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Yet it's not all silliness and absurdity. Gearbox promises a wholesale overhaul to the way enemies behave in combat. You'll find enemies who are more keenly aware of their surroundings and chances of survival, jumping up to higher ledges to flank you, dodge out of the way of gunfire, or slink off behind cover and back toward safety when they're critically injured. "Enemies are actually going to work together, call plays, and take more advantage of the environment," says Gibson. At least, the smart ones will do that. The psychos, everyone's favorite raving lunatics from the first game, still operate with a mantra that Gibson describes as, "Wow that's a gun! I want my face in front of it."
Getting around from quest to quest looks to be easier thanks to reworked vehicle physics. Gibson promises that your car of choice will no longer freak out when it clips the slightest rock, reacting more smoothly to bumps along the road while adding more variance to the previously zero-sum game of trying to run over enemies. (It was either you killed them dead, or they stopped your car.) Speaking of navigation, Gibson also boasts that views of the gameworld from high-up vantage points are now "geographically correct" rather than a faked skybox, meaning that you can now spot someplace you'd like to go and simply head in that direction until you get there.
The one quest we were shown served to explain what Gearbox is trying to do differently with some of the mission designs. In this case, you're out to rescue a friend of yours who is being held hostage at the top of a dam by the evil Hyperion corporation. As it turns out, that friend is actually Roland from the first game--there's a new cast of characters, while the original cast return as non-player characters--and he's being held by a floaty jet engine robot monster called the W4R-D3N. Said robot monster proceeds to lead you on a chase along the dam, where you have to deal with groups of incoming enemies, some of whom are called in as reinforcements from Hyperion's base on the moon. Why? Because why wouldn't the evil corporation you're fighting be able to call in airdrops from the moon? You can dual-wield ridiculously powerful and exotic guns. It's all about keeping a level playing field.
The Guardian has a brief piece:
There is an irony at the heart of Borderlands 2 that will no doubt strike a chord with other developers of slightly off-beat games. As Gearbox's Steve Gibson explains at the start of the Gamescom demo: "When we were here with the original Borderlands in 2009, we were pleading with the press please show gamers that there are other things beside sequels; there are fresh things happening. We were quite successful with that ... And so we made a sequel."
But Gibson is quick to clarify. "We weren't talking about people getting to return to the same worlds and genres; our real problem with sequels, and what was happening in our industry, was what we like to call content dumps. This is when a team designs a game and then a year later, they throw in a bunch of new levels, put a '2' on the box and ask for money. We felt that for a true sequel you have to dig in and do something much more ambitious, you have to treat it like a new game."
One new, purely cosmetic feature that we think is ace is the way that Borderlands 2 breaks into a dramatic comic book style cutscene to announce that you're about to face a big-ass boss. Just as it does when a Nomad Torturer enters the mix. He has a massive shield to protect himself, erm, with a Psycho Midget strapped to it to provide a further insurance on his life. If you take out the chain that's holding the little guy in place then he'll cheer his freedom by whipping out a blade and trying to take out the much larger Nomad. He doesn't stand a chance but this is the perfect time to flank and kill the Nomad Torturer yourself. BOSH!
As is in vogue with many game demos at Gamescom this year, we're given a view of Borderlands 2's world from up on high. We're told that anything you can see, you'll be able to walk too. Sweet. Although, it will still come at loading screen price just as it did in the original.
The final part of the demo we're shown is involves an assault on an industrial estate. Marauders are the first to be despatched with, via a sexy new three-barrelled minigun (there will also be two, four and even ten barrel variations). Then a bunch of loader robots turn up for a slice of the action, but thanks to deadeye accuracy the Gunzerker takes out the arms of these things, leaving them basically redundant. If you take out a leg then they'll crawl towards you like Arnie in the original Terminator before he has his head crushed. The difference with some robot classes is that some of them have surveyors attached to them. These are essentially drones, which can repair on the fly, so then you have a decision to make - is your ammo powerful enough to take out, say, a big Badass WAR Loader, or do you need to blast his helpers first?
Weapons still litter the game world and the first one to be picked up is from manufacturer Tediore, who are described as the '˜Wal-Mart of gun manufacturers'. So much so that empty weapons are just thrown away when you're finished with them and another unwrapped from its cellophane to replace it.
The next kind of weapon is very different: a DIY bandit gun that looks like it's held together with sticky-back plastic but actually seems to prove very useful. Bandits apparently aren't great mechanics but they are keen on fitting their weapons with oversized ammo clips, greatly reducing the frequency with which you have to reload.
A bandit vehicle is then stolen, demonstrating the new handling and physics engine - which looks a lot more realistic, especially when you're running over a monster. With the increased forward momentum the demo moves into a more temperate zone, where the ice is melting and huge drills are drilling. They're an attractive bit of background detail and apparently evidence of an attempt to have much more animated backdrops.
More impressive still is when you get to the top of a large dam and you can see much of the game world spread out in front of you. But where previously this would've just been a static graphic here you can travel to and visit anything you see.
Let's start with the guns. There are still thousands of them, but this time the differences between manufacturers will be more pronounced, to the extent that you'll instantly know who made a given weapon on the basis of the way it looks; beyond this, you'll also know what to expect when you first pull the trigger. Vladof guns have an AK47-style Russian aesthetic and all come with gatling barrels, their rate of fire accelerating from a slow rattle to a fearsome hailstorm of hot lead. Tediore, dubbed by Gearbox as "the Walmart of guns", offer disposable firearms that you throw away rather than reload: the weapon effectively becomes a grenade, with the strength and effect of the explosion depending on how much ammo was left in the clip. Torgue guns appear to exclusively fire explosive projectiles, while the new Bandit-class arms offer massive clips and a junkyard, cobbled-together look.
As we already know from the first teaser image, Borderlands 2 will also offer us a new set of character classes in place of the original quartet. One of these newcomers will be another Siren - this one's called Maya - but unlike Lilith, her power doesn't involve phasewalking. For the time being, Gearbox is only talking about Salvador, the Gunzerker, and even then we've only been given a brief glimpse of his potential. As an evolution of Brick the Beserker, Salvador's class skill revolves around dual-wielding - a talent that looks to be just as devastating as you'd imagine. Expect this skill to go hand-in-hand with the accentuated differences between gun types.
We didn't get much opportunity to inspect Salvador's skill tree, but it seems that there will be more abilities to choose from this time. Each subset of perks now gets its own Y-shaped tree, with what looked to be about a dozen options on each - I didn't get time to count. Sal's skills include Die Hard, an old favourite of Brick's, plus Asbestos (which reduces negative status effects) and the excellent-sounding Just Got Real, which increases damage done with all weapons. I'm pretty sure that's what they do, anyway: I had only seconds to note down the options as the demonstrator flitted past them.