Written By: Damian

A wise man once said, “There ain’t no rest for the wicked.”

 

If that’s the case, the developers at Gearbox must be the most heinous sons of bitches around, because from all appearances, they have been going absolutely balls-to-the-wall with content in Borderlands 2, nonstop. While information about the game has been on a slow trickle since the Doomsday trailer was released, there’s been enough footage and gameplay info put on display for me to write a little preview of the game from what we’ve seen so far.

The original Borderlands was a first-person shooter released late 2009 with a Diablo-esque modus operandi: “Buy guns; shoot things until they drop bigger guns; use bigger guns to shoot bigger things.” It boasted three strong selling points that still make it an entertaining game three years after its release (which should help some tide themselves over waiting for the sequel):

  • The dialogue was well-written, with most characters having distinctive personalities; actually conversing with characters was amusing enough that it didn’t feel like a chore to sit through dialogue scenes.
  • The space Western setting—best described, I feel, as “deep space planet future gun action!”—was a refreshing change of pace from most first-person shooters of the last ten years.
  • The so-called Procedural Content Creation System allowing for millions of different guns to be acquired in-game. If more guns doesn’t sound like more better to you, you have no business playing these sorts of games.

Borderlands was not without its own failings, though; a lot of the in-game environments got to feel a little samey after a while, and there were very few truly memorable characters, aside from the Claptrap robots. While some of the humor of the game can really stick with you—I particularly liked the boss subtitles, especially for Nine-Toes (Also, He Has Three Balls.)—one would be hard-pressed to find a truly stand-out character like some other games might have. And while the game delivered on its promise of Lots And Lots Of Guns, sometimes they were a little too random. I’m not sure why my shotgun needs a better scope than my sniper rifle, for instance. (That aside, I’m loathe to argue with a game that feels I should be equipped with a revolver-barreled shotgun that shoots rockets at people.)

 

But let it not be said that Gearbox doesn’t learn from their mistakes; while the original Borderlands was certainly no slouch in the FPS market, Borderlands 2 looks like it’s shaping up to be more impressive still.

 

Borderlands 2 takes place on Pandora, much the same as the previous game did. However, seeing as it takes place five years in the future, much of Pandora has become more industrialized and civilized—well, using the term loosely, I suppose; civilized in that there’s civilization, not civilized as in “the fellow over there wearing a hockey mask is just going to a hockey game and has no intention of savagely assaulting your testicles with a machete.” While not much appears to have been released about the plot proper this time around, your goal in this game seems to be that you have to kill a man named Handsome Jack, who is, I’m going to assume, kind of a dick. It’s a Borderlands game, it’s a safe assumption. Thankfully, due to this new industrialized society, the scenery in-game looks much shinier, nicer, and more pristine; it remains to be seen whether there will be much variety in it, but it’s certainly a nice change of pace from looking at dirt and rocks all day like the last game. And fret not, the visual direction of the game is very similar, with the cel-shaded look and stylized characters in abundance.

There are some new classes and some returning classes, mixed about evenly between the two. Returning from the previous game, we have the Siren and Commando; don’t be fooled, though, they don’t play exactly as they did before. The new Siren, rather than having a “phasewalk” teleport-like ability, now has a new ability dubbed phaselock. Gameplay footage seems to show that using this ability on an enemy will temporarily immobilize it and prevent it from attacking, which makes the Siren very much a support class this time around; whether the phaselock actually does damage or not remains to be seen (and after how destructive it looked in the Doomsday trailer, I’m really hoping it does), but as-is, it seems to lend itself to this class being played in multiplayer. The Commando seems to function very similarly to the Soldier from the original game, deploying turrets and other buildings during fights, but apart from that, it feels like a very vanilla class.

 

On the new side of things, we have the Gunzerker, replacing Brick from the first game. This looks to be the go-to class for anyone who likes lots of guns and lots of damage, as his class ability allows you to “Gunzerk” and dual-wield guns for a limited time. It seems to fit very well with the Siren’s ability in the previews: the Siren keeps the enemy immobile, and the Gunzerker tears them apart. The ability seems to be limited to one-handed guns only, but given the inherent craziness of Borderlands, I wouldn’t be surprised if—hell, I’m hoping—you’re able to wield bigger guns with that ability. Picture dual rocket launchers and tell me that doesn’t make you smile, I dare you.

