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E3 2012: Borderlands 2 keeps getting better in a new demo showing off Zero the Assassin and Axton the Commando

Borderlands 2 just doesn’t stop giving. Senior producer Sean Reardon described its quality to Digital Trends as obscene the first time I sat down with the game back in March, and I didn’t disagree with his assessment. Some games aspire to inspire, looking to elevate their players with thought provoking insightful moments. Borderlands 2 doesn’t extract revelation when you play, but god damn is it fun.

A brand new mission called “Statuesque” shown off at E3 2012 is everything the game was when I played it before: Smooth feeling, full of loot, challenging, and beautiful. It did however have all four of the game’s characters as playable, making it a markedly different experience. 2K and Gearbox didn’t let us play with a full compliment of four people, pairing players off instead and letting them choose.

Zero the Assassin and Axton the Commando are quite a bit different from Gunzerker Salvador and Siren Maya. Zero for example uses stealth and speed moves to move in close to enemies for strong sword melee attacks, making him the character most noticeably different from his gun-focused peers. Axton meanwhile is all about bullets, but unlike Salvador, he’s a bit weaker and doesn’t make for a good tank. Instead he uses turrets to even out his weaknesses.

“Statuesque” was also a more contained mission than those demoed in March. The crew is tasked with bringing down statues of villain Handsome Jack in a gleaming Pandora city, an environment that is smaller than the wildlife preserve and junkyard shown previously. The city is also as different from those environments as they were from the deserts of the original game.

In order to bring down the statues, you have to find a maintenance robot out in the environment and escort him around as he saws through the statues. Skirmishes with soldiers and robots break out at each. The set up is deeply familiar, a common protect-the-asset mission seen in so many different games, but Borderlands 2 makes up for that apparent lack of originality with silky play and good humor. Hearing Handsome Jack yell at you as you bring down each statue could be groan inducing but it’s very, very funny.

The depth of the challenge in this outing might have been mitigated had four players been able to take on the enemies. A massive robot boss appears after the fourth statue is taken down and it wiped me and my partner out in seconds flat. We were teamed as Zero and Axton though, vulnerable characters that would have benefitted from Maya’s stasis abilities and Salvador’s hardiness.

Borderlands 2 may not be that novel anymore, but no other game at E3 2012 matched its lightness and beauty. Lots of games have guns, but most take themselves so seriously that they’re hard to play. Borderlands 2 is a breath of fresh air and shaping up to be one of the year’s best games.

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