Borderlands 2 Preview Gamescom 2011 -- An Early Glimpse At A Snowy WorldBy Kevin Kelly - Posted Aug 26, 2011
Borderlands owes a debt of gratitude to gamescom, and Steve Gibson from Gearbox was there to tell everyone how grateful the team is for that. They announced the original game there in 2007, showed it off there in 2009 amidst a sea of sequels so deep that they had to go out and beg everyone to come pay attention to their new IP. They did, and as a result the game became a hit. Well, that and the great gameplay combined with eye-bashing graphics. "Gamescom is the reason that Borderlands was such a success," Gibson concluded. "Everyone at Gearbox wants to say thank you. This went beyond our wildest dreams."
Then without much further ado, he pulled back the curtain on what we were waiting eagerly to see, which was Borderlands 2. Gibson explained that it's great when people want more of a game, but often developers just pack a bunch of new levels together, put a 2 on the box, and call it a sequel. To him, that feels more like a glorified expansion, and internally they refer to games like that as "content dumps." Gearbox didn't want B2 to be any sort of a dump, so they've spent a lot of time making sure it feels like a sequel. They're calling it a "true 2.0," which means they've revamped everything in the game from the UI, to the co-op, to the gun system. They've been working on it since 2009, and it's a "truly ambitious sequel."
Our demo opened about a third of the way into the game, and occurs right after a confrontation with Handsome Jack, and you've been left for dead out in the Arctic tundra. You're looking for a friend that you know has been taken captive by Jack's Hyperion Corporation, so you're looking to free him and exact some revenge. Immediately, you'll notice that it's not the Borderlands you're used to, especially because there's snow everywhere. Delightful, fluffy, falling snow that will hit your screen and slowly melt away. It's a frigid wasteland outside, and it's almost like you're looking through a window at it all.
While the gun system is indeed getting an overhaul, many of the same manufacturers are still around five years into the future, including Tediore who Gibson refers to as "The Wal-Mart of gun manufacturers." They make guns that are cheap, and they actually look cheap, and in some cases they're even meant to be disposable. In fact, you can actually toss the "Disposable Rifle" away, and it turns into a grenade that explodes on impact. The strength of that explosion depends on how many bullets are left in the gun. That's handy! Of course, it means you'll have to find another gun after you've tossed that one away, but still... exploding guns. That's cool.
The guns manufactured by different companies are now meant to feel and fire much different than each other, so you'll be able to immediately identify them via sight and sound. There's also a new AI in the game, and the Bullymongs we encountered would have unpredictable AI behavior, like breaking off an icy stalagmite and tossing it at us, or grabbing the shell of a burned out car and tossing it our way. They can also grab people and hurtle them, or head for the high ground and pounce on top of you. "We wanted the AI to be much less predictable," Gibson said. "We want you to not think 'Oh, I know they always do this' and just exploit that."
They've added bandit-style weapons this time around, and these guns look like they were created from DIY kits ordered from the back of Guns & Ammo magazine. They might not look like much, but the bandits know that "more bullets means more fun," so their guns have huge magazines on them. The bandit weapon we picked up for instance had 72 bullets in it, meaning you won't have to reload that often.
The AI also has wounded states now, whereas in the last game they were either alive, or dead. Now they'll have wounded states that will cause them to limp, or move slowly, depending on where you're hitting them. They'll also run away and seek shelter if you injure them too much. Vehicles also get overhauled, with the addition of new vehicle behaviors like powersliding, and four-player vehicles are standard. (You had to pick up the DLC last time around to get them). You can also run into enemies with your vehicle and the car won't just stop. They've also fixed the undercarriage of most vehicles, meaning they won't get caught on things. Was that a problem for people last time around?
Gearbox also wants you to spend more time playing the game, and less time stuck in submenus. So they've added a minimap to the screen, meaning you won't constantly have to open up a menu to see where you're going. It's also much easier to immediately determine if a weapon is worth picking up, or appeals to your particular playstyle, so you won't be spending as much time hemming and hawing over the "Do I want to carry this around?" question.
After killing a few Arctic Bullymongs, we headed up to where the Bloodshot Bandits have "taking something over, and you don't want them taking that thing over." It's either on or near the dam, and Gearbox really didn't want us finding out what that thing was. Maybe there are clues to be gleaned from the images?
Enemy AI has also been given the ability to use stairs a lot more often, and they'll also exhibit behavior like flanking and taking cover. They'll also be talking more this time around, with at least one of the enemies we faced shrieking "Screw you! I'm the best!" much to the delight of the audience.
Another thing Gearbox wants to change is having people use the same weapon for five or six hours at a time, and they've added a reward system that will encourage players to swap between many different weapons. It wasn't readily apparent what those rewards were, but they want you to continually swap your weapons out and try new things. Probably because they've spent so much time working on the guns themselves that they want to show them off.
They've reworked the menus to work better in splitscreen and also to work better with PCs, where you're using a mouse to make selections. The skills are also getting revamped with things called "Gamechangers" that come in and dramatically change your character. No longer will you just see a 2% change in your long-range ability, instead you'll see a large boost or increase.
Co-op is of course back in the game with it being such a popular component of the original game, and they've overhauled the quest eligibility system so that players can play together, and then not have someone leave for awhile, come back, and discover that you're no longer eligible for quests that might have been completed while you were gone. We jumped into a co-op match with the other character playing Maya, one of six different Sirens in the game. Lilith was the phase-walking Siren from the first game, and Maya has an ability all her own that they aren't showing off just yet.
Maya and the Gunzerker find Roland (from the original Borderlands) being held captive, and they work to free him as his mobile cell is traversing the landscape. All of those characters from the original game will be returning as NPCs, and you'll be able to see what's happened to them five years in the future. To get to him, you'll have to battle your way through mining loaders and other types of industrial bots that have been weaponized and turned against you, while he's dragged off to another location. This means you'll have moving quest targets, and less "Read wall of text, go to Point B" type quests.
There are many different types of loader robots, including ones that shift Robotech-style into flying jets, and you'll also be sent robot reinforcements from the moon to do battle against. That's right, the moon. We sure hope they didn't take any inspiration from Michael Bay. Going up against the robots gave the Gunzerker a chance to show off his dual-wielding ability, and he can literally dual-wield anything in the game. Want to have a rocket launcher and a sniper rifle? Done. Submachine gun and a shotgun? No problem. You get the drill.
While we battled the robots, we noticed that some of them would throw up shields to bounce bullets back at us, while others would repair the other robots, meaning you'll be seeing AI work together. Snazzy stuff. We also picked up a Vladof gun which comes from a manufacturer who is all about rate of fire, with the downside being that their guns aren't very accurate. Still, when you're able to attach a minigun to a pistol or a rocket launcher, who cares how accurate you are? Towards the end of our demo, the Gunzerker actually gets tossed off of a waterfall, and as he flies down the flips the bird. Yes, it's still Borderlands.
While the game is still far away from release, it's already looking very polished and fun. At also looks like it's going to have more than a leg up on the original game, which means improvement on an already good thing. We're all for that. Now we just have to wait for it.