Borderlands 2 Hands-On Preview

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In the spring of 2012 we sent Game On correspondent Alex Rubens on a sucide mission to PAX East in Boston. Not only did he manage to make it back alive, he also played some games while he was there. These are his stories.

In 2009, no one was expecting the biggest game of the year to be a loot-focused shooter from the Brothers In Arms guys. Borderlands came out of nowhere and did everything right: four player drop-in/drop-out co-op, a fantastic loot system, and a totally competent leveling system. There wasn’t much that needed changing for a sequel and even if there was, I don’t think anyone really cared; they just wanted more Borderlands.

In my 30 minutes with it at the show, I was given free roam to do as I wished, meaning that there was probably a story mission somewhere but I ran around and shot things for 30 minutes. Two of the four playable characters were available to choose from: Salvador the Gunzerker and Maya the Siren. I chose the Gunzerker because it fit best with what I played through the original Borderlands as, plus how could I not play as something called the Gunzerker that looks like Ronnie from Jersey Shore.

Each character has a revamped skill tree that is a big improvement over those in the first game. The skill positions are remapped so that players unlock more skills in the lower levels and fewer, more powerful skill in the higher levels. This will certainly work out better that the old system and leave new players less frustrated by slow skill progression at early levels. Most of the skills had fun names that showed that Gearbox hasn’t let their sense of humor get away from them, like “I’m all out of bubble gum” and “Come at me bro!”.

As a Gunzerker, Salvador’s unique action skill lets him dual-wield two of his weapons for a short period. This takes away your ability to look down the weapon’s sights, but allows you to pair together combinations of weapon abilities and modifiers (having one gun shooting flame bullets and another shooting poison bullets is a deadly combination). I found this to be even more appealing than it originally seemed as there weren’t any restrictions on what weapons could be used with this skill, so it left me open to pair together different weapon combinations and see what I could get out of it.

As I ran around Pandora, I encountered all sorts of new enemies and weapons that felt right at home in the Borderlands universe. They felt so perfect that I had a moment of doubt wondering if they had been there all along and that I had somehow missed them. I encountered two enemy types that are new to Borderlands 2, Threshers (underground creatures that burrow around and surface for an attack) and the Crystalisk (large creatures that have crystals on pivotal body parts, such as their knees which are an unsurprising weak point), and each one felt extremely creative and well balanced. These weren’t the only enemies attacking me though, Handsome Jack’s robots spent plenty of time trying to cut me to pieces.

Sure, most of time with Borderlands 2 was spent running around and shooting things, but then again, isn’t that what it’s all about? I can’t wait until we’re able to get our hands on the other two classes and see how the different play styles balance out over four player co-op. The most comforting part of Borderlands 2 so far is the relief that it’s still fundamentally Borderlands, nothing has changed that and I don’t think anything could. We’ll be following along with fans as more information is released as we approach the Borderlands 2 September 2012 release date.

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