Borderlands 2 - Preview & Interview with Steve Gibson
We get fed a regular gaming diet of dystopian futures here at SFL and wash it all down with plenty of alien-intended bullets. Many are realistically bleak, concrete blasted views of infected poverty or survival and involve scavenging around for pockets of ammo to prepare for battle against countless enemies, be they man, beast or alien. However, back in 2009 we were served up something completely different. There was nothing to match the wide eye, colourful boldness of art style, humour or language that space Western, role-playing shooter Borderlands brought to the table. Set five years after the events of the original game, Borderlands 2 is coming soon with all-new characters, skills, environments, missions, enemies, weapons and loot – loads and loads of lovely jubbly loot! We spent 90 mins looting the snowcapped hills of Tundra in search of guns, guns, more guns and crumpets.
90 minutes of play doesn’t even begin to scratch at the surface of what Borderlands 2 has to offer. Starting within the corrugated beat-up town of Sanctuary, every alleyway or street corner had characters begging for someone to carry out their side-missions. Tempting as it was, we ignored their lure of cash and goodies, becoming instantly aware that we’re going to have to put aside a minimum of 60 hours if we want to fully explore all of Borderlands 2 ins and outs when released in September. We bumped into the beatboxing, hand-jiving, one-wheeled dancing robot Claptrap who introduced us to the new ‘Stash’ feature where we could swap out better items and customize our character with new skins and heads etc. It was also easy to reset skills from here. Pulling up the menu, we selected tasks and could quickly spot where to go for the next goal with the on screen map but it’s the Badass ranking system which really caught our eye. With NO level cap, the system works across a player’s profile so when one character is leveled up, the rank benefits are kept when switched to another character. This means that even with a more in depth, single player experience on offer, after the main story has been attempted, there’s a real purpose and appeal to infinitely keep playing, to experience the whole world in many different ways with different characters, without having to go back to square one each time or repeating huge chunks of the game. Add to this the millions of randomly created weapons and items dropped by baddies, all with distinct features (of which we discovered a mega rare fire gun whilst taking down a giant acid spitting flying mutha), and Borderlands 2 might well become part of a daily routine.
We chose to play as meaty muscle mountain of a man Salvador. One of four brand new characters playable in Borderlands 2, he has a duel gun wielding abilty; a sniper AND a bazooka AT THE SAME TIME? It was like all our birthdays and Christmases come at once! The bigger story is still about hunting down evil alien technology and the race is on to be the first to get hands on. Hyperion’s head honcho Handsome Jack has discovered the location of an Eridium vault and plans on waking up the ‘warrior’ within, in his quest to pretty much take over the entire world.
Meeting up with familiar faces from the original game (that have a real, vocal and emotional connection to the new characters), we headed to the frozen, snow-capped hills of Tundra but know there are also epic jungles and more towns to explore on the planet of Pandora. Here we met Tiny Tina; cute as a button with a toddler lilt when talking and the knowledge of how to use high explosives, she’s the world’s deadliest 13 year old! Away from the tense threat of Handsome Jack, her hilarious quest to hold a tea party had Salvador, a man who looks like he would eat small puppies as a snack and have no problem brushing his teeth after with an articulated lorry, hunting down buttery crumpets whilst shooting and looting his way through some gigantic bad guys. The high octane, humourous, graphic comic violence never fell into realms of ridiculous or shock but was zany and good fun. Very different in tone, aesthetics and scope to other alien rampages on the next 12 months release calendar after celebrating turning Tundra into a ‘Crumpetopolis’ we sat down to talk more about Borderlands 2 with Steve Gibson (Vice President of Gearbox Softwear):
SFL: Wow! Tiny Tina is crazy! The characters in Borderlands have always been larger than life. Should we expect everything in Borderlands 2 to be bigger, better and more badass than the original?
Steve: Yeah! People are very passionate about the characters. It’s one of the strongest things people took away from Borderlands as they are all so memorable. It was a result of the writing and the art style that we were able to create such outlandish personalities that were so exaggerated. So of course people have a really, really high standard of how strong the characters should be in Borderlands 2. I especially love Tina. I’m thrilled that there is an expectation as Borderlands wasn’t expected to do so well.
