Borderlands surprised many back in 2009, when Gearbox Software’s unique mix of tight, first-person shooter gameplay mixed with RPG elements, quirky visuals and a plethora of unique, randomly-generated guns turned it into one of the surprise hits of the year. Now, almost three years later, Gearbox is back with Borderlands 2, along with four new classes, new features, and, of course, more guns. My hands-on time with the game showed me what’s in store for the upcoming sequel.
The demo I played was a co-op mission, played alongside none other than our Editor-in-Chief, Karl Koebke. As promised, Borderlands 2 offers four new character classes: The Commando, the Siren, the Assassin, and the Gunzerker. Karl elected to go with the Assassin, while I went with the Gunzerker (with a name like that, why would you pick anything else)? And the Gunzerker certainly lives up to his name. At its core, he’s most similar to the Berzerker class from the last game, but with the new ability of dual-wielding. Dual-wielding isn’t exactly a new feature to first-person shooter games, but the Gunzerker differentiates himself by being able to dual-wield traditionally two-handed weapons, such as assault rifles and shotguns. This, combined with the Borderlands series' penchant for unique weaponry makes the feature feel fresh. Few feelings in gaming are as satisfying as igniting an enemy with a flame-spewing shotgun with my left hand, then pumping him full of assault rifle rounds with my right.
Our demo mission tasked me and Karl to destroy four statues of Handsome Jack, the new ruler of Pandora, as well as the game’s primary antagonist. After finding a statue and filling it with bullets to no avail, we discovered things weren’t so simple. Claptrap then informed us that the only way to destroy the statues was to find and reactivate a large robot. From here, the improved waypoint system showed us exactly where we needed to go, rather than just pointing us in the general direction like the last game’s awkward compass.
We found resistance upon reaching our waypoint, facing our first combat encounter in the demo. The first thing I noticed was the improved AI. I got through most of the first Borderlands through sheer firepower and minimal use of tactics. Clealry, this will not work in Borderlands 2. Enemies now spread out, disperse, and use cover more often, rather than simply strafing side-to-side or running at you head on. Even with a partner at my side, the improved enemy AI proved more than we could match, and we had to restart the mission a couple of times. Tactics will prove key to winning firefights in Borderlands 2. Luckily, little touches make things easier on the player. Ammo and health are now automatically picked up when you are near them, and a new weapon swap system allows you to exchange weapons with your partner.
Unfortunately, Karl and I ran out of time before we could finish the demo mission, but from what we saw, Borderlands 2 is a clear improvement over the already stellar original. While it doesn’t do anything completely groundbreaking, it takes the foundation laid out and builds upon it, feeling like a true sequel. Improvements over the interface, co-op features, and enemy AI rectify many of the small issues with the last game, and look to make Borderlands 2 one of the premiere shooters of this fall season. Borderlands 2 will be available for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC this September 18th.