Borderlands 2 Hands-On Preview: A Brief Visit Back to Pandora

The one thing I was looking forward to the most at PAX East was getting my hands on Borderlands 2… and I was not in the least bit disappointed by anything other than the amount of playtime I got. I could have stayed there for hours if they had let me. As it was, we had barely enough time to assign our skill points in our tree and get acclimated to the guns, before we ran around as much as we possibly could, wreaking havoc in a shiny new Pandora. Read on to find out what’s new in the Siren class, how the new guns feel, and why I can’t wait for September 18.

Platforms: PC (Version Played), PS3, Xbox 360
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Gearbox Software
Genre: First Person Looter
Release Date: September 18, 2012
ESRB Rating: Rating Pending

The game was set up so that you could play in pairs, one person as Salvador the Gunzerker and the other person as Maya the Siren. Having already logged over 80 hours as Lilith the Siren in Borderlands, I was eager to see what they’d changed about her class. The answer: a lot.

We got to play in an area called the “Caustic Caverns,” and it definitely lived up to its name. Filled with acid pools and monsters shooting acid, the terrain was… well… pretty caustic. But what threw me into an immediate panic was that we got to play the characters at level 20, and we had 15 skill points to assign. Considering the fact that I often agonize over one or two skill points, throwing me into a brand new game with so many skill points sent my brain straight to overload.

With 15 minutes to go, I hit the Select button, scrolled over to the Skill Tree, and immediately fell in love. The user interface is much slicker in the sequel, with the Skill Tree branching out in 3D in three different sections that you can cycle through instead of just being a straight, flat layout.

I assigned my points, deciding to experiment with the new healing options that the Siren has, as well as maxing out as many damage bonuses as I could. Regenerate the health of me and my allies while I have an enemy Phaselocked? Don’t mind if I do. Just like in the first game, assigning a certain number of points unlocks later abilities in the tree. Once I was done being overwhelmed by all my new options, I got to work.

First thing is first: the guns feel great. Reloading is fast and smooth, aiming with the sights works better than ever before, and shooting is less cartoony and more realistic… meaning the recoil is now far more obvious than it was before. Jumping still has that same floaty quality, like the gravity is just slightly less here on Pandora. Some of the buttons have been changed a bit, but for the most part, the control scheme is exactly the same as the first game. And instead of hitting a button to pick up items, money and ammo are automatically picked up, while guns and shields must be grabbed manually.

As I was shooting the enemies, it was clear that some of them had resistance to corrosive weapons, so I started switching my guns out and trying them all. I shot off round after round, tearing through the enemies and exploding some barrels for good measure. Barrels now have a lifebar as well, so you can tell when they’re about to wreak havoc on enemies and allies.

The enemies we were fighting against were Larval Harkids, and they were spawning out of gross-looking hives. The hives themselves, like the Skag dens from the previous game, were impervious to damage, but it was cool watching the creatures crawl and fly out. After fighting off some enemies, I decided to try out my Phaselock, which lifts an enemy into the air, making it easier for you and your allies to attack them. It reminded me of Paxton Fettel from F.E.A.R. 3 and his ability to lift enemies into the air so Point Man could pick them off.

Then we were up against some pretty big monsters, giant three-legged creatures that came towards us through the acid pools and shot corrosive material at us. They had crystals around their legs, and shooting off these crystals did two things: 1) allowed you to collect them, and 2) opened up a place to give them critical damage. This was important, because shooting them anywhere else did no damage at all. So I ran around killing the creatures and harvesting their leg crystals, completely sucked back into the world of Pandora and enjoying every second of it.

One thing I noticed was that when I went near Sal, a prompt popped up that just said “Trade Disabled.” This caused me to freak out, because it means no more chucking items on the ground when you want to trade with a person. Things just got a lot less complicated and a lot more awesome in the world of Borderlands. They’ve taken so many things that were monotonous – like picking up money and ammo, or tediously going through your stuff and throwing it at a person to trade with them – and made it far more streamlined. Gearbox definitely knows what they’re doing on this one.

The animations have gotten much smoother as well. The creatures that took ongoing acid damage were melting; the crystals growing back on the leg of the three-legged monster grew in seamlessly. Everything is much crisper and clearer, though it’s still got all of its cel-shaded charm. The reload animations are very quick and clean, too. Also cool is the animation that happens when you die and re-spawn, bringing on a much more cyberpunk feel of being decompressed and recreated through a machine.

Another interesting change is that you can now move around when you’re “fighting for your life,” which is your chance to get a “second wind” and get back up again after you’ve gone down. You can move around on your knees instead of spinning around, trying to find an enemy within your line of fire to kill.

The map is smaller but crisper, and the enemies are far more obvious on the map now, coming up as giant red diamonds. I hit a point where I was fighting some tentacle monsters, “Threshers,” which had big bulbs to aim at. When they hit me with their tentacles, a cheesy slash went across the screen. There’s also an effect when you get shot with something – the screen seems to get covered with it. I’m not in love with these animations, but hopefully they’ll grow on me.

After finding my first chest (woo!), I ran into some monsters that were fighting each other. This created a cool dynamic, allowing me to let them fight one another while I took some shots at the monster that was more dangerous to me. The implication here is that you can lure monsters to other monsters in order to get them to fight each other, creating a level of strategy Borderlands has never seen. Oh, and your characters still shout out their signature phrases – so far, all I heard Maya say was “Got somethin’ for ya!” and, when I second winded, “It wasn’t my time!” It made me nostalgic for all the hours I’d spent with Lilith.

After finding some cool shields, including a Spiked Shield (perhaps it does damage when you get hit with a melee?), my 15 minutes was up. I spent way too much time running around aimlessly, shooting my guns off, killing monsters, and checking out the user interface in the game. I hadn’t gotten anywhere near my objective, that elusive blinking diamond on the map. But it didn’t matter, because I had a blast just running around on this new Pandora.

Borderlands 2 comes out on September 18th for PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. Gearbox also announced the collector’s edition at PAX East, saying it would be made to look like a loot box, and that it would come with a Marcus bobblehead. More details on that and the new character, the Mechromancer, can be found here. All I have to say is: September can’t come soon enough.

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Nicole Kline is Warp Zoned's Senior Editor. She first began preparing for the job by climbing a milk crate to play Centipede in an arcade. You can find her on PSN under the name toitle or you can email her at nicole AT warpzoned DOT com.

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