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Borderlands 2 preview: Improved guns, smarter enemies, midgets on shields?


Gearbox Studios used Gamescom 2011 to unveil Borderlands 2, the follow-up to its unique cel-shaded open world shooter. Taking advantage of the latest Unreal Engine 3 technology, this sequel promises to serve up even more guns, more menacing enemies, more diverse environments, and an open world that’s chock full of warring factions. The action picks up five years after the events of the first game. The world of Pandora is being run by a new bad guy, Handsome Jack and his Hyperion Corporation. It’s up to the player, who’s been screwed over by Jack, to rid him and his impressive army from the borderlands.

Anyone who played the original Borderlands already knows this world looks nothing like other games, thanks to its cel-shaded beauty. This time around, the environment has been given a more living, breathing feel with new locales. The action will take place beyond the sandy deserts, including in the arctic tundra and grasslands. And the gunplay expands beyond the ground, as players can climb walls and other objects in the game.

Different guns that feel like different guns

The other thing that stands out in this franchise is the literally endless amount of guns at your disposal. As fun as it is to have billions of combinations of weapons, fans asked Gearbox for more diversity with these guns. And Borderlands 2 delivers just that.


“When you pick up a gun, you will be able to tell what components make it up, which manufacturer made it, and not only that, when you fire it, it will feel completely different from any other gun,” said Anthony Burch, the writer of Borderlands 2. “Every weapon manufacturer has their own strategic nuance of the way that their guns work. We’re trying to add more strategy because we want people to use more guns. When you reload the TDR assault rifle in this game, it turns all the bullets that are left in the gun into a grenade. The more ammo you have left, the bigger the explosion will be and it will stun enemies. So the player has to make these interesting strategic decisions of how to use the weapons.”

Bandits and “Gunzerkers”

Bandits are new to the game. They take metal pieces from the scrap yard and make their own guns and vehicles. These weapons have the largest magazine size, holding 72 bullets, which means less reloading. The Gamescom demo showed off a Bandit technical vehicle, which holds four people and comes heavily armored. Burch said the vehicles in this game will be easier to navigate the environment thanks to power slides and other capabilities.

Borderlands 2 introduces a new character class called the Gunzerker, which is the evolution of the Bezerker from the first game. He has a “shoot first, don’t ever ask questions” attitude. One of his skills is the ability to dual-wield any combination of two guns in the game, whether they’re assault rifles, pistols, or rocket launchers. This opens up some very fun new shooter action.

Not just new faces

Gearbox has focused on creating more formidable enemies this time around. Enemies are much smarter, so when they get injured or knocked down, they stumble and try to find cover. Enemies will also work together to flank you. And some will just launch themselves at you kamikaze-style. They can also dodge bullets. The experience is more like fighting real people this time around.


One of the new enemies on display is the Bullymong, a giant, Sasquatch-type monster that Burch called a “real badass.” The enemy AI is not scripted, which makes them very difficult to fight. They’ll pick up pieces of the environment like stalactites and toss them at you, or go to higher ground and jump down on you. No two fights with this arctic Yeti creature are the same.

“Enemies are more challenging,” said Burch. “If you met a fire skag in the first game, it would just spit fire at you and scare you. In the game demo, a fire skag is surrounded by puff skags and he performs a blast and all of them suddenly become fire skags. So what you thought was going to be a simple fight is now actually all about dealing with the fire damage from multiple enemies, which forces you to rethink your strategies.”

Humor with an edge

This being Borderlands, there’s plenty of dark humor in the game. The demo featured a Nomad with a midget strapped to his shield. The midget can go out and distract enemies. Burch said this moment in the demo is both brutal and sad, because the midget has been enslaved and he’s forced to take bullets for him.

“The trick with Borderlands is to always make sure that the humor can be funny, but it also has to have a hard edge to it,” said Burch.

Bigger and better in 2012

Gearbox has fixed a lot of the UI issues in this game. They’ve also made navigating this much larger game world easier thanks to a mini-map that appears on-screen. And there’s a lot more depth across the board, including more game-changing skills that allows players to perform actions like “overheat,” which lets bullets fly even faster from the barrels of guns. Players will be able to dive a lot deeper into the skill tree this time around.

From the first look at this much-anticipated sequel, shooter fans are in for another wild ride with this return to Pandora in 2012. The game is shaping up to be another unique offering from a studio that’s specializing in shooters these days. Gearbox was also showing off Aliens: Colonial Marines at the Sega booth at Gamescom and is developing a new Brothers in Arms game for Ubisoft.

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