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RPS At E3: Borderlands

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We’ve finally seen Borderlands running. And how. The new graphical overhaul has received a lot of attention, but so far only been seen in screenshots (and the very brief glimpses in this trailer). It’s good news to report that it looks even more splendid when it’s moving. The concept-art-as-graphics design has completely won us over. But what about the game itself?

Gearbox clearly know shooters. From their early days working on the Half-Life expansions to the Brothers In Arms series, it’s what they do, and they do it well. So Borderlands being an RPG was at first something of a surprise. Once you see it moving, it begins to make a lot more sense. Played from a first-person perspective, as one of four characters that take part in the story, it’s clearly a game that’s a shooter first, and asks questions later.

Letting you play the game on your own, or in co-op with up to four players, you can drop in and out of other people’s games, or invite them into your own, as you go through the desolate lands of Pandora, trying to discover the fabled Vault – a place said to contain riches of alien technologies. You can find out loads more about the core game in our interview with Gearbox from last year. Today I want to tell you about some new details.

The first thing that feels important to talk about are the words “LEVEL UP!” Earn enough XP to increase your character’s rank, and you’ll see the words spin onto the screen in giant, cartoony letters. LEVEL UP! It’s a moment of joy! Hooray! It captures so much about the attitude of Borderlands. It doesn’t have a straight face.

Of the four characters (lone ranger Mordecai, soldier and support class Roland, magical siren Lilith, and tank Brick) you’ll pick one and rank them up via their three unique skill trees. Take Brick, for instance. He can be specced as a brawler, tank or blaster, or of course a combination of the three. And I’d recommend tank, after seeing him go into his Hulk-like frenzy mode where he rushes off into the fray and just punches the shit out of everything he sees. It’s gruesome. In the good way.

We also caught a glimpse of Lilith’s phase walking – an ability that lets her temporarily move extremely quickly, invisible to the enemy, to gain tactical positions. It’s skills like these that are so essential when playing in co-op, using tricks to distract enemies so your chums can take them out.

For instance, there’s the Fighting Spider Ants. Insectoid enemies whose weak spots are in their squidgy behinds. Use one player to fight them head on, then another can shoot them in the bum for victory.

There’s elite versions of most enemies, but in a game where “LEVEL UP!” is bellowed on screen, they’re not called “elite”. They’re called “Badass”. The Badass Fire Skag, for instance – a hulking beast that’s permanently on fire, breathing torrents of flames out of its mouth. Some slightly more sentient enemies are armed, and often they’ll have a weapon you’ll like the look of. Shoot them and take it – find out what it does. During our demonstration the enthused Randy Pitchford was delighted to discover a recovered weapon was a cannonball shooter.

There’s a reason he was surprised. Borderlands’ weapons are procedurally generated, improvised by the game, presenting potentially half a million different types. To keep this clear, they’re to be colour-coded with the familiar WoW system – green for regular, blue for special, and purple for the sort you’ll get all kinds of excited about. These can be dropped by enemies, which surely presents the possibility of imbalance – a very powerful weapon early on might give you quite an edge. Well, yes, says Pitchford. And they’re deliberately leaving it that way. Get lucky, and you’ll be a very powerful player.

There’s multiple extras that can be added to guns, as if they weren’t damaging enough. Add on fire effects, or electricity, or acid if you want to watch the faces melt off your enemies.

This looks properly fantastic, so far. We can’t wait to get our hands on it for a proper play. So long as the missions are compelling, the RPG aspect is looking deep and involved, without ever preventing this from being a fast-paced shooter. More more more.

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John Walker

Senior Editor

One of the original co-founders of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I'm now a senior editor and hero of humanity. Old and special.

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