Borderlands 2 Hands On Preview
My love for you is like a truck, Gunzerker!
With Borderlands being the critical and commercial success that it was, I didn’t think we’d see much deviation in Borderlands 2. However, after getting a chance to play the game for myself I can safely say that Borderlands 2 looks to add a lot more than new equipment – though they’re sure to add a staggering amount of that as well. Focused on character design and strategy, Borderlands 2 offers a stronger dynamic between weapon and class choices. You can still expect the same hectic, loot-filled gameplay that the series has become known for, but the experience is refined this time around. As Jeramy Cooke Gearbox’s Art Director told me, “This is definitely Borderlands 2.0, not 1.5.”
When I got my hands on the controller I was initially taken in by how beautiful the world looked. Borderland’s patented cell-shaded art style comes to life thanks to the new vibrant color pallet. The intense display serves not only to augment the visual splendor of the world, but the surrounding characters along with it. Cooke explained that much of the inspiration for this new color-intensive Pandora originated back with the development of DLC for the original Borderlands. While the development team was creating new enemies and locations, they realized they wanted greater contrast to highlight the unique aspects of the world and its inhabitants. Cooke called this transformation the “evolution of their art style” opting for the ability to create dark and dangerous scenarios – like the acid ridden swamps that players navigate in the demo.
After I finished gawking at the visuals before me, I decided it was time to get into the action. Operating under the notion that 2 guns are better than 1, Salvador the Gunzerker became my vault hunter of choice. Like a greedy kid on Christmas morning I scurried into the menus looking to spend my skill points post-haste. Upon entering the character menu I expected to find the familiar Survivability, Damage, and Utility skill tree archetypes that existed in the original Borderlands. Both to my surprise and delight I noticed that Salvador’s abilities were indeed much more specialized, focusing on both mitigating and dealing damage.
Cooke later explained that the character skill trees in Borderlands 2 are much more reflective of each character and their potential roles. Salvador for example had a tree dedicated towards survivability, another geared towards his dual-wield ability (burst DPS), and a third which focused on his overall weapon damage (sustained DPS). Maya the Siren on the other-hand is much more utility intensive, focusing on disabling enemies and aiding allies. Her skill trees focused on team support, damage, and movement, respectively.
Again using my superior logic that 2>1, I opted to level up my dual-wield ability allowing me to unleash a storm of bullets upon anyone foolish enough to face me. The reduced cool-down times and increased damage of my dual wield ability proved to be too much for the first few waves of enemies to handle. However, once I encountered my first noteworthy foe – the Volatile Crystalisk – I quickly noticed that my simple barrage of bullets would no longer cut it.
After pouring both of my dual wielded clips into the crystalline beast, he steadily lumbered forward unhindered. Realizing that this large creature was all but impervious to my attacks, I frantically searched for possible weak points. Quickly my glance centered on the lower appendages’ of the beast, which were coated in a thick crystal like armor. Guessing this area must be the beast’s weak point I pulled out my trusty sub-machine gun and unloaded on the fiend. Much to my dismay nothing happened. After trading blows with the behemoth I found myself backed into a corner. In a fit of desperation I changed weaponry- slinging two slugs from my dual barrel shotgun; the powerful blast shredded the beast’s protective coating. With renewed spirits I charged the creature dropping him cleanly with the expense of my next clip.
As someone who dominated much of the original Borderlands with a single sub-machine gun, the need for strategic use of weaponry came as a pleasant surprise. Cooke later clarified that Borderlands 2’s enemy design was made with the vast array of the game’s weapons and abilities in mind. Cooke explained that they wanted to create a gradual skill curve where understanding the correct strategies would have little impact on one’s success at the beginning, but be pertinent to survival towards the second and third playthroughs. He even discussed the possibility of combining player abilities to unlock their full potential, for example using Maya’s Phaselock in conjunction with Salavdor’s dual-wielding ability to unleash massive amounts of carnage.
Once I learned how to deal with those pesky armored pests, little else stood in my way. In typical Borderlands fashion I left devastation in my wake. With each new victory familiar bounties spewed from the fallen. I greedily collected every coin and ammo pack that jetted from the deceased. Unfortunately lady luck was not on my side that day as I only found a few firearms, but such is the woe of the Borderlands loot system – it’s all randomized.
Cooke explained that the beloved algorithm driven loot system was back again, but it was better than ever. Not only does Borderlands 2 support more weapons, it also provides a greater attention to detail. One thing the development team was looking to issue with weapons was brand identity. Cooke stated that every brand will have unique styles that players will be able to easily identify. However, not all guns of the same brand will be alike. With randomly generated peripherals like visual style scopes, no two guns will be the same.
To give me an idea of just how expansive this new loot system is, Cooke gave me an example. “In the original Borderlands there were about 20 shields, in Borderlands 2 there over half a million.” Quantity isn’t everything though, Cooke assured, as he also said a great deal of attention went into creating some of the top tier weaponry found in the game. He explained that Borderlands 2 would have loads of legendary and named loot which would be made from custom materials giving each their own unique styles, peripherals, and sometimes unique projectiles.
Journeying on through the wastes of Pandora, I met my final match: a giant Volatile Crystalisk. The giant proved to be different from his smaller counterparts, using a collection of new abilities which included hurling waves of small Explosive Crystalisks from its inner cavities. Dodging the small scurrying scamps while simultaneous avoiding the ravenous attacks of the beast provided a new level of intensity that left me enthralled. I was intrigued when I saw the giant deviate on one path leaving the smaller minions to come at me from another. I realized gleefully that they were trying to flank me, and I was happy that I had finally found a foe worth destroying. Despite the noteworthy tactics of my opponents, they found themselves bested by my double- barreled devastation.
As my opponent slowly fell to the ground, I stood there a moment remembering the great warrior that lay before me. My reflective mood was cut short when I caught a glimpse of an all too familiar sight, a chest buried deep into the beast’s backside. Without hesitation I propelled up onto the corpse to find my awaiting prize.
To my initial dismay there was no exciting new weaponry to be found; instead I found a valuable piece of information that I had apparently been tasked with retrieving. My disappointment faded when I realized that finding this data set has afforded me new choices. Upon picking up the disk I was immediately contacted by a secondary party that was looking for the same information. It looks like I had a decision to make…
Cooke explained that Borderlands 2 looks to add more choice to quest lines. While players’ choices will not affect the overall outcome of the story, players can bolster or destroy relationships with their actions, which will have meaningful outcomes later. Cooke even noted that some quest lines can be failed causing their location to change and the difficulty of the mission to escalate. One particular mission that Cooke noted was a rescue mission involving Roland the Soldier from the original Borderlands. Cooke explained if the player fails to rescue Roland the bandits will flee to some other area and strengthen their defenses, effectively making it far more difficult to save him.
Unfortunately time did not permit me the opportunity to make my choice. Poor Salvador was left abandoned in the wastes, his task left unfinished. As I placed the controller back into the designated slot, I knew that this was not the end of Salvador’s tale. This is but the beginning of an open ended saga of battle, plunder, and adventure. I anxiously await September 18 when I will return to champion the furious Gunzerker, and tame the wild lands of Pandora.