E3 2012: Borderlands 2 Impressions

It's probably a very great credit indeed to the team at Gearbox that after a scant half an hour with my hands on Borderlands 2 I can feel the loot monster within me awakened, desperate to pick up more guns and shields.

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Even on a game that wasn't my own, that draw is still there in this new iteration on the FPS-RPG mash-up, the sensation increased and enhanced by the addition of new properties and effects available on weapons you pick up.

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Four players is still the way to go if you can get friends together.

Some of these effects have a larger effect on gameplay than one might imagine, too. Things that at first elicited a mental note from me for being cool quickly became useful, viable combat tactics.

One manufacturer's guns don't reload, for instance - instead when you hit X you toss the weapon away, teleporting a new one into your hand direct from the factory.

The tossed weapon explodes, and trashing a weapon with bullets still in the clip will, of course, result in a bigger explosion.

Facing down some of the mercenary robots that series staple Claptrap was instructing me to blast, the use of the exploding carcasses of spent weapons became a major staple of my strategy. Mix that in with a gigantic rocket launcher that fired acid-tipped rockets at an alarming rate and I was a very happy man throughout the E3 demo.

This, of course, was all random. The weapons I began with, the loot I picked up throughout - including that rocket launcher - were all randomly doled out and the person next to me was having a very different experience. Looking at one guy who'd been lucky enough to find a shotgun with accuracy that'd rival a sniper rifle, I couldn't help but feel a pang of jealousy.

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The skill trees seem deeper and more varied.

That's the beauty of the original Borderlands, and here it's made better by more variety. Better tools to trade weapons with other players are in place this time too, making that crux of the game economy a lot better than dropping your gun on the ground and hoping for the best.

Past the weaponry there are a number of new tweaks and gameplay changes on offer this time around including four new classes with four all-new skill trees.

The previous classes don't return, but their best-loved skills, including my favourite, Soldier Roland's automated turret, return on the new classes alongside a bunch of all-new abilities.

It's always tough to get a handle on skill trees and character progression in a time-limited demo at a noisy show like E3, but what I could gather from my time with the game indicated a deeper tree with harder choices to make that'll define one person's character from another more noticeably than in the previous game.

The addition of visible gear will also help players to distinguish themselves in cooperative gameplay. While this is only split into two categories - head and body - that mingles with more visible differences in guns and shields to make it easier to see who's who when playing with friends.

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It's all about how good the guns feel, really.

It handles as well as it ever did on a 360 controller. It's easier to swap weapons now and the redesigned menu interface is a massive improvement.

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A better interface for keyboard and mouse users is also promised, though I didn't get to see it.

PC players can definitely expect a visual leap - I felt the game looked a significant clip better than its predecessor - while console players can likely only expect optimization this late in the cycle.

Borderlands 2 is evolution over revolution, concepts from the original tweaked, improved and perfected rather than turned on their head. After how much fun I had with the original, I can hardly argue with that.

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