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Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel Review

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  • Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel Review

    Second verse, same as the first.

    Even after 30 hours spent with the game, a full completion of the normal game and a small bit of True Vault Hunter Mode played, I still cannot help but feel like Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is a glorified expansion for Borderlands 2. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely loved Borderlands 2. I spent over 148 hours in Borderlands 2 and still never explored all of that game's content.

    Therein lies the rub.

    Here we have a game that is mechanically almost identical to its predecessor. You still go from area to area, shooting things, doing missions, and collecting loot. It's still almost the same exact inventory system, HUD elements, and even weapons. The only real difference now is that it takes place on a moon and a space station, features worse writing than its predecessor features, and introduces an annoying gameplay mechanic that literally offers nothing positive to the game experience. Yet, it still ends up being a better "shooter looter" game than Destiny could ever hope to be. Let's be real here, there is more story in the opening cinematic for Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel than there is in all of Destiny. There is also more variation in mission structure, abilities, and weapons, but that's really beside the point. After all, we aren't here to compare the game to another in a completely separate franchise.

    The story centers on Handsome Jack's rise to the position of power we see him in during the events of Borderlands 2. We fight alongside him and we fight for him, as we make our way through the missions that take us from the Hyperion space station, Helios, to Elpis, the moon of Pandora, and back again. You fight some henchmen and with a few exceptions, you fight a few tougher bosses. You shoot some creatures and some aliens as the story is dished out to you through the game's 11 chapters. Naturally, there are a decent number of side quests that you can do, if you so choose to. In a weird twist, it almost feels as though you need to do some of these optional side quests if you hope to tackle the game's final chapters without much difficulty. I noticed that after a certain point, the next story mission included encounters with enemies that were a few levels above me, making for quite the challenge. Instead of dying and trying repeatedly, I went back to complete some of the earlier side quests to raise my level a bit higher. This was even after having done quite a few of the other side quests along the way. I can honestly say that this was never before an issue with the previous games in the series.

    Overall, the game does feel to be a bit more challenging than the previous two entries. There were multiple times early on and into the mid-way part of the game where I would be taken immediately from full health to a downed state. To those wondering, yes there is still a Last Stand mechanic that allows you to revive on the spot should you get a kill before the time expires. In the next area I found I wouldn't have any difficulty taking out foes left and right. To put it another way, the difficulty of the game feels inconsistent, at best.

    Fortunately, the four new Vault Hunters in the Pre-Sequel have all new skills that the previous characters did not have. I spent most of my time as Nisha the Lawbringer and her ability that gives a limited time auto-aim style ability. Then there's Athena the Gladiator, a character that utilizes a shield that can absorb bullets and send them back at an enemy. Next, we have Wilhelm the Enforcer, a half-machine, half-man that can send out a couple of flying drones to take the heat off him during a battle. Finally, there is Claptrap, the robot we've all come to know from the first two games that includes a variety of special group abilities depending on the situation. Each character has their own unique personalities and each plays out a bit differently from one another thanks to a variety of skills and abilities that can be assigned each time you level up.

    There are also a few returning faces from the previous games, including Lilith, Brick, and Tiny Tina. These three, alongside Athena, serve as the main narrators for the game. The entire story feels rather weak and a bit shorter when compared to Borderlands 2. I wasn't really amused and engaged by this particular story as I was for much of Borderlands 2. It's not that the story is "bad" per se, but it just doesn't feel as though it were as well written as the previous game. However, there is a notable exception here. The story actually changes a bit between the first go around and the second with True Vault Hunter Mode. Tiny Tina chimes in a bit more during TVHM, thus introducing more lines of dialogue that you do not hear the first time you play through the game. The dynamic between her and Brick is actually quite amusing and even a bit adorable. I say this as someone who enjoyed the missions and the character of Tiny Tina from Borderlands 2. If you didn't like her character then, then perhaps you won't find the increased entertainment in TVHM as I did. It should be noted here that this game was developed by 2K Australia and not at Gearbox as the previous game was and thus includes vastly different writers and styles between the two games.

    Many of the areas felt rather uninspired until the later portions of the game. I suppose it's a bit difficult to make a place like the moon diverse but almost every area looked and felt almost identical to the previous section you travelled from. There are still plenty of areas and hidden alcoves to find, which is always welcome. Even in some out of the way areas, you will at least find ammo boxes or weapon chests for your efforts. Every NPC has a decidedly Australian flair to their actions and dialogue. Again, this game was developed by 2K Australia. There are some interesting pop culture references here and there, as you have probably come to expect from a Borderlands game. There are also some not-so-subtle nods to Australian culture including missions involving the sport of Cricket and one inspired by the late Steve Irwin.

