Gearbox was humbled by the surprising popularity of Borderlands, and believes its upcoming sequel will make fans very happy indeed.
Back at Gamescom in 2009, Gearbox Software was demonstrating its then-upcoming Borderlands game to small audiences, begging people to give this new, original game a chance amid a sea of sequels. Fast forward to today and that game has been one of the developer’s biggest successes — a fact about which the team seems humbled and genuinely grateful. As such, they are adamant that Borderlands will not end up offering a series of what they call “one year turnaround content dump sequels” — the new game is what they call a “true sequel.”
What does that mean, though? To answer that, Gearbox demonstrated a sequence from near the beginning of the game. The player character, having been stranded and left for dead in an Arctic tundra by villain of the piece “Handsome Jack,” is out for revenge, and the first step in that process is to find a friend whom they know has been captured nearby — a friend who turns out to be Roland, one of the four playable characters from the original game.
Story takes on a significantly more important role in Borderlands 2. Lead writer Anthony Burch sat down and worked with every department and had regular meetings with the game’s creative director in order to ensure that story and game work together in perfect harmony. Burch is under no illusions as to what really makes Borderlands tick, though.
“The gameplay’s leading the story, absolutely,” he says. “We don’t want to force the story down the player’s throat, but we want them to feel like what they’re doing is important.”
To this end, Burch says, the player characters are asked for help by the original game’s protagonists. As badass as they were by the end of the original game, it seems that in the intervening five years prior to the start of the sequel they may have let themselves go a bit, and seem to get themselves into scrapes just often enough for the new ensemble cast to come in and kick ass in their own way.
“The story’s actually designed in an episodic manner like a TV show,” Burch says. “We don’t want people to play for six hours and not be sure what they achieved in the story. We have smaller stories, each with their own three-act structure, to give a better sense of progression through the plot.”
In order to help the storytelling process, the underlying game systems have been changed significantly. Quests are no longer a simple case of “kill/collect this, then return to where you started” — objectives are dynamic and can often change. Quest markers can move, and the whole world feels more “alive” as a result.
It’s not just the story that has had an overhaul, though — the acclaimed random weapon system of the original also has greater depth. Now the different manufacturers of the guns play a role in both the weapon’s visual appearance and the way they behave. Tediore guns, for example, are “the Walmart of the weaponry world,” and as such “reloading” one actually sees your character toss it away like a piece of trash before pulling out another identical weapon. Hitting something with a tossed gun allows you to do a surprising amount of damage, too, dependent on the amount of ammo left in it when you throw it away.
AI has been enhanced too, with the player no longer able to game the system by hopping up onto rocks that enemies can’t reach. Now, enemies will cooperate, work together and behave in more unpredictable manners. On the flip side, though, they all have new injured, staggered and knockdown states, making it obvious that shooting them is actually having a physical effect on them as well as depleting their health bar.
All in all, Borderlands 2 looks like Borderlands, but bigger, better, more so. The game has been refined and adapted to provide a smoother experience with less fiddling around in menus — and the menus themselves have been revamped to work better in split screen and on PC. The HUD is cleaner and simpler, with a much-needed minimap function. And the quests on offer provide a much greater variety of things to do.
In short, it’s looking great so far. Those who played and loved the original will not be disappointed — and neither will newcomers.
Expect Borderlands 2 in “fiscal year 2013″ — which could mean any time from early April next year.