Hands On With Borderlands 2 Co-Op «

After that swooning love letter a little while back, in which Claptrap promised to sweep us PC gamers off our feet and carry us over the threshold, I was a little disappointed that my first hands-on experience with Borderlands 2 had to be with an Xbox 360 gamepad (because the PC controls weren’t ready). But this shooter certainly ran beautifully on an Alienware X51 PC — a sly setup that let Gearbox and 2K demonstrate Borderlands 2 to Xbox and PlayStation gamers where it looks far better than it ever will on those platforms. In true 1920×1080 resolution and with high-definition textures, it really does look good — improvements over the first game are subtle but noticeable, and even more so than before every frame looks ripped from the pages of a stylish graphic novel about guns, explosions, and loot on an untamed alien world.

Army of Two

Mike Nelson and I teamed up to run through a mission — the evil Handsome Jack had captured original Pandoran treasure hunter Mordecai’s pet bird Bloodwing, and he needs our help! I chose Maya the Siren — unlike her predecessor Lilith, who has a get-out-of-trouble-free phase walk ability that makes her temporarily incorporeal, Maya has a more offensive ability called phase lock that traps enemies for a few seconds. On top of that, I chose an upgrade called Sweet Release from Maya’s Harmony tree (one of three power groups) that causes enemies that die while phase locked to burst like pinatas full of health orbs.

Mordeaci’s back as an NPC who’s too lazy to get his own bird.

Mike, meanwhile, chose Salvador the Gunzerker, whose class ability let him dual-wield for a few seconds to double his damage output, and he spread his upgrade points across Salvador’s three trees to get abilities like enhanced firing speed, a small chance for each bullet to cause an explosion, and a huge damage bonus for the last round in a clip.

This is still Pandora, but Borderlands 2’s topography is far more colorful and varied.

While the art style and location are the same, Borderlands 2 is definitely a refreshing change of scenery — even though this is still Pandora, which we were led to believe was as uniformly arid as Tatooine, Borderlands 2’s topography is far more colorful and varied. Our mission to rescue Bloodwing took us through a green grassy valley with purple mushroom trees, an industrial warehouse area with a high-tech interior, a “wildlife exploitation preserve,” and more familiar desert area with pools of bubbling green acid, and a cave full of giant insect hives.

We Bought a Zoo

Likewise, while the original Borderlands has some interesting wildlife, Borderlands 2 has considerably more. Just in this demo area we encountered more species of Pandoran creatures than in all of the last game, including dragon-like critters with scorpion tails, bugs that would morph into more powerful versions if left alive, big stompy tripods with crystal shells protecting vulnerable spots on their legs, burrowing worms with big teeth and tentacles — and of course lots and lots of the good old dog-like skags. That’s in addition to Handsome Jack’s army of futuristic troopers and a half-dozen different varieties of robot. Add to that the different variants with unique abilities, like the worm that creates a gravity field to suck you in and then whack you with spikes, and it’s fairly safe to say that Borderlands 2 will not want for anything when it comes to enemy variety.

I wonder where they’ll put the Troll Face?

One of the unique things about Borderlands is its huge catalog of pistols, assault rifles, shotguns, sniper rifles, and rocket launchers, each with their own interesting looks and animations for firing and reloading. Borderlands 2 definitely carries on that proud tradition, because right from the start I was wowed by a seemingly utilitarian-looking Tedior-brand shotgun. When I hit reload, Maya flung the entire gun away, and on impact it detonated like a grenade — and an instant later a new, fully loaded shotgun had materialized in her hands like a cup of hot earl gray tea. The amount of damage the exploding gun deals is dependent on how many rounds are in the clip when it’s tossed, so firing once and then hitting reload will do the most damage. It’s like having an alt-fire grenade launcher, and it works for all Tedior weapons, from the pistol up to and including the rocket launcher, which turns into a rocket of sorts itself when thrown.

When I hit reload, Maya flung the entire gun away, and on impact it detonated like a grenade.

There are plenty of other weapon manufacturers on Pandora, each with unique looks and traits. One fires projectiles that move faster the longer you hold down the trigger, another gets more accurate. And with the randomization system shuffling around add-ons and to produce countless combinations of stats like accuracy, firing rate, clip size, reload time, and elemental damage type, there’s an absurd number of possibilities.

The Fifth Element

Speaking of elemental damage, Borderlands 2 adds one more (to the existing incendiary, explosive, shock, and corrosive) by inventing a new element: cooperation! Or as it’s called here, Slag. It doesn’t do much damage on its own, but it’ll intensify any other weapon type that hits the same target during the next few seconds. I was able to juggle this by swapping weapons back and forth between a Slag-enhanced pistol and a shock-enhanced assault rifle, but considering this was co-op, it was easier to just shoot the same guy Mike was shooting to increase his damage.

Hey look, it’s the car we didn’t get to drive! Looks sweet, though.

I wouldn’t call what we played notably challenging (not that that’d be an accurate measure anyway, since Gearbox gave us leveled-up characters to play with), but we did die a few times, particularly when facing badass-level miniboss creatures like the badass shock skag. But even death didn’t stop the slaughter for long — when I went down I had the opportunity to fire from the ground to kill an enemy before bleeding out to restore my health; if I failed (usually because Mike killed the enemy I was trying for) and Mike couldn’t be bothered to resurrect me himself, I’d just respawn at the nearest checkpoint and charge back in guns blazing. Because I’m such a team player, when I leveled up I chose an ability that let Maya resurrect a teammate from a distance using her phase lock, so Mike had even less down-time than I did.

Even death didn’t stop the slaughter for long.

Things will get tricky when difficulty is cranked up and scaled for four players, so that will be the true test. Co-op buddies should be even easier to come by this time, since Borderlands 2 uses Steamworks for easy inviting of friends — plus there’s nothing stopping Gearbox from implementing cross-platform play with PlayStation 3 (a la Portal 2). Gearbox wouldn’t deny it was in the works.

We didn’t get to try out the other two player classes, or any vehicles (and their supposedly improved handling) but there should be ample time for that between now and September. I’m looking forward to it, because if Gearbox can live up to its promises — including more attention to the plot and a better ending — Borderlands 2 will fix pretty much every problem I cited when I reviewed the first game.


looking for something?