Gamescom 2011: Borderlands 2 preview

Gamescom 2011 was Gearbox Software’s first real occasion to show off Borderlands 2. The game was outted by Eurogamer prior to Gamescom, but that did very little to quell the excitement amongst those attending the press preview sessions during this year’s show.

2K didn’t muck about when showing off their upcoming titles. Their preview rooms were more like mini cinemas than the poky little prefab nooks that other publishers utilised. In a darkened room that had been plastered with Borderlands 2 artwork, we ensconced ourselves on huge leather armchairs and said hello to what will be one of 2013’s most anticipated titles.

Yes, Borderlands 2 is still quite some time away and has a projected release of fiscal year 2013 according to Gearbox Software’s Steve Gibson. He also told us that work on Borderlands 2 began back in 2009 once 2K gave them the green light thanks to the stellar reception of the first game. However, Gibson insisted throughout the presentation that Borderlands 2 is not going to be your typical cash-in sequel, and that Gearbox has been busting their balls to create a sequel that not only retains what made the first game such a hit, but expands on those elements that gamers loved the most.

The game takes place five years after the events of the first, and will feature four new characters to choose from. Throughout our live demo we witnessed some single-player action with the new Gunzerker character class: a dwarf whose special ability is dual wielding any two guns in the game. We were also introduced to a second character, the new Siren for Borderlands 2 called Maya. Gibson explained that there are many Sirens in the Borderlands universe and that each of them has a unique ability; Lilith’s was her Phasewalk ability, but Maya’s is staying under wraps for now.

Enemy AI and world interaction has seen a serious overhaul from the first game. While the initial Borderlands had pleasing combat, it quite often felt a little hollow; enemies would stand taking damage as dozens of numbers spewed out of their failing bodies and there was little more to it than that. What struck me the most during our Borderlands 2 demonstration was just how much more cinematic and unpredictable combat had become. Enemies now react to bullets; they get wounded, they limp, they retreat and they seek cover and ways to flank you. In some instances there will be a boss character barking orders throughout the conflict; silencing him sends the remaining enemies into disarray. Enemies will climb crates, vault boxes and try their hardest to out-move you and make your life as difficult (and short) as possible.

Generally, encounters with enemies are more dynamic. We witnessed the player taking on a new enemy type called a “Nomad Torturer”. The encounter was almost like a mini boss fight, and the oversized bandit had a giant riot shield with a bandit Midget chained to the front. The Midget, for obvious reasons, was not thrilled to be there; shooting the chains that bound him in place allowed the little guy to escape and turn on his captor. His attempt at revenge was valiant but nonetheless futile; still, he was a good distraction that allowed the player to empty clips into the Torturer without fear of retaliation.

Speaking of clips, what would a Borderlands game be without guns? Gibson confirmed that the sequel will feature even more weapons than the first game’s ludicrous amount of seventeen million plus. What’s more, each weapons manufacturer will have a specific “theme”. For example: manufacturer TDR is the disposable guns manufacturer; instead of reloading your TDR weapon, you just throw it away and a new one materialises in your hands. Aim correctly and your discarded weapon could hit an enemy in the face, stunning it for a moment. Alternatively the new Bandit Weapons are homemade guns put together by, you guessed it, the various bandit factions in the game. Their theme is tons of bullets, so any Bandit Weapon you find will look as if it’s held together with chewing gum and duct tape, but it will hold a bazillion bullets per clip.

Borderlands 2 will feature more cinematics during missions and there’s definitely a renewed interest in story telling during the quests. What’s more, mini cutscenes are used to introduce new enemy types – a purely aesthetic but welcomed addition as you get a chance to see what you’re about to perforate.

What we saw of Borderlands 2 looked incredibly promising; it was that right mix of innovation and staple that sets the good sequels apart from the cash-in types. Of course, there’s more to look forward to including revamped vehicle physics; better quest eligibility in co-op modes and a truly open world (no more artificial boundaries like turrets that kill you for moving too far away from the playing area – if you can see the destination in the distance, you can walk there).

There’s still a long way to go before we get to return to Pandora in Borderlands 2 but for fans of the first game (of which there are millions) you’ve got a lot to be excited about.