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Borderlands 2: Pandora Park - killing new monsters!

As I walked into the large loft filled with flat-screen TVs, black leather couches, and many, many journalists playing the Gearbox Software’s three-hour demo of Borderlands 2, my first thought was, "I don't belong here." These guys looked serious…and I was a secret fangirl in their midst.

I'm not a journalist or Internet "gamer girl" — I'm just Bitmob/GamesBeat boss Shoe's relatively-new-to-gaming girlfriend, and I obsessively loved Borderlands when he introduced the first-person shooter (my first!) with role-playing-game elements to me last year. Tons and tons of guns? Yes! Badass skills to level up? Double yes! Loot dropping all over the freaking place? I'm yours!

I spent an insane amount of time in the world of Pandora playing split-screen co-op on the original game, and I basically squee-ed all over myself [editor's note: gross!] when the Borderlands 2 “Doomsday” trailer came out. I was ridiculously excited. Then about a month ago, Shoe mentioned he was invited to the preview event to get hands-on with the sequel. I was so happy for him, really. But when his GamesBeat colleague couldn't make the demo at the last minute, Shoe was hurtin' for a co-op partner, and what kind of girlfriend would I be if I didn't help him out?


So that's how I ended up one of the lucky players sitting in front of the Wildlife Preserve and Caustic Caverns missions in Borderlands 2. Does it live up to a fangirl’s expectations? A good sequel should bring back what you loved about the original with improvements that you didn't even know you wanted — such as a sharper, more polished art design and more varied, colorful landscapes, for example. The original Borderlands showcased some stylishly bleak badlands, so it was a surprise to see alien trees (that drop loot!) and lush greenery in one level and lakes of seething yellow-green acid in another. As for what I originally loved…

Borderlands 2: Salvador loves Gunzerking long time

Tons and tons of guns?

They’re back, and as promised, on a “bazilliondier” level. I’m not a gun aficionado, but in the few hours of quality time I had with Borderlands 2, my head was swimming with the different types of weapons that dropped. Salvadore, the new Gunzerker character, brings a new dual-wielding special ability that promises interesting monster-massacring gun match-ups: maybe an incendiary SMG with a secondary corrosive rocket launcher? Or an assault rifle paired with a shotgun? The possibilities are mind-bendingly endless.

Badass skills to level up?

Now there are even more! I spent most of my time playing Maya the Siren, and just like in the original game, each class has its own unique skill. Instead Borderlands 1 veteran Lilith's potentially fiery Phasewalk, Maya completely disables most enemies with a Phaselock bubble, levitating them up to make them all the easier to riddle with bullets. Each Vault Hunter has three different (and involved) skill paths to throw your points down that build upon his or her unique skill, and from what I could tell about Maya, her trees boiled down into the following:

1. Fast! Fast! Fast! — the Motion tree included various skills that sped up reloading, shield recharging, and extended enemy suspension in Phaselock.

2. Heal! Heal! Heal! — the Harmony tree is great for playing nice with your teammates as you can heal them remotely in various ways while Phaselock is in effect.

3. Kill! Kill! Kill! — the Cataclysm tree makes Maya a huge offensive threat with increased elemental-effect likelihood and a Phaselock bubble that will fry everything within and around it.

In the rush to play the two missions available for the preview, I had to cut my skill tree analyses short, but rest assured that I let out quite a few geeky “So cool!” remarks as I scrolled around.

Borderlands 2: Phaselocking its ass

Loot dropping all over the place?

My crazy inner collector gnome was definitely satisfied, and I’m the type of gamer you do not want to watch playing Skyrim. (Yes, I do need to look in that burial urn!) The folks at Gearbox made my OCD tendencies even easier to appease with an elegant upgrade to automatically sucking up any ammo and money on the ground near your character, and it seemed to me that these new monsters spew out even more guns, grenades, and artifacts from their misshapen bodies than before. On top of that, we encountered a gigantic crab-like monster that is protected by highly valuable armor that makes it a bitch to attack but blasts off into shiny gold nuggets for you to pick up.

Speaking of those monsters…

The spiderants are uglier and meaner, new thresher monsters (that look like blown-up, vehicle-sized centipedes and can’t be Phaselocked) burrow to attack, flying survey drones repair damaged robots so they don’t stay dead, and the now more agile human commandos do a fancy roll away to find cover. And one type of monster received my warmest greeting: “Aww! Skags!! I’ve missed them!” Then they tried to eat me.

The fighting felt more dynamic with this greater mix of enemies. And while this is arguably the most important aspect of Borderlands for the developers to polish up, they didn’t neglect the story, a weak point in the original. Gearbox promises to deliver more of it with Borderlands 2, and our preview provided some intriguing glimpses at how this game’s antagonist, Handsome Jack, will lead you on a merry, bloody chase. The man actually stole Bloodwing, man’s-best-bird-friend, from the first game!

This led to a mission that wasn’t your typical kill-everything-in-sight romp: In order to progress through a normally impassable metal door to rescue Bloodwing, you’re instructed by (also from Borderlands 1) Mordecai to only disable (not destroy!) three security robots so repair units would have to open the door to reach them…and he and I then proceeded to yell at Shoe, who kept melting the robots into nothingness with a corrosive rocket launcher instead.

Borderlands 2: Go, team, go!

This general fangirl over-enthusiasm when playing was a trend as I let out quite a few…colorful phrases, all while the other journalists stoically played on. Sorry to anyone I disturbed!

But I’m not apologetic about how much I enjoyed my preview, and September 18 seems much too far away to get back onto Pandora. Don’t miss me too much, skag puppies! I’m coming to kill you.