Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel Review

Remember Handsome Jack? The sadistic and sarcastic antagonist of Borderlands 2? Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is his origin story, charting his rise (descent?) from a lowly cog in the Hyperion Corporation machine to master evil villain. If you missed out on all or part of Borderlands 2, then you'll miss out on a lot of the story here as it is littered with nods and references to Borderlands 2's story. In fact, I'd recommend that you pick up Borderlands 2 first before playing The Pre-Sequel. If you did play Borderlands 2 and are ready to dive into Jack's psyche or to even play a role in his transformation, then you may find The Pre-Sequel's story to be a bit, well, disappointing. The story takes the approach that each of Handsome Jack's traits, quirks, and dislikes can be traced back to singular events that are checked off as you make your way through The Pre-Sequel. There's still plenty of that Borderlands brand humor, though, so if nothing else, the story is entertaining.

The Pre-Sequel introduces four new playable characters, Athena, Nisha, Wilhelm, and Claptrap. Athena is a gladiator and wields a shield that absorbs enemy fire and then turns that energy back towards enemies. Nisha is a gunslinger, with a penchant for revolvers and the ability to auto-target enemies. Wilhelm is an enforcer with two drones at his command, one of which goes after enemies while the other provides healing support. And then there's Claptrap the Fragtrap, whose specialty is a code subroutine that analyzes the current tactical situation and provides the "best" bonus attack to deal with that situation. You may find your fire rate increased dramatically but that you can't stop shooting or you may suddenly find yourself wielding a pointy stick. The crazy unpredictable nature of Captrap's special ability coupled with his demented personality make him the most entertaining character to play.

Once you begin playing the game, you'll see that there's far more here that's exactly the same as it was in Borderlands 2 than is new or different. Each character has a skill tree broken down into three separate tracks, the Badass challenge/reward system is still here, and everything you kill explodes into copious amounts of loot. The biggest change with The Pre-Sequel is one of location, with the game being primarily set on Pandora's moon, Elpis. Elpis has a fraction of Pandora's gravity and no atmosphere, both of which have an impact on gameplay. When on the surface of the moon you'll need to have an O2 tank with you (unless you're Claptrap, who as a robot only has a psychosomatic need for oxygen). This being a Borderlands game, O2 tanks (or Oz tanks as they're called in the game, with a wink from the developers at 2K Australia) come with all sorts of different boosts and combinations thereof. The tank's air supply is limited, but that's not as dire as it sounds because there are plenty of tank recharge stations and geysers of air spewing up from the surface of the moon so you'll only run into trouble if you're being truly careless. Of course your enemies will need air as well, and you can use that to your advantage by putting a hole in a helmet and then finishing off your adversary while he's gasping for air.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel screenshot 6

The low gravity means that you'll be able to jump higher than ever before in a Borderlands game, and the locals use Elpis' low gravity to their advantage, placing jump pads to help cross canyons in a single bound and by placing doors on the sides of buildings wherever they are convenient whether or not they are at ground level. You can also get an extra boost on your jump by opening the valve on you O2 tank, but that of course bleeds off some of your supply. You can also do the same while you're in the air and perform a ground pound attack to knock-back and damage anyone unlucky enough to be under your feet when you come back down to the ground.

The verticality of the low gravity environment makes the firefights in The Pre-Sequel feel unique from those in the other games in the series. Cover loses some of its safety when you can pop-up and gain an immediate elevation advantage, or jump up and slam someone on the other side of a wall. All of this bouncy combat can get a little crazy, which I found fun, but if you're not a fan of hopping in shooters your opinion will certainly be different.

Adding to the game's "spacey" feel is the new class of laser weapons. Firing blaster shots or beam weapons while leaping across the crater pocked surface of a moon has a great Sci-Fi aesthetic to it, but from a more practical point of view they're not really game-changers. They're low-recoil weapons that look pretty cool.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel screenshot 9

The rest of the game is pretty much the same as Borderlands 2 gameplay-wise, both the good and the bad. When it comes to loot you can have too much of a good thing and you can easily spend the majority of your time with the game comparing the stats of the latest weapon, O2 tank, or shield generator against those of the items in your inventory. The interface for managing all of this feels overwhelmed by the amount of loot in the game, so I often just stuck with a weapon that I liked for a while just so that I could spend less time on the inventory screens.

The game also shares its predecessors' love of sending you on long hikes between mission objective points. This is particularly aggravating when you're in a new area and the map is a big blank slate. You'll see a diamond marking your objective on the other side of the map, but have no idea how to get there quickly or even if that marker is leading you to yet another map where your objective really lies.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel feels like more of an extension of Borderlands 2 than a completely new entry in the series. And although it adds a few interesting twists to the formula, it feels like Borderlands 2 was a better overall experience. While I'm sure that all of the oxygen and low gravity game mechanics necessitated a standalone game, it almost feels that everything else here could have been tightened up to make a standout piece of DLC for Borderlands 2. As it all stands, I wouldn't necessarily recommend seeking out The Pre-Sequel if you're just looking to pick up another shooter right now. It's more of a game for those who love the series and want to make another visit to the Borderlands.

Final Rating: 78%. A pre-sequel for those who are predisposed to Borderlands and can't wait for a full sequel.


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