After Forever: Borderlands 2 Preview

By Alec Meer on August 23rd, 2011 at 1:10 pm.

A tiny bearded man kills everything. At last, someone's telling my story.

Gearbox have got some explaining to do. No, nothing to do with Duke Nukem Forever – but because, back when they were first promoting Borderlands, they emphasised what a risk it was, how unusual to have something new rather than a sequel, and why the media and gamers should thus give their RPG-shooter their full attention even though it wasn’t a known quantity.

Now, of course, they’re making a sequel, and once again asking for our full attention. Should we give it?

Well, it does have a 2 on the end but they do seem very much aware that they’re duty-bound to do the second Borderlands game right. The studio’s Steve Gibson, doing an excellent job of sounding impassioned even though this must be the 20th time today alone he’s spoken these words to a room full of silent, staring, unshaven men of assorted nationalities, claims that “We were against content dump sequels, put a 2 on the box, money please. We knew back in 2009 that we didn’t want to do that kind of sequel.” So Borderlands 2 is “going to be a true sequel. We did a lot of work on everything. UI, AI, weapon system, quest system, co-op – every major thing has either been overhauled or replaced.”

Personally, the idea of the towns and their inhabitants being more fleshed-out is the change I most desired from BL2 – we’ll cover a little more of that side of things in a Gearbox interview I’ll be posting soon – but the idea that pretty much everything’s been shown some spit’n’polish loving gets me right on board. Of all games, this would be the most easy to make a cynical sequel for – new quests, new gun types, a new class or two and done. People’d buy it. It’s not like the gaming world has proven averse to buying what’s not much more than a new chapter of the same game year after year.

Here, though, there seems to be a strong focus on carefully adding more weight and purpose to Borderland’s core elements, but without abandoning what makes Borderlands Borderlands (that being guns and experience points).

First up are the guns themselves. Borderlands made any number of headlines thanks to declaring wild, impossible weaponcounts, but in practice most guns were only minor variations upon a handful of themes, and when you did pick up something more esoteric it was invariably less powerful than whatever otherwise less interesting weapon you were already carrying. In Borderlands 2, the planned way around this is to increase the importance and effects of the weapon manufacturers. Generally just entailing a stat or model change in the first game, now it means a whole lot more. For instance, Tediore are described by Gibson as “the Walmart of gun manufacturers.” They’re not keepers: they’re disposable cheap’n’nasties. Instead of reloading an empty Tediore weapon, you chuck it away and take out a new one instead. Run out of bullets at the right time, though, and you’ll chuck it away straight at something’s face, which can stun it while you bring out something to finish it off.

(Oh yes – in the name of further fleshing-out, enemies no longer exist as either just alive or dead. They can now be stunned, knocked down, visibly injured, along with special abilities such as the new Bullymong picking up anything it can lay its four hands on and lobbing it at you. Try not to fight one in the presence of cars, people or stalactites if you can possibly help it).

The new Bandit weapon ‘brand’, by contrast, look like they were built by either Steptoe or an Ork – all nuts and bolts and rusty metal, like they’re going to fall apart any moment. They make up for their decrepitude by having monstrously large clips, thus don’t run out of ammo in a hurry. Vladofs have a different kind of stupidity – and incredibly fast rate of fire. This is true whether it’s a machinegun, a shotgun or a rocketlauncher. Uh-oh.

As well as purely for giggles, the point of the dramatically different types is to stop you sticking doggedly to one favoured gun. You might, for instance, grab an enemy’s attention with a Tediore, stun it with the discarded gun once it’s empty, and then while it’s helpless hammer it to death with sustained fire from a Bandit gun’s cavernous clip. Alternatively, if you’re playing as the Gunzerker class and have bought the right upgrade, you can dual wield. That’s the kind of fact that made grown men pass out circa 2003 (I will never forget the horror and clamour of Halo 2’s initial E3 reveal), and thus somewhat passe. But is that still the case when you have a rocketlauncher in each hand? I THINK NOT.

