Back to the Borderlands

At Gamescom 2011 in Cologne, Germany, Gearbox Studios unveiled the follow-up to its critically acclaimed first-person shooter, Borderlands. Running on Unreal Engine 3, the 2012 PC game is adding more depth to the story and improved visuals and gameplay to the open world experience.

Set once again on the borderland planet of Pandora, the new game picks up five years after the events of the first game. There’s a new bad guy, Handsome Jack, who runs the Hyperion Corporation, ruining the fun. It’s up to the player to change that. We talked to Anthony Burch, the writer of Borderlands 2 at Gearbox Software, about what’s in store for PC gamers in this 2012 action adventure.

DIG: What was your goal heading into Borderlands 2?

Anthony Burch: It was to take every system that people liked in the first game and improve on it even further. The mission system is completely overhauled so that the story and the missions can actually be even more in sync with one another, so that appearances can change on the fly. The story is a very, very big focus for us. The environment now includes the arctic tundra and lush green grasslands areas. We’re going to have much more than just the sort of dusty, sandy areas of the original. The entire world is much bigger this time around. You’ll never hit that invisible wall.

DIG: How did you interact with PC gamers in deciding what you’re adding to this sequel?

A.B.: Basically, if they asked for something hard enough and long enough and it seemed like something that enhanced the game, we’re putting it in. The mini map that’s now at the top right of the screen — which makes it easy to find objectives quickly and spend more time actually playing the game — was a fan request.

Also, fans loved the fact that the game has 87 bazillion guns, but they wanted the guns to have more variety. We listened to that and now the assault rifles that we’re showing off are ridiculously different from one another and super-cool. All the rest of the guns will be as well, and that is just four manufacturers in just the assault rifles. The gun system has been completely overhauled.

DIG: What improvements have you made to the gameplay?

A.B.: We’ve added new action skills. In the first game we had these skills called the Game Changers. If you played as Lilith, you could point to the Phoenix skill and then when you killed something close to them they would get set on fire. This changed the way you played. We have even more of those in this game.

Salvador has a skill called “overheat,” where the longer you hold down the fire button, the faster your firing is. So you could actually use this skill best by getting a bunch of guns that have really high ammo capacity or really high firing range just to empty your clips really quickly and go nuts.

DIG: How have you made the enemies more challenging this time around?

A.B.: Enemy AI has been completely overhauled, so when you find bandits they’ll now call out plays and be like everybody else. They’ll use grenades, fall back, take cover and even flank you. The Hyperion gun-loaders we have, who are the grunts of the Hyperion army, can have their limbs blown off to slow them down or remove a weapon from them. But then these little probe bots called the surveyors come in and heal them. They can reconstruct their arms.

This type of behavior forces the player to prioritize their targets. It opens up these really dynamic emergent experiences. The fighting is much deeper than it was in the first game.

DIG: How are you guys using Unreal Engine 3 technology to push the visuals of what already was a unique cel-shaded game experience?

A.B.: Borderlands has a really cool, distinctive art style and we’re keeping that, but we’re adding to that. When you enter an environment, there’s a lot going on now. The world’s more alive. In the first game, if you lost your shield you heard a beeping noise, which you might have missed completely. In this game when your shield is depleted, it shatters in front of you, and you can see the pieces fall in front of you. It adds a real sense of panic when you’re on the battlefield with chaos exploding around you.

Players will learn information about everything from weapons to enemies through visual cues this time around, like the loaders asking for repairs in the midst of battle. We’re going to have a lot of feedback to show players all of the mechanics that exist, which should enhance the gameplay experience.

DIG: What’s the most exciting thing for fans of this franchise that you’re doing with this sequel?

A.B.: It’s the story integration and making it feel more like a cohesive adventure in this immersive world. The world we’ve got now feels so much more alive. There are things constantly happening around you. We have all of these different bandit factions and clans fighting against one another. And the environment tells all these stories and it tends to make it a more immersive experience than the first game. I’m really excited about that — but I’m the writer, so I’m biased.