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Exclusive Borderlands 2 Interview: Gun lust, clever skags and Claptrap’s return

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The original Borderlands in 2009 was a game that definitely surprised many players with its perfect storm of ingredients: Addictive RPG elements, fantastic loot, millions of possible gun combinations, incredibly creative enemies and environments, as well as that signature humour, all came together to form something truly special.

Borderlands 2 Banner Logo

Releasing in mid-September this year, Borderlands 2 is set to do it all over again but if our time at gamescom 2011 and the debut trailer is anything to go by, Gearbox Software’s sequel is going to outstrip the studio’s previous effort in every way, with over-the-top action, characters, scenarios and enemies! And that signature humour? Borderlands 2 dials it up way past levels deemed safe for human consumption!

So it was with excitement that El33tonline’s Editor-in-Chief Lisa recently spoke with Gearbox Software’s Anthony Burch to find out a lot more about Borderlands 2 and what makes it tick – there is a ton of fantastic information in here so grab a cup of your favourite hot drink, settle into a comfy chair, and enjoy:


That Trailer:

El33tonline:

Firstly, please can you tell us a bit about yourself. What is your role at Gearbox Software and how are you involved with the current Borderlands 2 project?

Anthony Burch:

My name is Anthony Burch. I am the main writer of Borderlands 2 and one time I made a guy fall off his skateboard just by looking at him funny.

Anthony Burch - Gearbox Software

El33tonline:

The trailer showed us just how much variety we can expect in Borderlands 2, whether that be character classes, weapons, enemies or environments. How important was it to the development team to build on the variety that Borderlands 1 offered, and how are you achieving this?

Anthony Burch:

Extremely important. We wanted to make more of everything, and also make it better. So we not only have more guns, but the guns themselves are more varied and unique thanks to the manufacturer system. We not only have more environments, but the environments themselves are ludicrously varied – you’ll go from snow to grass to dust to a pristine, futuristic city, all within a few hours.

We want Borderlands 2 to be a true sequel – to deliver more, and better.

El33tonline:

During the trailer we see a few familiar faces (Mordecai, Dr Zed and Scooter, for example), a few new ones and a few mysterious ones. We know the four characters from Borderlands 1 will be making a re-appearance in the game – how important will this role be and how will their stories be weaved into the stories of the new characters?

Also can you tell us a bit more about the new faces we see during the trailer and what roles they will play during the game.

Anthony Burch:

The four Vault Hunters from the first game will be extremely important. A new villain named Handsome Jack plans to take over Pandora, and given his immense power (he’s a trillionaire with an entire army of killer robots on his side, because who wouldn’t buy a bunch of killer robots once they made a trillion dollars?), the player will need the help of the original four Vault Hunters to take him down.

As far as new characters go, the trailer showed off Tiny Tina – she’s the little girl jumping on the dynamite plunger. She’s a nine-year-old explosives expert who happens to be slightly insane. We also saw Handsome Jack, who, as mentioned earlier, is the antagonist of the game – a complete egomaniac who wants to rebuild Pandora in his image.

Borderlands 2 Screenshot 1

El33tonline:

We also got a glimpse of new enemies in the trailer, can you tell us any more details about what new enemies we can expect to face in Borderlands 2 and which enemies we will be reacquainted with?

Some of those enemies seem rather large too! Just how large can we expect some of these enemies to be and will any require teamwork to take down?

Anthony Burch:

We’ve got a lot of enemies returning from the first game – psychos, skags, and so forth – but we’ve got at least a dozen new enemies in Borderlands 2. We’ve also improved the AI for all the enemies in the game: skags will now transmit their elemental type to other skags (so a fire skag can do a ground pound and set all the skag pups around him on fire, turning them into fire pups), our new Loader enemies will lose and regrow arms by calling for healing beams from Surveyor bots, and so on.

Our enemies are now more complex and require more strategy – really effective teams will be able to take down, say, a Nomad Torturer (a new enemy who fights with a midget strapped to his massive, bulletproof shield) very easily by using one player to draw his aggro while another flanks him. Even if you aren’t playing with a friend, however, there are always options for taking down any enemy by yourself.

For instance, you could free the midget strapped to the Torturer’s shield so it’ll fight alongside you briefly, giving you the opportunity to flank the Torturer from behind.

El33tonline:

New vehicles have also been spotted, in addition to flying vehicles we saw bigger, more interesting vehicles – can you tell us any more details about how players will interact with these vehicles and how they will change the gameplay?

Anthony Burch:

The vehicle that shows up during the ’catch a new ride‘ part of the trailer – is our new, four-player vehicle. One player drives, one player mans the turret, and the other two stand in the flatbed and fire their own weapons from the sides. The flying vehicles you saw were actually Buzzards, which is what the bandits call the gyrocopters they’ve built by taking pieces from other vehicles and reassembling them.

You won’t be piloting any of those yourself, but you’ll quickly realize that you wouldn’t want to – they go down pretty easily.

Borderlands 2 Screenshot 2

El33tonline:

The weapons and, more importantly, the variety of weapons in the game are impressive. Do you really have 870 Gajillion more guns in Borderlands 2? Are there any particular new guns that you’d like to describe a little for us?

Anthony Burch:

We definitely have more guns, and they all look and feel very different to those in the first game. Just take SMGs, for instance. If you get a Dahl assault SMG, it’ll only shoot in burst-fire mode, but it’ll do really high damage and have a practically non-existent bullet spread. If you get a Tediore SMG, you’ll chuck it like a grenade every time you reload it. If you get a Maliwan SMG, it’ll always do a buttload of elemental damage.

