Borderlands 2 was one of the most entertaining games of 2012. It stepped away from the realistic first person shooter genre to provide a game where the rule of cool literally takes precedence. The next game in the series, Borderlands: the Pre-Sequel, is set between the first and second games; but most importantly is not developed by Gearbox Entertainment. It is a question of whether 2K Australia has managed to continue the unhealthy obsession with being a badass.
Borderlands: the Pre-Sequel is set Elpis, a moon orbiting Pandora where the first two games took place. In a strange twist, most of the inhabitants are meant to be Australian; that barely shows through, as most of the characters interacted with have appeared in previous games and do not speak with an Australian accent.
The moon also provides some interesting new challenges with the lack of oxygen and low gravity. Both of which impact gameplay and introduce new things to do in-game; but more on that later.
On the other hand, Elpis, as a moon, has the most boring terrain ever seen in a video game. Players put up with grey rocks and cliffs throughout the first half of the game that can get repetitive while travelling between areas.
The occasional Dahl outpost or Scav encampment breaks up the monotony of seeing the same moon rock cliff for the hundredth time. Although even these end up recycling assets so often they end up looking the same after a few hours. This drawback makes the first few hours of the game rather difficult to get into and truly enjoy.
The Pre-Sequel attempts to explore the reasons for Borderlands 2 antagonist Handsome Jack turning to evil. It does this in a rather shallow manner, without asking the difficult questions about morality. Handsome Jack’s turn from hero to villain is handled as a by-the-way kind of thing, and doesn’t make the player think too much.
The writing is a little weak, especially when compared to Borderlands 2. There are few new characters that are truly memorable, and even returning NPCs feel like a pale shadow of themselves.
With that in mind, 2K Australia has put some effort into telling a decent story. The narration changes slightly between playing in normal and True Vault Hunter Modes. Borderlands The Pre-Sequel continues the genre savvy theme began in Borderlands 2 and lampshades the fact that the player is both playing the game twice and the fact that the entire story is told as a flashback from the point of view of one of the Vault Hunters.
2K Australia has come up with an interesting way of subtly prodding players into an aggressive playstyle. Due to oxygen concerns, players cannot stay outside for very long. Oxygen refills can be found from either the air vents that dot the surface of the moon or by killing enemies who drop canisters. Each map is also laid out in such a way that the air vents are located suspiciously close to enemy spawn points and encampments.
Oxygen isn’t only a resource to keep players alive; it also works to fuel double jumps and ground slams (referred to as butt slams). Butt slams are an extremely powerful attack that allows players to leap into the air and hit the ground doing damage to all nearby enemies. It is also the best thing ever to happen to first person shooters. Counter-Strike players who are used to the bunny hop to evade fire will love the extra option of turning that harmless hop into an area of effect blast that can be modified to freeze enemies solid, or set them on fire, or shatter face masks causing opponents to suffocate.
The Pre-Sequel also fixes a minor issue with Borderlands 2 at higher levels by removing the Slag element. Slag was an elemental effect that caused the affected target to take extra damage from all attacks; it was also the only element worth using. Removing it from the game now gives players a reason to pack multiple weapons and elements for deal with different situations; especially with the inclusion of the Cyro element that can freeze enemies solid.
Unfortunately, The Pre-Sequel isn’t quite polished as an experience. Enemies face clipping problems throughout the game, occasionally falling into walls, getting stuck on terrain, and shooting through floors. Several quests also failed to complete, either failing to provide a reward or randomly stating that it had been failed.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is a worthy addition to the franchise. While it isn’t nearly as polished or entertaining as Borderlands 2; it does retain the sense of fun from its predecessor. Th new weapons and gameplay mechanics that encourage players to rush into the fray prevent the game from being just a simple cash grab.
The game may be a little short, but it does just enough to keep players engaged and set up the next installment of the series quite nicely. It also neatly fills in the gaps left in Claptrap’s past and what happened to everyone’s favourite nuisance between the first and second games.