Borderlands 2 – E3 Preview
When it was announced that Gearbox were taking their 2009 sleeper hit and making a sequel, I died a little inside. I’d been hoping it would happen, longing to take the adventure to the next level, and indulge myself in another weapon-hoarding frenzy in my favourite of all the in-game worlds… but I was also terrified. Absolutely terrified. Borderlands wasn’t a game that caught my eye prior to release but, thanks to a good friend who knows my love of loot-whoring and the post-apocalyptic, it ended up being a Christmas present that year. Within an hour or so of playing, I was beyond hooked.
Sure, games had grabbed me and pulled me in, but never to this degree… never to the point where I could already see myself playing it for years to come and having it slot itself in to my top five games before I’d even got past the first few quests. It was everything that a gamer like me could hope for – visually stunning, incredibly funny and sarcastic, flooded with collectibles; in fact I could likely spend the rest of this article explaining why it was perfection personified but I’ll save that for another time.
The problem with having already discovered perfection is that, when someone then says they can build on it and take it to the next level, you immediately wonder if it’s even possible and why they’d want to risk ruining everything for the sake of a few extra quid and, undoubtedly, a degree of self satisfaction. George Lucas has attempted this countless times since the release of the first Star Wars trilogy, each time assuring us that the changes he’s making will only improve the experience, and he’s failed miserably every time. The same could happen with Borderlands. That was a terrifying thought.
Last year at Gamescom, however, I had some eyes-on time with the game and it was the best thirty minutes of my entire trip… but I wanted that hands-on experience, as it’s very easy to be blown away by something when you don’t actually have the controller in your hand and the person you’re watching play through it is one of the developers and, therefore, knows exactly what to do and what not to do in order to make it look as good as possible.
Borderlands 2 was the first appointment I had at this year’s E3. Not only was it my first appointment, but it was the first appointment of the entire expo, so the doors opened to allow everyone in and I was heading straight for the meeting room before most people had even had the feeling of lush booth carpet under their feet. With Pete on the console to my left, I turned to one of the 2K guys and asked which of the new characters was most similar to Mordecai as I didn’t want to risk ruining my first play with some dodgy character who wouldn’t suit my play-style. It was Zero, and so off I went… straight to the vending machine to see what my level 25 character could buy with what little cash he had available.
A few minutes later, after assigning the twenty or so skill points I’d started off with, Pete and I embarked on our first co-op campaign and it was, unquestionably, a case of history repeating itself. For the last two years, he and I have been co-op buddies, trundling around Pandora several nights per week, when schedules permit, and this was no different. In fact, a quick look to my left and the grin on his face said it all – this was the beginning of a new chapter in our gaming kinship.
It was exactly what I’d hoped it would be – Borderlands, but more polished. The gameplay was more or less identical, the HUD was exactly as before but with a bit more spit and polish so it had a slightly more futuristic feel, and the inventory menus had a more interactive feel to them, swishing around as you thumbed through them. There was a sense of hesitation there, I have to admit, as the inventory had changed enough to throw me off kilter for a while, as things had been moved around somewhat, but it was more or less the same as before and won’t require any re-learning; just a slight mental adjustment to re-familiarise.
I’m not entirely sure if we were playing on the Xbox 360 or if it was just that we had gamepads plugged in to PCs, but the graphics were pin-sharp and had no visible screen tearing or lag. If anything, it was perhaps too fluid and I considered adjusting the sensitivity in the options menu, but decided against as it would only eat into the thirty minute slot unnecessarily.
One thing I’ll say is that we didn’t manage to complete the mission. We did our best; we had a great co-op partnership going where Pete would actually ignore loot for a change and make sure he could revive me whenever I fell at the hands of our robotic foes, and I would do the same for him. Despite this symbiotic relationship, and the fact that we’d both completed the original game many times over, we still ended up getting our arses handed to us on a plate every single time. We must have started the level over four or five times, getting closer to the final objective every time, but it was just too difficult… and I loved that.
Borderlands had become too easy. Knowing the terrain inside out, remembering every spawn point and how to best destroy each individual enemy had made it something of a walk in the park for us. An enjoyable one, it has to be said, but progressively pedestrian at the same time. The unfamiliarity of the new Borderlands 2 maps, not yet knowing the best weapons (I missed my Cold Thanatos), and trying to suss out the best place for a critical hit on these new enemies, all while trying to stay alive, made for a pretty exciting experience.
At this point though, with only a few months until the general release and having already written two previews (full preview and early preview) and an interview, I won’t waste any more of your time waxing lyrical. Borderlands 2, in a nutshell, is simply everything you ever loved about Borderlands (or hated, if you’re that way inclined) but with a more up-to-date interface and more fluid gameplay. I have no doubt that this will be my game of the year, and will swallow up all available time for the foreseeable future… and if they announce a Borderlands 3, I doubt I’ll be as hesitant.
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