At a glance...

Previewer Platform Publisher Developer Players Release Date
Matt Bailey Xbox 360 2K Games Gearbox Software 1-4 (Online Co-op) 21st September 2012

Borderlands 2 preview

At first glance it can be hard to tell the difference between Borderlands and its sequel. Borderlands 2 is a bit prettier, but otherwise they share the same visual style and pretty much the same interface. Gearbox, however, have used this as a chance to refine the game rather than reinvent it. Vehicles are getting improved handling, and the world is now continuous rather than broken up into chunks.

There's a bit of blood and guts in this game...

There's a bit of blood and guts in this game...

However, when they showed the game to me at Gamescom the focus was instead on the four new characters, each representing a different class. The first of these was Salvador, known as a Gunzerker, who is most similar to Brick in the first game. One enhancement for him is the ability to duel-wield, which when combined with Borderlands' world-record winning speciality in weapon combinations should provide for rather a lot of combat options. Next up was Maya, a siren, whose Phaselock ability becomes particularly useful when upgraded to use mind control to turn enemies to your side. Zer0 is a ninja assassin whose stealth ability let's him sneak up and pull off very powerful melee moves. The best upgrade here is the opportunity to chain stealth kills together; each kill gives you more time to stay cloaked and pull off the next hit. The final of the four is Axton, most similar to Roland, whose turret is now far more versatile, with a large range of customisation and upgrade options, such as the projectile type, and the ability to do teleport deployment like one of the grenade options in the first game. There's also a Nuke which creates a large explosion on deployment. Turrets can also be picked up and reclaimed before they have have been used up to reduce the cool down period.

A fifth character, referred to as a "Mechromancer", is on the way via downloadable content (DLC), free to those who pre-order the game for anywhere. While the game may not be due for release for a month, it has also been finished for a similar amount of time, and Gearbox are using this period to introduce another style of play, one that hopes to be more suitable to those new to either the series or the genre. This comes from her upgradable abilities, including a deadly robot called Deathtrap who takes out people on your behalf, and "Close Enough", where projectiles ricochet off walls and floors.

This guy looks friendly

This guy looks friendly

At the other end of the scale, Borderlands 2 is also aiming to cater to their more hardcore fan base, some of whom have put in hundreds of hours with the first game. I was shown a mission that was designed for 4-player co-op, where all 4 players had completed the game and taken their characters up to Level 50. So not for everyone at all. The enemy was a large Krakken-like creature called Terra Morphis, and it would take even this high-level quartet a long time to defeat it.

New features for all include the Badass Rank, which is earned by completing preset challenges. You'll compete your rank between friends, but it's more than just bragging rights; completing challenges unlocks points which can be used to earn small bonuses, like a 1% health increase, which unlike other perks, can be used across all of your characters which are tied to your account. Loot should also become more useful due to increased range of customisation options that will be available to you. The 'stash', essentially a bank where you can put your loot, will finally allow you to move loot between your characters, a much-requested feature by fans.

Everything is better with lasers

Everything is better with lasers

Borderlands 2 isn't going too far away from the formula which made it popular, but with surprisingly little competition for its blend of RPG and first-person action, it didn't have to take any big leaps. Instead, in the time I was able to play the game I came away thinking that it was a more refined game with a bunch of interesting new characters and stories which should win over both fans of the original and newcomers alike. It also certainly gets you hooked; I was too busy playing co-op with one of the developers to notice that I was overrunning into my XCOM appointment across the hall, and considering I was looking forward to playing that game too, that has to be a good sign for when Borderlands 2 arrives on the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC on 21st September.

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