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Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel Review

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel Review
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Everyone might have been expecting the third Borderlands game to be a new-gen affair, but it turns out that 2K and Gearbox had other plans. That means a glorious stop-gap of more shooting and looting, with Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel taking the action to Pandora's moon of Elpis, fulfilling every Borderlands 2 fan's wish to visit the massive 'H'-shaped Helios, the Hyperion space station looming ominously in space. The story and setting might be new, but everything else is pure, unadulterated Borderlands, with lead developer 2K Australia playing it somewhat safe, stopping short of pushing the envelope too far, lest it upset the game's fine equilibrium of blasting baddies and collecting stuff.

From the game's opening to its end, The Pre-Sequel plays every bit like its predecessors, albeit one with a low gravity twist, as well as the ability to deal butt stomping death from above. There are other fresh additions to the formula, like the grinder contraption found in the game's hub town of Concordia, which joins laser and cryo elemental weapons on The Pre-Sequel's list of features. There's a new cast of Vault Hunters too, with Athena, Nisha, Wilhelm and everyone's favourite robotic irritant, Claptrap taking centre stage.


Borderlands: at its best when chaos reigns supreme.

Each has their own unique action skill, as usual, with Nisha's aim snapping to any nearby enemies, enabling you to dispatch several in quick succession; Wilhelm's drones Wolf and Saint awarding various offensive and defensive attributes; Athena's Aspis shield able to take out bad guys with a Captain America-style hurl; and Claptrap's own inimitable set of skills buff allies with constant gunfire, speedier bullets, extra health and more. They're a likeable motley crew, that's for sure, armed with a witty one-liner and barb for every occasion.

Each character can be furnished with class mods and other gear, as usual, but relics are no more, instead replaced by 'Oz kits' that dictate the amount of oxygen you have in your tanks when you're zipping around the moon's surface. Like a good shield, a good Oz kit will bring with it a myriad of bonus effects and higher capacities, meaning you can survive in low atmosphere environments for longer.

Not that your O2 levels ever really become much of a concern, as enemies frequently drop canisters, oxygen bubbles can be deployed at various points around any given map, fissures in the moon's rocky terrain offer jets of air, and retreating to any nearby interior will top up your oxygen supply in a jiffy. O2 can also be used to revive allies much quicker, although it will deplete your own reserves, and boosting will also drain your tanks. Find a decent Oz kit early on like we did though, and you'll have nothing to worry about. Not once did we die due to a lack of air.

Save for these few new features, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is by and large more of the same. You'll journey from place to place shooting bandits, or rather 'scavs', 'lunatics' and 'outlaws' with their uniquely Aussie brogue in this particular case, as well as a variety of hostile fauna in and around the icy or lava strewn moon environment. Although, in situating the game on Pandora's moon, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel feels like a bit of a backwards step. Where Borderlands 2 made an attempt at making up for the first game's rather samey locations, The Pre-Sequel resurrects the problem, with acres of grey moon dust as far as the eye can see.


Eat laser flavoured death!

Granted, there are indeed icy bits and lava bits as aforementioned, but other than occasional sojourns to Concordia and a few otherworldly sci-fi inspired environs that we won't spoil by describing here, you'll have to get used to a lot of grey rocks and craters, alongside a plethora of equally grey space station corridors. There are new vehicles to zoom around in though, which makes things a little more interesting, with the moon buggy and stingray providing plenty of explosive mayhem. Remember those four-man trucks from Borderlands 2? Forget them, they're out. We're back to one-man and two-man vehicles in The Pre-Sequel for some reason.

Of course, none of this really matters once you start to get back into the insanely addictive loop of slaughtering enemies and raiding their corpses for loot, opening countless receptacles for what mysteries lie within, and hoarding weapons to sell or feed into the grinder. Ah, yes; the grinder. Present three weapons, grenade mods, class mods, shields or Oz kits to the machine, and if you're lucky enough to happen upon a recipe, you'll receive a better piece of gear out of the other end. There are seemingly no hard and fast rules to what works, although combining weapons and gear of similar rarity or type seems to do the trick. Spend a few moonstones (The Pre-Sequel's take on Borderlands 2's eridium), and you'll get a rarified Lunestone weapon that's occasionally well worth having. It's pretty neat.

