Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel takes place between the events Borderlands and Borderlands 2. It’s a standalone title that does not ever set foot on the well-known planet of Pandora. This helps distinguish it from the prior games, as it introduces new elements but doesn’t do a whole lot else with the formula to stand out as a true successor. But that said, this FPS/Action RPG hybrid still manages to scratch that loot itch that proves so powerful for the series to where it is difficult for me to stop playing.
Told in flashbacks from Athena, one of the four playable characters, is oddly able to recount the events from other people’s perspectives if you don’t select her – which is odd, right? The story is meant to show Handsome Jack’s descent into madness, or maybe even empathize with the future villain? It’s hard to say really. It’s not effective in doing either. As the myth is much more interesting than the man.
All four characters are familiar, and are even from previously released games: Athena from the Borderlands General Knoxx DLC (the storyteller), Wilhelm, a future boss for Borderlands 2, Nisha, the future Sheriff of Lynchwood and love interest of Handsome Jack in Borderlands 2, and Claptrap. Yes, that CL4PTR4P. The game is even dismissive of his participation from questioning your choices when selecting him, the character introduction in the opening cutscene, to character conversations upon seeing you as the “hero and savior”. Your toleration towards this character is entirely preferential. But his ability is both great and cheap, when he launches VAULTHUNTER.EXE, random variables read from the environment are grouped together to form an ability for him to use in combat such as increased gun damage with the inability to stop firing. Each of the characters presented as options feel second-rate. You’ve seen them all before, and while their abilities are unique, don’t feel as fresh when starting the game. In the case of Wilhelm, knowing he dies by the hands of future Vault Hunters diminishes his presence here.
Taking place on Pandora’s moon, Elpis, which is set as being the “Space Australia” of the Borderlands universe (it is notable to insert here that the game was mostly developed by 2K Australia). The Australian accents just help separate that this game does not take place on Pandora. And thankfully so, while Borderlands 2 made strides forward to show off the beauty and colors, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel screams vibrancy from every corner of the moon’s environments. It’s absolutely beautiful and stunning with the stars above your head. Even interiors are treated to a new level of gorgeousness and detail. Accompanied by a synth and theramin-infused soundtrack, this is a better looking and sounding game. When out in the open without atmosphere, sounds are muffled to great effect.
New to Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel (which was one of my main concerns), was the necessity of having to regulate oxygen with o2, or “oz” kits. It’s actually not as big of a deal as it sounds. This is especially the case for Claptrap, who negates the need for oxygen, making him a valuable playable character – but then you’re playing as Claptrap. As a bonus, the o2 kits double as a propulsion device and allow you to get to greater heights than before. You can also perform the supposed “butt slam”, but just feels like a ground pound as it doesn’t look like you’re landing on your ass. But the effects it produces are nothing short of fantastic. Slamming your ass to the ground becomes a bonus ability in your arsenal and becomes overly mighty with elemental effects, greater damage, and being able to break oxygen bubbles as you collect new kits.
What would space be without laser guns? The answer is nothing. But! The new gun type provides the pew pew you expect, but in atmosphere will burn enemies, out of it will do significant damage. I still ended up falling back on the old standbys of assault rifles and sniper rifles. The gun variety is much improved as weapon chests have a better chance of giving you something uncommon. A new element introduced since this is the cold of space, is cryo. Now able to do ice damage, you can freeze an enemy in place, and shatter their body to float aimlessly into space.
Navigation in Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is slow in the early hours. Running without atmosphere in low gravity feels way too slow and restrictive. And you’ll spend (seemingly) too much time traversing on foot. But thankfully jump pads are introduced that hurl you short or long distances, at the game’s whim. New vehicles populate the landscape of Elpis, moon buggies known as Moon Zoomy and hoverbikes, called Stingrays which are reminiscent of Unreal Tournament 2004‘s Manta help speed things along and are fun to control.
Gameplay leans more towards the familiarity of Borderlands 2 for leveling, badass rank, a three-branched skill tree, weapons, and character customization. All of this is to the game’s benefit. But you’ll still be opening chests to reveal ammo, grenades, weapons, and money that can all be hoovered to your body. All of this is not all serious, the humor is very much in tact and the writing was keeping me entertained throughout.
Quest missions are rough, often requiring backtracking or revisiting old locations. When taking on a main story mission or a side quest, they seem straightforward. But then something happens, and then again, prolonging them. The quests being longer is fine, but dangling the objective carrot in front of you, then elongating the stick to pad out the complexity is not desirable. Borderlands 2 did this too, but here it is getting tiresome. You’ll often run into familiar characters during your quests, like Moxxi, where you’re able to see extra character development that’s not witnessed anywhere else.
More noticeable this time around is the fact that Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is not solo friendly. It’s not a singleplayer game after all, so co-op is encouraged. But there’s no scaling for those who wish to venture alone, sadly.
There’s certainly things that work against Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, but the beauty and unknown of Elpis is exciting, o2 kits introduce new ways to play, and new weapons add a small, but new dimension to the series it needs. The core aspect of loot in the form of guns, and RPG-style leveling to buff your character is still an incredible feedback loop. It’s better to think that Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is not a giant leap for mankind, but more like a baby step forward for a popular franchise.
A Steam code was provided by 2K for review purposes