Publisher: 2K Games
There ain't no rest for the wicked. Far from receiving a hero's welcome after destroying the greatest threat Pandora has ever known, the original four vault hunters became wanted criminals as Handsome Jack and his Hyperion Corporation took credit for their monumental achievement. The corporate juggernaut is now a powerful private army led by an egomaniacal madman with a fake face disturbingly stapled to his cranium, and it's up to a new quartet of heroes to assist their predecessors and take back Pandora.
As Borderlands fans to a man (it's an office favourite), we've been desperate to learn more about the sequel ever since we saw it in action last year... and naturally jumped at the chance to get a first hands-on with the anticipated 'FPSRPG.' Suffice to say that after rigourously testing Borderlands 2 for an hour, I had to be physically prised off of the controller by two burly 2K reps and a Bandit cosplayer, desperately pleading for more time all the while.
But you didn't come here for the breathless blithering of a starstruck fan. You browsed over to Dealspwn.com for a rigorous, play-by-play stripdown of sixty minutes of contact time. You're here to learn about the Siren's skills, the powerful new enemies, returning characters and surprising new environments, illustrated with brand new screenshots. And we'll deliver - so much, in fact, that we've had to split the article into two parts. Let's do this thing.
The first major descision any Borderlands player needs to make is that of class selection, and as before, Borderlands 2 will offer four playable classes that each focus on a single powerful action ability. The first familiar face was Salvador the Gunzerker, a refreshingly straightforward if hilariously squat protagonist who deals primarily in dishing out as much damage as possible, as quickly as possible. His class skill, Gunzerking, temporarily allows players to dual-wield any selection of weapons, bolstered by a selection of passive modifiers that regenerates health, increases damage and adds temporary buffs when enemies are taken down. As we've already discussed: he's a sexual Tyrannosaurus.
But we previously enjoyed a lengthy introduction to the Gunzerker last year, and thus I made a beeline for the second playable character on show: the Siren. Maya is a much more action-oriented and single target-focused character than her predecessor Lilith, relying on a powerful psychic skill called Phaselocking. A simple jab of the left bumper freezes an enemy between dimensions; lifting them off the ground and rendering them unable to move or fight back in any way for several seconds. Naturally, this skill is best used against the most powerful foe in a group, either so that teammates can focus their firepower or giving the party a few precious seconds to run away like cowardly children. In an impressive twist, there's no upper size limit to the foes that can be affected by Phaselock, meaning that even the biggest bosses are fair game (with a reduced duration). Maya's class skill will therefore still be powerful and relevant in boss fights, allaying our concerns that she'd become worse than useless in a set piece showdown.
Maya is also an exceptionally well-rounded fighter, boasting a selection of passive skills that increase bullet speed, damage and magazine size with absolutely any weapon. She'll be able to pack a punch at any range, and modify her Phaselock to pin several enemies in position within a set radius of her target. However, sinking points into secondary skills can transform her role into that of a battlefield healer, with the ability to create homing health orbs from Phaselocked corpses or revive distant allies from afar. Gearbox promise that character builds will be much deeper and more flexible than before, and from what I saw, they're set to do just that.
One of Borderlands' major failings was the GUI and menu system, which led to all sorts of grievances especially when encountered in splitscreen or on the PC. Luckily, Gearbox has taken fan feedback into account in order to ensure that browsing the interface is as intuitive as possible. Accessing the menus now brings up a massive wraparound holographic screen in front of your character, which is actually visible to other players (letting them know that you're getting up to some serious tinkering). Each major category - inventory, character skills, map etc - are broken down into slim panes that sit at the centre of the screen, with everything laid out at a glance. PC owners will be able to scroll through the selections with the mouse wheel, and the panes have been designed to fully utilise the decreased splitscreen space.
And, of course, there's a persistent on-screen minimap. Joy unbounded.
Once I'd distributed my generous allocation of 15 skill points - I opted for passive weapon buffs and a healing Phaselock powerup - it was time to delve straight into the mission at hand. Within a couple of minutes, my co-op partner and I were introduced to an old friend: the veteran hunter Mordekai who players will remember as one of the protagonists from the original game. The once sarcastic sniper was distraught at the loss of his pet Bloodwing, who was captured by the Hyperion corporation and secreted somewhere within a repurposed wildlife preserve. Grabbing some guns, the Gunzerker and I headed off to put an end to Handsome Jack's kidnap campaign.
Well, admittedly, it wasn't quite as simple as that. Gearbox spoiled us with an inventory full of sensational weapons, and choosing between them was a seriously tough decision. I had an acidic Vladof sniper rifle that pumped out bullets like a chaingun. A disposable Tediore shotgun that could be thrown at enemies to deal ammunition-dependent damage. A machine gun that fired slag rockets, coating its targets in purple slime that amplifies subsquent damage. A Bandit Rocket Launcher with sixteen missiles in the pipe. I've already covered the 'Bazillion' combinations of manufacturer-specific boomsticks in our previous developer walkthrough, but even so, I was taken aback by the impressively varied and coherent art design of each brand of weapon, as well as the unique scopes offered by each one. And by 'taken aback,' I of course mean that I was frothing at the mouth and rocking uncontrollably on my chair, grinning like a maniac.
Item trading is now also a breeze, with a dedicated menu only a single button tap away. Just highlight the player you want to trade with, hit A, and you're in business. My cooperative partner and I decided to chop and change a couple of times throughout the session, mainly since each whoop of surprise and delight from one player instantly inspired insane jealousy in the other. Gun envy can be a killer, and a team that shares is a team that cares.
Arsenal chosen, we descended into the Hyperion staging area... which is a story for another time. This preview is already creaking at the seams as it is, and we've still got a huge amount of ground to cover.