Bigger. Badder. Stronger. More absorbent. These are the words that Gearbox are likely living by when it comes to developing Borderlands 2. Well, except maybe the last one.
Rewriting the Pandora playbook, the studio is not, opting instead to better emphasise the strengths of the surprise RPG-FPS hybrid hit while mitigating the aspects that caused frustration.
And you know what? More of the same is okay here. When you consider that the original Borderlands
was such a breath of fresh air in an industry full of super-serious shooters and predictable Japanese RPGs, there’s really no reason for Randy Pitchford and Friends to re-imagine the brand just yet. Not when there’s so many weird and wacky creatures and areas to explore on the forsaken planet Pandora, anyway.
You play as a mercenary-for-hire, on a supposed paradise that in reality is half Mad Max
in its desert-raider fare and half Ferngully
with military corporations muscling in and sapping the environment of its resources. The difference here of course, is that the wildlife here are full of creatures - mutant and otherwise - who’ll quite happily rip your head off if you’re not careful.
But your concern isn’t for the planet or the gangs that mark their territory around Pandora - you just care about the wonga, and other assorted legendary treasures. In the original Borderlands
, you did this by receiving missions from either NPCs or mission posts, which you then had to return to once your current merc objective was completed. In Borderlands 2
, things have changed fundamentally on that front.
Campaign missions now form part of one big, consistent gameplay stream. You might have to meet up with the odd NPC now and then, but as you accomplish certain challenges your rewards will be sent to you automatically, and new missions become available right away. No checking in, no backtracking, no mess. It’s elegant, and keeps the action going at a rather nice pace. As the demo I played only really involved major campaign objectives, the question of whether side-quests will be offered in a similar fashion remains open.
Because of this new mission flow, objectives seem to be more varied and exciting as well. A lot of the quests in Borderlands 1
involved running out, killing some dudes, maybe collecting something, then returning to check in, where a new area would open and you could travel there to repeat the process elsewhere.
In Borderlands 2
’s Wildlife Preserve area, I had to find a way into a nearby facility. To get in, I had to attack the nearby Loader mechs without outright killing them, so the service repair droids would open the front gate to arrive to their aid. It resulted in a challenging firefight, but it also highlighted interesting way of presenting objectives. I hope Gearbox has some more original mission objectives like this up its collective sleeve.
Collecting items has also become less of a chore. Most of my playtime in Borderlands 1
was spent looking at the ground, pilfering for stray loot to snatch. In the sequel, your character hoovers up any dropped cash and useful items automatically. If you have maximum health or ammo, they’re simply left on the ground. Certain weapons still need to be picked up, to give you a chance to determine their stats and whether they’re worth lugging around with you.
Any items you do collect can be used in an interesting new way - to bet. If you’re playing a co-op game, you can initiate a duel by slapping your partner about a bit with fisticuffs. You can put an item on the table for the victor to collect. Or, you can just beat the crap out of one another for shits and giggles. I mostly did the latter. It was fun.
The enemies on show here seem to be an intriguing mix of organic and mechanical persuasion. While the Raiders and Skags of the previous Borderlands
game make a charming re-appearance, you also have a large number of robotic foes to take care of in your new quest. Ironically, the Wildlife Preserve area seems to be top-heavy on the mechs, and they pack quite a punch - particularly the Badass ones with huge rocket launchers.
There are some mean indigenous baddies in the surrounding area too. Stalkers, in particular, are like grounded dragons that can turn invisible at will and travel from place to place in order to confuse you. Their vomiting energy blasts are quite deadly, and there’s a huge variety of them - from poisonous ones to fiery ones to creepy ones that come out at night. Mostly.
Despite the familiarity, there have been some notable improvements in the core Borderlands
experience. It’s all been streamlined so that little annoyances have been practically squashed, and the action cranked up a notch to compensate (as if we’d miss annoying things, bless Gearbox). It’s looking absolutely gorgeous, with the cel-shaded art style and colourful settings really striking on the eyes.
This is looking like a sequel with care and attention lavished all over it - it won’t be long before we’re all getting reacquainted with Pandora again come September.