It is difficult to write about a sequel to a game series without at least mentioning those that came before. When Borderlands released in October 2009 it delighted gamers and critics alike who snatched up over 2 million copies by year’s end. The unique blend of first-person shooter mechanics and a loot-driven role-playing story successfully bridged the gap between several genres. Borderlands 2 released three years later in 2012 and took us five years into the story’s future while polishing the Borderlands formula even more, becoming the best-selling title for publisher 2K Games. This brings us to the most recent and most curiously-named installment in the saga: 2K Australia’s Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel.
Telling a tale…
The Pre-Sequel is perhaps the most accurate and confusing game title in recent history. Squeezing itself nicely between the events of Borderlands 1 and 2 it exists as both a prequel and a sequel, thus accurately titled while keeping it in the family with the Borderlands humor. Well played, 2K.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel takes us off planet and shoots for the moon. Quite literally actually, as the game takes place on Pandora’s moon Elpis. Unlike Earth’s Moon, Eplis is richly populated by indigenous life forms, settlements, and space bandits known as Scavs. You have been hired by a Hyperion employee known as Handsome Jack (who will be familiar to anyone who played Borderlands 2), and have been tasked with tracking down a mysterious vault with him. Naturally it doesn’t go exactly as planned as your ship is shot down and crashes into Helios, Hyperion’s orbiting space station, where you are forced to battle your way out and down to the moon. Once there you will find a multitude of quests and tasks for you to complete, all while working for Jack and heading for the Vault.
Those who have played through the first two games are familiar with the narrative style used to kick off the game’s story. The previous games each began with their own storybook-like prologue cutscene which set the stage for what experiences the player was going to face over the coming hours. The Pre-Sequel is a little different in this regard because it begins just after the end of Borderlands 2 and the main story is told as a flashback from the perspective of one of the characters. This story introduction wouldn’t be as notable a change if it weren’t for the continued dialog from these characters throughout The Pre-Sequel.
Commentarial dialog from the future is an interesting way to push the main plot forward and provide context for events beyond what the characters might know at the time, and I really enjoy the dramatic irony. However it is in the present-time dialog we find the most impactful alteration to the narrative delivery and one of the best new features of the title. As expected, we are given the option to play through the adventure as one of four characters, each with their own special ability and play style. The Pre-Sequel offers us the added bonus of character-specific and context-sensitive dialog that drastically improve the game immersion.
Borderlands 2 gave us taunts and callouts by the characters as we completed challenges or pulled off impossible shots to land a critical. The Pre-Sequel goes beyond this and has each of the four characters converse with non-player characters in a way that brings us into the world more than ever before. Most of the difference in dialog expectedly comes from the player characters themselves; however, many of the NPCs will react differently and offer up altered phrases depending on who you are playing as. The characters will become more flirty, professional, or sarcastic depending on who they are speaking to. Not only does this make the story more engaging, but adds considerable value in playing the game through multiple times as every character to experience all that it has to offer.
Playing a game…
Even with its compelling story, superb voice acting, and loads of content, the game would be rubbish if it was boring to play or simply wasn’t fun. This fortunately could not be farther from the truth as Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is truly an outstanding experience from beginning to end. Each of the four playable characters offers a unique playstyle that is challenging and rewarding, but the core of the game remains the same to allow effective play without a steep learning curve. These playstyles are mostly separated by their main unlockable skill and subsequent skill trees which progress as you gain experience and levels.
The game at its core is a first-person shooter and when it comes to dealing with baddies it feels right at home. Elpis is full of things that are trying to kill you, from Scavs to wildlife and even plants, and each of these come in multiple flavors. Of all the things trying to kill you, you will have hundreds of different tools to use to try and kill them right back. As you explore Elpis you will come across more weapon and item types than previously thought possible. The eleventy billion guns (or whatever the actual number is) all feel great and surprisingly unique.
Any weapon you pick up will be of one class and one manufacturer. The classes are relatively straightforward offering things from shotguns to rifles to rocket launchers, but where things get interesting is in the manufacturer of each weapon. For example, Maliwan weapons always add an elemental type to the base damage of the round and Hyperion guns get more accurate the longer you fire. This is true across all of the classes so you will often have to choose between using a shotgun that shoots 3 rounds at once that explode on contact, or a sub-machine gun that sets people on fire. It’s good to have choices, and the weapons definitely take hold of a “fifth playable character” slot with all their personality. The moral here is to always be mindful of what dangers you are facing and what might be around the next bend to be ready to deal with it.
One of the new additions to combat this time around is the Oz Kit. Oz kits are really Oxygen packs that originally served to allow breathing in the near-vacuum of space but have been modified to act as jetpacks. Your jetpack will enable you to double jump and reach previously inaccessible areas; however, each time it is used expends a little bit of breathable air. It would be a lot easier to avoid using air on the Oz Kit if it weren’t for the butt-slam ability. The butt-slam is activated by crouching while in mid jump and what this does is rocket your character to the ground and erupt a shockwave at landing damaging anything in your vicinity. It is exactly as awesome as it sounds, and only gets better the farther into the game you get. There are several ways to replenish your Oxygen, and I’ve found the limited meter is more about balancing your ability to fly and use the butt-slam than it is actually hindering your ability to breathe in space.