The class that has me most excited about the game so far is the Assassin, Zer0. Obviously, his role is as a replacement for Mordecai the Sniper, but they don’t seem to function similarly at all. The Assassin’s ability is essentially three abilities rolled into one: he is able to project a holographic copy of himself for a short time, turn himself (the real him, that is) invisible, and see an enemy’s weak points, to attack them with his sword For Massive Damage. It’s all quite reminiscent of Raiden in Metal Gear Solid 4, which I have absolutely no problem with. Some of the previews seem to indicate that the Assassin also gets an ability that temporarily increases his damage with firearms immediately after sword attacks, and vice-versa, which looks like it will encourage a hit-and-run gameplay style centered around opening fire, closing in on someone for a melee attack, and then retreating;  it might also lend itself well to fighting off multiple opponents, but that’s all just speculation on my part.

There’s also one more class that’s only been vaguely hinted at so far: the “Mechromancer”. It’s hinted at on the Steam store page for the game, and the most info I could find was from Wikipedia:

 

“The character, who is a red-headed cyborg that can summon a D374-TP (“Deathtrap” – a hulking, floating machine made of scrap parts), is currently in concept stage and Randy        Pitchford stated that they would begin to work on her some time after the main game is           completed “in a couple months.” It will be post-launch date DLC (Gearbox hopes around             holiday time/before Christmas) and will be free for people enrolled in the “Premiere Club” by     preordering the game.”

 

One of the more interesting additions to the gameplay is the so-called “Badass System”. I’m still a little fuzzy on how it works, exactly, but what it appears to be from what I’ve seen is a sort of leveling system that operates parallel to your actual character level; as you complete challenges (things along the lines of “Defeat 12 Badass skaggs!” or “Deliver 20 headshots!”), your Badass rank goes up. This provides stat bonuses to your characters—all of them, in fact, since it’s linked directly to your profile instead of just one character. Any time your rank goes up, the game will provide you with a randomized set of stats to increase, and you pick the one you want. The best part, though? Unlike, presumably, the proper leveling system, there is no “level cap” on your Badass rank. Gearbox devs have gone on record as saying that they expect to see long-term players with extremely high ranks, and that they’ve used the past two years or so of data from Borderlands 1 to extrapolate what long-term gameplay may look like in 2.

 

So from the looks of things, there is going to be a lot more ways to shoot people in this game, and potentially more new locales in which to shoot them. But what about the writing?

 

It seems like Gearbox is ramping up the humor this time around. Not to say, of course, that the original wasn’t funny, but the writing appears to be more along the lines of the Borderlands 1 DLC, where there’s more wisecracks and jokes-per-minute, and the setting in general takes itself less seriously. It sounds good on paper, but one has to hope that Gearbox doesn’t take it too far; trying to cram too many jokes into the game might just make it cheesy and annoying. If they had to take a page out of someone else’s book, I’d almost recommend they take a cue from the Portal games or Bulletstorm, where the comedy was frequent, but just sparse enough and good enough that you kept wanting more. A sort of comedy that doesn’t wear out its welcome.

 

What little we’ve seen of the plot seems to be just as cliché as the first game; a corporate CEO has turned into a maniacal tyrant, and the citizens are trying to form a rebellion and overthrow him, with the player at the center. If the first is any indicator, though, cliché might work well for a game like this. It keeps things simple so you can focus more on your shootybangs and not worry about the politics and the nuanced, intricate relationships between everyone in the game. Characters from the last game make appearances, notably the original four player characters—Brick, Roland, Mordecai, and Lilith—as NPCs this time around. There’s even a Claptrap with some sort of a god complex. Handsome Jack is looking to be the sort of villain that sticks with you, for humor value if nothing else—more of a Doctor Evil than an Andrew Ryan, really. But how everything turns out in the end remains to be seen.

 

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I have my preorder set. The game comes out September 18th in the US (21st in the UK; sorry, Brits) for PS3, 360, and PC.

 

And remember: if using a gun don’t work, the answer is “Use more gun.”