Gearbox show they’re about more than just loot.
There’s a fair amount of trepidation surrounding sequels. This year’s E3 was a fine example of it, with some franchises reaching their fifth iteration despite boasting little real change to their predecessors. Some publishers are a bit more liable to take advantage of fan loyalty than others, usually due to an unquenchable thirst for profit.
None of this chatter is applicable to Borderlands 2 though. The latest cheeky and colourful looter shooter from Gearbox doesn’t exist to merely pad out the margins of 2K, instead it’s been created from the ground-up to improve, expand and add to the experience you lost hundreds of hours to back in 2009 and here’s a little warning for you, you’re going to lose hundreds of hours more!
During our hands-on session we rolled out as a level 25 Commando, an all-round proficient character in combat with one key difference – he can chuck out an upgradable auto-targeting turret. In the first Borderlands turrets were bloody annoying, halting your progression as you entered a new area or crippling your vehicle when you got too cocky, but now these babies were under our control. Well, at least one of them was, it could be thrown out at any time but the ability needed several moments to recharge after your computerised gun of death was finished dishing out bullets by the dozen, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Rather than dropping us into a mission off the bat, Gearbox spawned our version of Axton into the town of Sanctuary. Unlike the stale settlements players were usually met with in the previous game, Sanctuary was bustling with NPC’s meandering around, and actually created the impression of being quite large and alive. It was hard not to get a RAGE-vibe from the town, as guards spoke one-liners while standing next to weapon or ammo vending machines which lined the relatively open pathways. One vending machine looked out of place though, an all new neon rectangular cube allowed our version of Axton to be customised with new clothes, skins, hats, helmets etc. – all with cleverly punned titles. In addition to this functionality there was also a newspaper vendor who cast out audio logs starring roving reporter Hunter Hellquist, voiced by a certain Randy Pitchford.
It’s strange really as even though the town was a significant step up from the areas seen in the last game it still felt familiar. Marcus was still tormenting customers who wanted a refund in his gun shop and Claptrap was still mulling around erratically spouting nonsense. As one of the few Borderlands fans who isn’t actually sure whether they like the triangular tin-can mascot or find him annoying, it was actually pretty satisfying to come across the blighter.
Humour is still very much a key component of the Borderlands experience, with one easy sidequest involving Claptrap giving us a long list of items to go and hunt down, only for the helpful quest market to reveal that they’re stashed in a locker not five yards away. Silly quests like these may or may not make you chuckle, but the moment served a purpose – to reveal the location of the settlement’s storage locker which allows a player to share any loot they find with all their different characters from different playthroughs. It would be easy to just tell the player this in no uncertain terms, “Here is your item bank,” but where’s the whimsy in that?
Comedy was absolutely the theme our preview session with Roland and Lilith telling our version of Axton, now kitted out in garb which made him look as though he’d just stepped out of Red Faction, about an ancient vault that holds an Eridian warrior which could potentially enslave Pandora if it ever fell into the wrong hands, like say, Candle Jack’s. Hearing Lilith’s cocksure rhetoric bouncing off Roland’s simplistic marine logic boasted lots of character and actually made the discussion interesting. For a game all about loot, a surprising amount of attention has been paid to story development, interesting dialogue and character evolution. These important touches are vital to any single-player campaign to stay interesting throughout its running time and again the story implementation is a big step up from the first game which used its loot mechanics to excuse a complete lack of plot.
Anyway the bantering twosome told us that we needed to head north to meet Mordecai, Borderland’s playable Hunter character, who has since become an NPC member of the Resistance faction. We exited the town-hub and finally got to experience some good old fashioned shooting.
The snap of the weapons and the satisfying enemy animations make Borderland 2′s combat just as satisfying as its predecessor, with random loot goodies joyfully leaping out of corpses and the Sabre Turret granting regular helpings of XP as it cut through the enemy riff-raff. Despite the introduction of that slaughter device, the central shooting formula hasn’t really changed much, nor have the separate attack modifiers with players able to coat their foes in green toxic goo, cast them in ice, or set fire to them for damage increases and different effects. Everything felt tight, with our hero required to set fire to the creepy crawly Larval Varkid enemies to awaken the sleeping Mordecai, who was literally hanging off the side of a nearby building nursing an ungodly hangover from the night before. Again another character detail that doesn’t really need to be there, but it’s a detail fans of the first game will relish almost as much as the reappearance of Mordecai’s Bloodwing Bird ally.
Tags: Borderlands 2
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