Hands on impressions of Borderlands 2 (plus: the Mecromancer and more)


If you’re a Borderlands fan at all, you’re going to want to sit down. Operating heavy machinery? Stop immediately. Pregnant or breastfeeding? Well, keep doing that, and congratulations on the new addition! Everything that follows is what we found out at PAX East 2012 about Borderlands 2. It’s the info you asked us to find out about and info we’ve found from other sources all bundled up into one tight package.

PS: we also recorded a 10 minute interview with Scott Kester, the lead character designer for the series, that we’ll be posting either tomorrow or the next day.

Ready vault-hunters? Let’s do this.

GDP hands on of Borderlands 2

Borderlands 2, Caustic Caves

The game began with me pairing up with another media reviewer, her on another TV choosing Maya and me, Salvador (the only two options available in the build) on mine. She was in charge of the starting the multiplayer game and while I was waiting, I watched my character survey the land before him as though he was standing on a cliff. While standing there, I was able to use the right stick to cause the camera to slowly circle around him.

The game loads much the same way that it always has, but the loading sequence seems much shinier and boxier. Instead of going through some sort of slipstream, it feels like you’re being recreated digitally. We hit Pandora exploring the Caustic Caves, basically a polluted or acid-based world, similar in vein to the elemental-based “Shock Caverns” area found in the first game. The caves are filled with pools and lakes of yellow/green acid and filled with creatures that feel like an evolutionary extension of the spiderants from the first game.

I right away took off into the world, blasting away and picking up ammo, guns, and loot as you would in the first game. After the first skirmish came our first real challenge. In my opinion the original Borderlands game I think that the really challenging enemies were badass ones or bosses while the others were just fodder. Elemental effects to their attacks aside, the Borderlands 1 enemies were bullet sponges and the way to kill them was to saturate them with so much lead they couldn’t absorb anything else. In the demo, the second enemy type we met, three legged versions of the spiderants with yellow plating covering their legs, caused us to thinking differently about how we fought enemies. With those guys, you need to shoot the plating off of each leg. The challenge is that there are three legs so you need to get around the enemy to make sure you get all the legs’ plating off. With two players it’s relatively easy – one person draws the aggro and the other person gets in there and does the job. We needed to do that about three or four different times on each of them before they went down.

We then encountered flying spiderant variants that move much, much faster than the Rakk in the first game. They actually reminded me of Drones from the Halo series in the way that they could fly and stick to walls and ceilings. Those guys move faster than the default look controls allow you to follow so you’ll either have to dial things up, adapt to fighting them better, or deal with it.

The third enemy type is a sort of whack-a-mole squid that can burrow underground and set up runner/tentacles that you can destroy. They’re tough because they can vanish, pop up and attack you. You can definitely see where they’re burrowing to, but when there are a bunch onscreen it’s easy to lose sight of them (mostly because there are like 4 burrow lines). As with all enemies, these guys were appearing with shock capabilities, acid, and more. One of them could use a power that was like Maya’s: it would summon an orb and draw us right up close and deal lots of damage. I did have to revive my teammate once when this happened.

Enemy-wise, my biggest takeaway is that things are much different on Pandora now: eight enemies no longer come out of the ground, you kill them, and you move on. In the first game, there were two basic enemy types: ground and air. Now you’re beset by many different types of baddies, each with a different strategy on how to defeat them, and I found myself actually moving through the game slower so that I could figure out where I was going to be attacked from.

Near the end of the playthrough my character leveled up and I was encouraged by the media handler there to open up my submenu and purchase some skills. We didn’t have enough time to fully explore that system sadly, plus there so many skills to purchase that it was a bit overwhelming. I was told afterwards (this might be an exclusive, who knows) about two skills Salvador has in the current build of the game.

One is called Come at Me Bro and restores Salvador to full health, boosts damage reduction, and makes enemies focus on him by way of a taunt. Cooler still is the other one we heard about (it wasn’t named) that is designed to reward gameplay. We were told that in testing, they noticed that some players shoot their guns and instead of reloading they just switch to the next gun. This passive power of Salvador’s rewards that style of play by causing all of the weapons you’re carrying in your pack to reload automatically when you get a critical with your current one. Imagine switching out from your current gun to a new one and instead of having to reload it when you do, it’s already been done. It’s a cool idea and makes me excited about what else Gearbox has done to not only make characters more powerful in the traditional method (ie: level up, do more damage), but also rewarding different types of play.

Visually, the game is really striking. This is going to sound weird, but it doesn’t feel as “dirty” at the previous one. By that I mean that what Gearbox has said is true, that the artists discovered more colours than brown. The new colours of enemies, pools of acid, environments, etc. can make the game look intense: and even moreso during the thick of combat. I found myself shooting at things I thought were enemies during combat only to find out they weren’t. Not all the time, but once in a while.

My takeaway from the short demo is that  there is more polish in Borderlands 2 than Borderlands 1. From enemies having strategies and patterns, to a landscape that feels more vibrant, to new skills (with awesome names like Sexual Tyrannosaurus), Borderlands 2 seems to be taking the original game that I loved and adding a layer of frosting to an already great angelfood cake.

A couple extra thoughts:

  • While traveling, I was searching for ammo to take out the enemies and opened a Dahl crate. A spiderant enemy popped out. I don’t remember chests containing traps like that in the first game.
  • Some creatures can drop pods that spit out other enemies, adding another layer of strategy. Do you deal with what you’re fighting now or take out the pods to stop another one from arriving? Also, the duration that the pod is in play has an effect on how powerful the creature is that comes out of it. The longer it takes you to get rid of it, the more powerful the creature is.
  • Even within a single area, the landscape can be very diverse. You go through small, hive-like caves, open areas, and vast caverns surrounded by machinery, to name a few. I loved the diversity – it added to the overall dynamic feeling of a level that wasn’t the same all the time.

Skinning

Billions of skins

Now characters in Borderlands 2 will be more customizable than ever before! That’s because in addition to enemies dropping weapons and other gear, they’ll also be dropping textures and models for your character to wear, allowing you to make your Borderlands 2 experiences truly unique. Some items, like weapons, will be rare and will only drop after you defeat extremely tough foes. I found a site called TLQ Gaming who has more on this feature, and photos from the Gearbox session where they described the feature in detail.

New class: the Mecromancer

The Mecromancer is a brand new female character class revealed at PAX East that controls a a giant menacing robot called DE74 TP (Deathtrap). Gearbox’s plan is to have the Mecromancer available within 60 to 90 days of the launch of Borderlands 2. No word at all on price (I’ve read rumours that the character will be free for day-one activators, but don’t put too much faith in that), or powers for that matter, but it should be arriving soon. When we know, you’ll know right away.

What’s interesting about this character class is that it seems possible for Borderlands 2 to add other characters to the game as possible DLC in the future and that they’re not locked into the same four all the time. Of course we shouldn’t expect to see new characters once a week, but the possibility to add a new one every quarter or something is a pretty cool premise.

Collector’s package

Borderlands 2 collector's chest

Photo courtesy Kotaku

Have you preordered Borderlands 2 yet? No? Good – ’cause if you’re a true fan, we’ve got news for you. Gearbox has announced two collector’s edition tiers for the game, a $99 package that nets you a Marcus Kinkaid bobblehead doll with the game and a $160 collector’s edition package that gives you a slew of goodies, all contained within this amazing replica of the weapon chests found in-game. The exact details of the content will be announced as the game gets closer to launch.