Borderlands 2 Hands-On Preview
It was a very nice day in New York City and it was almost 2pm when I walked into Studio 450. On the outside, this building looked like nothing more than a typical warehouse, but once I took the elevator inside, I knew that I was about to experience something great. After a few minutes to the top floor, I met a nice gentleman from 2K games, who offered me a glass of soda with a perfect slice of lemon. Around the modernized and all white space were other writers, waiting to enter the close double doors ahead. My nerves almost got the best of me as I too, anxiously waited to be called. After what seemed like a lifetime, I walked through the doors, to see a comfortable black chair, sitting across an HD monitor, with a pair of Tritton headphones plugged in. This was it-I was finally about to explore Pandora.
Upon starting the demo, I had a choice of two missions to play. The first level I chose was called the Wildlife Preservation and already I was surprised. Instead of the usual deserted wasteland, this environment was full of factories and security robots. I met up with an old friend from the first Borderlands game, named Mordecai, as he was the one to give me my mission. It seemed as though a friend named Bloodwing was kidnapped by Handsome Jack, who is the new head of the Hyperion Corporation. My job was to infiltrate the shipyard and find the missing person. While my task seemed simple enough, I wasn’t used to all the new guns and powers that my character had acquired (You can read the Characters section for more details).
While navigating the new and colorful terrain of bots and turrets, I noticed something strange. The AI had improved dramatically since the last game, with smaller flying robots actually swooping down to repair the ones that I had just shot to pieces. I was also getting flanked constantly and quickly outnumbered. Enemies take cover right away if they feel overwhelmed, and will not hesitate to call for backup. I encountered Skags, Skag pups, and new enemies called Badass Fire Skags. Trust me, when Skags retreat to these guys, make sure you’re prepared. After dying several times, I finally reached the holding cells, which were a dreary contrast to the outside. Soon after, I received a message from Handsome Jack himself, who seemed very arrogant and sure of himself. That’s when I discovered that Bloodwing had been relocated, and all that was in the cell was a pile of feathers.
The next mission I selected took place in the Caustic Caverns. Unlike the Wildlife Preservation, this level was an acidic and corrosive dump. What used to be a clean lake, was now a boiling acid bath where one step can drain a lot of health fast. Within seconds, I was attacked by an interesting enemy known as the Varkid. Varkids also have Larval Varkids around them, which are of course baby Varkids. The nasty and highly corrosive insects resembled swarms of hornets as they flew around me. They’re quite annoying, whether alone or in a group, and the best way to get rid of one is to use the Maliwan Surfiet Torment, a corrosive elemental pistol by Maliwan, in short bursts (for more info on Maliwan, see Guns section). Another enemy I encountered was the Tadpole Thresher. These guys can be big or small, and tunnel underground to pop up anywhere they choose. Some will even hurl rocks at you, so be on guard.
A woman named Moxxi had ordered me to find Marcus’ safe. She wanted to retrieve whatever was in it in quite a hurry. After fighting the Varkids, I came across two big crystalline monsters. These beasts are made entirely of rock and seem to resist anything you throw at them. After feeling hopeless, I noticed that they had glowing crystals on their legs and arms. Once you shoot those, they’re pretty much vulnerable to gun fire. When I made my way through the hordes of insects, I came across a small boss fight. This time, a giant crystalline enemy awaited me and had no problem crushing me numerous times. Oh, and did I mention that we were surrounded by acid on this small piece of rock? I loaded as many clips as I could into its legs and found what I came for. As the safe opened up, I found some rather racy photos of Moxxi, and was given a choice. I could either return the photos to her, or I could give them to her husband. I didn’t get to find out what happened though, because sadly that portion of the demo was blocked off. I was free to run around the level as much as I wanted though from that point.
There are 4 all new classes in Borderlands 2. The old Soldier class has been replaced with a new tech-based Commando class, and the Hunter class has been replaced with the stealthy Assassin class. The Siren class makes a return and the new Gunzerker class lets players have the most fun with their new toys. Each character has a unique ability and three skill trees with give access to even more. Each skill can be upgraded a total of 5 times with acquired skill points. Now skill points can be earned each time your character levels up, by completing missions or destroying enemies for XP. It’s important to pick the right class character and utilize those skill points wisely if you want to survive long enough to defeat Handsome Jack.
Salvador has three skill trees: Wrath, Brawn, and Gun Lust. These trees combine for ruthless strength and prolonged attacks and make Salvador a pretty versatile character. If I had to find a flaw however, I’d say he’s more of a run and gun kind of character and what he has for strength, he lacks in defense. In a team however, Salvador is a brutal asset, as he can use his Down,Not Out skill to dual-wield while he is fighting for his life.The first character available to me was Salvador the Gunzerker. This class is unlike any other and makes all of your gun fantasies come alive. Salvador can dual-wield any weapon he puts his hands on, which allows for some interesting combinations. My favorite was the SMG and rocket launcher combo, but seriously you can fire whatever you like. By pressing the left and right triggers on your Xbox 360 controller, you can independently fire off as many rounds as you please.