SFL: Why do you think that was?
Steve: Well new IP have a hard time and not only was Borderlands new IP but it was a new genre – a role playing shooter. When we launched, we were right in the middle of the holiday season, next to Bioware dropping a game and Call of Duty and all these successful franchises. There we were with this weird new art style and genre – why would you bet on that right? 6 million copies later, we’re like holy crap, we can’t believe it turned out this way! Borderlands opened pretty strongly but word of mouth and how people kept playing the game as a hobby really helped us. That actually affected how we worked on Borderlands 2. The majority of games are usually made by starting with all the things you’d love to do and put in the game “Let’s do this, let’s try that.” but then you realize you’re running out of time, or “Woah, it’s gonna cost too much money.” and the game gets scoped back down and shipped. What happened whilst we were making Borderlands 2 was that people were still playing and buying the original. We were able to understand more what people loved about the game and respond to it – a very strange process that has lead us to making Borderlands 2 double the size. The guys doing the strategy guide estimate 58 hours as a playthrough, so yeah, we’ve made a big game and there’s a lot of expectation. You’ve gotta feel sorry for our QA guys.
SFL: So how much has Borderlands 2 grown out of the fans comments and how much is brand new that you personally wanted to inject?
Steve: Our mantra at Gearbox when making Borderlands 2 was “Don’t assume anyone has ever played Borderlands.” We assume this is the first time they are exposed to this world. We didn’t want to get stuck in a world where we think something is really clever but only 2% of people playing will get it! The training is richer and better in this game but there is so much to do and that can be alarming for a new player. We think this assumption seems to be the right decision.
SFL: So for those player who do already get Borderlands, what are they going to be most excited about?
Steve: I think the online guys are going to care most about the co-op element. One big thing is when you start other games and a friend then wants to join, the player thinks “Aw man, I’m not going to start over to play co-op.” so there is now a drop in split screen. The other thing is where someone might say, “Ah dude, I wanna play co-op but my quest line doesn’t match up.” so we’ve made it so can you readjust. We hope small feature that will make a huge difference. Our biggest leap forward though is the solo experience, so the world feels rich when you’re playing by yourself. There are more people in Pandora, there’s so much more to do. Hopefully, players won’t feel like they’re missing out if they don’t connect to the internet. We can’t just think about the guys who enjoyed the first one. We really want to grow and expand the universe so we need to think about all the possible people who might play.
SFL: That’s a huge task you’ve set yourself. Very admirable but is it over ambitious?
Steve: This isn’t a fan-service game. We love our fans and we know loads of our fans love playing as the characters in Borderlands but we’re thinking of creating new experiences whilst keeping those guys happy. The original characters make appearances as Non-Playable Characters, so you can still interact with them. We know it’s a fine balance but we hope people agree we did the right thing and made an even better game.
SFL: Finally, this is Sci-Fi at it’s most zany. What influences have gone into Borderlands 2?
Steve: It’s a really giant canvas that we’ve worked with. The content you’ve seen today is perhaps a bit silly and lighthearted but we’ve also shown gameplay where the characters are taking down the regime and pulling down statues. The tone does change throughout, there are some real intense moments in there too and sure, there is a sci-fi part of the overall story. We wanna take people on a ride. We want players to feel like the characters go through seriously tough stuff but then when they joke around it gives a richer pallet. The storytelling in this game is so much better, we’re very proud of it. The first Borderlands was mainly go-fetch quests, so hopefully people will like the story. Crumpets and tea parties are fun right
It certainly is! Borderlands 2 is anything but subtle but it’s humour, intentions, tone, style and story has a surprising charm plus it’s cracking good fun. It’s not sick but explosive; its language is brassy and borders on immature without being stupidly absurd or offensive. Inventive, addictive and will keep players amused for hours, add this to your must-purchase list and look out for its release in the UK on 21st September 2012.