"Borderlands 2" wants to raise the stakes and improve upon its signature art style and outlandish weapons while broadening the story on the planet of Pandora.
At a hands-on demo, a pre-alpha build of the new title showed off two classes of characters -- one new and one familiar. It also demonstrated how the development team at Gearbox Software learned and applied lessons from its first title and subsequent downloadable content releases.
The "Gunzerker" class is all about the weapons -- the more, the merrier. This tank of a character can wield two weapons at once, bringing more firepower to fights and dishing out the pain.
The best combinations featured one weapon that could bring rapid fire, but deliver light damage, while wielding another that brought serious hurt, but took its time to fire. Working together, the two different types of weapons created a consistent kill zone for creatures -- no matter how strong or numerous they were.
The other class available for play was the "Siren." This class was featured in "Borderlands" and offered phasewalking (turning intangible) as its special talent. This time, Maya the Siren has the ability to trap foes in a force field hovering in midair, making them easy targets for damage.
The art style remains the same as in the original, with its familiar hand-painted look and dark outlines. Gearbox producer Randy Varnell said the team wanted to improve what it had done to make the characters look great, then extend that look to the surrounding environment.
"It's warmer. It's almost water-colored with those really harsh, dark edges. Just like you would see in a comic book," Varnell said. "A lot of it is drawn right on to the texture models themselves. We have a very distinct art style and art guide that all of our artists adhere to."
The action takes place five years after the conclusion of "Borderlands" and introduces a new villain to the mix, Handsome Jack. Varnell said bringing an antagonist to the plot gave the team more options to make the story personal for the players.
"Why is he mining? What is he mining in the planet? Why is that so much more important than finding a Vault (the final object in the first game)?" he said. "Having a villain puts a personal face on it. Are you racing him for the treasure? Are you trying to keep it from him?"
Varnell said giving the players a focus also helps flesh out the game's characters and what motivates them. The whole idea was to make the story richer and more fulfilling without changing too much of the gameplay that fans enjoyed.
Senior producer Sean Reardon echoed those sentiments and said community involvement in the first title and its three downloadable updates was important in figuring out what gamers liked and what worked best.
Invoking Einstein and Venn diagrams during the interview, Reardon acknowledged there were problems they hadn't foreseen until after the games were made, but they were things that could be corrected for "Borderlands 2."
"In 'Borderlands,' (designers thought) it was just a fact that as a four-player (co-op) game, the vehicle had two seats," he said. "You don't see it as a problem. You think they can use two vehicles and everyone likes to drive. Turns out, it is an elephant (a problem), and you've got to fix that."
Little refinements, he hopes, will make the gameplay and the experience even more enjoyable for fans of the franchise as well as new players who are seeing Pandora for the first time.
Reardon built his development team out of people who had worked on the series as well as new talent that he felt were the best at what they do.
He said it was about having confidence in the people who were putting the game together, trusting them and believing they were smarter than he was about their areas of expertise.
"Get the right people, give them the right mission, get enough resources to do the job, make sure they're inspired and get out of the way," he said.
More than 200 unique types of creatures will be in the way of players as they work their way through the game quests and other missions. There are also named creatures who will offer additional challenges -- and loot for those who defeat them. Also, mechanical enemies are prominent in the game, in addition to all the natural wildlife you can battle on Pandora.
The player characters from "Borderlands" will also show up in the new game as nonplayer characters, providing backstory and missions for the gamers to complete. Varnell said "Borderlands 2" is significantly larger, broader and deeper than its predecessor.
Gamers will have to wait until September 18 to find out if this game is more enjoyable than the first.