Borderlands 2 is going to have a lot of guns. 17,750,000 to be exact. While I was waiting for my appointment with Gearbox's anticipated shooter in the 2K VIP paddock, the Guinness Book Of World Records turned up to present the outrageous FPSRPG with an official award, and one that's unlikely to ever be beaten by anything save another sequel. From acid rocket-spewing shotguns to rapid fire slagging sniper chainguns, Borderlands 2 is going to have the lot.
However, we already know that Borderlands 2 is going to offer more boomsticks than we helpfully know what to do with (beyond pointing the shooty end at anything that moves), especially after getting to grips with The Gunzerker and Siren classes earlier this year. To this end, I spent my E3 contact time trying out the two other classes who've finally made a playable appearance: Axton the Commando and Zero the Assassin. Taking orders from the King Of The Claptraps, these two lead-slinging desperados enjoyed a grand day out to the big city, on a mission to deface a bunch of statues with extreme prejudice beneath the towering skyscrapers.
Here's what they got up to - and what will make them such unique and exciting protagonists for Borderlands 2 players.
Axton is the spiritual successor to Roland the soldier, and plays much like you'd expect. He's a fearsome and straightforward combatant, favouring short-to-medium range engagements, and bolstered by a selection of skill trees that increase his damage output with assault rifles and shotguns. Rather than becoming a one-man army, though, the main focus is now on the Mk II Scorpio Turret, which is far more modular and customisable than its fearsome predecessor. Should you favour close-range encounters, for example, you can modify the turret with extra barrels and aggro-generating properties, allowing it to distract (and slaughter) enemy forces while you dance around in the thick of it, guns blazing.
However, more tactical players will doubtlessly dig on some of the more intriguing long-range options, such as the ability to instantly deploy the turret at a great distance using a teleportation system - much like the Longbow grenade from the original Borderlands. Players will be able to drop their turret right into distant enemy squads, onto elevated firing positions or as a distant distraction, providing a truly versatile combat platform. Mobs will quickly fall to the Commando and his mechanical defender, ravaged by a hail of indiscriminate lead.
He couldn't be more different to Zero, the enigmatic Assassin. Taking on the Siren's stealth aspect now that Maya is all about Phaselocking, Zero's primary mission is to deal out ruinous critical hits against single priority targets. His action skill shrouds him in a cloaking field that renders him invisible for a short period, while a holographic decoy merrily runs around to distract nearby foes. When using this mode, enemy weak points are highlighted on the HUD and critical damage is multiplied depending on how quickly you strike. Using the skill-augmented Katana (which replaces standard melee attacks) to target specific vulnerable points, or pointing the business end of a shotgun directly at a foe's Achilles' heel from point-blank range, is a perfect way of removing a Badass unit or tricksy Combat Engineer from the equation.
This single-target focus and short-blank engagement range - unless you favour a sniper rifle, which comes highly recommended - naturally makes Zero vulnerable against groups, and improper use of his action skill can leave him high and dry deep within a squad of vengeful enemies. As such, he'll definitely be an advanced option for more skilled players who want to cleverly prioritise and plan engagements while their team-mates keep the hordes at bay.
Alone, the Commando and Assassin are deadly enough. But together, they're a tag-team the likes of which we rarely see even in dedicated co-op games. Thanks to an obliging 2K rep, I was able to hop between the two classes at opportune moments in order to savour their unique brand of pain-bringing.
Taking to the clean blue cityscapes of one of Pandora's metropoli was a refreshing and colourful change of pace from the usual grimy dust heaps we're used to. The heroes had been contacted by the King Of The Claptraps (who relished his new role with considerable gusto), who wanted them to destroy some statues of Handsome Jack scattered throughout the conurbation, partly to reduce morale but, I guess, mainly for the sheer hell of it. Characters chime in with insults and banter far more frequently than in the original game, to giggle-worthy comedic effect.
There wasn't much time to enjoy the scenery, though, since Hyperion's robotic drones were out in force. We've already discussed how these menacing automatons work together in a previous preview, and they quickly demonstrated their tactical prowess by sending out scythe-bladed PWR Loaders to tie us up in melee combat while GUN Loaders hopped across rooftops to seek flanking positions. Taking them down while remaining tactically aware of the situation was a manic and increasingly difficult affair, especially since hovering drone healers and Badass fliers proceeded rule the skies and attack from unpredictable angles. Borderlands 2's battles will be fully three-dimensional rather than taking place on a predominantly flat plane, and is all the more hectic for it.
But, of course, the Assassin and Commando are better together. Using the turret to aggro foes and draw them out of position allowed the soldier to tie up entire incoming squads in a frenzy of firepower, while his sneaky pal carefully freelanced around the periphery, darting into the fray to remove key targets when appropriate. By offering distinct yet complimentary skillsets while ensuring that each class is equally potent alone, Gearbox are on course to deliver a cooperative multiplayer experience that makes Diablo III look flat in comparison.
Are we excited for Borderlands 2? We're counting down the days. Even using beta code, Gearbox's sequel is dynamic, hectic, strategic and satisfying - both for lone wolves and cooperative fireteams. The classes are balanced, the colour palette is varied and Handsome Jack is begging for us to put a bullet between his rejuvenated, stapled-on eyes. We'll be able to do so come September 21st.
Oh, and it's going to have a lot of guns. Did I mention that?