During the demo, I spent the most time with Maya the Siren. Lilith, the first Siren introduced to us in Borderlands, had the ability to Phasewalk and avoid enemy detection. What makes Maya special is that she has the ability to Phaselock, which allows her to freeze her enemies in mid-air with an energy blast. Maya’s skills mostly tie in with her Phaselocking ability, but that’s not a bad thing. The Harmony skill tree uses Phaselocking as a means to heal both Maya and her
partners. For example, attacking an enemy forces them to release life orbs that heal about 10% of the health bar. The Restoration skill even lets Maya shoot her own teammates to heal them(finally a method worthy of the title “friendly fire”).
The Motion skill tree included shield boosts and regeneration skills that greatly helped me on the battlefield. The Kinetic Reflection skill caused enemy bullets to ricochet off of Maya completely, and bounce back towards her enemies. Think of the Motion skill tree as your combat defense aid. The Suspension skill increases Phaselocking duration, so imagine making a difficult enemy float helplessly for a longer period of time, while you run and find cover. It’s a very handy tree that I suggest putting skill points into right away.
What’s most interesting about Maya though is her Cataclysm skill tree. This skill tree is filled with skills that can get Maya out of a tight spot during combat. When Maya’s downed, the Immolate skill lets her add fire damage to any gun she’s using; this is highly helpful when trying to get a second wind and get back into the game. The Helios skill was probably the first skill of this tree to be exposed to the public, so I had to give it a try. Helios caused a Phaselocked enemy to explode and damage any other enemy within its radius. The last skill in this tree that intrigued me was the Foresight skill, which increases clip size and reload times. Since Maya can be seen as a support character, it’s really nice to know that her combat skills can be buffed if needed.
The other characters, Axton the Commando and ZerO the Assassin, were not available for play. A lot of mystery surrounds these two, as little information has been given about them. What I do know, is that Axton’s skill trees are tech-based, as his action skill is deploying a turret. His turret can teleport on top of enemy locations and is a lot like the Incendiary Longbow grenades in the first title. Axton’s three skill trees are Gunpowder, Survival, and Guerrilla, which all support everything from long-ranged combat to closer ranges. I believe he wears the dog tags of his dead wife, and when I asked Gearbox about this, they laughed and had a slight look of surprise. Perhaps Axton is out for revenge?
ZerO is a cyber ninja with a Digi-structing light saber sword. This means that he can pull his sword out of his D&D pouch bag of tricks(as Gearbox describes it), at any time. Melee attacks are his specialty, but he can also be powerful with sniper-rifles. The most noticeable thing about ZerO is that he wears a face plate that shows his emotions with emoticons. It also flashes a holographic zero whenever he earns a kill. His most alluring skill is called Deception, and it acts like the cloaking device in the Metal Gear Solid series. ZerO can go into a stealth mode and leave a decoy of himself to fool enemies (EDI can also do this in Mass Effect 3..are decoys the new thing now?). What makes this ability different from others however, is that later in upgrades, you can actually cause the decoy to explode when ZerO leaves stealth. I’m looking forward to seeing more of this character, aren’t you?
A Bazillion Guns
They weren’t kidding when they said they’ll improve the guns in this game. So far, I’ve had some time with companies Dahl, Hyperion, Bandit, Vladof, Tediore, and Jacobs. Tediore’s disposable guns will explode when tossed, and the explosion will depend on how much ammo is left in the clip. Vladof creates sniper rifles and assault rifles, all inspired by the AK-47. Bandit’s guns are more MacGyver’s approach to weaponry and consists of salvaged parts. Dahl probably had the most realistic kind of guns in their catalog and I noticed Hyperion on just about everything else. Maliwan as I mentioned before has corrosive weaponry, but they also had other elemental guns such as guns with fire effects and the ability to freeze enemies in ice. Throughout the hands-on demo, no gun I picked up was the same model, which is absolutely great!
Multiplayer & Online
With no surprise, the best part of Borderlands 2 is the multiplayer aspect as I did get to try out the new co-op features while I was there. Besides friendly dueling, you can now trade both items and money to other players. A major flaw for me in the last game was that lower level players could pop into my game and take all of the goods I had earned; so in this game, both players will now benefit. When a player drops from the game, the host will still get access to those dropped items, if they backtrack to the location. Gearbox wasn’t any more specific than that, but there was a lot that they weren’t willing to tell me. While killing baddies, you’ll come across challenges just as in the last game, but you’ll also be awarded something called Badass points. They were very hush on this little secret, but gave hints that they could be spent on some really cool things.
The newest addition to Borderlands 2 is local co-op split screen support. I can vouch for this myself and say that it’s amazing. Everything on the screen is clear and there’s no loss in seeing any of the action on your screen. The graphics are as vibrant as ever. There’s also all new 4-seater cars so everyone can now help you on the go (about time!).
My Time Was Up
After my experience, I left with a little sense of sadness; I wanted nothing more than to get to level 23. That being said, expect to have A LOT of fun with this game, whether your solo, or with friends. Borderlands drops on September 18th and I seriously cannot wait. For more news on the game’s development, make sure to check back here soon!