Borderlands 2 Preview

It's almost as if the team from Gearbox went into Gamescom with the intention to prove to the hardcore RPG nuts that, yes, their game is a viable RPG.

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Some wrote Borderlands off as a shooter with RPG-lite elements - but the presentation shown behind closed doors at last week's event seems intended as a response to those who claim that, showing off RPG elements of impressive depth in tandem with the manic shooter gameplay the series is known for.

The demo kicked off with a demonstration of the abilities of each class. Each character has three different 'trees' of abilities, all of which lead to slightly different styles of character. One version of Axton, this game's generic soldier, may lean towards raw combat ability, for instance, while another tree may make him more of a support character for the rest of his squad.

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Multiple trees that you can mix-and match adds variety to progression.

The implications are obvious - like any good co-op RPG, adjusting your personal approach to fit your team is easier.

While the four player gameplay is clearly designed for folks to pick one of each of the four base characters, if a team have two or three of the same character they can now - if the players branch properly - be completely different and support each other.

At the end of each of the three trees each character has is a major, entirely different ability. For instance, one of Axton's trees causes his turret - inherited from Borderlands' Roland - to cause a small nuclear explosion when thrown, decimating all those around it. That's just the tip of the iceberg.

Axton is a reliable soldier and the Gunzerker is all about raw firepower, but the two classes that appealed to me most were the Siren, Maya, and Zero, a ninja-looking character who carries a sword.
One of the ultimate abilities Zero can attain is a 'chain kill' - where when he melees an enemy time dilates for a period, making you super-fast and difficult to kill.

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However you do it, it's all about killing in the end.

In this time you can chain together as many melee kills as you can manage, almost all of them instant. The Gearbox staffer playing managed to rack up seven kills in one thirty-second burst, and it looked pretty damn fun and impressive.

The one of Maya's abilities demonstrated is even more devastating - 'Thought Lock', a mind-hack of sorts that takes over an enemy and causes them to temporarily turn on their allies.

With certain upgrades, the move can then be made to transfer when the enemy dies - jumping like a parasite from the dying host to another unsuspecting mercenary, robot or beast.

This means that the ability can last for an impressive length of time, leading to devastating effects amongst large group of enemies. When I got hands on after the presentation, I specced in this direction.

Before the hands-on the team had one more thing to show us - the Mechromancer DLC class. Arriving within 60 days of the game's launch and free for those who pre-order, the unfinished class looks like an awesome addition to the cast.

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Character customization is also a new addition.

She's essentially like a summoner or beast master in traditional RPG terms, except she summons a hulking, massive robot called Deathtrap.

Deathtrap floats ominously about the battlefield slapping, smashing and crushing enemies of his own free will, leaving the mechromancer free to shoot with her own weapons.

A great deal of her skills appear to be geared towards buffing up Deathtrap's offensive capabilities, but other skills shown involved adding ways for the mechromancer to protect herself from damage while her robot friend does the heavy lifting.

Her progression tree was clearly as unfinished as the rest of the character, unbalanced and missing icons and text - but what was there looked interesting.

One notable ability is titled 'Close Enough', and causes bullets to ricochet from walls and other areas to hit enemies. Firing a shotgun in the general direction of enemy from a distance proves surprisingly successful with this cool ability - one designed to make the character easy to play, as ill-thought out comments about a "girlfriend mode" a few weeks ago underlined. She looks like a very cool free bonus, so pre-ordering is definitely advised.

So we've got diverse character progression - but another major part of Borderlands 2 is an investment in post-game content and raids, much like an MMO. We're shown a brief glimpse at one such raid, a battle against the gigantic Terramorphous the Invincible.

Minutes battling it saw the high-level Gearbox squad of four only dent its massive health bar, and ended with one player getting killed by the creature. These battles are designed to be hugely challenging and take a long time to complete, a reward for the most hardcore Borderlands players.

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New vehicles have been added to the mix.
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After the presentation we got to go hands-on with a new location - an arena curated by a robot obsessed with making sexual puns. The puns were funny and the combat, while wave-based, was incredibly satisfying, especially with some of the abilities I kitted Maya out with.

Booting us in with untouched level 31 characters, I got to explore all three sides of the tech tree some - and walked away utterly desperate to explore some more to figure out exactly what my build will be in the final game.

There's a great deal of variety here, and while not as deep more 'full-on' RPGs, there's plenty to sink your teeth into. 

The loot collecting is still as addicting as ever, but what may keep me coming back this time is making new builds and twists on characters to adjust my play style. Simply put, I'm really looking forward to this one.

Borderlands 2 is out for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 in September.

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