I can’t even imagine how boring presenting a game at E3 must get. You’ve got a cramped room, countless herds of tired, sweaty journalists, and the same canned “Lookit! A low level enemy!” presentation day in and day out. For three grueling days. Yet somehow, Gearbox Studios’ Randy Pitchford gave off so much unbridled enthusiasm that you would’ve thought his game was some juicy piece of gossip he’d been keeping under wraps for years.
Honestly, though, Pitchford’s boisterous excitement wasn’t without warrant. After all, Borderlands recently underwent a cosmetic surgery not unlike that of Team Fortress 2, resulting in an attractive comic book-style wrapping for the shooter-RPG. In other words, Borderlands looks like an entirely different game now, and a far more appealing one at that. Fortunately, its gameplay – which has always struck me as the expected result of Diablo, Halo, and Fallout 3 walking into a bar – remains just as alluring as always, even in the face of shiny new graphics.
During the presentation, Pitchford and two other Gearbox devs showed off Borderlands’ co-op mode, which allows up to four players to kick up dust in the game’s colossal desert world together. First, we saw two players take on impish, Gollum-like enemies called Scags by – what else – shooting them. As with enemies in obvious role model Diablo, Borderlands’ baddies drop all kinds of algorithmically generated loot, making for a whopping total of over half a million weapons in the game. If you can find a use for that many weapons that doesn’t involve building a Death Star, you’re a better man (and/or woman) than I.
A picture of Borderlands old art style, for comparison's sake.
Apparently, variations on that algorithm will power the enemy spawning system as well, though obviously in much smaller quantities. As we were made aware of this, another type of Scag whose most defining characteristic was that he was on fire howled and leapt at our guides. The merits of the evolutionary trait of being aflame notwithstanding, the spicy fiesta style Scag was quickly blasted, and the show went on.
As with many open world games, vehicles are the preferred method of transport in Borderlands. Vehicles are spawned by little emplacements throughout the game world, and can be given a dash of your own personality through color customization. (Our presenters chose pink, if you must know.) Halo seemed to be the inspiration here, with one player taking the wheel and another manning a turret.
After a bit of mobilized murder, we were given a glimpse at Borderlands’ skill system. Taking another cue from Diablo, Borderlands’ skills grow on a number of differently specialized trees. Thus, even though the game features four archetypes, Pitchford wasn’t too worried about players creating overtly similar characters. As an example, Pitchford and co. presented us with the burly tank character – named Brick – specced into brawling. This granted him the (extremely amusing) ability to sprint around screaming and punching people to bits. Everyone had a good chuckle, but the ability actually looked pretty useful. Assuming other skills mesh comedic form with function in a similar fashion, Borderlands' skill tree will definitely be one of its major selling points.
Overall, I came away extremely impressed with Borderlands. As expected, its RPG/FPS gameplay looks solid, but the promise of a darkly humorous open world full of weird and wacky weapons and enemies really has me rooting for the game. Jump-in, jump-out co-op and PVP, then, are just icing on one of this year’s most enticing cakes.
Pitchford ended his spiel by saying that the game’s entering an internal beta soon, and that the game will be coming in October. Unfortunately, that pretty much eliminates the possibility that the game secretly launched last October. And so, the wait continues.