This spirit of stupidity extends beyond the player. In a evolving (rather than static in its destination) quest to try and rescue Roland, the first game’s Soldier class now made a major NPC (as are the other three BL1 characters), you’re chasing a giant energy-prison on legs which is busily spawning smaller attack droids around a dense industrial area while engineers and miners in the employ of the sinister Hyperion Corporation try and pick you off. All around, Surveyor droids are trying to fix up the robo-prison and its minions, meaning you’ll have to make judgement calls about what to kill first. Meanwhile, the moon is launching robots at you. “We wanted robots to come in from the moon. More games should have this,” deadpans Gibson. He’s so right.

It’s big and noisy and messy and colourful. The look’s a little more consistent now – Borderlands has found its aesthetic groove, with even the UI now taking the form of comicky smears. Enemy shields, meanwhile, are not longer just an abstracted blue bar – instead, you’ll see them visibly shatter when shot away, so you can get a measure of how the fight’s going and when to switch weapons from the game world, not from its overlay.

Speaking of the game world, it’s apparently a whole lot less dependent on smoke and mirrors now: “It’s frustrating to see a cool looking place that you can’t actually get to. So stuff you can see in distance, you can get to these places,” explains Gibson while gesturing at distant valleys. “It’s all geographically correct, what you see to the West and East is actually there now.” This will include snowy (which I saw a bit of) and grassy (which I didn’t) climes, meaning Borderlands is escaping the wasteland game ghetto it was til now a major member of.

On top of that is at least one new class The Gunzerker, one of whose upgrades is named ‘Sexual Tyrannosaurus, character skills that remain meaningful and “game-changing” even at high levels, factional warfare, and, we’re told, a more coherent and satisfying story that’s learned the lessons of the first game’s fizzle-ending – and, indeed, the improvements the DLC made on that front.

…Which make for an awful lot of promises, the truth of very few of which can truly be gleaned from watching a half-hour demo. There was a definite sense, though, of it being Borderlands but better, richer, deeper, sillier, wilder – while the first game got a whole lot right, it sure did get shallow at times. This one, if all goes to plan, seems to have a strong grasp of what elements rightfully should be shallow, and which ones need evolving.

Most importantly, though, the moon launches robots at you.

Borderlands 2 will in theory be released next year.

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63 Comments »

  1. BatmanBaggins says:

    “Personally, the idea of the towns and their inhabitants being more fleshed-out is the change I most desired from BL2″

    I like this. It always seemed weird to me how what few towns there were in BL1 were basically ghost towns. The entire planet seemed inhabited by nothing but murderous psychos. I could be wrong, but I don’t think that was supposed to be the case…

    • metalangel says:

      Yup… even the main town had half a dozen people in it, all just standing around.

      Then you play The Secret Bollox of General Scruttox or Craptlap’s Finally Killable, and you see this massive infrastructure of elevated freeways/railways (respectively) and again, there’s nobody around to justify it having been built. Meanwhile, people like Patricia Tannis can just stand around unprotected in an isolated shack WITHOUT the local gangbangers coming and, er, gangbanging her.

      I suppose part of the idea was that you were arriving the aftermath of the big boom on Pandora, and that people were now giving up leaving only the hardiest residents behind in the shadows of their broken fucking dreams.

    • Tei says:

      If I remember correctly Tannis is the survivor of a expedition. With everyone else eaten. She is in a innacesible area. The tribes are… well.. tribal, territorial, and defend his territory…. that double as a guetto, so maybe the people that live there don’t really know whats outside. Other than monsters and dead.

    • Vagrant says:

      Her chat logs make at least one reference to her dealing with the locals. Which weren’t really locals so much as convicts turned into Atlas slave labor (and thus her co-workers!), subsequently released into the wilds of Pandora.

