An In-Dept Look at Borderlands 2 @ E3 2012

An In-Dept Look at Borderlands 2 @ E3 2012

  • By: CM Boots-Faubert
  • Posted 30th Jul 2012

Borderlands 2

Let's get something straight from the start -- Borderlands 2 is the direct sequel to the original game that established the series, Borderlands, and as such, based upon what we have seen so far, it shares common roots and a spiritual connection to the first game that gives it the genuine feel of being a continuation of it rather than an entirely new game. But that is really an impression in its favor considering that (A) Borderlands was incredibly popular and deserved its success because it offered gamers an honest run at a good story, and (B) it found a voice and a foundation in the genre that set it apart from the other games that are its competition. Those being well established facts, it seems fair to expect the same from Borderlands 2.

When Borderlands was released its genre-defying structure and game play lead to a lot of confusion among gamers -- and game reviewers -- because of the awkward descriptions that were part of the required 'painting with words' that is the foundation of game preview and review writing. The game was widely presented to readers as the typical first-person-shooter, albeit with an elaborate and unusual art style to its world and characters that, as eccentric as it is, somehow manages to work and work well with the story.

Borderlands 2 Doomsday Trailer

The joie de vivre that each of the characters brings to the mix with respect to personality and attitude -- and I am not restricting that comment to the playable characters, as the observation and impression applies to many of the NPC's (and in particular the little claptrap robot), has its own extroverted energy to it, and any honest appraisal has to include the observation that if that energy was missing or subdued, it would have been a very different game indeed.

After carefully considering all of the aspects of the game, game play, and its visual presentation and the sounds with which the developer sets the stage and the mood for gamers, it ends up being more of a first-person-shooter with the loop-drop mechanics that are more closely associated with traditional role-playing games -- but it is not an RPG, it is quite firmly entrenched in the Action-Adventure and Shooter genres -- and its wandering into and including those elements is largely what sets it apart in its own genres...

In fact the game play model in Borderlands reminds us of Diablo, though it should be understood that Borderlands contains elements that, while its equal, tend to be far more impressive due to its quirky personality, massively wide variety of weapons (more on that in a bit) and a tightly woven combination of story construction, highly professional voice work that explains more than any other element how the game manages to rapidly suspend disbelief and immerse the player into its world, and a collection of truly challenging (and believable) enemies, and the implementation of a wide variety of mission/quest styles and types that simply does not disappoint.

With that in mind -- and the fact that all of those observations and elements apply equally to Borderlands 2 -- the first observation that came as we were briefed on the game and had the opportunity to get some first-hand experience with it is that someone at Gearbox must have been taking notes when the previous game was criticized because many of the perceived weaknesses in it have been corrected in the sequel.

Borderlands 2: Wimoweh Trailer (HD)

The first of these is the disparity in the characters, who in Borderlands were very different but in oddly incompatible ways. There should be a commonality in the different playable characters -- sure they need to be individuals but it shouldn't feel like they come from different games, and it did. The characters that we saw in B2 appear to be more homogenous and have a closer affiliation to each other, and while that is not a major issue, it does help a lot in forming attachments between play-throughs. It also makes it a little harder to pick your favorite, but that is a good thing because it makes replays more fun.

The second issue was the skill tree design in the first game -- a structure that literally required the player to carefully study each of the skills in order to figure out what made the most sense to upgrade -- and considering that the benefits for each of the trees were difficult to work out for most players meant that unless they were willing to put in that sort of effort (in our experience very few players are) they ended up picking the skills that sounded good without really grasping what they did. In Borderlands 2 they have made the skill system a bit more obvious and a lot easier to quickly grasp, and that can only be a good thing.

-- Weapons, Weapons, oh, and more Weapons --

One of the original claims to fame for the original was the diverse and broad weapon drop system. Loot in the game consisted mostly of weapons, and each had a unique makeup with different stats and capabilities spread across the job types so that you almost always ended up with a selection of similar weapons during a quest/mission that were difficult to evaluate and judge. That is not whinging mind you, we actually thought that was one of the more brilliant aspects of the game and its design, but what it actually translated to was filling your inventory with a bunch of weapons you would not be using and would be selling at the first opportunity as, by converting them to cash, they offered you the ability to purchase upgrades for the weapons you did keep, as well as ammo and other kit that was necessary for your adventuring.

The trick to the weapons system in Borderlands was to always eyeball the loot you picked up in case you finally obtained a really good weapon with the sort of stats that make it a good choice to hold on to and tweak. By the time you got through the first area of the game your approach to loot changed in a major way -- rather than pick up everything that you found, which quickly filled your inventory making frequent trips to sell off loot a necessity, you would start being choosy about which loot you actually picked up, basing your decision on a value-threshold -- was it worth a minimum of $X? If not, you left it on the ground and moved on, because if you didn't you would end up spending more time traveling to a location where you can transform your loot into cash than you did actually playing the game!

If that sounds like a bad system, well, it is not. In fact it was the potential for an uber weapon being just around the corner in the next loot drop that kept us playing the game for longer sessions, and when you did end up getting a better weapon it was cause for celebration. Some of the really good Sniper Rifles that I found in the game made it feel like you really could reach out and touch someone from a mile away, and believe me I did as often as I could!

With the weapon/loot system being a well-established favorite of players there really is no surprise that it was built into the sequel, and from what we saw at E3 the system has been tweaked to make it easier to assess the new weapons you pick up and compare them to what you have, making upgrading less time-consuming.