In addition to Oz kits, The Pre-Sequel introduces one new weapon class that is simply spectacular. Sometimes mission rewards give you the option of turning in the quest to one of two people, each giving a different form of payment. Quite early on in the campaign one of the rewards is a laser weapon. Take it. Lasers are a great deal of fun and come in a variety of versions which makes them a little different than the other classes and more of a super-class. You will have the ability to use laser rifles, laser shotguns, rail guns, and even beam weapons that make you feel like a Ghostbuster.
Weapons, shields, grenade mods, and Oz kits all have a level attached to them which indicates when you will be able to use it. This naturally means that later in the game you will come across better and better gear, keeping ones you like and selling those you don’t. This gear can be sold at vending machines across the moon and your accumulated money will be used to purchase new gear or ammunition as you have the need. Already have an amazing and rare pistol? Sell the one you just picked up to buy a new shield to survive a bit longer next time a giant alien dog thing decides it wants to eat your face.
I am certain that anyone who enjoyed Borderlands or Borderlands 2 is going to enjoy Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. The game builds on everything that made the first two games great and brings even more to the table. I also believe it will be an amazing experience for first timers of the series if you aren’t worried about the few inevitable spoilers sprinkled throughout the narrative. The simple fact of the matter is that this review would have been finished a lot sooner if I weren’t stopping every five minutes to go play more of the game. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a Vault to find.
Second Opinionby Nate Humphries, Tech/Science Editor
So…I’ve essentially never played any of the Borderlands series before. Prior to my time with the Pre-Sequel I think I played ~15 minutes of Borderlands 2. Of course I’ve heard a ton about the series, but some other game always seemed to get in the way.
Now I know what everyone’s talking about. It’s a…different…kind of FPS. And I can dig it. Here are a few things I’ve noticed as a Borderlands first-timer:
The closest to this amount of quirkiness I’ve seen in a video game may be from the Old World Blues DLC for Fallout: New Vegas. The Pre-Sequel has quirky characters, dialogue, and even quirky attacks (butt stomping with a jet pack? seriously?). But it makes it fun. To me, it’s a nice change of pace from a serious FPS, and it makes you want to see more and more of the game and series.
I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen this amount of choice in weapons from a FPS. I’ve been playing as Wilhelm (the Enforcer) and switching between crazy-fast pistols, lightning-strike sniper rifles, and exploding-bullet automatic rifles. It’s nuts. But again, it’s fun, and it’s even practical. I can choose the exploding bullets for the lava creatures, or the lightning-strike sniper rifle for the Scavs. It works.
I wasn’t expecting to die that much playing on Normal, even with my lack of experience with the Pre-Sequel, because I’ve played so many other FPS games. But I did. That’s when I remembered Wolf and Saint, Wilhelm’s little flying drones. And it made me realize something – the Pre-Sequel can be hard, so it’s best to utilize everything at your disposal – that’s why it’s there. If you play around with different tactics – chuck a grenade here, deploy Wolf and Saint here, switch guns here – you get a more satisfying experience out of it.
I like pretty things. Especially pretty video games that can take advantage of my video card hardware (GeForce GTX 770). Needless to say, with having never played a Borderlands game before, I’m lovin’ the visuals of the Pre-Sequel. And that goes for all the visual aspects – cell shading (adds to the “fun” nature of the game), environments (nothing like seeing Helios floating up in the sky, or see lava, gas jets, etc. on Elpis), and the effects from gunfights. I wouldn’t call the Pre-Sequel the most visually-appealing game on the planet, but what visual appeal it has adds itself to the overall feel and appreciation for the game.
I’m sure everyone who’s played a Borderlands game is used to the in-game UI (Inventory, Quest Log, etc.), but it took me a minute to get used to it. “Okay, this side is the equipped inventory, the other side is my extra stuff. Now how do I equip…okay, you click on it and then click on the other item. Now why is it showing me an item comparison here? Okay, got it…” That kind of thing. It wasn’t overly complicated, but it was complicated enough that it took me a minute to get the mechanics of inventory management. A little bit of explanation (similar to what appears elsewhere in the game) would go a long way here, especially for the first-timers.
It’s pretty freakin’ awesome
I’d like to think that I can at least be pretty discerning, and hopefully my non-experience with Borderlands titles takes away some of the bias. Considering all that, I’m very impressed with Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. The only negative I can think of is the partial, temporary confusion with some of the slightly complicated UI structure, but everything else was a lot of fun. I love trying to find new, crazier weapons, I’m falling in love with the quirky nature of everyone (Claptrap, you’re nuts, and that’s great), and my FPS roots are being completely satisfied and then some. While I’m not sure that this would be my favorite FPS of all time, it’s undeniably the most fun.