As I was waiting for my turn to play Borderlands 2 at PAX East (which had consistent five-plus hour-long lines) they kept spooling the newest trailer and I was fascinated by the dubstep, visuals, and outlandish statements. ‘97% more Wub Wub’, ‘A Bazillion guns got Bazilliondier,’ and ‘Get Ready to Joy Puke your face off’ were accompanied by some Skrillex jams and I was pulled in. It is a rare game that can be that outlandish, boastful, hyper-crazy, and still be appealing, Borderlands 2 is that game.
This sequel to the monster hit Borderlands doesn’t seem to want to create a paradigm shift in its style and gameplay, it just wants to turn everything up to 11. In this vein, the new game features more of everything, new characters, a bigger/better story, and of course a gazillion guns.
The big shifts in the game are the near complete overhaul of characters and classes. Although it looks like Mordecai is in the trailer (as an NPC) all the characters and classes (aside from the Siren) are new. The Siren characater is Maya this time around and part of the group Lillith from the original game is from. Even the Siren class has been drastically tweaked with the special power of Phasewalk replaced with Phaselock (lock down an enemy, much more useful).
The new characters all look pretty interesting: The Gunzerker Salvador specializes in weapon focuses and dual wielding as a special power; Zer0 the androgynous cyber Assassin (who looks uber-cool) packs a killer sword and has the ability to create a double; and Axton the Commando is a general purpose fighter who can lay down a turret. All of the characters already looked great, but Gearbox stunned the crown at PAX East when they announced that a new character called the Mechromancer would be launched post release. It will be free to pre-order premiere club members and available as DLC to others.
During the demo I had a choice between the Gunzerker and Siren characters, wanting a fresh experience I chose Salvador. His skills were pretty much what I was expecting, running the gambit to weapon buffs, damage variations, and area effect buffs. His skill to dual wield for a limited time is incredibly useful during heated battles. He will by default choose the next available weapon and some really interesting combinations could be made. By mid demo I tended to have an explosive weapon in one hand and a rapid fire elemental weapon in the other. It gave me a brutal combination of firepower that was satisfying to unleash.
Gameplay is not especially different in Borderlands 2, it is still a first person shooter in a post-apocalyptic world full of mechs, monsters, and humanoids. The demo didn’t delve into story at all, but I was on a quest from Moxxi to retrieve something. While I wasn’t able to turn it in at the end of the demo (the area was locked in), I could see that you had a choice whether to hand it in to Moxxi or someone else, betraying her. This is intriguing to me as it shows choice and consequences which were not really apparent in the first title.
Asking the developer about story, I was told that they are keeping that pretty close to their chest but it will be significantly enhanced compared to the original game. It will still be an open world and you can choose where and when you go places, but the story will be a lot tighter and more significant this time around. There is a big bad named Handsome Jack featured in the trailers and it seems like the new protagonists will be trying to stop Jack as he tries to awaken an ancient evil.
Although the gameplay formula hasn’t been drastically altered, the game will still be a showcase in many ways. The already terrific cel-shaded graphics look even better with a larger sense of scale. Monsters and enemies are incredibly detailed with many now towering over your character. Weapons, already a huge draw from the first game, have been overhauled to be more coherent in there descriptions and look. Inventory systems have been tweaked to make choosing weapons and items as seamless as possible. The skill trees have been significantly beefed up as well.
Online as well as offline multiplayer is back in a big way as well, with a new horizontal split screen and four player co-op returning. Having played a ton of Borderlands online in the past I am excited to dive in again and dig into the campaign with other players.
Overall Borderlands 2 doesn’t look like it will shake up the genre, but it does seem to turn it up a few notches and that is what I am really hoping for. The improved story, interesting characters, more ClapTrap being promised and an online experience that is hella fun makes this a must have game for me this year. Borderlands 2 will be out on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC September 18th 2012.