Gamescom 2011: Borderlands 2 Preview – Hot Dam!
Written Sunday, August 28, 2011 By Dan WebbView author's profile
We’ll be the first to admit that Gearbox’s 2009 title, Borderlands, wasn’t perfect. In fact, they’d probably be next to hold up their hand, but thanks to a weak 2009 fall period, the new IP was able to prosper in what is usually a minefield of triple-A franchise sequels. Thus, we now have the sequel. Now, with some solid four-player co-op foundations beneath them, Gearbox is keen to not just grind out another cash-in sequel and to actually add some substance to the franchise. So that means, improve the storytelling, add some mission variety and basically, not only piss more guns over you than ever before, but to make them all very unique. As long as they have that trademark Gearbox humour though we’ll all be good, right? Well, you’re in for a treat then.
Borderlands 2’s improvements range from the subtle to the blatantly obvious, but for the most part, they all seem to enhance the experience somewhat. Kicking things off in the arctic tundra of Marrowfield on Pandora, amidst snowy caverns and majestic icicles, we catch up with Salvador, Borderlands 2’s “Gunzerker,” who’s a dual-wielder… essentially Borderlands 2’s “Berserker” class. Yes, that means he can dual-wield guns and not just two of the same type either; it’s a mix-and-match affair here, which opens up the door for so much more potential mayhem. Sadly, it does mean we have to say goodbye to the original Borderlands stars to welcome in a new quartet, but thankfully you’ll meet all four of the original characters throughout the sequel’s story. What it does mean though is that with the new variation of classes – for instance, Mya is the new siren, replacing Lilith, but her special ability won’t be phasewalking (Gearbox isn’t talking about what it is yet) – it has allowed Gearbox to tweak the skill tree, adding in “game changers,” as Gearbox’s Head of Marketing, Steve Gibson, likes to call them. That also means you’ll get a reworked UI too.
The purpose of being thrust into this remote, sub-zero environment though was so that Gearbox could show off two things: one, what they’re doing with guns; and two, the tweaks that they’re doing to the AI in Borderlands 2. The way they’re doing guns? What the hell does that mean!? Well, you’ll be glad to hear that not only is there as many guns as before – huzzah! – but with the sequel Gearbox intends to make each manufacturer’s brand feel more and more unique. Throughout the demo we got to take a sneak peak at a Tediore assault rifle – who according to Gibson, are the Wal-Mart of gun manufacturers – and these guns are so cheap and nasty that instead of reloading them, you’ll actually throw them away and watch a new one materialise in your hands – incidentally, it’ll damage anyone/anything that gets in the way of the thrown rifle too, but at the sacrifice of losing whatever ammo’s in the chamber. Then there’s the Torque manufacturer who take advantage of mini gyrojet ammo types, the Vladoff manufacturer whose weapons are basically bullet hoses – in short: chaingun assault rifles and such – and the Bandit weapons for instance, which are cheap, junky and made up from items that the Marauders will find lying around – so nuts, bolts, and so on.
In regard to the AI, the improvements actually became apparent throughout the whole demo, not just in Marrowfield. Take the Bullymong for instance – who’s a native of the arctic tundra – who with his four arms, two legs and menacing grin will charge at you, throw ice blocks at you and even pick up nearby cars to smash you down with. It’s not scripted either, meaning they will react to what’s around them, they’ll be less predictable and they will adjust their behaviour depending on how you respond to their presence. Whether you’re talking about the fact that gunfire can now cause enemies to stagger and that you can force them into a knockdown state now, or that they’ll dive out the way to avoid your fire and work together and communicate when taking you on, it’s all meant to make Borderlands 2 a much more immersive experience.
Speaking of immersive, that was one of Gearbox’s focuses with the sequel: to make Pandora that much more of a living, breathing world. The developer's aim is to create a reactive world with plenty of moving parts and more motion in order to make it seem like a real place, so expect plenty of things like working mills, steam bellowing out of chimney stacks, and so on and so forth. The draw distance has also been improved vastly and as Salvador and Mya stand at the top of a dam in the mission, “A Dam Fine Rescue,” you can see for miles in every direction. Looking down on the ant-sized Hyperion City in the distance is something to behold. Bear in mind though it’s still not open-world and is largely similar in structure to the original – in that its large areas need to be loaded independently.
It’s this mission where Gearbox really showcases not only its mission variety, but also that the humour is still one of the franchise’s major draws. It’s a mission that tasks the player with freeing Roland – yes, from the original – from a prison bot called W4R D3N. Easy, right? Well no, as the prison bot constantly calls in backup in the form of WAR Loaders and EXP Loader mechs, and is constantly trying to run away to prevent you from freeing the prisoner. The summoning of such bots makes for some amusing moments though, as their arrival means plenty of comical deaths and comments by the Marauders and Bandits that occupy the dam construction area. Funny? Sure, but it can’t prepare you for what’s next… and that’s the appearance of a huge hulking Nomad with a shield… with a midget chained to the front. Say whaaat!? Yes, but it gets better. If you’re good enough with your aim, you can shoot the chain and unleash the midget bandit, who instead of attacking you, celebrates his freedom, distracts the Nomad and throws stuff at him. All’s well and good until the Nomad squashes the little blighter with a shield and then continues to focus his angst on you. That’s right, Borderlands 2 is just as bat-shit-crazy as the original – if not more so – and if it’s not the Nomad with his midget shield, it’s the W4R D3N robot summoning robots from a moon base. Yes, a frickin’ moon base!
Thankfully for us and for Borderlands fans the world over, everything that made the original a success is all present and correct in the sequel. Whether you loved the four-player co-op, the guns, the Diablo-esque looting or the humour, all have actually been refined to an extent that will no doubt improve the core experience. Then there’s the little touches, like the 4-player co-op vehicles, the mini-map so you spend less time in menus and the ability to powerslide. Throw in a more reactive environment which boasts more diversity and life, more mission variety, better enemy AI, a moon base which shoots robots at you and a huge hulking troll with an angry midget tied to his shield and I’m not sure anyone will complain.
If anyone wants me I’m going to lie down as I never thought I’d use the phrase “moon base” and “angry midget tied to his shield” in the same sentence ever. What is the world coming to!?
Borderlands 2 is scheduled for a 2012 release.