What isn't quite so neat is the apparent dearth of decent loot found in The Pre-Sequel. Throughout the course of dozens of side-missions and the entirety of the game's generously proportioned storyline, we found no more than two legendary weapons, and very little genuinely useful purple rarity items. Defeating a tough boss only to see white and green items raining down from its vanquished carapace feels like a kick in the pants, especially following a drawn out battle of attrition that's taken a concerted effort to complete. It seems that the rewards don't quite match the difficulty of some missions, making progress through the game seem a tad wearisome at times. But when a piece of really good loot drops, the excitement of actually bolstering your armoury with something decent is enough impetus to press on for more.

You won't really reap such rewards until closer to The Pre-Sequel's endgame, however, when rare loot drops become slightly more frequent, and that one gun you've been relying on for the last five hours or so can finally be swapped out for something better. All of this feels like it needs fine-tuning. Progression and loot seems slightly unbalanced at present, with a lot of work required to eke out something, anything of worth.


Looks like a good ol' fashioned Wild West showdown.

In spite of this, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel's narrative feels wholly compelling, as each mission reveals more about Jack (AKA Borderlands 2's Handsome Jack), and how his ego, bloodlust and homicidal desires came to fruition. Events transpire and the pieces gradually fall into place, filling in practically every hole between Borderlands and its sequel. You'll discover how Jack's robot army came to be, how he rose to become the head of Hyperion Corporation and much more. It's most definitely a worthwhile yarn. If you've yet to play Borderlands 2, you could still conceivably play this and enjoy the previous game just as much. It all hangs together quite nicely.

The same can also be said of the achievement list, which cribs more than a few from Borderlands 2, giving you some of the best tasks to perform once again. It's not a list that's entirely devoid of invention, sprinkling in a few objectives that take advantage of some of the game's new mechanics. So, pulling off a 360-degree spin and killing an enemy using a sniper rifle without the scope will require judicious use of your boost pack, while surviving for five minutes without air demands a little ingenuity. Not a completely original list by any means, it does succeed in hitting all of the right marks once more.

While Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel veers dangerously close to being a case of diminishing returns, an enjoyable story, another dose of brilliantly dark humour, more twisted characters and a good dollop of moon-bound japes makes 2K Australia and Gearbox's third Borderlands effort a game that achieves exactly what it sets out to do. And that's to deliver more unhinged, over-the-top shooting and looting, but on the moon. For Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, it's one small step for the series, one giant leap for Borderlands fans.

 

Nice ambient music that's more sci-fi tinged this time around. The voice acting is as manic as ever too, with its cast of lunar natives all seemingly hailing from the developer's homeland of Australia, which is a nice touch.

Borderlands' engine is really starting to show its age, with slow texture loading, low-resolution detail and some muddy visuals still persisting. In short, it looks a lot like the other two games, although some of the environments can get more than a little samey.

As fun as ever, Borderlands' winning formula of shooting and looting proves to be every bit as addictive as always. It's also still better with friends, and a bit of a thankless slog when played alone. Same as it ever was then.

Tens of hours of excellent side missions and story to pursue, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel certainly doesn't skimp on content. There's plenty of fan service too.

Part Borderlands 2 retread, part brand new, it's another strong achievement list, but one that scores lower than its predecessor in the originality stakes.

If you're hankering for more Borderlands, then The Pre-Sequel will most definitely scratch that itch. It doesn't really offer anything wildly new or innovative, and plays things safe for the most part, but there's no mistaking the sheer volume of fun on offer. It's great.

 
 
 
Game Info
Developer:
2K Australia
Publisher:
2K Games
Genre:

Release:

US October 14, 2014
Europe October 17, 2014

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