  2. Symitri says:

    I’m torn. I liked the concept behind Borderlands but felt it was let down by execution, particularly problems with multiplayer and almost no effort put into anything outside the starting zone regarding the story. They seem to be promising a fix to most of my issues, so the only deal breaker now would be if they make the multiplayer experience to not use Gamespy. I’d be happy with Steam, I’ve yet to have any problems with it.

    On the other hand, they’re now responsible for putting out DNF. I don’t think that’s something that can be forgiven easily.

    • Eclipse says:

      DNF was good

    • Milky1985 says:

      “On the other hand, they’re now responsible for putting out DNF. I don’t think that’s something that can be forgiven easily.”

      ……………………………………………………………

      sorry thats all I can say to that one, its that silly.

    • Tei says:

      Releasing DNF is a bit like putting a man in the moon. I think is a nice achievement to release the dawn “cursed” game.

    • bookwormat says:

      “Releasing DNF is a bit like putting a man in the moon.”

      You mean they rushed the release out of fear that the Russians would be there first? I would love to see 1C’s interpretation of Duke Nukem Forever.

    • Matt says:

      It’s a lot like the regular DNF, except with region-locked multiplayer, no post-launch patches, and no DLC forthcoming.

    • FeepingCreature says:

      The jump button was synchronized with the multiplayer server. You had jump lag. I still don’t get why they’d do that.

  3. McDan says:

    “But is that still the case when you have a rocketlauncher in each hand? I THINK NOT.”
    Excellent, this sounds like the game borderlands should have been at the beginning, ludicrous awesomeness.

  4. Shiny says:

    I’m willing to use a bunch of different guns if you’re willing not to limit my inventory space or make inventory management such a chore.

    • Mattressi says:

      This. 100 times, this. If they’d at least made inventory space sensibly allocated, it’d have been ok-ish (you get more as you level or if there were stat points allocated at level up and you put them into strength – hell even if Brick just had more because he’s so huge!). As it is, though, it was irritating to have 5 bazillion weapons in the game and only a dozen weapon slots until you find the hidden claptraps. There wasn’t any sense of reward in it, like levelling in a regular RPG – you just were irritatingly limited at first and were then finally allowed to carry a half decent amount of loot once you’d completed enough “find the repair kit” chores. Plus, most checkpoints couldn’t be teleported to, so you’d end up having to walk for bloody ages just to clear some inventory space for loot, then clear all the areas you’ve been through over again.

    • ajsheppard says:

      “, then clear all the areas you’ve been through over again.” Exactly this. I really hated the respawning monsters in Borderlands. Maybe I’m just too old school or something. Also the loot was boring, I hated spending 30 seconds per gun trying to figure out if it was better or not. The problem with limited inventory was that it punished experimentation.

      Ya ya I still played the heck out of it.

    • Baines says:

      Don’t forget having to level up to unlock extra quick select slots. Even if you had three good distinct weapons at the start of the game, you couldn’t easily switch between them in battle because you were only allowed two equipped weapons at that time.

  5. Prime says:

    “Bullymong.”

    I’m going to say that 100 times in real conversations. Awesome.

  6. Tei says:

    I don’t understand why are hyping the game now, if don’t have anything to show. But Bordelands was great, and was true revolutionary… breaking old boring molds… proving you can make a crazy diablo with guns. I have buy all DLC’s, and where good too. This make me confident B2 will be good too.

    • unlimitedgiants says:

      > But Bordelands was great, and was true revolutionary…
      > breaking old boring molds… proving you can make a
      > crazy diablo with guns.

      Borderlands didn’t do anything revolutionary, other than maybe it’s tacked on art style. Hellgate came out before Borderlands, and Hellgate proved that you could do a “crazy Diablo with guns”. Hellgate was 100x better than Borderlands.

      Plus, it’s nothing like Diablo with guns. The only thing similar to Diablo is the fact that there are random guns. There is no other gear (class mods don’t really count as anything). Diablo wasn’t just about swords. It was about loads of loot.

