It's also the reason why Borderlands 2 has been long in coming, and after talking with game designer Jonathan Hemingway for just a few minutes, it is obvious that Gearbox's plans for the sequel are much bolder than even the biggest fans of the first game had dared hope for.
In Hemingway's case, focus has primarily been on the different character classes. And the changes are dramatic, as we were allowed to try them in Robot Slaughter - Borderlands 2 variant of Horde mode.
Where in the original Borderlands Mad Moxxi was in charge of the fighting arena, Robot Slaughter is controlled by the fantastically named Innuendo Bot, whose conversation is littered with sexual innuendo. No matter how hopeless the situation looks to be, you can always look forward to a skewed pep talk by the ever-cheerful robot.
The stage we get to try the Robot Rampage consists of an open spawn area that the enemy can attack from three sides. Nowhere on the level offers complete security, and instead team play is the only way to take down the hordes.
As in most other games that offer a similar game option, it consists of waves of attacks by enemies that grow in number, size and complexity as time passes.
Periodically you're able to take a breather, visit Innuendo Bot for both receive reward and ammo refills. As equipment is replaced between rounds, with a bit of luck you can start the next battle with more potent weapons.
But equipment is only a small part of the equation determining whether you and the rest of the team survives. Team composition plays an important role as well.
My choice quickly falls on Zero, who more than anything is designed to inflict enormous damage on one enemy at a time. Even Gearbox call him an assassin, and with his Deception ability, he can create an decoy illusion of himself, become invisible for a few seconds and stab his sword into the back of the enemies who least expect it. Deception ability is particularly clever in that it rewards you more damage the longer you remain invisible - effectively letting you go on a roll of kill chains.
Maya seems like a much safer choice if you want to take on the helper role on the team, because even though she is still able to inflict enormous damage, she can also help both to heal and revive the team, should you upgrade with the ability points properly.
With her Phase Lock, she can freeze and lift a single enemy off the ground, so that everyone can focus their damage on the same target. With skill points it is possible to modify the Phase Lock option with a Sweet Release ability, downed enemies releasing healing energy that pinpoints the most vulnerable members of your squad. Hemingway also tells us about the possibility of reviving co-conspirators at a distance, but we do not get to see in practice.
Salvador, who is the closest successor to a real replacement of Brick,
has a primary Gunzerker ability letting him juggle two weapons - be it machine guns or rockets - and reduces the level of damage he receives, while recharging his health and ammunition. The latter is especially effective when you mix it with the ability Keep Firing, which increases his shot speed the longer you hold the trigger down.
My personal favorite was, not surprisingly, Axton. I have spent over 100 hours in the company of the soldier Roland in the first game, and Axton's character is simply an upgrade of all those abilities and possibilities that made his class brother fun to play. Again, it is his auto-cannon or turret which is his primary ability, but this is a tremendously upgraded variant, which only becomes more frantic when it gets thrown a few skill points its way.
With the Longbow ability, it is possible to determine exactly where the auto-cannon is summoned to give enormously effective attacks, and when combined with Nuke -the ability to fire a couple of small nuclear bombs in the same place as where the auto-cannon is placed. With the Double Up ability it is even possible to put a few extra guns on top of auto-cannon.
Axton represents a much more aggressive character class than Roland - effective use of auto-cannon and new abilities can quickly destroy an entire screen full of enemies. Simultaneously, the diversity of his three ability trees are much larger than that of Roland, and adventurous players seem to have the opportunity to more accurately compose a combatant that matches their temperament - a design decision which, incidentally, is true for all four character-classes.
The last character class being showcased we do not get even a chance to try, simply because she's still heavy in development.
Mechromancer will come out as DLC download after the game's release, but represents - in its early form - one of the original classes we have yet seen in this kind of game. Hemingway told me that they've only finished with one of her ability trees, which includes an ability labelled "Best Friends Forever". He then slyly adds she brings something called "Girlfriend Mode" to the game.
The idea is that the Mechromancer will be played by all those who have not been previously acquainted with the series or genre. This is demonstrated well by the ability Close Enough that lets some of her shots fired ricochet into enemies even if you've not aimed precisely.
We also see how she later allowed to summon a Death Trap - a flying cousin of Claptrap, with its claws tearing enemies apart.
Particularly interesting with the Mechromancer is that Hemingway and the rest of the team not only plans her to be a beginner character. Currently they're tossing up the idea to fill her last two ability trees with abilities that only the most seasoned Borderlands players will be able to figure out how to use. Successfully designed, the Mechromancer thus represents a character that can be both the easiest and most difficult character to play, depending on how you build her.
After a few hours in the company of Borderlands 2, you feel almost taken by surprise.
On the one hand, it seems as if it all hangs together completely as one would expect after playing the first adventure, yet we're constantly surprised by how much Gearbox has expanded and renewed almost every aspect of the adventure.
With that in mind does the last huge waiting long, and back is only counting the days until we all turn to travel to Pandora. 42... 41... 40...