Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel
With a next-gen sequel too far in the future and the need to keep the Borderlands franchise kicking, the reins have been turned over to 2K Australia to take the series’ trademark racket of shooting, looting, and levelling up to the moon. Specifically, the moon hanging over Pandora, Elpis, where four new vault hunters attempt to wrestle control from the militaristic Dahl corporation on Handsome Jack’s behalf. Yes, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel slots itself between the events of Borderlands and Borderlands 2 with a storyline about how Jack morphed from the cocky, ambitious Hyperion programmer to its tyrannical president and oppressor of the people of Pandora.
It’s easy to dismiss The Pre-Sequel as nothing more than a paint job over Borderlands 2. Sanctuary becomes Concordia, Dr. Zed becomes Nurse Nina, and the desert rocks becomes craggy moonscape. The good news is, it’s classic Borderlands while the bad news is it’s classic Borderlands. Everything one could enjoy is back—the offbeat humor, the bazillions of randomly-generated loot, satisfying new abilities—while all the minor annoyances return as well. Having to constantly backtrack huge swaths of lands just to turn in a quest is still a headache. Why not automatically be able to turn it anywhere? It is the future, after all. And no matter how much panache a quest is delivered with, it’s ultimately of the ‘go here, kill this, pick up that’ variety.
Where things get interesting is how the other aspects have been tweaked. With a lack of air, the vault hunters have to rely on oxygen kits that have multiple uses. Besides being another item to manage with different stats and effects, they can be used to boost through the air during low-gravity jumps allowing for greater access in exploration and maneuvering in combat. It’s important not to let the oxygen kits get too low on air, but that’s not much of a problem since there are aired enclosures and air pockets dotting Elpis. There’s also the option to slam to the ground for massive damage as well.
Bad guys have the same offensive options. They can jump just as high, slam, and and maneuver like the vault hunters can. Even their oxygen masks can be shot off so they’ll slowly asphyxiate. Cover becomes a lot less useful and the entire experience feels closer to something you’d see in the run-n-gun era of online shooters ala Quake III and Unreal Tournament. Throw in the cryo element to chill enemies until they freeze in mid-air, burst on impact, and float away in space and the new laser weapons for some extra fun to the proceedings, and shootouts are just as fun if not moreso than they were in Borderlands 2. Another nice little addition is the ability to grind three weapons of the same category for a chance at getting a much better one, as well as peppering it with a little bit of moonstone (this game’s answer to eridium) for some extra dazzle and better stats. It’s a good way of recycling unused inventory, at the very least.
Discovering the new perks and abilities of the four new vault hunters and their three unique skill branches is just as rewarding as before. Athena uses her shield for offense and defense, Nisha guns enemies down with accuracy, Wilhelm straddles the line between man and machine along with his robotic helpers, and Claptrap is a wild card who proves to be the Dan Hibiki of the group with a skillset that can hurt just as much as it can help. Destined to be a player favorite, he’s a joke character you don’t know what he’s going to do next with his vaulthunter.exe skill where he imitates the abilities of previous vault hunters, albeit poorly.
The plot of The Pre-Sequel follows Jack’s rise to power, and it’s essentially Handsome Jack Begins painting him in a more heroic light that clashes with his portrayal in Borderlands 2. While the approach doesn’t always work, it’s a portrayal of how people come into power not because they’re power-mad or fighting for a worthy cause—it’s about getting people to like you, and that’s just what Jack does as Athena recounts the events of the game with an admiring lilt in her voice. It’s aimed at shedding a more sympathetic light on Jack in the typical manner. Real bad guys think they’re doing the right thing, the good guys aren’t necessarily so good, but at least it frames the events of Borderlands 2 as a means of revenge versus motiveless douchebaggery on Jack’s part.
The Pre-Sequel also serves as a crash course in Australianisms. For whatever reason, practically the entire population of Elpis seems to hail from the land down under and the game doesn’t shy away from dropping any Australian references whenever it can. Couple that with bouncing around and firing a gun like a maniac while shooting stars and multicolored planetoids pass by overhead while traversing a moon, and it all lends the game a certain weird flavor all its own that allows the game to stand on its own two feet despite being such a similar experience otherwise to the previous games.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is not the game for someone expecting the next evolution of the franchise. As a last-gen hurrah, it’ll give Borderlands fans what they want: more guns and vault hunters to play with in a somewhat novel setting, but it doesn’t go beyond being ‘Borderlands, but on the moon.’ 2K Australia have proven at least they can be trusted with the franchise, and it’ll be fun to see what kind of DLC they can cook up down the pike. If you’re not on board with the series’ mashing of shooting and RPG elements, there’s nothing here that’s going to dissuade, and even casual fans might not feel the need to pick up this interquel after they’re still stuffed from Borderlands 2, but for the hardcore fan it’s hard to deny the formula is still plenty of fun and taking things to the moon provides enough of a difference in the mechanics to justify a play-through.