Ain’t no rest for the wicked…
These words have become synonymous with Gearbox’s epic first person shooter/RPG hybrid, and it seems, the studio that brought Duke Nukem back to life has taken them to heart. Borderlands 2 is coming and it’s everything you loved about the original and so very much more.
I had the chance to sample two different areas of the game, a main story mission and a side quest, both of which brought back well-known faces along with enemies both familiar and fresh. The most important thing to know is that while you’ll be taking control of four new classes, the Gunzerker, the Assassin, the Commando and a new, different Siren, the original Vault Hunters aren’t out of the picture.
The main story mission was issued by Roland (the Soldier from Borderlands) and had us meeting up with Mordecai (the Hunter) along the way. It seems that the game’s antagonist, Handsome Jack (and he is smoother than a Colt 45) has kidnapped Bloodwing, Mordecai’s faithful pet. In order to rescue him, we needed to traverse a lush nature preserve filled with Skags and the new Stalkers.
As usual, there are elemental varieties of the enemies, along with bigger, badassier versions. Each of the elemental effects returns, bringing along a new addition: “slag”. This purple goo is the support player’s best friend. Slather it on an enemy and they’ll take extra damage from other elemental wounds.
The weapons have received a massive overhaul this time out, with each manufacturer having unique traits. Tediore weapons, in particular, change up the way you need to play. Rather than reloading, you toss the weapon away as a grenade. The amount of ammo left in the clip determines the size of the BOOM. Once destroyed, a new, fresh gun appears in your hand. The other gunsmiths return, with bandits now getting in on the action. Bandits are stupid and clumsy, which means they had to reload. Their guns have enormous magazines, so they never have to lay off the trigger.
In addition, you’ll find that Jakobs weapons are more mechanical, meaning you can fire as fast as you pull the trigger. Maliwan is still known for their elemental effects. Vladof guns are reminiscent of Soviet-era armaments, some of which sport multiple barrels.
As for the player classes, each still has three different skill trees, but things are spread out a bit. The mix and match nature of character building returns, but there is more emphasis on the need for support characters. Healing, slagging and team boosts are going to give your front line fighters a chance to survive the toughest of scraps.
Each class also sports one active ability, just like in Borderlands 1. Salvador, the Gunzerker, can dual wield, reloading independently and wreaking all sorts of havoc. In many ways, he’s a loner, just like Brick (the Berserker) was in the original game.
Maya, Borderlands 2’s Siren, is more of a team player, though. Instead of phasewalking (turning invisible and moving through another dimension), Maya can Phaselock enemies. This levitates them above the battlefield, calling out the baddie as a target for other players.
She can also, through the different skill trees, add a variety of effects to her active ability, including creating explosions. More importantly, she can turn her Phaselock on a fallen ally, instantly reviving him/her. It’s a neat ability that emphasizes the more strategic approach to class design.
Each character also has one bonus (located at the bottom of one of the three skill trees) that enhances the active ability. Maya’s allows her to slam a Phaselocked enemy into the ground creating an enormous explosion. Salvador can taunt an enemy during Gunzerker mode, giving him full health, but drastically reducing his damage output for a time.
Each of the trees is varied more than in Borderlands, which will lead to some very cool, unexpected combinations on the battlefield. Of course, the game is all about the guns- or, rather, coveting thy neighbor’s gun. To that end, Gearbox has created a robust trading system that protects players from unscrupulous traders just waiting to steal your hard-earned purple weapon.
It’s easy to bring up the trading prompt. All you need to do is press and hold the appropriate button, dump your weapons and cash into the menu and indicate that you are ready. You even have a few seconds once both players give the go-ahead to change your mind. Of course, what fun is a deal gone right?
If you’d rather wager your tools of destruction, you can duel for guns rather than trade them. Just be warned that the loser will get up quickly and can recover their lost gear if you aren’t fast. Here’s hoping that the delay between losing and getting back up is extended just a little bit in the final version.
Visually, the game is shaping up quite nicely. The colors explode off the screen like a skag on the wrong end of a rocket launcher. The cel-shaded look is even more gorgeous than it was when Borderlands launched in 2009. The heavy black lines only serve to accentuate the hand-drawn look of the fluid action.
Of course, what would Borderlands be without humor? The lines from player characters and enemies continue to be peppered with chuckles. Handsome Jack, who is a more sinister overseer than the Vault Guardian, has the same kind of eagle eye on your progress. He is someone that players will love to hate, since he’s out to get you. He’ll drop Hyperion bots in on your location when you least expect it. At the same time, whenever he popped up, I was delighted. His dialog is, of course, well written, but the voice acting is also top notch.
Ultimately, there are a lot of reasons to be excited for Borderlands 2. Gearbox seems to be creating a more cohesive narrative without giving up any of the intense, enjoyable gunplay of the original. The varied skills and greater manufacturer differentiation will give gamers more ways to make Borderlands 2 their own.