[E3] Hands-On Preview: Borderlands 2


Borderlands 2 is (as one would expect) the second iteration in the popular series by Gearbox Software, and it was recently showcased at E3 2012. Although this preview will be more comprehensive than others that I’ve published from the event, I will still primarily focus on what is new about the series- my impression of the game based both on our gameplay demo and interview with lead BL2 writer Anthony Burch at the event.

A quick summary for the uninitiated- it is a humorous and sometimes dark FPS looter with RPG elements. The player can select one of four heroes as their champion, each with their own special abilities, including one that more-or-less “defines” the character. I will not go much into depth with the character classes in this preview, as it has been extensively covered elsewhere. Special, diverse, and even hilarious guns frequently drop from enemies, and a player can equip up to four guns at once into their quick-select.

The environments in Borderlands were interesting and expansive, but repetitive. You went from hilly grasslands to hilly desert to hilly junkyard- probably because they were conducive to procedural animation, unlike cities. It was, admittedly, consistent with the world that the game was set in, but many gamers were hoping for a more diverse world in the second game. Fortunately, it seems that Gearbox has delivered. There are arctic tundras, high cities, the classic desert and grassland environments, (it is a wasteland, after all) and more to be revealed at launch. Burch has also assured us that, while the game will be a similar size to the first game, areas within the world will be significantly more detailed and interesting. From the small section of the game that I’ve seen in previews and demos, this seems to be accurate.

Anthony Burch (known for “Hey Ash Whatcha Playin” on GameTrailers) was given the task of writing the main story for Borderlands 2. The story in the former game was heavily criticized. The storyline itself could have used work, but one of the main issues was the way it was delivered. In an emphasis to remain unobtrusive, Gearbox delivered the story through tape recorders that the character would find on their journey. Unfortunately, because the recordings would play over the gameplay, it was simply too easy to ignore the story entirely. Burch has made interesting observations concerning story in games in his podcast, focusing on morality and rich player choice. While these elements likely don’t have place in Borderlands, I’m really interested in seeing what he brings to the game.

Fortunately, Brett and I had the opportunity to play Borderlands 2 late on the last day of E3. As we are both big fans of the first title, we had been waiting the entire event to play the game (fortunately, we had an appointment). A PR rep informed the 30 people in the walled-off area that players who completed the mission within the allotted time would receive a prize- a redeemable code for any of the guns we used in the mission. We could play as any class (including Axton and Zero, who were unavailable at Pax East). The scenario was that we had to destroy statues of a tyrant (Handsome Jack) in a pretty white city, somewhat reminiscent of Mass Effect. Unfortunately, our guns weren’t strong enough to damage the statues, so Claptrap advised us to power a laser-shooting turret and guard it as it floats around the city and destroys the statues. There were both mechanical and biological (armored) units to worry about. It was a co-op mission (awesomely), so Brett and I partnered up to trash the mission. We chose Axton and Zero, and sunk all of our 40 available points into offensive modifications (to maximize our throughput in the mission). We kept getting incapacitated, and either reviving each other or obtaining a second wind, and we were one of few teams to beat the mission.

I was really impressed with the mission. It was everything that I liked about Borderlands, but the environment was more interesting than most of the areas in the first game, and the quest was fairly unique as well. Axton and Zero seemed really interesting, but I was only able to really experience one of them (Axton), who, from what I could tell, was extremely similar to the soldier in the first game. I’m sure they’re actually very different, but I was unable to investigate with the time limit on our demo. Zero seems versatile and fun. He has a stealth ability that allows him to sneak up on enemies and do brutal damage. His combination of short-range sword attacks and long-range sniper attacks make him a unique addition to the franchise.

Overall, I was really pleased with what I saw. I wasn’t able to fully investigate the new classes, and obviously the story elements in a demo mission are limited (which is the case for most games), but what we’ve seen so far is really promising. Look for Borderlands 2 on September 18th.

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