Heading into a preview for the sequel to arguably one of this generation’s best games is no easy task. The thing is, whenever you go into one of these demos, you need to try your very best to check your fandom at the door. Unfortunately for me, I found that it was nearly impossible to do that with Borderlands 2 as it manages to take everything you (and I) loved from the first game and take things up another level.
I had a chance to spend about two hours with the follow up from Gearbox and can now say with confidence that it stands as a testament that this team knows their audience and their craft. Read on for my full preview.
Right out of the gate, the first thing that stands out is just how good everything looks. Obviously the cell shaded style from the original returns here but all of the colors and wide open environments make things feel brand new all over again.
We had the chance to check out two very distinct locales. The first was “Wild Life Preservation” — a wide open area filled with lush grass and flowing waterways. The second was “Caustic Caverns” which features rocky land masses connected through natural bridges surrounded by — wouldn’t you know it — caustic substances.
The game takes place five years after the events of its predecessor and picks up where the DLC left off. Characters like Roland and Mordecai are still around, except this time — from what I saw at this preview at least — it seems like they’re going to play more “bread crumb” roles that move the story along more than anything else. One part of our preview brought back another familiar face when we found ourselves on a quest to recover some (questionable) photos of Mad Moxxi, who wanted her pictures returned to her before they reached rival hands.
“Well this is definitely still Borderlands,” is what I said to my co-op (and website) partner Al when I read the names of some of the challenges that popped up on screen as I completed them. After amassing a cash total of 10,000 and saw “dolla dolla bill y’all” flash on the lower left part of my screen I couldn’t help but laugh at the random — yet very appropriate — Wu-Tang Clan reference thrown in. It shows that while this title can be — and for all intents and purpose still is — very much a core gamer experience, it manages to maintain its sense of humor. It’s a big reason why I enjoyed the first title and an added incentive to get behind this follow up.
Our demo featured characters that were already progressed up to level 20. Luckily this not only gave us access to some decent weapons but also a respectable amount of points to spend on our skill trees. At first, Al played as Salavador the Gunzerker and I played as Maya the Siren. This provided for a perfect tank/healer one-two punch. After taking a couple of minutes to beef up our characters, we were on our way.
While his Gunzerker relied on offense-heavy tactics, the Siren I played with was more of a support role. The skills that I spent my talent points not only helped to ensure my teammate’s safety, but also my own. As i worked my way down the skill tree initially, much of the healing was team oriented with skills such as shooting teammates to heal them. Then around half way down I started unlocking some that would positively impact me just for helping to heal Al. Its a nice touch that keeps players that use healers like Maya feel less like a babysitter and more of a contributor.
Also tied into the Siren’s skill set is her special phaselock ability. In the same breath as Biotics in Mass Effect, phaselocking allows you to put a targeted enemy in a floating state of suspended animation. It makes stronger adversaries easier targets and it also helps to level the playing field by allowing you to catch a breather from the more aggressive ones.
During the more tense moments in my demo I found myself using phaselock more often to set aside certain enemies rather than applying it to highlight them. Though using it the other way around wouldn’t be a poor strategy either, especially as you work your way down the skill tree; you’ll eventually unlock an ability that allows teammates to heal from shooting enemies that are in a phaselocked state.
For the second segment of our demo we switched roles (well, at least I did) and I spent some time of my own with Salvador. The best way to describe the Gunzerker would be “like throwing a bowling ball in a china shop.” It’s clearly evident from a quick glance at his “rampage” skill tree that the character is designed to clean house.
Salvador’s special gunzerker ability allows him to dual-wield weapons. In the same vein as Maya, working your way down his skill trees will enhance everything about this special ability. To give you an idea about how this works, about halfway down the rampage skill tree you’re rewarded with a skill that — as long as you continue shooting things — you’ll remain in gunzerker mode. In other words, the more enemies there are, the better your chances that you’re non stop dual-wielding the entire time.