Borderlands 2 is one of those sequels that makes you feel kind of awkward. The good kind of awkward, mind. On the surface, everything looks exactly the same. But underneath that is a smattering of tweaks and new features that really help in keeping the experience fresh. I found this when playing through a new segment of the game last week that involved a crazy girl called Tiny Tina.
Even with this one small segment of Borderlands 2
, it felt like Gearbox had found its feet with the overall personality and feel of the planet Pandora, and was keen on being more adventurous with its inhabitants. The studio?s Chief Creative Officer, Brian Martel, agrees. ?Tiny Tina is definitely one of the more crazy-angled characters that we have in Borderlands 2
, but yeah we loved the tone and attitude of the first game and wanted to expand upon that.?
Martel then explains how Gearbox enlisted the help of Anthony Burch, who previously worked on the Duke Nukem Forever
promotional trailers and found prior success with his own comedy web shows, to work with the creative director of Borderlands 2
in creating a ?collaborative oneupmanship.? Essentially, the writers, the artists and the level designers all try to outdo each other in creating the crazy in Pandora.
?Tiny Tina, in particular... she just has this weird ?Alice in Wonderland
?, Tim Burton-style aspect to her which I think is a little bit out there," Martel told me.
?She?s a 13-year-old girl, been orphaned and has been left to survive on her own in this mad world, you can imagine how twisted you would become if that happened to you.?
Another element of the game world that I found incredibly interesting was in the advanced enemy design. You?ll remember in my preview that I mentioned insect-like creatures called Varkids that transform into cocoons if you faff about too much when trying to kill them. If you don?t destroy the cocoons, the Varkids will evolve into huge flying beasts that are tougher to kill and pack a meatier punch.
The new designs are down to Gearbox?s enemy designer, Ruben Cabrera. ?Ruben is a very creative and interesting guy,? muses Martel. ?He comes up with all these high level ideas - what he wants to enemies to do - and then goes through the entire team to see if those concepts are a match for the areas we?re creating for the game. He already knows where these baddies should go and how they work with the scenery around them.
?So for instance, there?s another enemy called the Goliath where, when you shoot his head off, he suddenly becomes this raging, Hulk-like monster. There are many enemies now which become bigger and harder if you don?t nail them quickly enough. That was just one of the ideas he had that helped make the world more interesting.?
Of course, part of the reason why Borderlands 2
feels much more engaging is that the level design appears to be tighter than the original. I?ve obviously not played enough to ascertain whether the big, expansive, empty areas from the first Borderlands
will return, but in Borderlands 2
?s Sanctuary area Gearbox definitely seems to be making better use of space.
Martel noted that the space concern was only really a problem when playing the original Borderlands
on your own, rather than as a pack of online co-op players. ?That was one of the constructive criticisms that we had from the first game - make sure it?s really fun and alive when playing by yourself. And I think we?ve listened and accomplished that. For instance, how we have the NPCs talk to you when playing, how the missions don?t just take you from A to B... we wrap each objective up into this long drawn-out narrative that gets you where you need to be in a way that?s entertaining and interesting.?
With two expansive, open-world role-playing shooter games almost in the can, how does Gearbox plan to expand the Borderlands
franchise in the future? It clearly has the cult status and the popularity to just run and run. But just how big can Pandora be? Well, Martel hints that the action doesn?t necessarily have to be on Pandora.
?There?s plenty more that we can do with Pandora, but it?s a big universe. We can obviously go off the planet - other places we could go and explore. But for now I think we?ll see some cool DLC packs after release that will explore Pandora some more, in a similar vein to what we did after the release of the first Borderlands
The kind of DLC that Gearbox is looking into right now includes the extra character known as the Necromancer. ?She is going to be very different than the other characters. We have her on paper design - now that we?re currently putting the game through certification we?re going to really be putting some attention on her and other DLCs. We?ll see where we can go from there.?
Could the next Borderlands
game potentially be headed for next-generation consoles, though? I ask Martel if he even sees a need for next-gen, given that Borderlands 2
looks as gorgeous as it does. It?s likely that future improvements to the series won?t have such a heavy focus on the graphical side of things. ?We will always be able to use more processing power and memory.
?I think, when we consider this generation and next generation gaming... the thing about Borderlands
is that it?s generation-agnostic. What you can see as we go forward is... we?re not trying to replicate reality. So in essence, the game is beautiful on any platform.
"There are decisions that we?ll make, based on whenever these new consoles land, that might be about other areas. We can put more effort into gameplay or something else that feels right for an RPS [Role-Playing Shooter]. We?ll see.?
Borderlands 2 is heading for a release on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC on 21st September.