One of the biggest games on the expo floor this year was Borderlands 2, and with the huge booth setup, the folks at 2K ensured that there was no way you could miss this game. Being an avid player (and fan) of the first, I was expecting great things from the next installment, and finally got a chance to put the game through its paces on Sunday. Watching the game was one thing, but how did it play?
There were 2 classes available to play as at PAX: the Gunzerker, which is one of the new classes featured whose biggest draw is the ability to dual wield guns, and the Siren, a returning class from the first that has a few new tricks up her sleeve. Wanting to stick with what I was familiar with (and more importantly, having a basis to compare between the two games), I opted for the Siren for my brief playthrough.
The demo got things going right away, thrusting you and your 20th level character into an area filled with acid pools and huge creatures spouting from the ground. I tried to take a moment to go through the skills available to me, but knowing my time was short, I placed my skill points (only 15 skill points for being 20 levels in) in spots I thought would be useful for quick damage. I did notice that there were some new skill boosts, including the ability to slag enemies, which is a debuff that will make the enemies take more damage. There were also the traditional boosts, such as critical damage and % boosts, shield boosts, and bullet damage boosts. The skill tree itself has expanded a little; you still have the 3 main groups of skills per character, and there is still requirement of picking up 5 skillpoints on one level of the group before moving down to the next, more powerful level. However, there are now several more skills at the bottom of the tree, expanding the Siren’s number of levels in a group to 6 (versus 4 in the first).
Once I had my skills picked (critical boosts, shield boosts, and teammate healing bullets), I ran into the fray, with a few SMGs and an assault rifle. The controls were immediately familiar; I did not notice any real change in the control layout from the first. In fact, if I had to give an overall impression of the demo in one sentence, it would be “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.” The graphics felt crisper and a bit more detailed, particularly on the character models, and the skills are new, but otherwise this is the Borderlands we all fell in love with, with new toys, characters, and skills. When encountering my first batch of baddies, I had a chance to see the Siren’s new skill, which levitated the creature in suspended animation for a short duration, completely immobilizing it, and increasing the damage it took during this time. This skill worked on every creature I came across except for the big baddie at the end, which just took direct damage from the skill, but did not become immobile.
The creatures I encountered were various varieties of tunneling snake creatures (I believe called Stalkers), flying bugs and crystalline spiders, who were invulnerable to all damage until you broke through their regenerative crystal armor (something that took me far longer than it should have to realize). Creatures spilled loot, gold and ammo all over the place, as expected. A nice new touch was that the money was automatically picked up if you weren’t in direct combat, which made the fury of X button mashing a little less necessary.
Some other changes included considerably more on screen effects; getting hit with acid damage could, at times, complete cover your screen, rendering it impossible to see anything for a few moments. I felt that this really forced you to be evasive for more than just avoiding damage, as it was a severely debilitating effect. Also, revive times seemed much slower: the few times my Gunzerker partner went down, I would get halfway through a revive (after about 5 or 6 seconds) before either having to back off, or getting dropped myself. The AI on the enemies seemed to be much more aggressive towards people reviving others. Of course, the ability for Second Wind carries over, so if you manage to kill something (or, as I found out, level up while downed), you will get back up. As I played, I was unlocking all sorts of challenges, and your progress towards those challenges is flashed on the screen as you perform them, keeping you engaged with those activities. A new persistent mini-map in the top right corner also helped keep me focused on where I was supposed to be going. This map highlighted nearby enemies and nearby terrain, as well as waypoint and mission markers. Finally, you have the ability to trade directly with other players, which is an improvement over the “drop guns on the ground” method of item distribution in the original. Absent from this demo was any character interaction, so I can’t comment on whether the trademark humor from the first carried over, but based on how much attention was put into keeping things familiar, I’d be shocked if it didn’t (there were a few character quips during battle that seemed to indicate the level of humor is on par with the first).
I didn’t really have a doubt that I’d be picking this game up when it came out (September 18th for PS3, Xbox 360 and PC). It seems that whatever small issues there were from the first game (lack of trading or mini-map) were addressed, and the rest of the game is as fluid, beautiful, and deadly as ever. If you were looking for something revolutionary and different from the first, you may want to wait until we get closer to release for more information; based on my playthrough, this is very similar to the first in a lot of ways (something I’m personally happy for, but which might not appeal to everyone). Regardless, I think there will be no shortage to the slaughter in Pandora this fall, so check back with Platform Nation for more information about Borderlands 2 throughout the next 5 months.