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Borderlands 2: A vault full of new treasures?

We head back to the dustbowl...

Arguably the most interesting and inventive game to come out of Gearbox is 2009's Borderlands.

It combined the questing and customisation of an RPG with the familiar template of an FPS - a genius idea, impressively executed. Some quest repetition and dim enemies were blots on the copybook, but it would be mean-spirited to focus on those - the majority of the game was high quality.

The real stars of the show were its randomly generated weapons, of which there were near-limitless variations numbering in the millions. You could have rifles that shot poison bullets, RPGs that launched fiery rockets or lightning-spewing shotguns. Borderlands 2 will feature the same system, but more organised.

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There is now more emphasis on the weapon manufacturers and their traits, be it an increased rate of fire or a larger ammo capacity. Some are disposable, exploding when their ammo is spent. One of our favourite new features is being able to throw your weapon at an enemy when you're out of ammo - the classic Hollywood cliché. You won't lose it for good though.

This change reflects the whole game, in fact. Everything we loved has been tweaked, polished and improved. The planet of Pandora is now more than just a series of dusty wastelands and the occasional bit of snow. We now have icy tundras, thick jungles and rocky mountains to explore.

The whole world is now streamed from the disc, so no more loading pauses, and you can go anywhere you can see. Previously you'd only see a 'skybox' texture of distant landscapes, and had to endure a loading break as you moved between regions. Not anymore.

Visually, the stylised 'cel-shaded' visuals are the same, but overall it's a much better looking game, with more dramatic natural architecture and imaginative character design. For example, the enemy who has a midget strapped to a shield on his chest - you can shoot the tethers to free the midget, and he'll temporarily fight on your side to get revenge on his captor.

It's clear that the game's sense of humour hasn't been lost, although the risible Claptrap robots are back. The community inexplicably loves them, but we can't say we're massively overjoyed to see their return.

One of the biggest complaints about the original was the shonky car handling. This has been addressed, and you're now able to traverse Pandora in vehicles with responsive controls and the ability to drift around corners. In other words, it'll be fun.

Enemy AI was also slammed in many reviews, with combatants blindly rushing you with no concern for their own well-being. Your new foes are smarter, taking cover and working together intelligently. This in turn makes the weapons more fun, because you're actually enjoying killing things with them now.

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Enemies can even climb over complicated terrain, so there'll be no more getting to higher ground and taking enemies out as they dart back and forth helplessly below. You can stun and cripple bad guys too with the new localised damage system, so maybe you'll tactically shoot a guy's legs to slow him down if he's rushing you.

Old characters will return, but only in cameo roles. The four selectable protagonists are brand new, including Salvador, a diminuitive, hairy brute who can dual-wield any weapon. The skill tree is largely unchanged, offering different specialisations for each character, and expect abilities to be relatively similar too.

Gearbox have us incredibly excited about Borderlands 2, with the promise of less tedious fetch quests, a more consistent weapon generation system and vehicles that don't handle like a shopping cart in a swamp.

If the killing and looting is even half as compelling as it was in the first game, this has greatness written all over it. Let's just hope there's a more involving story this time, and an ending that won't make us want to self-harm.

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The first game made a big show of opening the 'Vault', and it was your entire reason for being on Pandora in the first place, but when you actually did open the mysterious door... well, let's just say it was one of the biggest gaming anti-climaxes in recent memory.

So far, at least, Gearbox have listened to the fans, so we're confident this area will be improved as well.

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