      What had loads of loot? Hellgate had loads of loot.

      Hellgate is Diablo with guns. Borderlands wasn’t terrible – but it’s not “Diablo with guns”. It didn’t have random terrain. Hellgate did.

  7. Tom OBedlam says:

    Oh my yes. I’m rather sad Brick won’t be playable though. Valiantly punching the shit out of the Rakk Hive’s ankles is one of my all time gaming experiences.

  8. Jumwa says:

    Borderland’s was one of the few games my partner and I actually disagreed on. Oh, we both liked it, but I enjoyed it far more than she, and nagged at her since we did finish it to go again.

    I never was able to get her to go for another serious run through, sadly, so I’m hoping the sequel here will really gets us back into it. She says she wants more and better gun upgrades, that’s what it’ll take to get her back into Borderland’s. So… come on!

    • Tom OBedlam says:

      At least you got her playing. I’m regretting getting Dungeons of Dredmor for my girlfriend now. She’s DISAPPEARED!

    • Jumwa says:

      We’ve cut back on our single player purchases to reduce such nonsense. Can’t be getting obsessed with single player titles when we’ve still got to play through War for Cybertron and First Templar!

  9. Bilbo says:

    “We were against content dump sequels, put a 2 on the box, money please.”

    Yeah, you just released DLC after DLC after mother-loving DLC. That’s much better.

    Also, robots from the moon? Is Wheatley making them?

    • Tom OBedlam says:

      What do you get out of being so fucking miserable all the time?

    • Stijn says:

      A lot of it was good DLC, for an okay price. I don’t really see the problem with that.

    • Bilbo says:

      Oh, look, I got jumped on for expressing my opinion again. <3 RPS. F U Tom.

      Stijn: By and large I concur, I don’t have a mondo problem with what they do or anything, I just think against a backdrop of a massive volume of tech reuse content being used by Gearbox for revenue the “We don’t do content sequels” stance is a bit invalid. Because they basically did, there were loads of new boxed editions of Borderlands with some new content strapped on. And etc. There’s nothing expressly wrong with it, but he insinuates there is by saying “We don’t do it”, which is a lie to all meaningful intents and purposes. Sure, they haven’t literally used that tactic in Borderlands 2, but they’ve already got their money out of the tactic with the heap of DLC, so he’s being a bit cheeky. That’s all I really meant.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      If your opinions weren’t those of a miseryguts, Bilbo, you might find they got kicked about a little less frequently. Really, cheer up.

    • Bilbo says:

      I was positively boyish and gleeful in my comments about Space Marine overnight, but nobody was awake to read them :(

    • Jake says:

      I really liked most of the DLC -Zombie Island and the Secret Armoury were probably the two best bits of the whole game – and when you don’t feel short changed by the length of the initial game then DLC feels like a cool bonus rather than an attempt to wangle more money out of you.

    • Nallen says:

      Sadly Bilbo I expect you’ll be experiencing good old confirmation bias from here on in. Anything up beat you say will be ignored as it doesn’t fit the preconceptions and anything negative will be a giant neon sign stating EVIDENCE: BILBO IS MISERABLE.

      I’m afraid your only way out is to never be down on anything again :)

    • Bilbo says:

      It’s not my fault I’m a cynic, the world should try sucking less, etc

    • Big Daddy Dugger says:

      All 4 of those DLC packs were large amounts of content (3 of them nearly as long as the original game) for what like 10$ each? With those DLCs you can actually play to max level without having to do the same content more than once.

    • Bilbo says:

      Like I said (have a read) I don’t mind what they’re doing, I just don’t think it’s fair to offer tech-reuse content packs with one hand and deride tech-reuse content sequels with the other. The difference is purely semantic, and I find people who talk rot irritating. inb4 pot kettle black etc

  10. BetamaxDisco says:

    A little less conversation, a little more action, please.

  11. Napalm Sushi says:

    I, for one, welcome our moonbot overlords.

