After draining the life out of Borderlands 1, every single downloadable content and all, I've always had a sneaking suspicion that Gearbox would steal my heart with its sequel. But I don't think even I was prepared to be blown away by how much they've outdone themselves in the several demonstrations I've played so far.
Gearbox Software, the minds behind Borderlands, swung by New York on Wednesday to show off a brand new questline complete with a brand new character in Borderlands 2. But that's not all I want to talk to you about. I discovered a lot more about Borderlands 2, so let's jump right in.
I hadn't gotten my hands on the game since playing as Maya a few months back, and I knew my time to experiment with a new character was overdue.
It's tough to decide between the four playable characters in Borderlands 2. Though, for me, any character with a semblance of magical abilities is the no-brainer, each character has its own appeal. The Gunzerker is a mean dual-wielder. Axton is the best defensive character, with many turret tricks up his commando sleeves. But Zero? Zero was the next in a line of skilled killers that I had to try.
Zero is an assassin, which means he's a nimble melee fighter as well as a sharpshooter. When Randy Pitchford was guiding me through my demo, explaining the various customization options in Zero's three separate skill trees, I didn't have to hear more once he summarized the "Dash" ability. Zero launches a decoy of himself, goes invisible, and can dash towards enemies for really cool-looking ninja sword slices. Level that tree up enough and you can chain those attacks together. Done. Sold. I crushed so many enemies combining my trusty fire-damaging pistol, corrosive sniper, teleporting grenades and swift sword slashes. Between the four playable characters, there are a ton of other amazing abilities you can unlock that prove to be a pivotal turning point for your character's fighting style. Like, to name one, nuclear explosions. Yep, nuclear explosions.
The Dash sounds powerful, right? Well it's even more powerful than you might guess. If you're skilled enough, you can pull off dashes into the air to knock down flying Buzzards, piloted by bandits. They're tough machines to beat, so being able to aim that dash at it is a useful technique. It's also incredibly gratifying to pull of an acrobatic move that feels like you're pushing the limits of the skill.
This new demo took me into Sanctuary, where revolutionary fighters who are against the central villain—Handsome Jack—are holed up together. I wandered around the hub station for a bit, pressing X on random dwellers to see what they had to say to me. They all sounded terrified, or devoid of hope. It was the first time I felt anything close to a morbid setting in such a silly game like Borderlands, but it was an interesting touch.
Handsome Jack is, after all, kind of a dick, as Pitchford told me. As the leader of the Hyperion Corporation, Jack has pulled a few nasty moves and oppressed the people of Pandora, but always with a smile. Propaganda posters of him are spread throughout the planet, featuring him posing with open arms as if ready for an embrace.
But Jack's handsome face and easy going demeanor only disguise his villain side for so long. [Not a major spoiler, but don't read if you prefer to keep the game's opening a surprise] After players found and opened the vault that seemed to only be a legend in the first Borderlands, Handsome Jack dedicates himself to finding the others. And one powerful one in particular. He "enlists" in the help of all vault hunters across Pandora. He wants to "hire" you to help him find it. If my exaggerated use of quotation marks hasn't tipped you off, I'll just come out with it: Jack is actually leading you into a trap, and players will find out just how evil he can be when they answer the call. [Ok, feel free to read again.]
The questline I followed for this new level took me outside the safe zone and into the half rock, half ice part of the planet infested by bugs, mech, bandits and straight lunatics. Borderlands enemies have always been interesting. The bugs are colorful and aggressive. There are ridiculous-looking midget bandits that are prepared for kamikaze tactics. Big goons are incredibly powerful. Mechs are dangerous, and sometimes even fly overhead, increasing the depth of the battlefield. And you're often fighting a lot of these things at once.
But the most important thing to take away from my recent Borderlands 2 experience is that these new enemies are advanced versions of your favorites from the first game. There are even crazier bandits and powerful goons. But it's not just their violent and odd nature that makes them crazy. Some of these enemies, both bugs and bandits included, will morph mid-battle. Shoot the bucket/helmet off of a Goliath and he becomes Raging Goliath, which exposes his shrunken head that dangles at the end of a thread of flesh as well as causes him to attack his own brothers. Bugs will enter a larva right in front of you, and if you don't burst it in time, it will evolve into a more powerful adult. Some enemies evolve to even achieve badass status, which in Borderlands language basically means a stronger, more elite enemy.
The most elite of enemies will even have a few stages of advancement. I encountered an incredibly powerful Loot Goon Goliath, who I am told is a rare sighting. I decided to piss him off a little. I shot at him a few times and watched him grow progressively more aggressive, slashing and stomping on the guys I was supposed to kill.
"Hey," I thought, "this is really cool." And it is. I'm facing new enemies before I can even turn the corner to a different camp. But if you aren't careful, these severely pissed off guys will turn their attention to you.
Morphing enemies like these also make for an interesting strategy, too. I often shot the buckets off of the Goliaths to have them pick at the other enemies, leaving a pretty pissed off and (granted) pretty powerful Goliath to deal with. The variety of enemy types gives you a variety of available tactics. The Nomad Torturers, for instance, have midgets strapped to their shields. Shoot of the ropes on the midgets and they'll attack their slavers for vengeance. There are just oh so many possibilities, and it makes every battle incredibly exciting. I couldn't get enough, and I wanted to see what other crazy evolving concoctions Gearbox came up with.
When I finally rid Pandora of the bandits and bugs crawling on its earth (you know, until the next spawn cycle, anyway) I traveled on my way to the diamond on the minimap. The diamond led me to Tiny Tina. As the self-proclaimed official Tiny Tina (my Twitter bio says so!), I was delighted.
Even more delightful is just how ridiculous this 13-year-old girl is. She has quite the...vocabulary.
First, some backstory. If you've ever watched Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin'?, you'll know of Anthony and Ashley Burch. And you might know that Anthony Burch is the lead writer on Borderlands 2. Tiny Tina is not only modeled after his sister's quirky personality, but she's even voiced by her. So you get the silliness of HAWP's female lead in the tough persona of a 13-year-old who grew up on a battered Pandora. And she wants one thing of you: the perfect tea party.
You'll gather badonkadonks for her bunny pals, as well as a few other stuffed toys—erm, excuse me, guests—as well as optional bonus items like crumpets. Once I tended to her party needs, after fending off those flying Buzzard-copters and a slew of other bandits and hissing bugs, the tea party essentially turned into a mini horde mode party, where bandits spilled into Tiny Tina's cave to thwart our partying desires. What party poopers.
If Borderlands fans' favorite NPC was Scooter—to pick one of the many charming individuals you meet on Pandora—then Tiny Tina has to be the next favorite. She has a dominant personality with many, many choice lines. Tiny Tina has the energy of a sugar rush, but the dark soul of a drug fiend. She's oddly upbeat and devious all at once. She's downright hilarious.
Tiny Tina led me on a fairly short questline that exposed a lot of the new qualities of Borderlands 2. Gearbox's sequel is still the same gun-crazy, personality-crazy game I came to love three years ago. The addition of extra atmospheres, extra gun manufacturers, new playable characters with even more diverse and intricate skill sets, incredibly advanced enemies, and an all new character to laugh with while she sends you on odd journeys builds on and even surpasses what made the first game so successful. September 18 just can't come soon enough.