As a big fan of the first two Borderlands games, I was somewhat hesitant when it was announced that there would be a game released on the last generation of consoles that takes place between the previous entries in the series. Then it was revealed that Gearbox, who headed up Borderlands and Borderlands 2, would not be taking the lead instead leaving it to 2K Australia to take charge. Unfortunately, this addition to the Borderlands universe falls flat up until the very end.
The story begins after Borderlands 2 with returning character, Athena, being captured by Lilith, Mordecai and Brick. Athena’s recollection of events is when the game takes place largely between Borderlands and Borderlands 2. The story focuses on Handsome Jack from the second game and how he gained the power to take over and take charge of Hyperion. Focusing on Handsome Jack is a great idea with him arguably being the best part of the previous game. However, all side plots and the new supporting cast fall woefully flat. At some point it seemed like 2K Australia realized this and focused more on returning characters such as Mad Moxxi, the original Vault Hunters and the four new ones for the Pre-Sequel in the latter half of the game. New characters such as Janey Springs, The Meriff and Pickle are forgettable and irritated more than entertained. Oh and Pickle is one of the most irritating characters in video games ever. I just thought that I’d throw that out there.
The four new playable characters are cool because they are pre-established from past games and DLC. For example, Athena played a supporting role in the General Knoxx DLC in the original game. Wilhelm was Handsome Jack’s bodyguard that you fight in Borderlands 2, Nisha is Jack’s lover that you also fight in the second game and the Claptrap is in DLC from the original game as well. While you might know the fates for some of these characters, it doesn’t diminish the fact that you get to play as those bosses which is neat. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel puts a heavier emphasis on each character’s Action Skill with shorter cooldowns allowing you to use them much more often. If you want full on offense, Nisha’s Showdown auto-lock ability might be your best choice. For defensive-minded players, Athena is your character with her Kinectic Aspis skill absorbing the pain enemies deal and throwing it back at them. Wilhelm is a balance of the two summoning his two drones, Saint and Wolf with one protecting you and the other going out and fighting for you. Lastly is Claptrap . . . his action skill is called VaultHunter.EXE and it results in one of many different effects which affect all members of the party. For example one is called Rubber Ducky where everyone will constantly bounce around. Another is where you guns will constantly fire resulting in chewing through all of your ammo (hint: if you don’t want to waste your ammo when this happens, constantly change guns). These are fun and funny the first few times but can result in frustration from others in the party. Luckily there are some that actually buff your friends instead of incapacitate them.
Besides the characters, other changes have been made to the gameplay. Since Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel takes place on the moon, there is no oxygen. So all of the character classes (with the exception of Claptrap) will have an oxygen pack that acts as another piece of equipment to be upgraded and swapped out. Luckily for those of you who choose Claptrap, well . . . you are picking a robot who doesn’t need to breath rendering this entire mechanic non-existent. For those players who pick the human characters, this oxygen mechanic doesn’t affect you too much one way or the other begging the question: why was this implemented in the first place? There are enough oxygen geysers emerging from the surface of the moon to negate the very slow health drip once your character has run out of air. It is frustrating that this was even a new feature when its effects are so negligible and the only thing that it adds is another meter on screen.
Other gameplay changes include the new cryo gun type freezing enemies while slag has been removed (which is explained in the story). Players now have jetpacks which use up some of your oxygen and allow you to glide across areas. The issue with this is that when you are jumping on the moon and using the jetpack, you are in lower gravity so you can fly far eventually being able to judge distances. However, when you are indoors, this freedom (and sometimes inconvenience) is ripped away from you resulting in a serious lack of mobility compared to those outdoor sections. All in all I would have rather the vertical aspect of the game be trimmed down and be an occasional gameplay feature rather than one that is so prominent.
Visually the game looks like a Borderlands game. That quasi-cell shading artstyle is back and hasn’t really changed. There is no dramatic upgrade in visuals because this is being made for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 which is not a too important. Enemies look good, but unfortunately the environments are repetitive for the most part. I get it that it is a moon, but most of it looks similar resulting in a boring to look at game sometimes including indoor and outdoor settings. All of this gets thrown out the window when you get to the last area, (in every aspect) but that will take you some time, albeit not as much as previous games.
The sound in the game is also hit or miss. Abilities, guns, grenades and the like all sound muffled when on the moon’s surface and more impactful when there is atmosphere. The returning voice actors come back to do a great job with the high point being a tie between Handsome Jack and some of Wilhelm’s dialogue. However, it is odd that Pandora’s moon is apparently Space Australia. Almost every new character has an Australian accent which was jarring since neither of the previous games had leaned in that direction. It makes sense that 2K Australia would look locally for voice talent, but it still caught me off-guard. Not only that, but these new characters never seem that funny. Either they use some term that I personally wasn’t familiar with or they were trying to force out humor like that friend who laughs at their own jokes. Unfortunately this happened to returning characters too, although not as frequently.
Like previous games, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel supports up to four player co-op which is the way to play. Borderlands games have never been very fun solo and this iteration is no different. New Game Plus also returns for those of you who want to dive back in.
However, you might not want to right away. This is without question the weakest game in the franchise thus far. From the, at times, cringe-worthy writing, to the new gameplay mechanics that don’t quite work out, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is somewhat of a disappointment when placed by its predecessors. The biggest saving graces of the game are that last area and the actual story involving Jack culminating in one of the best final bosses that I have faced in a long while. If you are a hardcore Borderlands fan, you will probably want to check this out, but for anyone else, this might not be for you.