What's got two itchy trigger fingers and loves the hunt for phat lewt? This guy! At a recent event, Justin Calvert and I had the chance to sit down and take Salvador the gunzerker and Maya the siren for a spin in Borderlands 2. Since the machines were set up next to each other (PCs with Xbox 360 controllers), it made sense to tag-team the two-zone demo and play cooperatively. In the interest of getting down to the nitty-gritty of how each of the new characters felt in our hands, we both played the entirety of the demo with our respective characters. My thoughts below are on the gunzerker, and you can read Justin's impressions of the siren here.
Each of the four new characters in Borderlands 2 leans on the archetypes set up by their previous counterparts. For those who played the first game, Salvador felt most like brutish big guy Brick. He's heavyset and never afraid to drop fist bombs when push comes to shove, but he also packs a new card up his sleeves: the ability to temporarily wield a pair of guns when combat gets a little too hot. The extra firepower comes with a cooldown, so you won't be constantly riddling prey with akimbo machine guns, but when you do, you forgo weapon sights to fire from the hip. With two effective elemental weapons equipped, targets tended to die pretty quickly at our hands. Just the way we like it.
Both of our characters came pre-played to level 20 and packing one of three different weapon loadouts. We were presented with a handful of skill points waiting to be spent, and doing so gave us the chance to customise our own areas of priorities for expertise. Like in the first game, three skill trees are available, but rather than spend an initial point for your class-specific special ability (Lilith's phasewalk, Brick's berserk, and so on) before drilling down further, this time your first point is spent directly in your tree of choice. The Brawn tree is all about optimising your special attack, with the "come at me bro" skill allowing you to taunt in gunzerker mode to return you to full health. Taunting attracts the current target's hate, making it useful for taking on a group tanking role, or wrestling danger away from another member of your crew. Using it doesn't spell imminent death, however, as activating it also rewards you with a buff that helps mitigate damage--presumably long enough for someone else to throw you a heal, pass on the aggro, or put down the target. Brawn isn't solely about punching things either, and the early tiers also pump up your chance at landing critical strikes, as well as increasing your effectiveness with certain weapon types, such as pistols.
The Rampage tree offers the "keep firing" (Spaceballs reference?) talent that speeds up your rate of fire in line with the speed at which you tap the triggers on the controller. Faster presses result in faster shooting, and when it's used with gunzerking double weapons, you'll chew through bullets at a rate of knots and provide enemies a free session of lead acupuncture in the process. "Inconceivable" and "5 shots of 6" were our standout abilities in the Rampage tree. The former granted a coin toss for each shot fired not to consume a round, while the latter was a maximum 25 percent chance to add an extra round of ammunition to the chamber when blasting away. Used together, they give you a chance to stand your ground and shoot with only minimal concern for running out of bullets. Gearbox devs on hand at the event even told of experiences during testing where players had fired 40-second bursts of chain gun weapons without needing to reload, simply by getting lucky with the perks.
Gun Lust is the third and final tree and offers extra health early, but upgrades your things that go bang a few tiers down. "No kill like overkill" adds a damage multiplier to your next shot fired after killing an enemy, giving you an instant leg up on your next victim, and will be invaluable for speeding things up when mowing down groups of poorly armoured, low-hit-point enemies.
With each of the three skill trees composed of fewer than a dozen unique abilities each, very few appeared to be filler to get you to the next big reward. As a result, we were forced to be brutal with the placement of our points, using them to raise our health or rate of regeneration, pump up critical strike chance, or weigh it up against permanent damage increases to specific parts of our arsenal. With only 15 points to spend during our play, we couldn't purchase all the abilities available in a single tree, let alone across the three distinct categories. We're interested to see how players will distribute them later in the game; whether buying out the juicy talents in each tree, or forcing your hand to pick and then feed a single approach to combat.
Gunzerker dual-wielding was our get-out-of-jail-free card for emergencies, and while we'd be lying if we said we didn't feel like a complete badass when we were pinging off rounds by the fist load, it is worth paying attention to the weapons you've got equipped. Activating gunzerking pulls the next weapon in the queue into your hands, and on more than one occasion, we realised after lighting up our target that it was an enemy resistant to that particular weapon type. You can still swap to something else more effective in combat, but it's worth keeping in mind before you activate your skill.
Playing the gunzerker was a blast, and while we have to admit it's probably not the most cerebral experience played solo, when he was paired with Maya's phaselock energy prison, we had a lot of fun whittling down enemy health bars in a hurry by playing off both special skills. This is clearly an experience best played with others, as evidenced by this Borderlands 2 video preview in which Justin and I discuss our time spent with the demo. Borderlands 2 will be out on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC in September this year.