Borderlands 2 Hands-On

We hitch a ride back to Pandora with Gearbox’s anticipated sequel.

Erik Norrisby Erik Norris


A week ago we were invited to Next York City to be amongst the first group of people to get hands-on time with Borderlands 2. After bumbling through the city struggling to find the location where the press event was being held, my co-writer, Joey Davidson, and I finally arrived at our destination, a building which from the outside looked like where a girl would go to “get it taken care of.” We timidly walked through the front door and made our way to the elevator, heading up. 

But once the doors opened on the tenth floor, we were greeted with a nerd’s wet dream. Dozens of televisions lined up with Borderlands 2 running on all of them. Joey and I paused, wiped the tears from our eyes and then got to work. The fine folks at Gearbox let us play two missions from the game with two of the title’s characters — Joey played Salvador the Gunzerker, while I played Maya the Siren (our avatars in this write-up represent our respective characters). The first mission was a story-driven quest set in a wildlife preservation. The second level, called “Caustic Caverns,” was essentially a stage to screw around in and perform a simple side mission if we got tired of blowing holes through skags. 

mayaErik Norris: Being the resident Borderlands newbie, I guess I’ll kick this off since I’m still wet behind the ears with this franchise. After playing Borderlands 2 for as long as we did, I have to admit that I’m sold based off what I’ve played thus far. Then again, for someone like you, Joe, that’s probably not much of a surprise. It seems like Borderlands 2 is exactly what Borderlands fans want: more, only better. 

salvadorJoey Davidson: Based on the preview we saw, I’d agree. We played two separate missions: one was story-based and included intro time by Mordecai from the first Borderlands, and the other was just super side-questy.

For me, the two biggest complaints I had with the original Borderlands were born out of repetition. Enemies and areas felt old and tired after about 10 hours of play. The two areas we saw during our demo were wildly different. We played in acidic caves and the lush arenas of a wildlife preserve. Green and metallic against yellow and acidic. It was awesome. The enemies in each space were also completely unique and required unique tactics to beat.

Erik, you were new at the game, but I was surprised by how quickly you were adapting to its combat strategy.

mayaErik Norris: Yea, I guess a lot of that had to do with the fact that we were invited to this event knowing full well that Gearbox wanted us to play it cooperatively (it said so in the e-vite!). Therefore, I was in that mindset from the get-go. And with the characters we were allowed to toy around with, it was clear they complemented each other. While you were busy running out into the middle of fields, guns blazing, using your gunzerker ability, it was obvious that I should sit back and provide you support, whether through additional fire or acting as the team medic. 


But I also didn’t have to do that if I didn’t want to. I could have just said screw it and ran off and approached situations my own way, leaving you in the lurch. We got a chance to dabble in each character’s ability tree, and it’s clear there is a lot of variety to be found there. Granted, Gearbox let us pick up and play with characters over level 30, I believe. So when you’re starting the game fresh you won’t have that kind of instant freedom when determining your character’s talents. But what we learned from the whole scenario is that Borderlands 2 is still definitely a game that you can tailor to your unique style of play, much like the first game. 

Now, Joe, I actually want to get your take on what Gearbox is doing story-wise this time out. I know a lack of story was one of the original Borderlands’ biggest criticisms as well. From what we’ve seen thus far and what we’ve heard from the reps at Gearbox, do you have faith that they’re correcting that folly this time around?

salvadorJoey Davidson: You know, I’m not sure. The signs are there, but based on two missions, it’s so hard to tell. I will say, though, that the quest giving system suggests that this game will involve more character interaction and, thus, more story.

You don’t see walls of text anymore when given quests. You actually speak to characters in game, and their dialogue creates an objective list. It creates a better sense of actually being a part of the world of Pandora, rather than completing grocery lists with minor backstory.


We also have an ever-present villain in this game. Handsome Jack’s evil base is on the closest moon. You see it at all times (when you’re outside), and enemies fly in from it constantly. The ever-present villain coupled with more interactive and intelligent characters leads me to believe that Gearbox will be delivering a constant narrative.

Switching gears, what did you think of the actual combat and weaponry?

mayaErik Norris: In a word… satisfying. The original Borderlands toted something like a gazillion guns, give or take. With Borderlands 2, Gearbox is still saying the range of weaponry is near infinite, however, they’re making significant strides to distinguish their portfolio. There are now manufacturers. Guns crafted by “Tediore,” which are disposable after firing off a single clip and turn into a grenade on impact, are much different than the “Dahl” brand, which resemble weapons of modern shooters, for instance. And those are just two of the weapon brands found on Pandora. 

Individual guns are also quite differentiable. When push comes to shove, I felt all the weapons had that right amount of punch and plenty of visual flair to go along with their respective brands. And this in turn makes combat a satisfying experience. As you mentioned while we were playing, there’s something immensely satisfying about pumping bullets into a skag or bandit and seeing hit points rise off their bodies until they drop over dead. 

How about you?

salvadorJoey Davidson: Yeah, I agree. Borderlands was magical in that it found a way to make gunplay even more addictive. For a lengthy RPG experience, that’s great news. Borderlands 2 keeps those same addictive measures, but now it adds customization and a deep level of brand variety to the experience. Yeah, guns, shoot them, great; but now you’re shooting them while being much more concerned about the brands and affects they have on combat. Fire faster, more accurately, with more power or toss the gun when it’s out of bullets and watch it explode.

Borderlands 2 looks, so far, like an improvement upon something that was already great. The bad news? Say goodbye to your free time.

Borderlands 2 releases for PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on September 18, 2012.