  12. funtard says:

    Yes, because borderlands was a good game. That’s all I have to say about that.

  13. CaspianRoach says:

    Here’s a few pictures of a new female playable character: http://borderlands.wikia.com/wiki/Maya

    • Nallen says:

      Expectation: Clevage window, hotpants.
      Reality: Amazement. She is wearing clothes.

    • zeekthegeek says:

      Well Anthony Burch is writing it and he fancies himself at least slightly feminist – enough at least to bitch about female portrayals in games nigh-constantly in his podcasts and the like.

    • metalangel says:

      Oh well, looks like I’m getting this one too, then.

      I loves my phasewalk.

    • Daiv says:

      @Nallen: Cleavage window hotpants? Such a garment defies the laws of clothing and nature.

    • wu wei says:

      metalangel: one of the earlier preview articles mentioned that all Sirens have unique abilities, so it seems unlikely Maya will be a phasewalker.

  14. Vagrant says:

    Is no one else boggled by discarding guns that run out of ammo? Does this mean the game is no longer about loot, only using awesome guns until the clip runs dry? That seems like a step backwards in design.

    • CaspianRoach says:

      It only applies to Tediore guns and they momentarily rebuild themselves as you throw them away. Think of it like of a reloading with a twist.

    • Keymonk says:

      Yeah. They’re disposable in that a new, identical one builds in your hands so you can keep shooting and reload again to toss it at an enemy so it’ll explode.

    • Mattressi says:

      If a new one can rebuild in your hand after you’ve disposed of the old one, does that mean that your character is essentially buying the program that builds the guns, rather than the gun itself? Furthermore, will you be able to copy these programs and share them with your friend? Most importantly though – will your gun-building program require a constant internet connection?

  15. Koojav says:

    Those DLCs you mention had superb price/content ratio when bought during any Steam sale.

  16. Pinkables says:

    Two things which i’m excited to read:

    - Fewer invisible borders. They were my biggest pet peeve.
    - Less “You are not eligible for this mission” crap during multiplayer (this was mentioned in the other Borderlands article a couple of days ago).

    So as long as the multiplayer code is solid (yes, i do understand port forwarding), then Gearbox will probably end up with my money.

    Edit: Oh and Gearbox, PLEASE let me strafe and turn while running! I can do it in real life, so why not in the game?

  17. mkflin says:

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  18. TsunamiWombat says:

    As long as they do something to make the games atmosphere and music less fucking boring. Such a colorful game with such over the top themes – such a bland bland bland world to play in.

    Good god wtf were they thinking with that soundtrack?

  19. ericks says:

    The first Borderlands was one of my favorite games ever despite all the flaws people love to name off. It was FUN. Sure there wasn’t some DEEP story (I personally liked it) it’s a FPS with XP. That’s it, and it was wonderful.

    I hope they don’t bog it down will all this stuff they’re promising. Of course the one game I would be actually happy with if they just added content and a “2″ they go and try to drastically change it.

  20. Jimbo says:

    I wanna be able to trick out the vehicles with mad lootz.

    • omgitsgene says:

      I hated, hated, hated the vehicles in Borderlands. I thought they were awkward at best and pointless at worst. Especially when General Knoxx decided to bow to Union pressure and have all sorts of crazyass looooooooooooong elevated highways built. Now, if they can do vehicles to where they’re fun I could see upgrading a static vehicle with gear be a pretty entertaining concept.

  21. BobsLawnService says:

    As long as they fix the horrible vehicles, repetetive enemies, boring landscapes, pointless weapons and bother to do a decent PC port they should be ok.

  22. Chunga says:

    Okay, thanks, now I just have to listen to a 40 year old record. Black Sabbath, here I come! :)

  23. shoptroll says:

    So basically, today’s release of Human Revolution is the start of a roller coaster of slick releases that isn’t going to let up for another year.

    Awesome. Can’t wait for this game.

