Borderlands 2 – One Last Peek
by Mark R
Pandora. A place where many ventured and yet so few returned from; a hostile wilderness littered with all manner of strange beasts and twisted megalomaniacs, hell-bent on tearing anyone limb from limb; my home-from-home for over two years, and the first place I turn to when reality needs to be pushed to one side in favour of shooting someone in the face with a machine pistol. My love for Borderlands is well documented, to the point where there are no fewer than five interviews and previews for Borderlands 2, and the original game has spawned at least four opinion pieces… to that end, and since it’s only a couple of weeks until its actual release, we won’t bother going over old ground.
Instead, we’ll concentrate on the new features experienced at this year’s Gamescom, the most notable of which would be the introduction of the Mechromancer. Stylistically, looking very much like something from Jamie Hewlett’s era of Tank Girl (although it could be argued that the overall feel of Borderlands borrowed heavily from this particular style), the Mechromancer turns what we’ve come to expect from Borderlands on its head. For a start, it means that we no longer have only four characters from which to choose, meaning that our beloved Siren is no longer the only female in the pack, and she brings something entirely new to the table – the ability to control mechs.
While the other four characters bring their own strengths to the overall team dynamic with Maya exploiting the siren abilities with new phase-lock powers, Axton being able to deploy multiple turrets as support, Zer0′s teleport and decoying techniques and Salvador… well, Salvador kicks shit out of everything with his much-welcomed dual wield, it would appear on the surface that the Mechromancer falls short. On the face of it, the Mechromancer’s skill tree suggests that the character was created to allow the more casual gamer to pick up the controller and still be able to fit in even if surrounded by veterans of Pandora, but look below the surface and there’s a whole new class system ripe for exploitation.
The controversial “Close Enough” perk from the Mechromancer skill tree, cited as “Girlfriend Mode”, was initially seen by many as a way to give utterly-hopeless players a bit of a leg up and offer a more lenient gameplay style where even those with terrible aims would still be able to rely on the ricochet to take out enemies, but there’s so much more potential beyond that. Those of you who attempted a single-player kill of Crawmerax using the duck-and-cover exploit may already know how valuable a good ricochet is in Borderlands, and the sequel will be no different. Picture this – you’re massively out-numbered as you reach your goal, but the markers are showing that most of the enemies are behind cover and the only way to take them out is by risking what little health you have left.
With the “Close Enough” skill, weapons with greater spread become potential homing missile cluster bombs. Switching from the accuracy of a sniper rifle or pistol to something with more spread, such as a shotgun, or an SMG with multiple rounds, and you now have the ability to shoot around corners. Almost. While most of the rounds will undoubtedly miss the target, there is still a chance that a certain number will find their own way to the enemy and, with any luck, take them out without putting you at too much risk.
As full development on the Mechromancer only began after Borderlands 2 itself reached the final certification stages prior to release, we weren’t able to see the full range of skills and had to ponder what the various placeholders could be hiding. What was clear though, was that being able to digistruct the Deathtrap mech allowed for some pretty damned destructive tactics with this guy bouncing all over the map from one enemy to the next, using its Explosive Clap to take foes out quicker than a loot whore can empty a red crate.
We were also shown exactly what was meant whenever we brought up Crawmerax when talking to the devs and their response would be one of glee, telling us that we would be very happy when Borderlands 2 came out. Having now witnessed it with my own eyes, I can only assume that they were referring to the “You. Will. Die. (Seriously.)” quest. Those words may sound very familiar to some, as they served as the title for the final mission in the Secret Armory of General Knoxx DLC where you had to find the not-so-secret secret lair of Crawmerax The Invincible, a giant crab worm that you apparently raised from slumber when the armory was destroyed.
If you thought Crawmerax was tough, then Terramorphous the Invincible is going to have you shit yourself. Twice. Hailing from Terramorphous Peak, this guy burst out of the mountain with an earth-shaking roar and immediately started to attack all four of the high-level characters with as much concern as a cow flicking a fly with its tail. From the ground, tentacles started to emerge, all of which instantly sought out the heroes and went to work on distracting them from their task at hand – destroying the gargantuan boss. As you’d expect from a Borderlands boss, taking this guy down was no easy task and every time one of the players was taken out they had a long trip ahead of them before they once again dropped through the trap door to help their buddies.
In true Borderlands style, the time it takes to get back to the arena means that there’s little (read: zero) chance of you getting there before the rest of your team is taken out which, you guessed it, means that Terramorphous the Invincible will be restored to full health and you’ll have to start the battle all over again. We weren’t told exactly how many hit points Terramorphous comes with but, considering four high-level characters were attacking the hell out of him for a good five or so minutes, his health bar lost no more than five percent and, if you closed your eyes for just one second and let your imagination run riot, you could almost hear the mocking.
Another of the more significant aspects shown at Gamescom were what had been described as “game changers”. Our hands-on time was with vanilla high-level characters with enough skill points in the bank to take them down to the final perk of their respective skill tree, each of which would hopefully encourage you to alter your gameplay style to accommodate the perk. With an hour of free-rein gameplay at our disposal, we were able to explore the game changers on each of the four available characters. The Mechromancer was, sadly, not yet playable.
The first of the Borderlands 2 characters unveiled, Salvador, sports the “Come at me, Bro” perk at the bottom of his Brawn skill tree. With more than a little of that familiar Gearbox humour, our gunzerker friend throws both hands into the face of the enemy, flicking them the finger and working them up into a frenzy while he himself laughs like an idiot, takes only ten percent damage, and throws a little cherry on top by restoring himself to full health. At the foot of Maya’s Harmony tree is the “Scorn” perk where slagging takes on a whole new meaning. With this particular perk, Maya throws out an orb which, as it flies through the air, covers any nearby enemies with damage-increasing “slag” substance, allowing her (or other players) to take advantage by maximising damage for a brief period.
If Roland was more your type of guy, then Axton is likely to be more up your street and his “Nuclear Detonation” perk does exactly what it says on the tin. His Longbow skill allows you to teleport your turret to wherever your crosshairs will permit and, combining this with the Nuclear Detonation perk which creates a full-on nuke explosion wherever the turret is deployed, you have the power to cause significant damage… with great accuracy. With the right perks, this can be used in a chain wherein you would deploy the turret, take the enemies out with the nuke, pick the turret back up again and deploy elsewhere, until the action skill times out.
Finally, we have Zer0. As someone who played as Mordecai in something like fifteen complete playthroughs, this was the character I was most excited to play as but I had real trouble getting to grips with his “game changer”, as amazing as it appeared to be in the presentation. The idea is that you would work your way down the Bloodshed skill tree to the point where you were given the ability to rush enemies in stealth mode and, if you manage to reach and take out the enemy within five seconds of activating the perk, the countdown timer would reset allowing you to continue the chain. During the presentation we saw no fewer than seven chains in what turned out to be a remarkable display of the skill but, as much as it pains me to admit it, I wasn’t even able to get to the second enemy before the time ran out. Regardless, when this is done properly, it has devastating consequences.
With Borderlands 2, we were promised everything that was great about the original game but with a bit more spit and polish. Having watched this grow from the first unveiling at last year’s Gamescom through to the point we’re at right now, I would say that, unless there’s something seriously screwed up in the game that we haven’t yet been shown, there’s much more to Borderlands 2 than a simple advancement from its predecessor. It’s more of a natural evolution, and one which will hopefully have as much longevity as the first.
With all that said, and only two weeks to go, we’ll say no more and just let you get on with whatever mundanity will fill the void between now and September 21st.
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