This year’s Penny Arcade Expo East is underway in Boston, and game folks are lining up to play new favorites, engage in community activities, and just plain have a good time. One of the bigger draws at the event this year is 2K Games, who is showing off a playable two-level demo from Gearbox Software’s upcoming sequel Borderlands 2 releasing September 18th. We managed to finagle our way through the crowd to give this latest bounty-hunting tale a try, and we’re glad we did.

The sequel picks up five years after the events of the original game, with a nasty character named Handsome Jack threatening to clean out Pandora’s community. As one of four new hunters, you’ll engage with his forces (as well as some wildlife) using one of a “bazilliondier” guns included in the game. We’re not kidding. That was the actual word Gearbox used to describe the large arsenal available to your character.

The Borderlands 2 demo comes with two playable characters.  The first is a Gunzerker named Salvadore, a man who is capable of dual-wielding weapons for maximum effect. That means he can combine a shotgun with an assault rifle, or a pair of powerful sniper rifles.  How you mix your weapons is your choice, but the best combo is one that involves a hard-hitting rifle and a “slag”, a gun that manages to deplete your enemy’s hit count, making them more vulnerable.  When you’re surrounded by enemies – which you constantly are in this game – this is definitely your best bet.

The second class is the Siren, and where Lilith dominated in the first game, Maya follows suit in part two. Not only can she perform the Phase Walk perfectly, turning invisible and sneaking up on enemies for the kill, but she can also perform a Phase Lock. With this, even the strongest enemy is helpless as they become encased in a bubble for a few seconds, leaving them wide open to attacks. These two really add a lot of depth to the class levels and you can level up efficiently, as in the first game. You’ll need to, since enemies get tougher as you move forward.

2K’s demo featured two playable levels. The first level is set in an encased animal sanctuary, where soldiers and walkers guard over dangerous Skags (mutant wolves), and where huge worms come popping out of the ground. You’ll need to work your way through this fortress to reach an objective assigned by Mordecai, a character from the original game. It’s not easy, but if you die you can either fight for a second life or respawn at a nearby checkpoint (for a fee, mind you).

The second stage is a little more difficult. Huge armored creatures fill the nuclear-infected canyon, spitting ice shards at you that deplete your energy. Fortunately, you can chip away at the armor in their legs to do damage while taking cover behind a nearby shed. Just make sure to watch out for the smaller bugs as well; they’re feisty, and sometimes hard to hit.

Like the original Borderlands, you have access to lots of guns, whether they’re taken from fallen enemies or found in storage lockers. You can also use “loot” that you pick up from downed foes to upgrade abilities, refill ammo, and attain other abilities through at vending machines scattered throughout the world, using “loot” that you pick up from downed foes. It’s a system that’s worked well before, so why shouldn’t it again?

Gameplay remains right on target with the first game. Aiming weapons is very easy, but the enemies take a whole lot of damage to bring down. This makes the co-op factor a welcome one, and we’re glad it’s back. Up to four players can jump in and do damage with you; the more the merrier—especially where the bigger bosses are concerned.  (The final game will come with two additional classes that you can play around with, too.)

As for how the game looks, it’s a huge step forward. Gearbox has implemented some outstanding new outdoor environments to Borderlands 2, including a lush tropical setting for the animal sanctuary, and a glowing yellow ground for the canyon. The game runs at a steady 60 frames per second, but that’s on a high-end PC. Console versions are expected to run at about 30, though that hasn’t been finalized just yet. Overall, though, it’s a great-looking sequel, and fans will appreciate the openness of each stage. Just ask anyone who’s played it this weekend.

Borderlands 2 is highly anticipated by fans of the original, and newcomers are bound to find something they like as well. Though some questions still remain unanswered (Can you carry over your skills from the first game?), there’s no question that this will be a hit when it launches this September for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.