  24. Baines says:

    It doesn’t really sound like they’ve fixed the boring weapons problem.

    The problem wasn’t that the brands weren’t distinct enough, it was that the entire weapons system was dull and boring, most of the “specials” were relegated to pre-defined “unique” weapons, the features that could be randomly found were arbitrary and boring, balance between weapons and features was almost non-existant, level scaling all the numbers to a set formula made stuff boring, and there just wasn’t any real imagination or effort put into the weapon creation system (other than some of the pre-defined weapons).

    It is quite disappointing that Borderlands, which tried to sell the infinite weapon possibilities claim, ended up with less real weapon variety than a Call of Duty game (which itself is often insulted for having bland weapons with little imagination or variety). Look at the Rocket Launcher. Which has more variety, Borderlands or Modern Warfare 2? Borderlands has the generic element assignments that all its weapons have, which is so dull as to be a non-issue. It then has the underpowered regular rocket launcher, the underpowered triple rocket launcher, and the iffy helix. All fire straight. All are weak. MW2 has the Launcher (slow to use, with a weak vehicle lock), the Stinger (can only fire on a lock, and can only lock onto vehicles, but excels in hitting them), the Javelin (can only fire on a lock, but can lock onto locations as well as vehicles, has a large blast area, and takes a (very) indirect fire path), and the RPG (fast, but no vehicle lock).

    Then look at a less reality-based game. Hellgate: London wasn’t considered amazing, but just look at the weapon variety that it has. In Rocket Launchers alone it has the regular rocket launcher, the triple fire slight homing launcher, the extremely rapid fire indirect grenade launcher rocket launcher, and the shotgun spread (around eight rockets fired at once in a shotgun spread, spread decreasing with accuracy) rocket launcher. Weapons can also be modded and have random traits, including things like firing off secondary effects on hit or kill. And on top of all that, Hellgate has a somewhat more interesting element system (with each damage type having a chance of inflicting a specific status). And then you can look at the other weapons, ranging from pistol shotguns to flamethrowers to slow energy homing shot guns to beam guns that can lock onto multiple targets at once but decrease in strength as you hold the fire button to more standard assault rifles, sniper rifles, and the like.

    And remember, that is from a game that isn’t exactly admired as a great achievement.

  25. the_fanciest_of_pants says:

    Yes, yes, but do bosses actually drop the best random loot now?

    The one thing that killed any wish to replay borderlands for me was that bosses dropped either the same thing every time (most bosses) or in the case of the last boss; 2-3 terrible weapons no one cares about.

    The fact that they made a great diablo-meets-fps game and yet didn’t have the bosses as the best loot pinatas boggles my mind to this day.

    If they make that change then I’ll be there with bells on.

  26. Post-Internet Syndrome says:

    Having great hopes for this. Borderlands was excellent, but it did get repetitive and shallow, and once you found that terrible matador shotgun towards the end of the first area you never found another weapon that could match it. It also skimped a bit on the graphics. At first look the comic book look leapt out on you, but a lot of things in the game didn’t keep up with that and just looked like any shooter. This looks like it is out to improve on all of those things.

  27. Iskariot says:

    I bought a GOTY edition of Borderlands that, to my surprise, actually featured all DLC on a second disc in the box. So I came late to the party. And although I totally agree with many of the criticisms concerning the empty towns, static npc’s, repetitive respawning etc., I just have to say that I really enjoyed playing it in general. I think the games design is wonderful and the DLC are of a quality rarely seen in the land of gaming. I would have loved a bit more of RPG elements in a world of that size. For example I really missed being able to personalize, upgrade, mod my weapons.
    All in all I think it is an excellent game an I look very much forward to Borderlands 2.

  28. squareking says:

    Adding to the list of things I can’t comprehend in BL: there are 7 types of rarity with 4 perfectly contrasting colors and 3 shades of orange. Technically yellow, orange and dark orange, but difficult to distinguish regardless.

    WHY