The randomly generated weapons, co-operative gameplay and solid shooter mechanics, slotted in perfectly with our needs and desires. And after having seen the Borderlands 2 demo at Gamescom we left with the feeling that rather than mixing up the recipe, Gearbox opted to just retouch and sharpen up the ingredients that made the original a hit with gamers.
And while all the changes made to A.I, enemy behaviour, weapons, multiplayer options, environments, storytelling, classes and abilities may seem minor on their own - what we saw at Gamescom was a sequel that has every reason to exist even if it's not going to rewrite the concept from scratch.
What Gearbox Software have done with the weapons is a very interesting detail. How do you top the "bazillion" possible guns of the first game? Well, there is still going to be just as many possible combinations and stat variations, but by adding different manufacturers with specific characteristics is bound to make the gameplay more varied and will promote the use of more than one weapon at a time. We only got to see a small selection of manufacturers at Gamescom, things like the bandit made scrappy guns with giant clips and the disposable guns that double as grenades and respawn in your hand when you throw them away. The benefit of easily recognisable models that have specific advantages will certainly encourage player experimentation and it will also be interesting to see how the various weapons pair up with the special abilities of the four characters/classes. It's more obvious how switching a gun can change things around in a certain gunfight, and that is a good thing.
The story in Borderlands was interesting, but not perfectly integrated with the gameplay. Moving between non-playable characters performing various fetch quests to progress the story, is not an ideal vessel for narration, and Gearbox realised this. As soon as they got the green light to go ahead and develop the sequel they forced writer Anthony Burch and creative director Paul Hellquist to share a room so that story and gameplay would be created hand-in-hand.
"We hashed out the story together, to make sure it would actually intertwine with the gameplay, rather than being - gameplay section, sit here for twenty minute cutscene, gameplay section, sit here for twenty minute cutscene. Then we showed it to Jeramy Cooke and Mike Neumann, they gave us some feedback. And the story of Borderlands 2 much like the story of Borderlands 1 is meant to be something that is not going to infringe on the player's agency, it's all about if you wanna experience the story you can, and it's going to be very focused on the missions you're going to be doing, you're always going to feel the presence of the story. But if you don't want to experience, if you don't want to sit down and pay attention to every little detail you don't have to." says writer Anthony Burch.
The environments of Borderlands were not extremely varied. Lots of wastelands and caves, and while that was fine we are kind of happy that Gearbox have opted for a bit of diversity in the sequel. The Gamescom demo showed off an arctic level, full of snow and mountain tops, and there will also be grasslands to traverse. In fact as the developers gazed out from the top of the mountain they noted that everything you see is a place you can walk to. It's the kind of statement we have grown immune to with the advent of huge open world games, but for a game like Borderlands 2 to offer that kind of open world feel is certainly something that peaks our interest. The environments have also been designed to feel less static, and we witnessed an example where a Bullymong enemy chucked a vehicle and rocks at us. Enemies will now also be able to run and jump anywhere in the environments eliminating the popular tactic of trying to use their limitations against them.
Two characters were shown off at Gamescom, Maya the Siren and Salvador the Gunzerker. Salvador is your typical gun happy dual wielding maximum damage kind of guy, but there are nuances to his straight forward play as explained by Anthony Burch:
"He can dual wield any two guns in the game, and that's his action skill just to pull out any two and then completely go to town. He's a ridiculous amount of fun. He's the one for the guy who just loves guns, and the cool thing about him - he pulls out two guns and seems like that is not a very strategic character, and to some extent if you wanna be a mindless killing machine you can. But there is also a lot of depth to his skill tree. He has this one skill called overheat where the longer you pull down the trigger, the faster your fire rate will get. So you might change from "Oh, I'm just a guy who uses shotguns or whatever" to now you want machine guns with really big clips that I can just "rawr" forever and totally just Arnold out and be all powerful."
While Gearbox didn't go into detail on just how they aim to mix up the abilities, they did state that attention has been given into improving the progression so that "game changing" new stuff also appears later on in the game and not just at the start with improvements earned as you gain more levels.
The thing that strikes us as the most significant change is the one made to AI and enemy behaviour. Commanding units, units that wait for reinforcements as they have taken damage, limb damage, and units that heal other units. None of it seems revolutionary on its own, but when it all gets put together the difference between the action in Borderlands 2 and Borderlands is massive. The key here is that better AI is not always a guarantee for improved gameplay, and Gearbox needs to make sure that the dungeon crawl-esque qualities of Borderlands aren't lost in the haze of third person squad based shooter sensibilities. Killing stupid things is fun as well, but fans can rest assured there will be Psychos in Borderlands 2 and they're just slightly more intelligent.
Overall, it does seem like Gearbox have taken the time between games to really fine tune and improve every component. It's going to be interesting to see if they can hit the mark a second time.