A couple weeks ago we saw a wub-wub-filled new trailer for Borderlands 2 revealing the release date, all of the new playable characters, and some other exciting details about the upcoming sequel to Gearbox’s loot-fest shooter. To catch up with all the new info on the game, I spoke with writer Anthony Burch and concept designer Scott Kester. They explained the approach behind each of the new characters, the size of the game world, and whether or not the first game’s characters will be playable.

Maya seems to be largely focused around the phaselock ability. How does that compare to the phasewalk ability from Lilith in the first game?

Anthony Burch: They’re completely separate. Maya can shoot any enemy with phaselock and remove them from combat. It’s crowd control essentially. She’ll suspend them in an orb of siren-y, phase-y, magic-y cool stuff. It allows everybody to shoot that person, because they can no longer fight back. Or you can just take them out of the fight while you focus on somebody more important.

It’s actually a really versatile skill, because you can use it to do damage too. If you choose the helios skill, when you phaselock, it will cause a fiery explosion outward that kills anybody nearby. Or you can get the res skill, and instead of having to walk over and manually revive somebody, you can just phaselock them. They immediately get back up and are back in the fight.

Axton seems to be the stand-in for the soldier class in Borderlands 2. How does he differ from Roland? Were there specific things you identified about Roland that you felt needed to be addressed or changed?

AB: Axton is actually a new class called commando. He’s an evolution of Roland, but he has a completely different skill set. He’s got a turret, but his turret does brand new, crazy-ass things. You can spec into the longbow skill, which lets your turret basically teleport to a place and appear there rather than having to throw it down manually. You can throw it across maps, and it will just appear. He has a skill that allows his turrets to latch onto walls or ceilings, so if someone is f---ing with you from behind cover, you just throw your turret on the wall behind them and suddenly their cover doesn’t mean anything because they’re not covered from that angle. The whole philosophy with Axton was that if somebody isn’t used to RPGs, or they want to see something that’s more immediately familiar, Axton is kind of the more inviting, Modern Warfare marine type.

Scott Kester: Yeah, I did the characters on the last game, and I did these guys, too. But this time we really  tried to give each character a different flavor that’s a little more distinct. To me, the first game’s characters blended together a little bit. Designing Axton was definitely a decision to take a little lighter modern military approach. That was a very conscious decision on our part to try to bring that into the game. We’ve seen a lot of comments saying, “I saw Axton, and that’s who I want to play, because I just love soldiers.” We still think he has a lot of uniqueness to him, of course. He’s not just some soldier guy, but at the end of the day, he’s kind of the everyman shooter character. I think some people see him and can instantly relate with him. When we’re designing the characters, we try to make it so that when you see their appearance, you get a decent understanding of who they are and what they’re going to do and how they’ll fight.

Based off the visual design, Zer0 seems to be this game’s equivalent of Mordecai from the original Borderlands, except he uses a sword. Did you have to add a whole new subset of melee-based loot to the game for this character?

SK: Zer0 is actually a long-range and a close-range character. His skill is deception, where he throws down a clone of himself and goes invisible to get stealth attacks and stealth kills. We gave the option that the way his skill trees are built, you can go down a more focused close-range side of him and get in and get those kills that way. But we didn’t want to pigeon-hole him as a character that only works up close. He kind of fulfills the Mordecai promise, but his skill tree is drastically different. Mordecai is basically, "Go get him, bird," and you sit back and watch the bird cause mayhem. With Zer0, you have to really get in and control the character. It’s kind of night and day.

AB: To answer your earlier question as to whether or not his melee focus means melee loot, enemies won’t be dropping melee weapons, but our new loot in general – the guns, the shield, the relics – will allow you to spec for melee in an interesting way. We have these new shields called roid shields. If you have a roid shield equipped, when your shields go down, you actually get a bonus to your melee damage. If you’re playing as Zer0 and you want to go all-in into the melee tree, you can get a skill where if you hit someone with melee it increases your gun damage, and if you shoot someone with a gun it increases your melee damage. Then you can juggle between melee and guns until your shields go down, and all of a sudden you’re doing a s---load of damage.

So to clarify, Zer0’s sword won’t be changing in appearance or stats as you go? It’s more based off the skills that you build up?

AB: Correct.

Out of all of the characters in Borderlands 2, Zer0 seems like the biggest departure from anything in the first game. Is there a specific type of player you were trying to target with that character?

SK: As we created him, there was even some controversy inside the studio. I’ve always had an obsession with the loner character, the Snake Eyes or Grey Fox-style character. If you see the characters all together, you can tell that this guy is not going to fit in 100 percent. People that prefer stealth characters, like assassins or rogues – he’s definitely a character that’s more about finesse than Salvador, the gunzerker, who just goes in and blows the crap out of everything. You have to plot and plan a bit more. He’s more of a surgical character.