Each manufacturer has its own gimmick, so each gun feels totally different from every other gun.

El33tonline:

We were happy to see that Claptrap will be making a return in Borderlands 2. Anything you can share with us about his role in the game and if we can expect to see him doing the robot in the final game too?

Anthony Burch:

Claptrap is on the same quest the player is – to take down Handsome Jack and free Pandora. Handsome Jack murdered every other Claptrap unit on Pandora once he got there , so Claptrap is actually the last of his kind – and he wants to take down Jack just as much as the player hopefully will. However, since Claptrap is a deluded moron, he thinks that he, and not the player, is actually the star of the game.

I’d be very surprised if Claptrap didn’t end up dancing at some point in the game.


Four character classes:

El33tonline:

Lilith was one of our favourite characters in Borderlands 1 and now Maya will take Lilith’s place this time around with ‘Phase’ abilities. Can you talk about Maya’s relation to Lilith and what improvements you’ve made to this character class?

Anthony Burch:

Maya and Lilith are both Sirens, but they have completely different action skills – Lilith’s Phasewalk is completely different from Maya’s Phaselock.

Maya’s Phaselock skill is a crowd control ability. By Phaselocking an enemy, she takes them out of the fight for a limited time – the enemy can’t hurt the players, but the players can hurt the enemy.

The Phaselock is also one of the most versatile skills in the game – if you invest in the ’Helios‘ skill, every Phaselock will create a massive fire blast that incinerates any enemies who were near the poor bastard you grabbed, and if you invest in ’Res‘ you can use Phaselock to revive your partners instead of running over and manually getting them back to their feet.

Borderlands 2 Screenshot 1

El33tonline:

How do you ensure each of the character classes are equally balanced, and how important is this to the development team? To balance diversity of character with equality of strength, and ensure one character class is not more powerful than the next.

Anthony Burch:

We do a lot of focus testing and peer review. All four characters are being designed by a dude named Jonathan Hemingway, and he’s fantastic at tweaking the stats so that every character class feels useful in their own way.

El33tonline:

How can players look forward to modifying Salvador’s skills, which skill are you most excited about with Salvador, and how do you think they will influence a gamers’ experience when playing as the Gunzerker.

Anthony Burch:

Salvador has three skill trees: the ’rampage‘ tree, which is about all dual-wielding all the time, the ’brawn‘ tree, which is about being a badass tank who takes lots of damage, and the gun lust tree, which is about doing crazy stuff with weapons.

Personally, the gun lust tree is really exciting to me because you can combine the skills to create really fun combinations. For example, there’s a skill called ’No Kill Like Overkill‘ that converts all excess damage from a killed enemy into health – so, say, if you do 100 damage to a guy who has only 1 hp left, you get 99 health.

You can then combine this with a different skill that adds bonus damage to the last bullet in every magazine, so that if you kill an enemy with the last bullet in your magazine, you’ll do so much damage that, with a single shot, you’ll recharge all of your hit points instantly.

Borderlands 2 Screenshot 2

El33tonline:

Axton the Commando bears more than a passing resemblance to the Soldier class from Borderlands 1. We believe that playing as the Commando will feel familiar if you played as the Soldier – can you elaborate on this a little and describe what similarities and differences to the Soldier we can expect to encounter when playing as Axton?

Anthony Burch:

Axton has an auto-turret much like Roland did in the first game, but Axton’s can be upgraded to do stuff that Roland’s turret could only dream of. For example, if you invest in the ‘Mag-Lock’ skill, you can toss the turret onto walls and ceilings to flush enemies from cover.

Players who were comfortable with Roland will find a home with Axton, but he has so many more skills (in fact, each character in Borderlands 2 has around 30% more skills than any given character from the original game) that he will feel like an entirely new character class.

El33tonline:

Please tell us more about the Commando’s new turret, how much more modifiable it is and how the appearance will change depending on a gamers’ skill build. Please also explain how the longbow turret will work – it sounds exciting!

Anthony Burch:

Depending on how you spend your skills, you can put a second gun on the turret (doubling its damage), or attach missile pods to it, or any number of other crazy things.

The longbow turret basically allows you to place the turret anywhere you’re aiming – rather than just tossing the turret in front of you, which gives you a tragically limited range, you could stand at the top of a mountain and longbow the turret into a group of enemies at the mountain’s base. It’s great for sniping – you can use the turret to draw aggro and pick off the enemies that attack it.

Borderlands 2 Screenshot 3

El33tonline:

Zer0 the Assassin seems to us to be the most new unique character on the Borderlands 2 team. Can you tell us more about his skills and this intriguing calling card we’ve heard about.

Anthony Burch:

Zero is both a melee fighter and a sniper – depending on which skills you purchase, Zero can either be spectacularly strong at close range, or at long range, or both. He’s got a skill tree that’s all about sniping, as well as a skill tree that’s about getting in close and dealing ludicrous damage with melee weapons. His action skill, Deception, allows him to become invisible and create a decoy of himself on the battlefield.

While in Deception, the player’s critical hits do more damage, so there’s an advantage to either hanging back and sniping, or getting close and swinging once Deception is active.

In regards to his ’calling card’ you mention – the big zero that appears on his face whenever he kills someone – we don’t want to reveal too many answers. Zero is intentionally designed to be something of a mystery: where did he come from, who is he, and why does that big ’0‘ appear every time he gets a kill? We like to imagine that his name isn’t actually ’Zero’ and that people just call him that because the number keeps appearing on his face.

El33tonline thanks Gearbox Software, 2K Games and Anthony Burch for their time!

Borderlands 2 is due for release on September 18th in North America and September 21st everywhere else, across Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.


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