The Average Gamer

Borderlands 2 Hands-On Preview

You remember Borderlands, right? Running around a post-apocalyptic desert in 2009 filled with gangs and environments constructed from scrap metal, the game was no Fallout clone. It was a cel-shaded shooty bang game with an RPG tree and quests that basically boiled down to “Go here. Shoot all of the things.” There were plenty of things and even more guns with which to shoot.

Borderlands 2 has been in development for some time and I can confirm that they’ve lost none of the magic that made the first game so popular. The team have stayed so true to the formula that… let’s be honest. This sequel is basically Borderlands 2: More Borderlands. With new environments that let you finally venture out of the yellow desert and into lush green forests or ice-covered mountains, this is no bad thing.

Don’t get me wrong, improvements have been made in other areas as well. One of my biggest peeves about the original game was that when you play in split-screen, no effort had been made to scale the menus, so you’d be scrolling left and right trying to read mission text in half your field of view. Gearbox have overhauled the entire HUD so that split-screen players can (allegedly) see their entire skill tree without having to wave the camera back and forth. Amazing!

As part of a band known as Vault Hunters, you choose from one of four characters. Each has a designated class and power but you won’t actually venture with the other vault hunters unless you’re in multiplayer. As the only female character available, Lilith the siren was my avatar of choice.

In the original game, the siren’s power was rubbish. Phasewalk allowed you to become invisible and gave you a short boost to melee damage. In a game that either surrounds you with hordes of enemies or places them on distance vantage points, I rarely found either of these abilities beneficial and there was nothing to support my teammates.

In Borderlands 2 the siren is Maya, who has the phonetically-similar but much-improved Phaselock, a power which allows you to immobilise and lift distant enemies into the air. Further skills can give you increased health regeneration while you have something in phaselock and the rather bizarre ability to heal your teammates by shooting them in the back.

Phaselock doesn’t work on everything. A whole host of new beasts have been dreamed up by the concept artists at Gearbox. The most horrifying one I encountered in my playthrough was the Badass Pyre Thresher, a giant worm that burrows through the ground, rising to engulf you in its flaming tentacles.

These monsters have ranged attacks as well, so it’s not enough to flee back to built-upon ground and pump thousands of rounds in. You have to keep moving and watch out for your teammates as well, lest they go down and have no way to raise themselves through the “Second Wind” ability of killing a weakened enemy before they bleed out. Phaselock has an optional ability that can resurrect your teammates without the customary delay of normal reviving, which can be invaluable when battling those immune to the power’s normal effect.

The other characters available are Axton – a commando whose special power is deploying a gun turret, Zero – an assassin who can create a holographic decoy, and Salvador – the “gunzerker” who, presumably, runs berserk with a bunch of guns.

Missions themselves are still about going to point A and killing everything to save someone before s/he leads you to point B. Instead of having run from characterless NPC to characterless NPC picking up uninspiring fetch quests, many of the quests will come to you in the form of messages through your communicator.

You’ll wander into a science lab and Dr Wotsherface will pop up in your HUD asking nicely if you could pleeeeeease pick up 10 slag samples for whatever nefarious reason she has in mind. I wasn’t really listening, what with being busy trying not to and it didn’t really matter. Rather confusedly, I kept trying to kill skags to collect these samples. Turns out nope, I was supposed to grab the canisters that are just sitting around the environment in office chairs. Presumably they were hastily abandoned by the scientists when the lab was overrun by spitter skags.

You’ll also have challenges popping up as you fight: “Dawn till Dusk” requires you to kill 200 enemies during the day; “Knee-Deep in Brass” asks you to fire off 5000 rounds. With weapons like the spini-gun, an assault rifle with three barrels that becomes more accurate the longer you hold down the fire button, this shouldn’t be a problem. The landscape is covered with shootable pods that contain ammo, grenade mods and other goodies so as long as you’re paying attention and carrying a range of weapons you won’t find yourself running out of ammo.

Levelling is a tricky thing that you need to watch. If you’re used to traditional RPGs and MMOs, you’ll probably think that when playing with two level 20 players, you should be able to take down a level 21 with no problem. That’s not the case here. Level differences, coupled with an enemy having a “badass” modifier means that fighting creatures even slightly above your level will be a tough battle.

If you enjoyed the respawning cannon fodder of Borderlands will be glad to know that this had been retained in the sequel. Spend a long time battling a large enemy and die, there’s a good change you’ll have to battle your way through all the lesser slags and midgets to get back to where you were. One memorable moment had us frequently respawning in the middle of a firefight as all sorts of critters had followed us back to the point. For those of you who like to relax by shooting the crap out of everything that moves, you’ll have all the opportunity in the world and it may just help you level up by the time you fight your way back to that tricky boss.

Borderlands 2 will be out on 21st September in the UK for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. Preorder it for access to the “Borderlands Premiere Club”, which includes an additional area, rare “golden key” and an extra pack of guns. Because there won’t be enough in the game already, right?

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