In 2K's E3 hands-on session with Borderlands 2, the returning co-op gameplay was very much in demand.
The assembled journalists were able to play new characters Zer0 (yes, with a zero) the Assassin, and Axon the Commando, and this session specifically showcased a new multi-stage, objective-based co-op.
The first sequence of the mission is to find and breach a guarded drop-point to retrieve and repurpose a powerful robot. If successful, the second sequence is to escort and protect this robot as it vandalises statues of villain Handsome Jack; a thematically appropriate pursuit for the protagonists of Borderlands.
The build on display showcased familiar snappy gameplay reminiscent of fast paced shooters, yet still entirely loyal to the original Borderlands.
The new classes draw on influences from the original game. In the case of Axton, the commando class: "We knew we wanted to bring some of the gameplay from the old soldier, Roland, from the first game. We didn't just want to do a re-tread", states Art Director Jeremy Cooke.
The new Scorpio Turret 2.0, is an example of building on this work from the original game. "We completely re-designed the turret, made it a huge upgradeable thing, as you buy skills you see the turret evolve and change.”
The second character on display was Zer0 the Assassin. Cooke notes that this character is an "interesting hybrid."
"He has a little bit of what Mordecai players might have enjoyed in the last game. He’s one of our characters that is focused on sniping, if you want to go down that tree.”
However, as a hybrid class, gameplay style can widely differ based on what skills and paths are taken for building the character. An example is the Be Like Water ability the Assassin class has, which rewards melee attacks with ranged bonuses and vice versa. This is similar in effect to the diverging abilities of the turret. Cooke’s belief is that these abilities dramatically impact how characters will play on the battlefield.
Cooke went on to identify a number of areas he felt were lacking in the original Borderlands, and how this is changing for the sequel.
"We found our voice very late in development on Borderlands 1. Through DLC I think a lot of people saw how our storytelling evolved."
In this area there has been a renewed focus. Cooke says, "The main thing you're seeing now is how rich and deep the story and the missions are."
In this iteration of the series, the gameplay and artistic direction is even more exaggerated than its predecessor, which has been evident in the gameplay footage released and in earlier previews. Cooke says of their current focus: "It's really about making it be more bold and more fun. In the first game we had moments of that. It's funny because we told ourselves the same thing. Back before we re-designed the art style, we're like this game is really over the top, why is the art so serious?
"Now it's got this flashy, interesting style, this cool line work. We can go further with this, we can have more colour, we can have more energy."
Shifting towards new experiences and adding further variance is a recurring theme in the development of Borderlands 2.
"Variety in the enemies was a huge one that we put a lot of energy into. We have quadrupled the types of enemies we have from the original game, so that things didn't get stale. Even in multiple playthroughs we bring in new enemies you haven't seen before, new behaviours, so you're constantly having to adapt and evolve your gameplay."
Its arguable that the original Borderlands is guilty of one of the tropes of post-apocalyptic themed games. As Cooke pointed out himself: "Why am I living in this brown, brown world?
“Back at the office we have this world map, you've seen this tiny bit of the west coast of Pandora, and we had always planned from that view to have swamps, frozen wastelands, mountaintops, volcanic areas, coastlines. You didn't really experience much of that in the first game. A huge part of my goal as Art Director was ‘we're going to see more’.”
This is partly inspired by Cooke’s own experience in Iceland.
“Previously, we had these really harsh environments but it was all desert... But where are some other harsh places we can go? By chance I had this trip and just loved the country and how alien and wonderful the landscapes were. When you see some of the green areas, that's inspired by that place... I think that part of our style is having all these different influences and the sum of all those is really unique.”
This increased variance is illustrative of Borderlands adding to its established formula. This presentation was promising, just as previous previews have been. It continues to affirm that Borderlands 2 is shaping up to be a very solid title indeed.