Despite the absence of pointy ears and curly lettering, Borderlands is one of our favourite RPGs. Riffing on some of the finest formulas we've ever seen, it managed to blend Diablo's art of loot collecting with Phantasy Star Online's knack for making mindless repetition feel exciting.
It wasn't without its flaws of course (see also: mindless repetition) but fixing up stuff like this is what sequels are for. After two hours of playing it in two player co-op, we're more than willing to pin our hearts to our sleeves: Borderlands 2 is going to be brilliant. In particular, it's going to be a considerably better RPG. Here's why.
1. Clearer classes
The original game's character perks nudged you towards specific weapons at first, but aside from the bonus ammo and damage there was never much of an incentive to specialize. This time though, the vast variation in weapons makes embracing a clearer role much more appealing - especially if you're planning on playing with friends.
Running around with your favourite two guns won't get you as far as it did last time, and if you're part of a group, you'll definitely need to play to your strengths. Roles aren't imposed on you, though - the scenarios you're given determine the weapons and tactics you'll use. Rock a rifle and you're best off playing sniper, but when space is limited, your team-mates might prefer the company of an elemental specialist. If you're the guy with the best lightning weapon, you should put yourself in charge of taking out robots.
2. It's made with Co-op in mind
The first game was brilliant fun played in co-op, but we can't help feeling that it wasn't the focus. Anything is fun when played with friends, and Borderlands' seemed to get by on that knowledge rather than truly taking advantage of it. This time the feature gets more thorough integration, from the tiny surface details to the core of how the whole game is built.
Menus have been designed to work better in split-screen, and you can also take your split-screen buddy online. There's also a proper option window for trading your items, making the drop-and-trust system a thing of the past. It's a good thing too - I personally still haven't recovered from the time I got cleaned out on Phantasy Star Online.
3. New debuff stuff
As soon as you write the word 'debuff' down, you know you've veered into proper RPG territory. DEBUFF. Look at it. If you've never played an RPG, it probably just sounds like something you don't do with shoes. If you're nerdy enough to know what it means though, it's an exciting thing to have if Borderlands 2.
The new elemental power known as 'Slag' is great for when you're playing with mates. Once an enemy gets slagged, it will take more damage - giving low accuracy weapons a new lease of life. Spray and pray into a crowd, and let the slag do all the work. God bless Americans and their ignorance of English slang.
4. More customisation
The original game was mainly about guns and skill trees, but there's much more scope for tweaking things this time. The biggest change we've spotted is the number of relics you'll find. Relics aren't always class-specific nowadays, and there seems to be a wider range of effects. We haven't tried out the Class Mods yet, but we suspect they've been buffed up too. For those who've never played an RPG before: THIS IS EXCITING.
5. New numbers to crunch
Not everybody's willing to admit it, but everybody likes watching numbers go up. Most games in the world take advantage of this knowledge, but RPGs still do it best. In addition to the XP, cash, and multiple skill trees, Borderlands 2 has a new stat to track: Badass Points. Where the original game's optional challenges simply handed you a chunk of XP, this time you'll bump up your overall ranking too. The harder the challenge is, the more Badass Points you'll end racking up. Gearbox aren't talking about what these are for, but we're guessing there's some sort of networking feature involved.