A couple of weeks ago I had the extreme pleasure of being invited to an exclusive hands-on with Borderlands 2; quite a surprise as the game is only getting released on the 18th of September so this was a pre-alpha hands-on.
I was expecting something barely being held together with string and duct tape but what I experienced was something else entirely.
You’re going to want to get some coffee before we start.
We were ushered into a games room inside one of the weirdest bars I’ve ever been in and paired up with another journalist from the European region to head out into the world of Pandora and dominate in a 2-player co-op experience.
We had two new classes at our disposal; the Gunzerker and the new siren called Maya.
I entered the first world as the Gunzerker and was then taken into the upgrade tree so that I could use my 20 experience points to update my Gunzerker’s abilities.
The new upgrade tree is much sexier than the original one but the basic idea is the same; you choose what strengths you want to improve on from the 3 main branches and start building up your tree. The Gunzerker’s main ability is being able to dual wield his weapons to turn himself into an indomitable destructive force.
Obviously the Siren’s ability is to phase shift and that has largely stayed the same – though there are a few new additions in her skill tree to ensure variety. Sticking enemies into stasis in a phase ball will never – and I mean NEVER grow old.
The first mission was to proceed to a checkpoint and chat to an old friend. The map opens up and unlike Pandora from the original Borderlands this landscape is verdant, lush and actually quite aesthetically pleasant.
As we navigated down the side of the mountain I noticed a plant with a dangling sack oozing some green liquid. As this is Pandora and nothing is safe I decided to take a pot shot at it and it exploded and out popped that all-important loot…and here we have our first major change. In the original Borderlands you’ll remember we had pilferable skag piles around the skag’s nest which always contained loot. While these still exist Gearbox has now added more loot-bearing objects and so pretty much everything is now worth shooting. Be warned – it’s not all good news, but we’ll get to that later.
After seeing the loot hit the ground we started heading towards it to grab all the darkly tempting loot and this is when we discovered our first new enemies;
Nasty, flying dragon bad-asses that reminded me a lot of the Rakk from the original Borderlands. They could well have been mutated versions of those but what stuck out for me is that while they could fly they could also run along the ground and launch bunched spiked spears from their tails. It was also a good time to notice that the enemy AI had been ramped up extensively – as they started swarming and then surrounding us to gain the upper hand.
Also unlike in Borderlands 1 the level of the enemies weren’t all the same and we were being swarmed with enemies of hugely varying sizes and skill levels forcing us to actually employ some tactics to take out the weaker annoying enemies before concentrating our fire on the larger more advanced guys.
Though since we were now level 20 soldiers dispensing of these weird dragon beasts wasn’t a major chore – so after we had mopped them up we headed up to the checkpoint where we met our contact and this is where we noticed the third big change (loot hiding places, enemy AI and now this). Our mission objective had now been achieved but instead of having to return anywhere to redeem it we went through a little chit chat and then a new mission objective was placed on our map.
Gone are the days of fetch and return missions and now you will find that missions morph and change as you go. The entire system is more dynamic and far, far more entertaining. The biggest problem I have with Borderlands 1 is the feeling of grinding at times and this will easily resolve some of that.
So our new mission was to head around the corner to fetch…something. Yes, I was to absorbed in shooting things and looking at the amazing vistas from the cave to pay attention to what I was being told to do. I blame it on ADHD, and the fact that…let’s go ride bikes! Anyway so we carry on, and as my partner turned to go back down the mountain and around I decided to take a shortcut and rather just jump off the side of the mountain and slide down the side James Bond style… it worked perfectly and all he saw was my hulking Gunzerker sliding down the mountain taking out enemies while dual wielding… it was awesome, and Chuck Norris would’ve been proud.
We then rounded the mountain and came across another new enemy; Hyperion robots which come in all shapes and sizes and while they are all follow the same basic template, you’ll quickly see that some have helicopter blades on their arms to help them deflect bullets; others have armoured fronts on them which they use to transform into a bulldozer and run you over; others have indescribably powerful weapons and so on.
I instantly ran out into battle feeling like a god and was destroyed in seconds…these guys are going to need some extra tactics.
So after I respawned back at our last point I rushed to join my colleague in the battle, I snuck around the left hand side of a boulder and pumped a ton of green goo into the robot. I saw both his legs collapse under him and I turned to focus my firepower onto the next robot. A few seconds later I was dead again and as I turned I saw my resilient old foe had gotten back up.
