Coming into the series’ third installment — or however else you want to qualify this combination prequel/sequel — Borderlands has never been the typical first-person shooter. Featuring a mish-mash of twitch first-person shooting, a large focus on RPG-based skill trees, abilities, and copious amounts of loot, alongside a healthy dose of vibrant graphics and kooky energy, the Borderlands series has always offered an experience slightly off the beaten path from more standard shooter fare. This time around though, 2K Australia and Gearbox Software have dialed up the crazy to 11 in Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!.
In a series already known for its pretty wild and outrageous happenings, saying that The Pre-Sequel! is by far the most outlandish, kooky, and frenetic installment of the series yet is not to be taken lightly. But that level of outlandishness makes it all the more enjoyable.
Taking place between Borderlands and Borderlands 2 (as its subtitle self-awaringly implies), doesn’t hide its motivations as an off-shoot title. Shorter than previous entries (though DLC will remedy that in no time) and focusing on plenty of familiar faces from the universe, with all of the main characters coming from previous Borderlands DLC campaigns, The Pre-Sequel! is by all means Borderlands 1.5 (or a Borderlands .2, Borderlands Halfsies, or however else you want to wedge it into the franchise’s chronology).
But, even if The Pre-Sequel! is more of a stopgap game until the development of (the inevitable) next mainline Borderlands title on current-gen systems, that’s not to say that The Pre-Sequel! is a throwaway entry in the series; it may not be like the lengthier adventures we’ve come to expect in previous titles, but the series’ trek up to the moon is by all means worth the price of a rocket-ship lift up into the confines of hyperspace.
While featuring the familiar shoot-’em and loot-’em gameplay of Borderlands titles of old, the main focus here comes from its setting, and in taking players off Pandora for the first time and out into the far reaches of space. Taking things out onto the Moon (a seemingly popular place this year between this game and Destiny), the setting not only gets a big change of pace from the Pandorian deserts and mountains seen in the past, but also amplifies the gameplay with new features, such as low-gravity jumps and ground pounds, an oxygen meter to monitor precious air, and other new “out of this world” abilities.
Taking an approach to its story off the beaten path, The Pre-Sequel! flips things around on the “villains” by focusing in large part on Jack, the Hyperion dictator we come to know, love, and somewhat slightly hate (but mostly love) in Borderlands 2. Likewise, the Vault Hunters this time around assist in the transformation of Jack from zero to hero, with each of the four player characters fitting the mold of other Borderlands titles, but with their own unique traits and characteristics added to the mix.
This time around, players choose between the four unique Vault Hunters — Wilhelm the Enforcer (the brute force muscle master), Athena the Gladiator (an intergalactic Captain America-esque heroine), Nisha the Lawbringer (the gun-totin’, quick-triggered badass), and Claptrap the Mistake (the fan-favorite robotic blabbermouth, playable for the first time). Coming through the perspective of Athena, the story isn’t anything to be completely invested in, but serves it purpose well in bringing together some familiar faces, as well as focusing on some of the popular characters from the series (such as Jack and Claptrap).
However, aside from the in-your-face insanity of taking things to space, The Pre-Sequel! noticeably lacks some of the potent humor of Borderlands 2, and doesn’t add much to make players care for any of the characters emotionally. That aside, Wilhelm, Athena, Nisha, and (especially) Claptrap still have plenty of moments to shine, not only in their abundant lines of dialogue, but in their wacky abilities that go through the roof of what previous Vault Hunters were capable of.
Following the approach of bringing shooting and RPG mechanics into gameplay heavily focused around loot, The Pre-Sequel! continues the crave for finding bigger and better weapons. The games uses a color-coded system to denote the rarer and more elaborate weapons found in missions or dropped by enemies, always giving rewards to players in the form of new guns, money, ammo, or more of the thousands of rewards possible out there in the moon.
Though the game does offer this in typical Borderlands fashion with plenty of new weapons and options to choose from, seasoned players will also be able to pick out some egregious reuses of Borderlands 2 assets, with Moonstones taking the place of Iridium bars and skavs replacing bandits, etc. Although the game does bring plenty new to the table by taking things out to the moon, having reskins and slight modifications of older assets does lessen the acceptability of the game retailing at full price.
Despite this, The Pre-Sequel! takes its approach to space combat and launches it with full enthusiasm, offering up some unique situations abilities that open up new possibilities in the series. Though the off-shoot story makes it seem unlikely to bridge its space mechanics into future titles, the low-gravity super jumps and powerful ground pounds add lots of new dimensions and versatility to the game, such as the level design accommodating the low gravity by offering higher platforms and gaps to cross.
The one mechanic that may irk some players, however, is the addition of oxygen — given that it’s the moon, players will find an Oxygen meter that needs to monitored, lending credence to the game’s setting but also creating annoying situations where players will be in a mad dash during hectic firefights to find oxygen cyclers and recover air. Although having an abundance of oxygen allows for increased jumping and a faster revival rate for picking up fallen friends, it is another bar to keep an eye on aside from health and shields, keeping all player characters (except for Claptrap) on their toys about oxygen supplies in a fight.
In the previous two titles, Borderlands has always given players more and better all the time: more content, more weapons, and always the opportunity for better combat scenarios and options to choose from. While veterans of the series have probably spent countless hours in the realm of Pandora searching for new loot and better weapons, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! acts a diversion from the norm with its new locale and modified gameplay and combat mechanics.
Standing in contrast to the deserts of Pandora, The Pre-Sequel! is an amusing and wacky off-shoot from proper Borderlands, and by taking things to the villains and misfits of the series, it’s another worthy entry in the sturdy and unpredictable universe.
Taking things away from Pandora for a day gives fans of the series a nice day trip to other locations, but whether that ticket to ride in the moon-based worldis truly worth the trouble is up for debate. It’s another wacky, wonderful adventure in the world of Borderlands, and though this title may take us to somewhere new and unseen, there are still a few sights that may be a bit familiar to fans — though don’t let that stop you from taking a trip to the moon.