    New to Pre-Sequel is the O2 mechanic. Given that you are on a moon with little to no atmosphere, you need to breathe. Without O2, you can't breathe. So, 2K introduced a new mechanic into the game that forces you to constantly refill your "Oz" kit. These kits deplete over time while standing in a vacuum and once it reaches 0, you begin to slowly lose life until you refill your oxygen at an air bubble or a nearby oxygen vent. It is, to put it bluntly, a completely junk game mechanic. There was never a single time where you really feared for your life due to a lack of oxygen. Instead, I feel as though this was an inelegant solution to trying to figure out how to limit players from double jumping and butt stomping all the time. Double jumps and the "butt stomp" abilities are new to Pre-Sequel. As their name implies, they allow you to double jump and glide or to come down hard from a high height and inflict an area of damage around you. These abilities are limited only by your oxygen supply. No oxygen means you can't double jump or butt stomp.

    As you would expect, there are plenty of social commentary and pop culture references

    Instead of doing the sensible thing and utilizing an oxygen meter that fills up gradually over time, we have one where it depletes over time and thus forces you not only to refill constantly but also to rush through areas when you really want to take your time. Seriously, a meter that slowly ticked up would still be limiting in the way they wanted and it would have an added benefit of not having to go out of your way to fill up on oxygen. It's a waste of time and adds nothing of any substantial value to the gameplay. It's not a danger to the player unless they go AFK outside of an air bubble. It merely just ends up as being an annoyance.

    Even though many things in the game are technically "new," there is still a big part of me that recognizes the game is nothing really more than the same as the previous two adventures with a slightly different shade of paint. Yes, the story is new but ties in heavily with Borderlands 2. Yes, the characters and abilities are new, but the core gameplay is identical to the other titles. Yes, the areas are new, but they're largely dull. There are a few bright spots where the environments are leaps ahead of anything you've seen in the previous games but for the most part, the textures are bland, the areas repetitive, and often times shoddily put together. It's nice that the levels often make use of the game's new vertical movement. Double jumps and jump pads are littered throughout many areas and introducing vertical gameplay to the series is one fantastic thing that Pre-Sequel manages to do. I just wish the map and mini-map were adjusted to help in navigating multiple levels of an area.

    While playing, you will run into invisible walls and objects. I died once while going full speed on a flat surface when I ran into what I can only assume was an invisible ant that stopped my vehicle in its tracks. You will not run into geometry that is visually there but has no collision box. You will run into areas that instantly kill you despite having plenty of open-air clearance and looking like you can safely jump and glide towards your destination. You will come across weapons that you had in the previous games. They look the same; they may even have the same exact stats as in the previous games. Despite the premium price on this game, there is still so much that feels like it was rushed and put together just to make a quick buck.

    Flying numbers and skill trees. Yep, it's a Borderlands game

    Is Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel worth $60? Like I said, I managed to already wrangle over 30 hours of gameplay from it but it is not grabbing me like Borderlands 2 did. I'll probably continue through on True Vault Hunter Mode at least until I hit level 50, but that might be it. At the very least, it's nice to play a shooter looter game released in 2014 where you are constantly fed a healthy supply of unique and interesting gear. If you loved the first two games, you'll find enjoyment here, especially if you play co-op with some pals. If you never liked the series, there's nothing in Pre-Sequel that will change your mind given that the core formula and mechanics are still completely unchanged. I can only hope that when the eventual Borderlands 3 or Borderworlds comes along that Gearbox and 2K take a long look at how they can make a unique experience while still keeping that unique Borderlands flavor that fans have come to know and love.

    + Shooting enemies, usually in the face, is still fun
    + Each character looks and plays with a unique and distinctive style
    + Tons and tons of loot drops
    + Vertical gameplay is one gameplay addition that is fantastic
    + Laser guns and Cryo elemental weapons are nice replacements for the Slag style weapons from Borderlands 2
    + Some moments of humor and amusement
    - The "Oz kit" system is terrible in its implementation
    - The overall story comes across as weaker than the previous entry
    - With a few rare exceptions, the environments are visually dull and repetitive
    - The map does not take into consideration the new verticality of the level design
    - The UI and inventory management don't always play nice with a mouse and keyboard
    - Vehicle handling feels like a step backwards from Borderlands 2 (only with the first vehicle you unlock, the second vehicle feels significantly better)
    - Plenty of bugs (clipping, camera freezing after cutscenes, enemies flying through world geometry, etc.)
    - The ending is one of those cliffhanger endings that either points to DLC or, more likely, another sequel
    Related Information
    Title: Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel
    Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (Reviewed on PC)
    ESRB Rating: M for Mature 17+ blood, language, sexual themes, and violence.