The fact that a lot of effort eventually went into kitting your characters out in Borderlands makes the announcement that there would be no character and item porting between the old game and the new something of a bitter pill to swallow, but in the end we note that even if we could port our favorite weapons over, they are so high-level that our new characters would not be able to use them anyway.

-- Another Run at Pandora --

While there is, unfortunately, no way to port a character from Borderlands into the new game, one thing that does carry forward is our experience with the old game -- because the new game takes place on the same world, and our knowledge of that world will certainly come in handy as we start out with new, fresh, virgin characters! Still it is not all bad news -- while we do not have all of the details, we were told at the E3 briefing that gamers who have a save from Borderlands on their system will find that they will receive some in-game consideration in the form of some cosmetic treatments for your new characters.

According to our hosts the reward for being a veteran Borderlands gamer will include a set of new skins for your new characters, and a set of new heads -- the heads enable you to look like a bandit or a Crimson Lance trooper. How far you progressed in the original game does not appear to matter, you just need to have a save file it seems, but it is possible that gamers who completed the first game may get an little something extra. Or not, we will have to wait and see.

If the above does not make the situation clear, in Borderlands 2 we are playing four all new characters who are from a younger generation -- though Roland, Mordecai, Lilith and Brick do make an appearance in the game as quest-giving NPC's (and how cool is that?!) who are part of a new rebel movement that fits in nicely with the new story and its various plots.

Borderlands 2: Multiplayer Trailer (1080p) Fans of the game and series will want to avail themselves of the pre-order special offers that are being made available by 2K/Gearbox through the usual retailers, as there are two special editions: the Deluxe Vault Hunter's Collector Edition, and the Ultimate Loot Chest Limited Edition. The Collector's Edition includes the game, a Markus Kincaid Bobblehead, a Map of Pandora, a special sticker set, the to-be-expected art book, and some bonus in-game content, while the Limited Edition has all that and a replica of the loot chests from the game, a special poster, collectible ID and other bonus items. Gamers who pre-order any version (including the regular one) are granted membership to the Borderlands 2 Premiere Club, which includes some very useful in-game capabilities including a Vault Hunter's Relic that boosts the gear-hunting ability, a Golden Key that unlocks a rare item in the Sanctuary, a free DL for the new Mechromancer character class, and a collection of "Golden Guns" in-game to help you kick ass -- taking names is strictly optional.

-- A New Story on an Old World --

The hands-on demo that we played at E3 required two players in order to complete it -- but that is what Interns are for, right? Right! The level that was put up for us to play was called "Opportunity Zero" and it involved destroying a set of statues located throughout the large plaza areas (among other things) but we quickly discovered that even with MacGuyver-like skills we could not simply walk up to each statue and shoot it because while our weapons certainly did a nice job on the beasties who got in our way, they were not very useful at killing statues!

Fortunately there were these robots we could get to come and destroy the statues for us, and we did do that, but in the process we were given a taste of the dynamic game play. While getting the robot with its laser to attack the statues was not that complicated, keeping it alive was, as the waves of attacking enemies targets the robot rather than targeting us -- they knew what was important it seemed, and waving our naked butt at them was simply not enough to deter them from attacking our bots. Well, perhaps it was enough to deter some of them, because we did get shot at, but during the statue-destruction phase we spent a lot of time sniping at attackers and running through the area with our assault-weapon type weapons and killing en mass.

It is fair to say that the hands-on play that we experienced at E3 was sufficient to convince us that this new offering in the Borderlands series will be every bit as engaging and fun as the original was, but perhaps in different ways. The new game is set in a time a few years after the events of the first game and it reveals a Pandora that is in the grip of a conglomerate called the Hyperion Corporation that has landed on the planet and seems intent upon securing all of Pandora's riches for itself. To facilitate this its spokesman is one Handsome Jack, who it seems has taken credit for the success that we had in the previous game, and made himself out to be something of a hero... His present duty seems to be to drive off the players -- who are now known collectively as "Vault Hunters" -- and he does a pretty good job of telling you how lame he thinks you are (it seems he has our phone number, and he is not shy about ringing us up and being snide).

If you got the impression from the above that Borderlands 2 is geared towards co-op play, you are getting the right idea. We are assured that it can be played solo, but our hosts suggested that as entertaining as the game is to play alone, it really shines when you get together with three of your mates, who can drop-in and drop-out online, and play it cooperatively, because the rewards for doing so are marked and significant -- whatever that means. The co-op options for Borderlands 2 include up to three players joining in online, or local split-screen play for two players on your console that ALSO allows up to two of your friends online to drop-in and join your local splitscreen session! Very spiffy indeed.

Whenever a sequel is being made for an established popular AAA game there is always the risk that it will only be a recycled play of the previous game, or worse, that it will be a soulless caricature of the original -- Borderlands 2 has proven to be anything but that, and in addition to getting two-thumbs-up from your GU reporters, it is now officially on our list of "God Please Launch Soon!" games.

Borderlands 2 is being developed by Gearbox Software and published by 2K Games with versions for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Windows PC. It is set to launch on September 18th, 2012, and has been rated M (for Mature) by the ESRB, and given a PEGI 18 rating by the Pan European Game Information center. The bog standard edition has an MSRP of $59.99 US, while the Borderlands 2 Deluxe Vault Hunter Collector's Edition has an MSRP of $99.99 US. The Ultimate Loot Chest Limited Edition has an MSRP of $149.99 US, but good luck finding a retailer who has not sold out of their allotment of pre-order copies.