Borderlands 2, first announced in September of 2011, is the sequel to Gearbox’s 2009 surprise hit, Borderlands. If you never played the original game, let me break it down for you. Borderlands was a fast paced first person shooter with cooperative play for up to four players, but also contained a number of RPG elements such as branching skill trees and random loot drops.
To call Borderlands 2 the main attraction here at PAX East would be an understatement. Lines to play the game exceed three hours in length, but I was lucky enough to move past the line and go hands on with the game. Head past the break to see what I thought (spoiler alert: it’s awesome).
Borderlands 2 takes place roughly five years after the end of the original game. Handsome Jack, head of the Hyperion Corporation, has taken over the planet Pandora and now serves as its ruthless dictator. It’ll be up to the new cast of main characters, Salvador, Maya, Zero, and Axton to stop Handsome Jack and free Pandora from his tyranny.
Jumping into the game, I was given a choice between Salvador, the Gunzerker, and Maya, the Siren. I picked Maya, as Salvador’s dual weapon wielding ability is fairly straight forward, and I was more interested in testing out Maya’s Phaselock ability. After choosing my character, I was loaded into an area called the Caustic Caverns, a series of, you guessed it – caverns – filled with toxic fluids.
Upon loading into the Caverns, the game’s visual upgrades should be pretty noticeable to anyone who played the original game. Everything looks sharper and cleaner, texture pop-in has been greatly reduced, the framerate is fast and smooth, and the lighting is significantly more impressive.
Animations have been improved as well, and no where was this made more apparent than in the enemies I fought. New enemies include the insectoid Varkyd, which begin in ground-based larval form, but form cocoons to transform into winged adults. Then there’s the Crystalisk, a three legged monstrosity with patches of crystals growing on each leg. Destroying said crystals reveals a weak point which causes critical damage when fired upon. Finally, Threshers are subterranean worms that can pop up and slash you in the face.
All of them look and move with great fluidity and style, and each requires its own strategy to defeat. If there is this much variety among just three enemy types, one can start to imagine what sorts of challenges the other enemies will bring.
Playing as Maya, I was able to Phaselock my enemies from time to time. The Phaselock allows Maya to suspend the targeted enemy in mid-air, causing damage over time. The effect can also be combined with certain elemental weapon effects for a nice bit of bonus damage. Using the improved Skill Tree, you can upgrade the Phaselock to last longer, recharge more quickly, cause more damage, etc., along with other upgrades like decreased reload time, extra ammo, and fire damage.
Borderlands was known for its massive selection of guns, and Borderlands 2 looks to be no different in that regard. In my half an hour of play time, I must have picked up over a dozen new weapons, each with its own unique look and feel. The scary thing is, these weapons are just the tip of the iceberg – I can’t wait to see what other crazy firearms the game will contain. There are some more subtle tweaks here as well, such as not having to manually pick up ammo and money dropped by enemies. Simply walk over to them and they’ll be added to your total automatically.
Though my time with the game was admittedly brief, I came away all but certain that Gearbox is headed in the right direction with Borderlands 2. Bigger, better looking, and with a lot more content, Borderlands 2 is looking like it will be well worth the wait, both for existing fans and new players alike. The game is currently scheduled for launch on September 18, 2012 for Xbox 360, PS3, and PC.