While demos of Gearbox Software’s gun crazy, loot fest sequel Borderlands 2 thus far have focused on but a few of the game’s handful of classes, most especially the new gunzerker class, the hands-on experience that was available at E3 2012 was no holds barred. In a game with so much choice it’s hard to simply guide the players towards what the developer thinks is worth checking out, so Gearbox thought to forgo all the formality and make all the classes available — from Maya the Siren to Zer0 the Assassin, who was making his big debut as a playable character.
Of course, when presented with the option of playing a character that hadn’t been showcased all that much, the choice was easy. Zer0, for those that played the first Borderlands, plays very similar to Mordecai, the sniper from the first game, but with a few caveats. Along with being an interestingly designed character, Zer0 also has the ability to create decoys and become invisible, all important abilities for survival.
In the interest of illustrating the wealth of character customization that will be available in the game, Gearbox Software chose to grant the player 20 points to spend on any perk or ability they wanted. The first Borderlands lived and died in those skill tree menus, and let’s just say the choices themselves were worth pondering for a good half hour. For example, Zero, who has advantages in both the ranged and melee categories, could deliver two distinct types of gameplay experience, but ultimately sniping felt like the way to go.
The level on display tasked two gamers, in co-op mode, with protecting a giant robot programed to take down three statues that were situated in key points in a large complex. First and foremost, players will notice that the Borderlands visuals have received an overhaul — the cel-shaded art design is still there, but everything feels so much more varied and detailed. Besides the game’s new color palette, it was also easy to notice that the game has taken some serious steps away from the linearity of its predecessor.
The level itself still felt self-contained like any great “dungeon” does, but the ability to traverse many different paths is a refreshing new addition. Enemies also recieve an overhaul in both the variety and difficulty categories. Rather than a dozen masked thugs aimlessly running at the player’s face, this mission featured in particular features a smattering of synthetic and organic enemies, all of which required a different approach.
After completing the demo it’s plain to see that Borderlands 2 hits all of the checkboxes that fans of the franchise would expect of a sequel. Claptrap’s humorous mission narration? Check. Numbers constantly falling off enemies indicating their damage taken? Check. Tons of sweet gun loot? Check. And of course it’s a big ten four on the dubstep.
There’s nothing quite like Borderlands out there, and Gearbox Software knows that. So rather than risk alienating fans with big action set pieces or obnoxious plot twists (qualities that might entice a different type of FPS player) they refined what worked so well in 2009.
Certain elements like the gunplay felt smoother, and the AI encouraged using tactics rather than just invite headshot after headshot. Borderlands didn’t have too many flaws to begin with, and those it did certainly weren’t associated with the game’s missions. Unfortunately, speaking about the larger picture — the overarching world and story — is impossible at this point, but from a purely visceral perspective the game is exactly what fans are looking for.
From beginning to end the Borderlands 2 demo delights, and never fails to deliver that satisfying combination of combat and loot collecting that made the series such a success. Claims that the game hasn’t evolved all that much are fair, but the unique qualities of Gearbox’s prized franchise didn’t need much refinement to sell gamers on a sequel.
The only real shame is that those who never gave the first game a chance will also never truly know how fun this “Diablo with guns” really is. But for those that do this will be a must play in September.
Are you ready for more Borderlands 2 even if it doesn’t do all that much to distinguish itself from its predecessor? Which of the game’s playable classes are you most excited about taking for a spin?
Borderlands 2 releases September 18, 2012 for the PS3, Xbox 360, and PC.
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