Following the reveal of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel last week, Gearbox Software and developer 2K Australia brought their loot-heavy inbetweener to PAX East 2014 and let attendees sit in on a live demo.
For those of you just catching up with 2K Australia’s go at Gearbox’s flagship franchise, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is set on the moon orbiting Pandora, under the shadow of Hyperion’s H-shaped space station. Rounding out the playable cast of characters are Athena the Gladiator, who first debuted in Borderland 2’s The Secret Armory of General Knoxx DLC; Wilhelm the Enforcer, a Borderlands 2 boss more bipedal loader than flesh-and-blood engineer; Nisha the Lawbringer, an option boss in Borderlands 2, and series mascot Claptrap, now named Claptrap the Fragtrap.
“A lot of times it’s a question where, ‘What’s the story about?’ before you pick out the characters that you want to fill in those roles,” Gearbox producer James Lopez said. “Claptrap was something that we talked about off and on, [mostly] just as a joke, like, ‘Haha, wouldn’t it be funny if we did Claptrap?’ But then we were like, ‘What would it be like to play Claptrap,’ because Claptrap in Borderlands is a very pathetic character. He’s sort of like the Charlie Brown of our universe. And as funny as that idea is, he’s got to be useful. You can’t just have it be one long gag about how useless he is. So, Claptrap was a pretty interesting one, and we had to have a really solid idea of what he was before we committed to it.”
The four are tapped by future Borderlands 2 antagonist Handsome jack to help him regain control of the Hyperion space station. In essence, The Pre-Sequel is very much Jack’s story, chronicling his descent into madness and villainy.
The demo was short, but highlighted three new additions The Pre-Sequel is bringing to the Borderlands universe. One of those was revealed alongside the game last week: the role of oxygen, both in and out of battle. Because players will be exposed to the vacuum of space while on the surface of the moon, oxygen supply sources are required to, well, breath. But oxygen can also be used in exploration and combat. Because of the moon’s low gravity, characters moon bounce and jump much higher than on Pandora. They can also use short bursts of their oxygen tanks to gain even more height and distance with each jump. And from those heights, can “butt-stomp” enemies. Augmenting these unfortunately named, but accurately described butt-stomps are oxygen mods that can give the drop-down attacks a variety of different additional powers, like incendiary blasts on contact.
OK, so that’s the old. What about the new? Well, in response to fan demand, and arguably 2K Australia’s own twisted love of the visceral as gamers, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel introduces two new weapon types: ice guns that can freeze enemies and leave them open for shattering and laser weapons. Neither concept, of course, new to any experienced gamer, so you can well imagine how each works, but both an interesting addition to Borderlands in the strategic possibilities they represent.
Then there’s the character classes, all of which seem to be new to the series in some capacity inasmuch as we can tell. The spotlight was shone on Athena during PAX, highlighting one of her Gladiatrix skill trees that focused on using her Captain America–style shield as a weapon. By deflecting and absorbing damage, the shield builds up power, and with the right skills unlocked, can be hurled at enemies or multiple enemies (up to four) in one throw. Another skill tree—not shown—will give Athena more of a defensive focus.
Gearbox and 2K Australia also touched upon the once-human Wilhelm, a popular boss from Borderlands 2 who sacrificed his fleshy self off-camera to become a mechanized monster. In an interesting twist and form of character exploration, Wilhelm will, at the start of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, be human. Over the course of the game, as his skill tree is grown out more and more, bits and pieces of him will be swapped out for robotic replacements until, by the end, he’s the looming man-mech Borderlands 2 players know and recognize.
As for Claptrap and Nisha, well, Lopez and 2K Australia producer Joel Eschler kept tightlipped about their skills, abilities, powers, and quirks. But they did assuage any doubts that this third proper Borderlands installment wouldn’t have something broad appeal.
“Something that we can say about the playable characters is that like with any Borderlands game, players can expect to have something there that caters to everyone,” Lopez added. Whatever your preference is, you’ll be represented.”
Borderlands 2: The Pre-Sequel launches on Windows PC, PS3, and Xbox 360 this fall.