After respawning I went back, took him down again and then stepped back to watch – sure enough this little flying robot swooped down and started repairing him! These support flyers are fast with decent firepower but their obvious advantage is that they can heal any robots that haven’t been entirely destroyed on the battlefield. Not only that, but while the robot is being healed it is still capable of engaging in combat so make sure you take out the support flyers first before taking the robots head on.
The ability for the enemy to help each other out isn’t limited to only the robots. Elemental skags have the ability to pass on their elemental powers to others around them as do the new worm enemies, the Threshers.
Watching them pass on powers is quite something. You’ll recall from the original Borderlands that some skags were on fire and the like; well in Borderlands 2 the skag on fire can call all his friends towards him, once they arrive he then smashes into the ground and suddenly all of those around him now have that blasted power as well and they’ll then attack en masse. The new advanced AI really is quite something to behold.
Other enemies we spotted were huge hulking 4 legged beasts with weak points on their legs. Shooting them anywhere but that particular vulnerable spot was ineffective and the weak points had regenerative crystal coverings over them that you had to destroy first. We also encountered huge, nightmare-fuelling cockroaches that could fly and scurry across the roof. Ewww.
There were also huge spiders that I only managed to catch a glimpse off but which I’m sure will give Geoff nightmares. As a side note Geoff loves people twittering him pictures of spiders.
But the best part about the enemies is that they aren’t all on the same side. Some of them will team up against you but you can use others to your own advantage by luring them into an open space and letting the Threshers or other enemies take them out.
From what I saw, Threshers (large worms that can burrow underground) don’t play nice with anyone and so if you can lead a pile of skags into their area they’ll get rid of them for you.
An unexpected advancement from Borderlands 1 is the addition of traps. Granted in the original Borderlands we had those different barrels placed all over the stage that often exploded near me and killed me but in Borderlands 2 you have real, usable traps.
In the beginning of our second stage – a huge level half taken up with an acid lake – we had a bunch of crates to loot. But the fourth crate I opened yielded quite the surprise when one of those goddamned huge cockroaches appeared out of it instead of my expected loot.
It was easy enough to take down but did make me worry a little more about opening any other crates in the area.
The next thing I saw across a bridge was a weird looking plant with a bulbous pulsating green blob-like fruit. Obviously I thought it was more loot and so I shot it only for it to explode into small flying balls of acid that then tracked us down and attached themselves to us, dealing huge damage and obscuring our view. So you probably don’t want to shoot the fruit.
I didn’t spot any further traps in our 2 levels but I suspect that we can expect many more of those.
One of the biggest marketing points for Borderlands was how it had gazillions of weapons and that is obviously something they are improving on for this next iteration.
There will be more weapons but now it’s not really about the number of weapons but rather about the different types of weapons. You can now easily visually see what a weapon is likely to do and then when you look at it in more detail you can see who made it.
Who makes them is very important as there are different manufacturers and each one specialises in something;
- Tediore – Cheap throw away guns, once you’re out of ammo just chuck it
- Vladof – Multiple barrelled guns that rotate and speed up the longer you hold down fire
- Dahl – Great accuracy and heavy bursts of fire
- Bandit – Low tech but huge ammo carrying ability to keep you firing forever
- Maliwan – These high tech weapons focus mainly on elemental effects and are very sci-fi
- Torgue – Smaller mag sizes but generally have an explosive effect with each shot
- Jakobs – Old west style guns that don’t autofire but cause massive damage and will shoot as quickly as you can hit the trigger
- Hyperion – very rare but possibly the best. They are extremely accurate and become more accurate the more you shoot
And that brings me to the end of the first hands on experience, we’ll be posting more articles on some of my other experiences with Borderlands 2 during the next few weeks – as well as an exclusive interview that I scored with Gearbox’s VP of Marketing, Steve Gibson.
But for those of you who are about to post TL;DR these are the key points you need to know about Borderlands 2:
- More guns, better guns
- Larger more diverse environments (water, snow, grass etc)
- Enemy AI is much improved, enemies are much improved
- New classes
- Missions are now dynamic and change on the fly
- If you liked Borderlands you are going to LOVE this
That’s it for now. Let me know if you have any questions and I’ll do my best to answer them all.
Last Updated: April 4, 2012