Jasper Foreman, lead AI programmer at Gearbox Software, sat down with us (on the floor in a hallway of the Hard Rock Hotel, right outside of San Diego Comic-Con central), to describe a handful of enemies we can expect to see in the new Borderlands and the tech that makes them smarter than ever.
There are 15-20 separate enemies in Borderlands 2, but each type has numerous variants, bringing the total number of foes somewhere between 200-300. Foreman once tried to count them all by running a script, but with the complex descriptors composing each enemy it was impossible to locate every one. Suffice it to say, there are a lot. Skags and Bandits are two of the returning classes, and they've both experienced upgrades. There are still Badass Skags and they can still take on elemental effects such as fire and shock, but they are now equipped with the ability to buff the minions around them. Badass buffing gives minions health, speed and special moves, such as lightning attacks.
The Bandit class includes Marauders that interact intelligently with the environment and each other – they have multilevel design, allowing them to hop around more, jump on rooftops and find ways to surround the player. They will "dodge, dip, dive, duck and dodge," according to Foreman.
However, sniping the helmet off of every Goliath you encounter may not be the best move, since they level up as they kill. Once they've slaughtered all your enemies they may be more formidable than the entire horde combined, and you'll have no one to hide behind (unless you're playing multiplayer with some really good friends).
Threshers are burrowing animals that are less like sand worms and more like "squid worms," as Foreman calls them. They're generally juicy, squishy and have tentacles everywhere: A Thresher's head can poke out of the ground in one area while its tentacles attack another area of the battlefield. One type, the Wormhole Thresher, has spikes all over its body and the ability to summon a wormhole that sucks you in for impalement if you get trapped in its pull radius.
Tadpole Threshers, on the other hand, shoot out of the ground and fall back down for aerial attacks. Think of it like reverse burrowing.
Handsome Jack runs the show on Pandora and much of the mythos of Borderlands 2, controlling the Hyperion Corporation and its robot army. Just as with the fleshy enemies, Jack's robots also have variant forms.
Loaders are battle-oriented bots, with variants such as the tank-like WAR Loader and the BUL Loader, which can transform into a shape similar to a bulldozer.
Surveyors are small, shrimp-like medics that fly around the warzone and heal the other classes as they fight. If a Loader has its legs shot off – first, it will continue to come after you, Terminator-style. Second, an alert will appear above its head and a Surveyor will fly over and start repairing it.
Constructors are big bots, and are rarer than the other classes (thankfully, it sounds like). Constructors expand on the digistruct system in the first Borderlands, able to create robots directly on the battlefield. Constructors have a crit spot in their eye, which is similar to HAL 9000's, and shooting it will interrupt its building process, but will be difficult. Constructors are tricked out with missiles, lasers and a nuke that can go off with a big fanfare, shooting out of the robot's top, flying up and aiming straight for you. It is possible to shoot the nuke before it reaches you, of course.
Foreman built the tools for the designers, including a behavior tree that acts as a set of AI Legos – little, clean bricks of AI that can be placed wherever they need to be. This lends itself to complex builds for each class and each variant within that class. For example, if a Midget and a Goliath find themselves near each other, the Midget may jump on the shoulders of the Goliath and attack together, as their AI tells them to. Not all enemies interact this way, but there are quite a few instances like it between species, Foreman says.
The Ultimate Loot Chest Limited Edition of Borderlands 2 contains a "Creatures of Pandora wide-format ID chart" that outlines all of the organisms on the planet, and it was drawn up by a Gearbox marketing artist who happily volunteered for the job. Needless to say, by the time the artist was almost done with the poster, Foreman felt pretty bad for him.