Borderlands 2: we've seen it, we've played it and we love it. It's got guns, lots of guns. It has co-op, very good co-op. Most importantly: it has midgets. Following on from our recent hands-on time with the , this year's gamescom appointment allowed us to focus more on the four new characters and their classes. Could the title still continue to impress now we could delve a little deeper?
Before beginning we wanted a more detailed look at the four protagonists: Salvador, Maya, Axton and Zer0. Thankfully, Gearbox were happy to indulge us and provided a detailed examination of their strengths, weaknesses and particular talents. Salvador is the "Gunzerker", a powerhouse of a man who is able dual-wield any combination of weaponry. He's a character with a lot of potential damage output and is able to hit enemies hard using his special abilities. Our previous coverage of Borderlands 2 has focused on this particular character so we chose to spend more time with the other three.
Maya is a more unusual class and it seems that she'll be a slightly tougher character to master. She seems to have a lot of potential when playing with friends in co-op and resembles Lilith from the original Borderlands. Her powers include an ability called "Phaselock", a bubble of energy which disorientates and inhibits enemies from attacking. As this ability is improved the bubble can move from enemy to enemy after they are defeated providing more lengthy distractions. Alongside this she also has access to "Convergence", which can draw enemies together (acting like a psychic vacuum cleaner) making them easy victims for explosions and rapid-fire weaponry.
Maya can also revive downed characters from a distance which will prove invaluable when facing the tougher enemies later on in the . Her role seems to be strongly geared towards aiding and assisting her fellows and it appears that it could be a class for the more strategic players. It is easy to see how both "Phaselock" and "Convergence" will be useful skills in giving the more offensive characters playing with you the opportunity to deal damage unchallenged.
Zer0 is a mysterious assassin and is a class of extremes. It is possible to play him as a very stealthy sniper or a fast-paced hit-and-run melee fighter. His primary skill is the ability to deploy a holographic projection of himself which draws enemy fire allowing him to move around cloaked. While invisible his next attack will deal enormous damage that is subject to huge multipliers, making the strike incredibly potent. The developers showed us his "Bloodshed" skill tree that gave Zer0 the ability to dash forward with his sword while cloaked (the Execute ability). At the final stage this could be further developed with the "Many Must Fall" perk.
This particularly nasty skill meant that the Execute kills could be chained together in sequence. After successfully performing an execution on an enemy a timer began to count down and an enemy would be highlighted with a blue outline. If Zer0 could reach them in time, he would finish them off and the process began again. The Gearbox team managed to impress us by dispatching nine bandits in this fashion without so much as breaking a sweat. This class seems particularly challenging and it wasn't made entirely clear how Zer0 would be able to handle larger bosses if he was tailored specifically towards a melee class.
The fourth character, Axton the Commando seems to be a spiritual successor to Roland and relies on the use of turrets to draw enemy fire as well as to output additional damage. His upgrades seemed to be some of the most diverse and tactical and it seems that the Commando will always be an important co-op character to have while undertaken missions. There are three very diverse skill trees that change the way Axton's turret functions. These vary from adding rockets and shields to the "Gemini" ability that allows you to deploy two mechanical helpers simultaneously.
Gearbox have also recently announced a fifth playable character who will be released a few months after Borderlands 2 launches. The "Mechromancer" is an engineering cyborg who can summon up a robotic killing machine known as D374-TP (or "Deathtrap" for the uninitiated). Deathtrap acts as an older, more psychotic version of Borderlands' iconic Claptrap robot. Seeing the class for the first time was refreshing and she looked markedly different from the four chief protagonists.
During combat Deathtrap would alternate between slashing and explosively clapping at enemies (yes, you read that correctly), wheeling ominously towards anyone unfortunate enough to be caught in his sights. Perhaps most interestingly, Gearbox are designing the Mechromancer to be a character for both seasoned first-person shooter/role-playing players and people that have never gamed before.
An early perk (unlocked at level 6) known as "Close Enough", means that any of the Mechromancer's missed shots ricochet off walls and floors towards enemies. This is clearly beneficial to people new to controlling and aiming in . It also has some other interesting and unusual applications. Later in the game opponents will hide in cover and Close Enough will enable you to intentionally miss and then ricochet the shots to be able to damage them. It seems like a very difficult task for Gearbox to create a character class that can function as a simple introduction and also as one suited to hardcore Borderlands players.
After getting this excellent run-down of the new additions to Borderlands 2 we jumped into a mid-game mission and were boosted instantly to level 31. Working with another journalist, we jumped in to tackle the Ore Chasm: an arena-like area where waves of robots would assault en masse. We selected the Commando, Axton, to complement our fellow player's Gunzerker character, Salvador. After some careful consideration we used our skill points to fully upgrade the turret's "Gunpowder" tree. This gave us increased damage and the "Nuke" ability which detonated an area-of-effect megaton blast whenever your turret was deployed. What can we say? We love our explosions!
After stocking up on ammunition and grenades from the new vending machine feature, we descended to the area and began the combat. Working to each other's strengths was critical and we made sure to deploy our turret regularly to provide a distraction and extra firepower while the Gunzerker went up-close-and-personal. The Nuke effect was often a lifesaver and inflicted massive explosive damage to anything nearby, giving us the opportunity to back off and recover our shields.
It didn't take long for the difficulty of the robots to substantially increase and we were soon facing hordes of "Badass Loaders". These large bipedal droids would frequently carpet bomb areas with missile payloads and we were forced to retreat to a safer distance with greater cover. Switching through a range of the new guns on offer, we came across a nice rapid-fire pistol that offered a new element: skag coating. Skag rounds effectively "paint" opponents in a purple sheen and make them more vulnerable to any form of damage.
Working heavily with the Gunzerker we set about focusing on the tougher enemies and painting them with the Skag pistol while Salvador used corrosive weaponry (which robots are especially vulnerable against) to dispatch them swiftly. It felt incredibly satisfying to work together so easily and naturally and it felt that the small additions that had been added brought co-op to a tighter and more rewarding level.
The addition of the "Badass" ranks, attained through the completion of challenges, also encouraged you subtly to try out effective tactics. It's these relatively minute details littered throughout the experience that separate Borderlands 2 from its predecessor. By building on everything good about the original and having such an intimate knowledge of both the first-person shooter and the RPG, Gearbox appear to know precisely how to fulfil players' expectations.
As our hands-on time came to a close, we were disappointed not to be able to just keep playing. It was compelling, enjoyable and unashamedly fun. Thankfully, Gearbox took pity on us and showed us some amazing gameplay of their new ultra-hard post-game content. In what is quite possibly the most accurately titled mission ever, "You Will Die. Seriously", four level 50 Gearbox employees took on "Terramorphous the Invincible" equipped with an array of legendary guns and shields.
What followed was a seriously epic, large-scale battle that was occasionally jaw-dropping and at other times painful thanks to Terramorphous' insanely powerful attacks. After roughly five minutes of combining their skills (and numerous revives and close-calls) the Gearbox team had managed to remove roughly 10% of the creature's health. It certainly seems that they want a lot of challenge here for existing players and the fight brought to mind MMORPG raids where a mastery of skills and coordination was required for success.
Borderlands 2 is undoubtedly one of the hottest titles shown at gamescom this year. Somehow the game managed to live up to the enormous mountain of hype surrounding it by demonstrating that it can provide exactly what people want: massive guns, rewarding levelling, challenging co-op and, most importantly, pure unadulterated fun. September cannot come soon enough. Bring on the midgets.