It has been roughly five months since we were able to roam through the alien world of Pandora in 2K Games' first-person shooter Borderlands. The open-world shooter was developed by Texas-based Gearbox Software and cast you as a fortune hunter who wound up saving the universe on a quest to find a mysterious vault of alien artifacts. Since the game's initial release, 2K and Gearbox have released two downloadable content packs, The Zombie Island of Doctor Zed and Mad Moxxi's Underdome Riot, which have offered more things to do in the rich world created for Borderlands.
The content packs' positive reception from fans has led 2K and Gearbox to bust out yet another pack of downloadable content, The Secret Armory of General Knoxx. The promising new content pack ditches the experimental approach seen in Mad Moxxi's Underdome Riot in favor of the more mission-centric approach of The Zombie Island of Doctor Zed. We had the chance to play around with some of the new content and are happy to report that The Secret Armory of General Knoxx is shaping up to be a fun, promising addition to the Borderlands experience.
The action in The Secret Armory of General Knoxx fits into the game's continuity and picks up shortly after the ending of Borderlands. After you discovered the alien vault and dealt with the universe-threatening contents, things don't go quite as you'd expect. There is no Pandoran equivalent of a Star Wars-style Ewok celebration with much rejoicing in the wake of your actions. The Atlas Corporation, the company that was pretty clear that the vault of alien goods was its property, is irked and has ensured that your fortune-seeking quartet has been marked as wanted. To drive home that point, the corporation is upping its presence on Pandora and unleashing its Crimson Lance forces to find you. Thankfully, a new character named Athena, who appears to be a disgruntled Atlas employee, taps you to help her take down her former employer. This, of course, leads to a bucket of shenanigans that will involve much shooting, questing, and skag murder.
The new content in TSAOGK (we're done spelling this one out) is being billed as the biggest piece of downloadable content for Borderlands yet, and based on what we got a look at, we're inclined to agree. The content pack will feature several all-new areas to visit, complete with new enemies, weapons, and vehicles. On top of all that, Gearbox is implementing a new level cap of 61 that extends to players and gear, as well as upping the capacity of your backpack via some quest rewards. Finally, you can expect a new dose of achievements and trophies to nab. All told, there's a bunch of sexy stuff that should please fans.
We got a look at one of the first areas, called T-Bone Junction, which is a nice showcase for just how different the content will be. The new area is a town that was built on the water in Pandora. Unfortunately, time and local weather have done away with any moisture and have left the settlement elevated off the ground. We started to get a leisurely peek around the town, but that didn't last long, because a drop pod full of Crimson Lance assassins eager to stab us to death plopped in front of us. The dual-blade-wielding femme fatales and their leader, Vulcana, were short on small talk and big on slashing. The character we were using was armed to the teeth, so the stabby ladies didn't pose too much of a threat, but we could see how they could be a real problem if you're not packing firepower, due to their speed.
The assassins were a continuing issue during our stroll through town, where we got a chance to look at two of the new vehicles in the game: a monster truck and an APC. While the monster-truck-style vehicle is in line with the vehicles from the first game, the APC is a welcome new set of wheels that should please co-op fans in the game. The sturdy new vehicle is a four-seater that comes packing a weapon for each rider to man. The weapons array includes the familiar machine gun and rocket launcher as well as a minelayer and a concussive blast designed to take out anything that gets too close to the car. In addition, you'll be able to use a new homing missile weapon, which will be key in defeating the new Lance Probe enemies designed to take out vehicles if left unchecked.
The vehicular enemies are an important part of the TSAOGK gameplay, because vehicles will play a bigger part in the experience. T-Bone Junction and the other new areas will be connected by a system of roadways that, while technically possible to hoof it across on foot, are best traversed on four wheels. This point was underscored by the third new car added to your vehicle options: the racer, a lean set of wheels designed for speed. The catch to the new vehicles is that they aren't freebies; you'll earn them through quests where you build them and scan them into the network. For those keeping tabs on quests, the vehicle quests will be part of the more than 40 new missions coming in the DLC pack, which should offer plenty to do.
The next area we checked out was a new tollway location you'll come across while zooming along the roads. The area showed off some new enemies that are sure to cause problems: heavy shocktroopers that pack a painful electric punch with an arcing electrical blast; jetpack-wearing flying enemies that seem to show up when they are least wanted; and what is likely to be the most hated new addition to the bunch, the Lancer Medic, a jerk who pops out and heals enemies at the worst times. The silver lining to the hateful mobs of foes is a new treasure chest that will hold more stuff, including some high-quality weapons that are going to be very handy.
The last area we tried out was the ground-based run up to General Knoxx's armory, seen in the distance from our starting point. The segment we played let us hear from the general himself via the game's ECHO communication system and gave us a glimmer of the quirky humor that had been pretty thin in our demo up to that point. It's clear Knoxx would rather be just about anywhere but Pandora. He's bored, a little bitter, and a little defeated, but he's going through the motions like a good soldier, which leads to some chuckle-worthy dialogue.
The signs of humor continued into our demo as we worked our way through a valley toward the armory and encountered more new enemies. We expect fans of the original game will be torn between these new foes. On the one hand, we think fans will be amused by the logical combination Gearbox has created. On the other had, we expect the masses to recoil in horror at the unholy union that made its presence known to us: skag-riding midgets. The way Gearbox reps tell it, it only makes sense that the midget population on Pandora would domesticate skags. While we appreciate this, it doesn't quite soften the blow of being mobbed by skag-riding midgets who shoot guns and throw explosives and/or knives. To add insult to injury, the ghastly combo basically counts as two enemies: kill the skag and the rider pops out at you with full health, flinging pain; kill the rider and the skag is still intent on goring you.
In terms of presentation, TSAOGK looks sharp and shows an adventurous sense of art direction and level design that helps the content feel fresh. The areas and enemies we saw all fit the game's aesthetics but expand on the work done in the core game. The non-player characters are livelier, with more animation, and don't come across as stiff, which is a nice touch. On the audio front, you'll hear a good mix of new and familiar effects. As far as voice goes, Athena and Knoxx are good additions to the cast and add more personality to the action. You'll hear some familiar voices as well, thanks to the presence of Scooter and some other favorites who come along for the ride.
If you enjoyed the special brand of mayhem and item collection that the original Borderlands experience offered and you were taken with the inspired lunacy in The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned, then The Secret Armory of General Knoxx looks to have a lot to offer. The array of content we saw and played left us with a good feeling about the upcoming downloadable pack. We're curious to see how the story plays out and where it's going to land on the humor scale, which was a big part of the Zombie Island DLC's appeal, and we have to say we're excited to see how it's going to come together. The Secret Armory of General Knoxx is set to be available in the near future for the PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360.