Symbolic in more ways than one
Gearbox struck gold when they released Borderlands into the wilds a few years ago. It was notable for it's distinctive art style, tight gameplay, ridiculous one-liners, crude but funny humor, and of course the nearly unlimited number of guns that you could acquire. Now, Gearbox is taking us all back to Pandora with Borderlands 2 and it promises to be an even better ride than the first.
The first thing you can expect from Borderlands 2 is that there will be guns and a whole hell of a lot of them. However, Gearbox is also addressing a few of the issues that the loot system in Borderlands had. In Borderlands, there wasn't a ton of variety between guns, and only a few were unique but they didn't have an overly unique feel. Borderlands 2 aims to rectify these issues by introducing a different style to the guns of each manufacturer. Gearbox is also stratifying the benefits and drawbacks of each manufacturer. For example, a Hyperion gun should look very clean and futuristic with scopes and other parts you would expect to see on a high accuracy rifle, because Hyperion has the lowest recoil and highest accuracy on their guns. However, a gun from Dahl should look more militaristic, similar to the guns that modern armies use, like the Colt M4 or the Fabrique Nationale FN2000. These additions should help gamers differentiate between the manufacturers and add a sense of variety to the guns that you obtain. Item crafting hasn't been mentioned yet, but it would certainly be a worthy addition to the game.
Graphics are also being updated for Borderlands 2. I highly doubt that we will see DirectX11, but new features like higher resolution textures, reflection mapping for weapons, and updated specular effects are being worked on. This should make everything look cleaner and more realistic, if realism is possible on Pandora. If Gearbox stays with DirectX9 then there isn't much else that could be added to the graphics of the game. If they do, then things like ambient occlusion, tessellation, and depth-of-field won't be available in-game. However, I'll reserve judgment on that matter until I've given the game a thorough playthrough. Personally, I would like to see global parallax occlusion mapping and a dynamic weather system.
NPC's and AI are also seeing an overhaul. The NPC's of Borderlands really took away from the vibrancy of the game, or added to the desolation that the game exhibited in it's environments. Meaning, they served only to dispense quests and sell you items. For Borderlands 2, NPC's are being given schedules and dynamic interaction. Now you should be able to talk to NPC's and see them wander around doing tasks. The enemy AI is also being updated, to include better patrolling, use of cover, and implementation of strategy based on the environment and other available resources. If these features translate into the game as well as Gearbox has made them sound, the gameplay should feel very amazing and realistic.
If you played the original Borderlands, I challenge you to recall the story behind the vault hunters. Not what they did on Pandora, but what had happened in their lives leading up to it? If you can't don't blame yourself or Google, because that wasn't something that Gearbox addressed in Borderlands. However, in Borderlands 2, the story of the vault hunters, and the new player characters, will be explored. From the little details that have been addressed, the story looks promising. If you don't want to know anything about the story ahead of time, then skip the next sentence. The story will have a new antagonist named Handsome Jack, who has taken over Hyperion and Pandora by claiming that he was the one who discovered the Eridian Vault and is now trying to rid Pandora of it's civilian population, but four new heroes have emerged to combat Handsome Jack, with the help of the vault hunters.
Cooperative split-screen gameplay is also returning Borderlands 2. The few issues with it's implementation in Borderlands are also being rectified. There isn't much else to say about co-op because it's pretty self-explanatory. One thing about multiplayer that Gearbox should address is online multiplayer. Borderlands 2 could benefit greatly from a good online experience because it already has a great framework to build on. Vehicles are already present and driveable, there is a vast multitude of guns, and the difference between the classes and the way they play would make for an interesting experience.
The main thing that I feel Borderlands 2, and many other games for that matter, should include is a software development kit or SDK. If you don't already know what that is, its basically what the developers used to make the game, and allows for gamers to make mods for themselves or the community. Mods can often be just as important to a game as it's story or gameplay. The ability to have new content and other improvements added to the game on a daily basis is highly beneficial to the success of the title. Skyrim, for example, is a game that I have played since it's release and it wouldn't have been able to hold my attention to that degree, until Dawnguard is released, without mods.
So, if Gearbox sticks to what they've said so far, then Borderlands 2 should turn out to be one of the strongest releases this year. While we wait, if you haven't played Borderlands yet, check it out as it's a great game in it's own right, and would probably help you understand the premise of the story in the sequel better. Hopefully we see some of the other features that I discussed implemented into the game but for now only time will tell. See you on Pandora.