Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel – Review

Title   Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel
Developer  2K Australia
Publisher  2K Games
Platform  Windows PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Genre  First Person Shooter / Action RPG
Release Date  October 17, 2014

When you’re responsible for creating a game such as Borderlands, one of the greatest risks you face is forever living up to the expectations of the masses.  Those trademark quirks become ingrained into the psyche of the player, making them a prerequisite for all future releases. This introduces yet another risk where if you dare to shake things up by altering any of the core mechanics, you face the wrath of the fan base who want things left they way they like them, yet doing so would appear lazy and unambitious, resulting in cries of complacency and milking the franchise.  The key, therefore, is to always give the fans everything that they expect to find whilst, at the same time, adding a little cherry on top.

For Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, the cherry on top came in the form of a two-pronged attack.  Basing the story in a low-gravity space-themed environment offered a near-permanent state of being that had only been touched upon briefly in the Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot DLC, and weaving Handsome Jack throughout the entire storyline allowed fans to determine whether he was in fact the misunderstood antihero – as he has always maintained – or nothing more than the egomaniacal antagonist portrayed in Borderlands 2.  The success of The Pre-Sequel therefore rests almost entirely on whether the addition of low gravity was a worthwhile move, as well as the strength of Jack’s back story in both his rise to power and descent from grace.

Starting off in Sanctuary, taking place immediately after the events in Borderlands 2, our journey begins with Athena almost literally playing the lead role in a witch hunt with her shackled to a pole while the vault hunters from the first instalment – Lilith, in particular – tear her a new asshole for her part in aiding Handsome Jack while he used the weight of the Hyperion corporation to systematically desecrate Pandora.  In an effort to justify her position, Athena attempts to explain that it wasn’t as cut and dried as that, and that Jack was once quite the hero. At this point, in true flashback fashion, the tale is acted out retrospectively and this is where you decide which of the four characters will carry you on your journey.

As Athena herself, you take on the role of Gladiator with the Kinetic Aspis action skill, manifesting as an all-powerful shield on her left arm.  Depending on which skill tree you opt for, she can be seen as either the tank-style character or, in a beautiful move by 2K Australia, an incredible support unit with the ‘Clear!’ skill which revives all fallen players within range whenever the aspis is thrown in their direction.  Playing through as Athena, I’ve been able to heal bleeding-out comrades from half way across the map, and it truly is something to behold.  Nisha, who you may remember as the Sheriff of Lynchwood in Borderlands 2, comes with the Lawbringer class, focusing more on sniper rifles as well as pistols, and her Showdown action skill brings with it an auto-aim feature, incredible accuracy (shown in old sepia western style), and a whip for melee attacks.

Handsome Jack’s brute of a mech, Willhelm The Enforcer, returns to the fold in his pure human form but is enhanced with Hyperion tech as you progress through his Cyborg Augmentation skill tree and, much like Roland and Axton, has the ability to deploy attack drones as additional fire support.  In fact, the only questionable character in The Pre-Sequel is everyone’s favourite sarcastic trash can, Claptrap. Rather than a character-specific action skill, the Fragtrap’s is called vaulthunter.exe, and it analyses the situation at hand to determine the best way to handle it. This may result in a twin-gun attack, or a barrage of random lasers firing in all directions, but the decision made by vaulthunter.exe is always random and affects the other player-controlled characters in the game, so there’s no way of knowing whether he’ll be a help or a hindrance.  No change there, then.

The greatest, and most radical, change to the series with The Pre-Sequel is the addition of low gravity.  While it could easily be mistaken for just ‘same shit, different jump height’, there’s actually much more to this new feature than meets the eye.  For a start, jumping is no longer a simple case of leaping and landing wherever the standard trajectory would place you; different environments affect your leaps in various ways so while an indoor jump will give you a bit more lift than you’d generally expect, the same action outdoors could result in you shooting way beyond your intended target and into a horde of angry space bandits, or ‘pulling an Anakin’ with you face down in a lava pit.

It’s therefore necessary to control your ascent – and descent – as much as possible by using the O2 within your ‘Oz Kit’, which replaces Borderlands 2‘s relic within your inventory.  In true Borderlands fashion, each Oz Kit you find will have various attributes and stats, so one may focus specifically on mid-air melee damage while another will be geared towards how much additional control you have over your zero-grav leaps.  Once you jump, you have the option of giving yourself an extra boost – much like a double jump – by sacrificing some of your much-needed oxygen in favour of a controlled thrust to help reach areas that would ordinarily be a little out of reach.  It’s also helpful when avoiding concentrated fire from heavily populated combat zones as you then have the option to fire on them from above, or inflict additional damage by slamming down on them, and each Oz Kit comes with its own type of elemental damage for those who prefer to make a grand entrance.

For the loot whores among us, 2K Australia have allowed us to take our whoring fate into our own whoresome hands by introducing The Grinder as one of the unlockables from a side mission.  It’s pretty much a futuristic recycler whereby placing three similarly coloured weapons and pushing the button will result in a higher-coloured weapon coming out the other end.  So, for example, having three blue weapons chomped down will produce a purple.  This only changes once you start throwing purple weapons in, as you can’t recycle three into an orange weapon; instead you must sacrifice two orange and one purple… and the resulting prize will depend on what your purple offering was.  These can be further enhanced by infusing with moonstone prior to hitting the ‘Grind’ button so any two orange weapons and a purple sniper rifle will, if infused with moonstone, award you with a brand new legendary ‘lunestone’ orange sniper rifle with special ability.  It becomes quite addictive.  Trust me.

Other than that, there’s not much to say about Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel outside of the two previous games.  The enemies are different, the environments are space themed, and the story follows Handsome Jack on his rise through the Hyperion ranks, but we already know how that all turns out.  Regardless, it’s a solid sixteen or eighteen hours worth of frenetic run-and-gun mayhem that we’d expect from Borderlands, and the introduction of an all-new Australian-voiced cast brought with it some fantastic Aussie humour which itself is worth putting in the time for.  Take into consideration another five or six hours for side quests and exploration and you’ve got a pretty decent off-year release to keep you going until the next, presumably, larger game in the series is released.  Either way, 2K Australia have done a stellar job with the franchise and I seriously hope that they’re asked along to inject some of that great humour into the next one.

  • 2K Australia's humour is typical of the Aussies and shines through
  • Nice to hear something other than American voice talent
  • Elpis has some beautiful vistas
  • Oz Kits keep the mechanics fresh
  • An end-game boss in the Borderlands universe that wasn't a push over, which was a welcomed change
  • Handsome Jack
  • Claptrap can die
  • Claptrap respawns after death
  • Would actually have liked a little more background on Jack as it merely skimmed the surface
  • May have been a little too short for a full-price title

As someone who has openly declared his love for Handsome Jack, this was an opportunity to get inside his head and find out why he became the man he did. The journey itself was entertaining, thanks largely to the Aussie humour, and the combat was tougher than the two previous titles, so the combination of both made for a more enjoyable experience. The story isn't as engaging as Borderlands 2's was, but is infinitely more powerful than Borderlands' non existent tale.

The inclusion of a low-gravity environment was a worthwhile move, but I personally feel that Handsome Jack's story (which we heard unfold, in part, throughout Borderlands 2's echo recordings) was somewhat glossed over and a huge opportunity was missed.

If you have twenty or so hours to spare and want to switch off your brain and do nothing but have fun, like a frat party with automatic weapons in space, then you could do much worse than The Pre Sequel. Especially if you like whoring loot.

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