Borderlands 2 Hands-On Preview - Siren Song
Written Wednesday, April 04, 2012 By Lee BradleyView author's profile
While the original Borderlands may have boasted a vast amount of variety in its weaponry, the same could not be said of the world. All cross-hatching and thick inky outlines, the graphic novel art style was a joy, but the sludgy brown colour palette that defined the environments was not. It was all so samey.
So when Borderlands 2 was announced, one of the most pleasing snippets of news was that Gearbox were mixing things up a little. Spreading the reach beyond the east coast of Pandora featured in the first game, Borderlands 2 promises colour and variety galore, stretching from the plains to the icy blue tundra.
Indeed, we got a glimpse of this variety as the game sat idle before our latest play session. The camera swung lazily around our character, Maya, a tattooed, purple-bobbed Siren, as she stood atop a great peak. As the camera panned it revealed a giant dam, a lava dribbling volcano, waterfalls and a long pier leading to a mystery island. We immediately wanted to explore it all. And shoot lots and lots of things dead, of course.
You can talk about Borderlands 2’s new ideas, improvements and refinements all you like (and we will, promise), but one thing remains consistent: It’s your job to blast everything that moves, then hoover up whatever goodie filled detritus is left.
That’s right, Borderlands 2 is as much about loot as ever before, with guns, cash and ammo bursting from every conceivable source. In the mission that we played, the deep purple, fungal environment was dotted with mushrooms and growths. Even the organic sacks dangling up above spat out loot, like an arms dealer’s piñata.
This focus on loot is accentuated by what Gearbox are hoping will be greater differentiation between weapons. Now each of the “gazillions” of guns should be more recognisable by their manufacturer than ever before, each brand carrying its own individual traits. Or so they say, anyway. It’s a bold claim considering the numbers involved, one that’s impossible to verify in our short play time. Still, “gazillions” sounds fun.
What we can reveal in more detail are the Siren’s abilities, the most important of which is Phaselock. This is a skill that allows Maya to suspend enemies in a kind of mid-air vortex, making attackers vulnerable to damage and unable to deal it. It’s a viable crowd-control tool, an ability that comes in handy when you’re surrounded by a family of snarling Skags. Yup, they’re back by the way. The four-legged beasties haven’t been eradicated from Pandora quite yet.
The character build we were given was at level 20, so our first task was to spend the skill points that had been amassed along the way. There are three trees to invest in; Motion, Harmony and Cataclysm. Each features two branches of three abilities each with five stages, which then join together for four more abilities of increasingly powerful scope.
The early Motion abilities offer improvements to things like shield capacity and recharge times, as well as increased bullet damage. The Harmony skills begin with “Sweet Release,“ in which killing Phaselocked enemies creates Life Orbs that seek out and heal you and your friends, while “Mind’s Eye” offers a simple Critical Hit and melee damage boost.
The Cataclysm skills, meanwhile, are gloriously destructive. “Flicker” increases your chance to cause status effects with Incendiary, Shock, Corrosive and Slag guns. “Helios” adds a fiery explosion to your Phaselock ability, damaging all nearby opponents. “Immolate” adds fire damage to all of your “Fight for your Life” shots. “Backdraft” unleashes an explosion whenever your shields are depleted. And on it goes.
The upshot is, as you grind away blasting fools into nothingness, you’ll have plenty of fiendish skills and abilities to invest in. A fully leveled Siren will be a fearsome thing indeed.
The mission we embarked upon, alongside a stumpy Gunzerker dwarf co-op partner, was called Wildlife Preservation and it involved the return of familiar character. Mordecai, the sniper class from the first game, had lost his Bloodwing, the dragon-like creature that constitutes his unique special ability. It was our job to get him back.
It’s in this way that Gearbox promises both to revisit the old playable characters of the game, who have been completely replaced, while also delivering a stronger narrative. The former is a nice touch, but we didn’t see much evidence of the latter, to be honest. You’ll still just be visiting static NPCs to pick up veiled fetch quests.
Yet it doesn’t really matter. Leveling up, investing in abilities, getting better gear; that’s the narrative of the Borderlands games. The actual story provides only the lightest of motivations.
Nowhere is this more apparent than when you’re out there, blasting the crap out of everything. Borderlands 2 never shies away from its “gameiness.” It’s still a riot of positive affirmation, boasting a screen full of numbers, level up indicators, loot and shiny, glowing targets. It’s part of what makes the series so moreish and it’s oh-so-satisfying.
It wasn’t long before we were back in the flow, shooting and exploding our way from waypoint to waypoint, slaves to the pulsing diamond target on our radars. The truth is that the formula of the original game doesn’t have to be tinkered with too much. All we need is a bit more colour, a bit more variety and enough encouragement to keep on shooting. Gearbox look like they’re about to deliver just that.
Borderlands 2 doesn't even hit shelves for another five months, but we’ve already seen enough. No ifs or buts, you’re going to want this game in your collection.
Borderlands 2 hits on September 18th in North America and on September 21st in Europe.