GETTING HIGH ON GRAVITY, GUNS, AND CL4P-TP UNITS
More guns, millions of mobs to kill, new tricks and old, it’s here Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. This is not a sequel to Borderlands 2 that Gearbox blessed us with two years ago. Developed by 2K Australia Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel visits the sequence of events that take place between Borderlands and Borderlands 2. It’s specifically set after the events of The Secret Armory of General Knoxx and before Claptrap’s New Robot Revolution, the third and fourth DLC for the original Borderlands. If you are itching for more Borderlands action and a few new tweaks, then you are in for a treat.
The story takes place on the moon Elpis and the Hyperion space station, Helios. We follow the story of Handsome Jack and his journey to becoming the villain of Borderlands 2. The plot involves him trying to escape from exile on the moon of Elpis and taking control of its space station. To do this he hires four mercenaries/vault hunters to help him. Being set in space 2K Australia makes funny spoofs of Star Wars, Alien, the moon landing, and other ridiculous situations. The set-up is nothing uncommon in the series and this seems to be the staple for how Borderland games start. Overall I was impressed with the story. Jack’s fall is something we knew about and it was fun being able to be part of it. While slow in some areas, the story did keep the game moving along with no problems.
While the four playable characters in Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel have been featured in the series before, little was known about their personality or back story. Athena, who is from The Secret Armory of General Knoxx DLC, is the damage absorber this time around with some added elemental attacks. Her special ability has her utilizing a shield that absorbs damage and can be thrown at enemies. Nisha was the sheriff of Lynchwood in Borderlands 2. Her special ability is Quick-Draw. This ability lets her auto-target enemies and mow them down really fast. Wilhelm was a boss encounter in Borderlands 2. His special ability allows him to deploy two drones that fly around, one healing and one dealing damage. He also transforms into a robot himself with advancement of his skill tree. And then there is Claptrap, the franchise’s idiotic robot. His special ability is a random program protocol he will run which will either result in a super move from a previous game or it could be a laser firing disco ball. He’s definitely the wildcard of the bunch.
What I liked this time around with the character choice is that they didn’t go with the tank/melee, sniper, siren/elementalist, and damage class that Borderlands and Borderlands 2 did. 2K Australia went a different route in Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel and kinda combined the skills. It’s like they took the best skills the series had to offer and merged them together throughout the characters. For example, in the previous games the sirens were know for doing elemental damage; however, in Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, Athena plays the tank roll and has a skill tree that focuses on elemental damage. I was really impressed with the skill trees and look forward to playing with the other characters’ talents.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel brings new threats to the player along with the same ones we haven’t seen since the first title in the series. With a good portion of the game taking place on the surface of Pandora’s moon we are presented with low gravity. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel I think did a great job of simulating what fighting on the moon would be like. Along with watching your shields and health bar, you now have to pay attention to your Oz (Oxygen) meter. You pick up Oz items that supply you with oxygen along with boosting stats. The Oz mechanic also enables the player to double jump and access new areas.
Having Oz also brings another new mechanic to the game: the Butt Slam. The Butt Slam is a very powerful attack; it’s a double-jump that ends with you slamming down on top of your enemies and inflicting elemental damage. Another thing I appreciate that 2K Australia did was incorporate moon physics, so fire weapons will only work in areas with oxygen. There are oxygen hubs all over Elpis so don’t worry, you just have to remember to put the fire weapons away if you are not in oxygen.
An issue that is known about in Borderlands and Borderlands 2 were the games’ claim to have millions of different variations of guns. We constantly saw the same few with just different stats slapped on them. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel addressed this problem and fixed it. I was constantly switching out guns, looking for better ones and flipping between shield draining weapons to physical damaging ones to take down enemies instead of just shooting the enemy with whatever gun I had equipped until said enemy was no more.. This also applied to shields and class mods; I was always making sure I had the right ones equipped before dealing with whatever type of damage was killing me. To further accentuate the focus on gear, in the main city hub is a crafting station called “The Grinder.” What this does is allow you to toss your old guns into the machine with a chance of creating a newer weapon. You’ve even got the chance of crafting a legendary gun. The Grinder doesn’t only craft guns either. Your shields, OZ kits, class mods and grenade mods all work in The Grinder.
With the game being set between Borderlands and Borderlands 2, it felt more like the first game in the series. I noticed that fast travel stations were few and far between, allowing for an unrelenting and punishing gameplay environment. If your character happens to perish, chances are it is a long run back to your previous location. Difficulty-wise, the beginning act of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is very similar to the first game. The moon is a barren place, just as the beginning of Borderlands was. There were a few times where I would go minutes without seeing an enemy or even knew where I was going. The setting was very gray and had some variations in color and structures, but it was nice to get onto the Helios space station. The second half of the game, when you get to the space station is when the pacing of the game picked up. The space station environments changed according to what biome you were in and it just erupts into madness.
I feel the cel-shaded graphics do the game justice and allow for fun and unique settings. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel did do something different in the sound department by giving the playable characters voices. Athena, Nisha, Wilhelm, and Claptrap all have a voice with plenty of quips to add to their own personal story this time around. In previous Borderlands games your character was silent for the most part and just moved along from point to point as a mindless drone. This helped make my play through memorable. Not only as I leveled and dispersed skill points to my character, they felt more fleshed out. It gave an overall greater insight; understanding why this character was helping Handsome Jack.
Overall Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is more of the same we’ve come to love from the franchise. This was supposed to be the story of Handsome Jack’s fall and why he was a sadistic jerk in Borderlands 2. While this premise sounds great, I found myself not caring at points while playing the game. I don’t know if this is because I knew how he ended up or I just wasn’t invested enough in Jack. His voice actor Dameon Clarke nails his character flawlessly just like he did he did in Borderlands 2. The other voice actors are great and I found no issues with any of them being out of place or forced. I do think any Borderlands game should be played four player co-op to get the ultimate experience, but solo works just fine too. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel captures the heart and soul of the franchise and adds enough new mechanics to keep things interesting. This is not Borderlands 3 by any means but as the title states is a tie in title to a great series.
I spent around 20 hours playing through the campaign as Athena and did enjoy my experience with her and look forward to playing through a second time to hit max level. 2K Australia snuck in a special “something, something” in the second playthrough (True Vault Hunter Mode). Oddly, the title appears only on the last generation systems and didn’t make it’s way to PlayStation 4 or Xbox One. Maybe with the avalanche of remakes and HD versions we’ll see it show up. There is DLC on the way and if it’s anything like Borderlands 2 there is plenty of life left in this title.
The Verdict: 7.5 out of 10.0
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel was fun but, I kept asking why am I not playing this on PlayStation 4 or Xbox One? With the new generation of consoles here I wish they would of released this title on the new systems. The change of environment and new mechanics are welcome additions to the series; however, these additions alone weren’t enough if you are looking for something new. With that being said if you love the Borderlands series then definitely pick this game up. The game explores the characters more in this title and in a sense closes this arc in the series. It answers questions that may of been floating around after playing the first two games and didn’t propose any new ones. From here I am hoping Gearbox takes Borderlands 3 and picks up where 2 left-off. If you played it you know what I’m talking about it, if not I’m sorry but the game is too good to spoil. I appreciate that 2K Australia fixed some of the frustrations with loot in the other games and kept this game true to the Borderlands style of play. Go pick this up, butt slam some baddies and take your friends along for the ride. It’s one to be had and you won’t be disappointed.
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Patrick Garrity is a Jersey native who loves video games and enjoys the industry. He loves rum and wants to be a pirate one day. Follow him on Twitter.