Gearbox describes Borderlands 2 as a “role-playing shooter”. The game takes place five years after the first Borderlands, during a time when a man named Handsome Jack has taken over Pandora. Borderlands 2 adds new features like four-man vehicles, better weapons customization, and more, but when we spoke to producer, Matthew Charles, our talk was more about the game’s story and world. Read on for details of where Borderlands 2’s story picks up.
Pandora looks quite a bit different this time around, technology seems more advanced, and I certainly didn’t see anything like Opportunity City in the first Borderlands. How has the planet changed since the first game?
Matthew Charles, Producer: Borderlands 2 takes place roughly five years after the events of Borderlands 1, after the first Vault was opened. I say "first Vault," because you learn very quickly in Borderlands 2 that Handsome Jack, the president of the Hyperion corporation, believes he’s found another. And you, as the cast of new vault hunters, quickly run afoul of him, because he wants any future power from the second vault all to himself.
Now, once the Vault was opened in the first game, the world totally changed. A substance called Iridium started sprouting up everywhere across the planet, and it turned out to be a very powerful and dangerous substance. That’s actually what drew Jack’s attention in the first place.
Visually, we like to joke that we’ve discovered a new color: we call it "green." [laughs] So we put some of that in Borderlands 2.
Handsome Jack (above) is interesting to me, partially because he wears a man’s face as a mask, and partially because Borderlands 1 didn’t really have a strong, singular villain. What are you doing with Jack as a villain?
Jack is probably the funniest characters I’ve ever seen in a game, personally, which is awesome for me to be able to say! But when I say funny, it’s in the way that people can be funny and ruthless at the same time. He’s absolutely an asshole, which keeps you interested. For instance, the city Opportunity is the tip of the spear. It’s what Jack wants all of Pandora to look like.
Though, you’ll notice that there weren’t any inhabitants of the city, because nobody wants to be ruled by Jack. A perfect example of this is a Hyperion audio recording that plays in the city reminding people that littering is a crime punishable by death and complaining about the rules is a form of verbal littering. So it’s a bit oppressive, to say the least.
So… that bothers our new vault hunters?
Honestly, I don’t think our new vault hunters would have cared if it weren’t for the fact that Jack wants the vault to himself! They’re just there for the wealth, the fame, and the loot associated with the vault. Salvador has a more personal interest as a native of Pandora. He’s concerned with what Jack is doing to his planet.
What inspired the shift away from our original characters? What’s happened to them after they opened the Vault, how did the world react to that?
Well, after defeating Steele and the monster that came out of the vault, they’ve parted ways. They are aware of the threat that Jack poses to Pandora, so they’re all involved in the story. We chose to bring new characters to the table in Borderlands 2, because we had this giant, fun sandbox that was the universe of the first game, and we wanted to play around some more. We thought the best way to explore that further was by adding new playable characters. But we didn’t want to ignore the previous cast, so we thought it would be great to involve them into the story.
One of my favorite things about the first game was the appearance of the superpowered "badass" enemies, and I noticed a couple in the demo. How has the badass element been expanded. Are there like Turbo Flaming Badass Skags or something?
Without giving too much away… yeeeah. [laughs] I think you’ll be pretty pleased. We’re well into the triple digits of numbers of unique enemies in the game, some you can only fight on your second playthrough to keep it fresh for the new game plus aspect.
I noticed Claptrap was calling our new vault hunters his "minions" in the demo. What’s going on there?
That’s… just the way that Claptrap thinks, he sees the new vault hunters as his servants. It’s adorable. It’s new to Borderlands 2, but I can’t really talk about it without spoiling anything.
You guys have taken on a new writer for Borderlands 2, Anthony Burch, writer of “Hey Ash Whatcha Playin?”. How has that changed the way you the game handles storytelling?
Well, the first game’s writing was handled almost entirely by Mikey Neumann, and people responded very well to the tone and dark humor. Sort of the "that’s really funny, but I almost feel bad for laughing" approach. He and creative director Paul Hellquist were on-hand to work with Anthony as soon as he joined. We actually had Anthony and Paul into the same office together with no one else for about two years, so the game is incredibly consistent. But we also want story and gameplay to mesh more than in the first game.
Handsome Jack is a big part of that. There’s a stronger connection to the main mission line when you understand and in fact care why you’re doing what you’re doing and what it’s going to mean, not just for yourself and the loot, but to the rest of the world. We’re trying to give players more justification for where they’re going and why. I mean, it would feel very disconnected if you got to this big city in the middle of the desert, but fortunately, we have this backstory with Handsome Jack taking over and being a megalomaniac. We’ve got story justifying the setting.
We’re trying to combine story and gameplay right down to the little details in our levels. For instance, in Opportunity, there’s a little series of murals depicting the story—well, the fake story—of how Handsome Jack defeated the evil vault monster and rose to power and how heroic he was. I’m being sarcastic because it’s not at all true. Players of the first Borderlands will notice that he’s taking credit for the things they did! We’ve even got little bits of recorded narration, and I haven’t seen any of our demo players stumble upon these yet.
Our readers are curious, will there be any sort of reward for having Borderlands 1 save data?
Yes. While I can’t say what that is exactly, it’s a small token of gratitude. If we detect a Borderlands 1 save file on your console or memory unit, you’ll unlock something right of the bat for Borderlands 2.
Borderlands 2 will be released on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC on September 18 in the US, and September 21 in Europe.