PAX East 2012: Borderlands 2 Preview

No game physically dominated the PAX East show floor the way that Borderlands 2 did, no small feat considering the massive displays for Max Payne 3 and Assassin’s Creed III across from it on each side. As impressive as the four massive statues for each of the playable characters were, though, they were hardly the main attraction at the booth.

Some of my fellow press and I were taken to several vacant stations, and we all ended up pairing with someone else. There were two classes made available to play: a level 20 Siren and a level 20 Gunzerker. I offered my partner first dibs, which meant that I was going to spend the next twenty minutes playing with the Siren.

My partner and I found ourselves in a what looked like a volcanic area, but instead of lava or magma the area was flowing with highly corrosive acid. The art style is instantly familiar, but it’s far more polished than the original Borderlands. Having a set art style for Borderlands 2 from the very beginning played a big role — remember that Gearbox Studios completely revamped the art halfway through developing the first game. The time spent perfecting what is now a definitive art style for the franchise is obvious, and looking at it is a treat.

Once we were finished gawking at the sleek cel-shaded graphics, it was time to finally time to finally dig in. The level that we played unfortunately didn’t give us a vehicle to drive, but there was plenty to shoot at and keep us occupied. As we were both level 20, we had plenty of skill points to spend in our respective character’s skill tree. I increased my weapon and critical damage, but also gave myself the ability to heal my partner by shooting him, which was as handy as it was hilarious.

The core gameplay hasn’t changed much since the original Borderlands, but there’s no point in fixing something that isn’t broken. Instead, some of the guns have been given a twist. The gun I used the most during my demo was a completely disposable shotgun; rather than reloading, you simply throw it away and use a fresh gun. If you’re good with your aim, you can even hit an enemy with your empty and do damage, and the more ammo you leave in the gun when you toss it the more effective it is. Doing so was surprisingly useful — when the bullet spray barely phased flying enemies, I threw the shotgun at them to knock them onto the ground. I was told that other guns could get such quirks, such as an assault rifle that gets more accurate the longer you hold down the trigger.

This time around, the Siren class had a different active ability. Where Lilith’s Phasewalk made her invisible, invulnerable, and faster for a short period in Borderlands, Maya’s Phaselock immobilizes and levitates enemies. This was especially useful against large adversaries, as you and your partners could quickly get right to their weak point and blast away for critical damage.

The demo was close to thirty minutes long, but it was over in what felt like ten. Playing with a buddy — even a complete stranger, as it was in my case — remained rewarding, and I can’t emphasize enough how gorgeous the game is so far. My partner stuttered around the environment a bit as if he were on a weak connection, but that should be an easy fix between now and Borderlands 2‘s release on September 18th.