We're just about a month away from the release of 2K Games' highly anticipated Borderlands 2, a game that will take the leveling up and first-person shooting action of the original and expand it with bigger outdoor areas, more classes, and a ton more weapons.  We're talking a gun count that literally goes into the "bazilliondier", according to the advertisements.  We recently got an invite to check out a new level of the game, playing alongside a friend in the game's online friendly co-op mode.

First off, co-op is about what you'd expect from a Borderlands experience.  You can team up players together to help bring down bigger enemies, such as walking droids that take a heaping amount of damage or, in one situation, a huge fire snake that pops out of the ground, with little seedlings popping up to protect it.  Obviously the more the merrier, as Borderlands 2 has the kind of difficulty scale that can really overtake you if you aren't properly leveled up or bring the wrong gun to the job.

Fortunately, there are a couple of advantages that work in your favor.  The first is being able to fight for your life.  If you end up being staggered to a near-death point, you can try to shoot enemies surrounding you.  If you take them out, you're given a second wind and a chance to try and regain your footing.  However, if for some reason you aren't able to make it, there are respawn points back at the beginning of the stage, though you'll need to pay a pretty penny.  Regeneration isn't cheap, after all.

As for the right weapons for the job, there are a majority of guns to choose from here, and each one works to a certain effect depending on your class and how you use it.  Sniper rifles, for example, are ideal for shooting deadly enemies from a distance, rather than giving them the opportunity to get the jump on you.  Assault rifles are ideal for the gunzerker class, as you can wield two at once and do some major damage to groups that come charging at you.  And the shotguns, well, they just pack a lot of bang for their buck.  They're ideal for, as Michael Biehn once put it in Aliens, "close encounters."  And you'll have a bunch here, if you survive.

With this hands-on demo, we got to try out two of the classes offered in the game, out of the four (plus the downloadable Mechromancer).  The assassin, a powerful sword-wielding thug named Zero, is bound to be a favorite, just as Mordecai was in the first Borderlands.  He's able to wield some good weapons, but his main ability is being able to cloak himself, as well as spawn four holographic versions of himself to throw off enemies.  As you progress through your skill tree, you can also gain access to better stealthy abilities, as well as greater firepower skills, so you can gun down someone in quicker time.

And then there's the gunzerker, who, as expected, will satisfy runners and gunners.  As stated before, this warrior is able to wield two weapons at once, and can skill himself up through three trees.  Gun Lust adds damage incentives; Rampage increases the Gunzerking abilities, as well as the cool down period that follows; and Brawn increases overall durability, so you can take more of what enemies are dishing out.

No matter which class you choose, Borderlands 2 allows you to expand your skill set and become someone for Handsome Jack to contend with, and the more you level up, the better you become.  This is sure to entice players who loved the original game, as well as those seeking a first-person experience that helps them evolve.

As far as graphics go, Gearbox Software once again went with a cel-shaded design for the game overall, both on the characters and the world they run through.  The character animations are swell, but it's the new outdoor environments that are bound to grab your attention.  From a nuclear radiation laden world with enormous bugs to a huge outdoor fortress crawling with guards and robotic enemies (including some invulnerable ones with spinning blades – those guys are jerks), they really add a degree of depth that was missing from the original game.  What's more, the co-op action barely slows down at all, even when you're playing with multiple people on Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network.  From the time we spent on our sessions, we had an awesome time.

But you'll be able to find out for yourself just how good Borderlands 2 is in a matter of weeks, and, if you're smart, you've already reserved the game, which gives you access to the Mechromancer class, as well as other perks.  If not, hey, you should motor down to your store.  This is gonna be a party just waiting to happen come September 18.