rising Badass Rank. The more you complete, the higher your rank rises and the more Badass Tokens you receive. Each token you pick up can be spent on a random percentage boost for your character's stats. We're talking boosts of one percent or less, in a wide range of categories like Gun Damage, Recoil Reduction, Shield Recharge Delay, Elemental Effect Chance... the list goes on and on. If there's a stat for it, you can boost it.
Here's the thing about those Badass boosts though: they apply to your entire profile, not just one character. Say you play through the entire game, and then play through it again on True Vault Hunter Mode (New Game+, basically), spending Badass Tokens the whole time. Then you fire up an entirely new character, a fresh, level one noob. All of those Badass boosts you applied up to that point would still be there, giving your new character an extra edge. You can turn the feature off at any time in the menus, though I don't know why you'd want to.
Bring A Friend
The final point I'd like to touch on is the value of Borderlands 2 as a co-op experience. There is literally no downside to jumping into someone else's game when they're at roughly the same level as you. Hitting pause at any time will not only bring up an options menu, it'll also list everyone on your friends list who is currently online, which character they're playing as, and what level they're at. You can jump directly into anyone's game right from there.
Whenever you join a co-op match, the world of Pandora immediately scales up in difficulty to provide a challenge for two similarly leveled characters (based on the host's experience level). That also means more XP from enemies and better loot. You'll get some serious gear playing through the game on your own, but you'll find even better stuff in co-op.
More importantly, Gearbox has evolved the way that the game deals with any progress you make in someone else's session. Say you jump into a friend's game after their first hour, and then proceed to play in co-op together for another four hours. When you start your own save for that character, you'll keep whatever level you were at and any gear you had, but you'll also be at the beginning of the game. Play through the first hour that you didn't do in co-op and you'll then be presented with a Yes/No prompt asking if you'd like to skip previously completed content. Choose yes, and the game will automatically whisk you ahead to wherever you were at when your co-op session ended.
Bits And Pieces
But wait! There's more! Here are some useful one-off tips that didn't necessary fit in anywhere else, but will also help you survive in Pandora's harsh environments.
* Moxxi's slot machines. Use them. Abuse them. Not only do they provide a steady flow of cash and saleable weapons, you'll also occasionally hit the Eridium jackpots. This works even better in co-op games, since everyone shares money and Eridium as it's picked up.
* Green is your best friend. You already know that the color green serves to indicate which doors, chests, and boxes you can open. You also might have noticed green lights on explosive containers in Borderlands 2. Blow them up. Goodies will spew forth and you will be happy.
* Speaking of crap you can search through, open everything. You might not find weapons in the small cardboard boxes or tool cases, but you'll frequently find that Eridium is stashed away in these instead of money or ammo.
* Duping returns! Why fight over who gets the awesome purple-rated gun that just dropped to the dirt? Have someone who isn't hosting the game grab the gun and then save the game. The gun carrier should then toss the new toy down for someone else to grab and immediately quit without saving (such as by backing out to the dashboard via the guide button on an Xbox 360). The original gun should still be in that person's inventory when they return. The session host should be the last to grab the gun and the only player to not drop out, since that would kick everyone else.
* Getting annoyed with those pesky timed delivery missions? Try it in co-op. Have one or more players scatter to the various delivery locations while one remains behind at the quest-triggering item pickup. Once everyone is in place, pick up the package and have everyone hit the delivery objective that suddenly appears in front of them.
* Visit the Badass menu frequently, especially when you're entering a new environment. In addition to the basic goals like "Kill X enemies with headshots," there are also area-specific challenges, such as finding hidden Vault symbols or lighting a certain number of carefully place objects on fire. Boost your Badass Ranking that much quicker!