Borderlands 2 [Preview] – The Assassin and the teenage sadist

14 Jul 2012  by   John Robertson
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If there’s one thing that’s clear, it’s that this is a big game. Bigger than the first game for sure, and likely going to be one of the biggest games of this generation. We’ve played Borderlands 2 before now, but this session was different.

The last time we previewed Borderlands 2 things were very much focused on the environment’s improved visual impact and diversity, and how the new Gunserker and Siren classes play and could potentially interact.

Our most recent hands-on experience is very different, centred around the Assassin class, Pandora’s hub city of Sanctuary and a certain 13 year-old sadist. We’ll start with the latter.

While there were a number of things to do, side missions to play and people to meet in the portion of the game we’re let loose in, the primary quest revolves around a little girl’s tea party. That little girl is Tiny Tina, she’s thirteen, she shouts a lot, she enjoys tea parties and she enjoy the slow and steady inflicting of pain upon those she has taken a disliking to.

The mission is to make her happy by rounding up her tea party guests and bringing them to her shack-in-the-mountains. There are three guests, and the first couple are easy enough – one is a soft toy named Princess Fluffybutt and the other is Sir Reginald, some sort of weird, glass mannequin head with a fetching monocle and moustache. Both are found in random places close to Tina’s shelter and guarded only by the odd Psycho Bandit and friends. Two down.

Before we can fetch guest number three we’re sent out to collect the required parts for a teapot. For some reason, that involves shooting down small one-man hovering aircraft dubbed Buzzards and collecting the piles of scrap metal that they leave behind. Buzzards are not especially tough, requiring only a few blasts with most weapons, but they are fast and difficult to hit. Things are made more difficult due to the pilots’ refusal to leave the safe airspace around a camp full of rather large and obnoxiously aggressive bandits.

The volume of enemies and the fact that you’re there to shoot down craft travelling 20 feet or more above the ground means a stealth approach is all but impossible, however our Assassin, Zero, does have a few tricks that can level the playing field.

Her primary tool is her ability to create a duplicate of herself, that not only distracts but actually deals damage. The duplicate doesn’t last long (at least it didn’t at the character level we were playing at) but it proves to be just enough of a decoy to allow Zero to employ her own attacks.

Attacking with the Assassin is all about hitting hard and fast; you don’t want to get yourself involved in long, drawn-out confrontations because your health is comparatively low and your skillset doesn’t manage well when faced with multiple enemies. Zero excels in devastating melee attacks and at picking off targets at distance with a sniper rifle.

Obviously, playing as the Assassin is only suitable for players that enjoy a slower, more deliberate, pace of play than, say, the Gunserker. It’s important to keep your eye on the environment to avoid being overwhelmed by enemies and it’s not possible to rely on guns to blast your way out of a sticky situation.

Having only played as the character for a couple of hours it’s impossible to say for sure, but you get the impression that the game will be difficult if you decide to go it alone as the Assassin. Zero’s skills seem to be skewed towards playing as a team; setting up decoys and thinning out the enemy crowds from afar before the rest of your crew get in close and finish them off, any stragglers can be chopped down with a well timed melee.

Back to the tea party…

We’ve got Princess Fluffybutt, Sir Reginald and the teapot at the table, now we just need Flesh-Stick. Unlike the other two guests, Flesh-Stick is not a friend of Tiny Tina. Instead he’s an object of sadistic pleasure – a Midget Psycho whose life is consistently ruined by the bouts of electricity Tina insists on firing through his body at the void of other entertainment forms.

Flesh-Stick has some friends, though, and while you’re there watching Tina torture Flesh-Stick – Sir Reginald and Fluffybutt happily sitting in inanimate silence – the hordes of Mad Max rejects come-a-flying in. Manage to prevent the three waves of enemies from damaging the generator too much before Tina has had her fun and the mission is won.

These kinds of multiple-tiered mission structure represents (we’re told) the kind of story missions Gearbox have assigned to the majority of Borderlands 2’s main story – these longer missions complimented by smaller, single task side missions. The real test will be how well these kinds of missions work with four players goofing around.

What isn’t up for debate is the increased size and scope of the game’s civilisation centres. Sanctuary, the primary town of Pandora, is far and away larger than anything in the first game – a place of neon lights, numerous NPCs, stores and mission-givers. Not only is it bigger and more interesting than the haphazard shacks we’ve known in our adventure through Pandora, but it looks better; not least because it’s situated at the foot of towering snow-covered mountains.

You can also alter the aesthetic of your own character at the town’s customisation booths, allowing you to change your clothes and (depending on your chosen character) make-up, scars and other distinguishing marks. Of course, this being a first-person game, the visual variation is only going to be seen when in the menus or by other players in multiplayer. Still, it’s a feature – we all like to dress up our dolls to our personal tastes.

It would be a stretch to say that Sanctuary has the personality or diversity of the towns seen in the likes of Skyrim or Rage but it’s still a massive upgrade from what has been before. Pandora is perhaps the strongest indication that Gearbox were sincere when they told us of their intent to improve the variation of the game’s environments – an idea given further credence through the different landscapes and complex interior environments.

Previewing a game like Borderlands 2 is never easy, no matter how much you play you always come away with the sense that you’ve not even scratched the surface. That, though, is part of the joy. If there’s one thing to take from our sessions with Borderlands 2 so far, it’s that it’s bigger, more varied and more explosive than the first game.

Hopefully, that sensation can be stretched out for the entirety of its increased length.

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