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'Borderlands 2' hands-on preview: Gearbox's larger, more varied sequel

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'Borderlands 2' screenshot

© 2K Games


Borderlands 2 is the follow-up to the successful 2009 shooter. There was nothing quite like the original when it came out, boasting a wonderful blend of first-person shooting and RPG elements and an almost countless amount of loot. The sequel looks to build on all of that by introducing more variety across the board - from the enemies to mission objectives - to deliver a notably different experience.

If there's one thing that's obvious about Borderlands 2, it's that Gearbox isn't taking anything for granted. This is a genuine attempt to produce a bigger and even better title.

Most of the first Borderlands didn't deviate from the brown desert look, but if the expansive, grassy wastelands are anything to go by, the developer is serious about producing a colourful variety of environments for the player to explore. Not only that, but the beautiful art style that helped make the original game stand out looks even sharper and more polished this time around. It's certainly a treat for the eyes.

'Borderlands 2' screenshot

© 2K Games

'Borderlands 2' screenshot

© 2K Games



A new cast of characters

They're also doing away with the old cast of playable characters, bringing on board four completely new faces and classes - a Commando, Assassin, Gunzerker and a brand new Siren.

The Gunzerker, a new class similar to Brick's Berserker from the first game, has an action skill that allows for dual-wielding any two weapons for a brief period of time, while much of his skill tree is aimed at getting the most out of his guns - whether it's increasing the action skill's duration time with every kill you make, cutting down the time it takes to reload and switch weapons, or making the last round in your magazine do an insane amount of damage, perfect for shotguns and close-up combat.

We alternated between corrosive and shock sub-machine guns depending on the enemy and found the core gameplay to be familiar but with a few twists, resulting in an experience that is as fun as ever. Wasting skags with corrosive damage is still satisfying, but there is also an abundance of new enemies that really mixes up the combat. WAR loaders are missile-firing robots vulnerable to shock, while the thresher is a gigantic tentacled creature that pops up from underground.

'Borderlands 2' screenshot

© 2K Games



A different Siren

Playing as Maya - a Siren - we found her action skill to be extremely handy. The phaselock can suspend an enemy in the air, immobilising them. It seems that the bigger the enemy, the less effective the skill is, but it has a short cooldown period and every couple of seconds is invaluable especially if you have three other companions unloading bullets at the beast at the same time without fearing retaliation.

If you go deep into the skill tree, you can even upgrade the phaselock so it can revive allies instantaneously. Points can be spent with the Siren to, for example, up the chances of elemental damage or critical hits. She can also become more durable with extra shield capacity or regenerate health during phaselock.

Though we didn't have the opportunity to give the Commando or Assassin a play, the new action skills and revamped skill trees we experienced feel more than fresh enough that these characters don't come across as carbon copies of the original counterparts. Also take into account the once-again virtually endless number of weapons out there in the world to pick up and your own character will feel unique and personalised to you.

'Borderlands 2' screenshot

© 2K Games



Changing up missions

It doesn't matter how you spec your character, though, if you're going to go in with guns blazing. A later cavernous area contained a sizeable crab-like creature that was initially tough to take down. They seemed immune to all but explosive damage and grenades, which we ran out of fairly quickly when we encountered the third one. But soon we found its weak spot - hidden on its legs behind some rather weak protective armour.

The joy of coming across new enemy types and utilising different strategies maintains a level of welcome freshness to the game. The combat is action-packed and hectic in a thrilling way, and it's backed up by an improved quest structure and more objectives variety. We met up with original character Mordecai in the wastelands who told us to bring back his abducted Bloodwing.

Infiltrating a robot-infested shipyard, we were stopped by an impenetrable steel door, and we were only able to progress by damaging the robots enough to paralyse them and forcing them to let us through. And when we arrived at Bloodwing's cell, only a feather remained indicating that he had moved. But instead of having to backtrack to report to Mordecai as the first Borderlands would have likely had you do, a new objective popped up encouraging us to follow another lead.

'Borderlands 2' screenshot

© 2K Games



Another mission revolved around retrieving a collection of pictures. Finding them in a dumpster, the game presented us with two options - give them to Marcus, or hand them over to Moxxi. Being offered multiple ways to complete quests is an exciting prospect, and Gearbox teased that the decisions will not only give you different rewards but also possibly change the world in significant ways.

In short, there's a lot to be excited about when it comes to Borderlands 2. From what we played, it seems Gearbox are going gung-ho and attempting to make improvements in every major department. Though Borderlands 2 retains much of what made the original so entertaining, it's clear that the sequel isn't just a rehash and is one to keep an eye on when it comes out later this year.

> Read Digital Spy's Borderlands 2 interview with Gearbox Software
> Borderlands 2 developer Gearbox: We didn't want to do a wimpy sequel

Borderlands 2 will be available for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC in September 2012.

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