Game Review: Borderlands The Pre-Sequel!

I want to start off by saying that I absolutely love the Borderlands games and universe.  It’s one of those modern franchises that I ended up having a lot more fun with than expected.  The first two Borderlands titles were very enjoyable, and although the second game had a lot of lackluster downloadable content, for the most part the game was still fun.  Telltale Games is currently also releasing “Tales from the Borderlands” which expands on the universe it is set in.

Borderlands the Pre-Sequel was a game that crept on me, but it was “more Borderlands” so I jumped into this one balls first because “it’s Borderlands,” and I enjoy the series.  While I’d like to say I enjoy the series this one had a few bumps in the road that opened me up to a few more gripes than I’d normally have with the series…

Borderlands the Pre-Sequel is an extension of the events of Borderlands 2, and true to its name is a prequel which explains the origins of the now-iconic (and hopefully immortal) Borderlands 2 villain Handsome Jack, and how he rose to power within the Hyperion corporation, how he became the megalomaniac he happens to be in Borderlands 2, and also how he acquired quite a few of his henchmen and his robot armies.  Immediately upon hearing that it feels like you can’t go wrong, because Handsome Jack undoubtedly was one of the best villains in recent memory in any videogame.  He’s just a complete dick.  This time the action mostly takes place on Pandora’s moon Elphis, as well as Helios, Hyperion’s space station.  Our antagonists are the Dahl Lost Legion, who seems intent on capturing Helios for themselves and destroying the moon claiming it is the only way to “save millions,” led by Colonel Zarpedon (yes that’s one of the stupidest names ever, and they know it – in fact it’s a constant in-joke all throughout the game).

Handsome Jack used to have a face.

Handsome Jack used to have a face.

Four new vault hunters (6 counting current DLC characters) join the fray:  Athena, who was introduced in the General Knoxx DLC in the first game makes her return, seemingly as the main character – in fact our story starts off with her explaining to Lilith, Brick, and Mordecai (the original vault hunters), why she was working with Jack in the first place.  Nisha (The Sherriff of Lynchwood) and Wilhelm, whom were both Borderlands 2 boss characters appear as well, and for the first time ever, Claptrap is playable (with the joke being “as a mistake.”  Your DLC characters include the Baroness, sister to Sir Hammerlock, and Handsome Jack’s Body Double (essentially making Jack a playable character). 

Four familiar faces from the Borderlands series are your new Vault Hunters.

Four familiar faces from the Borderlands series are your new Vault Hunters.

The engine is pretty much straight out of Borderlands 2 with very few improvements; even graphically it’s so much the same game that I’m surprised people aren’t modding the hell out Borderlands to combine 2with the Pre-Sequel in some way, but we do have a few tweaks and additions to the game’s system.  For starters since most of the game takes place in space you now have Oz Kits – an enhancement that allows you to breathe.  In most areas, you won’t have oxygen and therefore a limited time to find an area with air to get to.  Fortunately the game is pretty generous about oxygen as safe spots and enemy drops to increase your air is so common you’ll probably never truly run out of them.  Also thanks to the gravity on Elpis, Pandora’s moon where the game takes place, you can long press the jump button to float for a brief period of time (at the expense of draining more oxygen) and you can also cancel your jumps to do a “butt slam,” which might also be buffed by your Oz kit to cause various elemental damages.  While it’s an interesting addition it also leads to a lot more jump puzzles that tend to be more tedious than fun at times.  Slag doesn’t exist (yet) as of Borderlands the Pre-Sequel so we get new Cyro weapons that can freeze enemies in place, making them more vulnerable to explosions or melee damage.  Also, the staff at Gearbox remembered their science so fire weapons are kind of useless in non-oxygenated areas.  I admit Cyro weapons are a nice addition, and hopefully these will remain in future Borderlands titles.  We’ve also added a new gun type:  Lasers, which are somewhat reminiscent of the Eridian weapons in the first Borderlands game.  We also have a new feature called the grinder which allows you to grind up three weapons into a new one, with some interesting possibilities.  Of course to get the best combinations you’ll have to use Moonstone (this game’s version of the Eridium currency from BL2 – although fortunately MUCH more plentiful).

On paper all of this sounds great, but unfortunately as previously mentioned there are a few short-comings with Borderlands the Pre-Sequel.  For starters, one of the coolest things about Borderlands is the appeal of a futuristic sci-fi world mixed with wild western themes.  Pandora is pretty much “the Space West.”  Unfortunately we’re not ON Pandora.  We’re on the moon.  In space.  As a result, it just feels less “Borderlands-y” up to and including the music.  Other than the intro theme, Black Dragon, by the Vines, not one of the tracks in Borderlands The Pre-Sequel even strikes out to me – a far cry from “Welcome to Fyrestone” and the Boom-Bewm fight theme.  It sounds like a minor gripe but it really does change the atmosphere and tone of the game in a way that made the Pre-Sequel feel a little soulless.

2K Australia handled Borderlands the Pre-Sequel and as a result, they filled it with a lot of “Aussie Humor” as they said in the previews… except, I play World of Warcraft with Australians, one of the most prominent members of our forums since the early days is Australian, and I really don’t think their sense of humor is that different from ours.  When you get unskippable dialogue in a mission where some asshole is talking about a cricket game for like five minutes, it just felt annoying.  Also there wasn’t nearly enough vegemite or references to vegemite.  That’s not to say this game isn’t filled with the typical Borderlands fare of pop culture references (missions inspired by Star Wars and Ghostbusters) nor some of our loveable NPCs from previous Borderlands games such as Mr. Torgue and Sir Hammerlock.  But it just felt sort of off a lot of the time when inserted.  Possibly one of the most annoying aspects of the story is that for some reason rather than let characters simply “be gay” many of the gay characters took it upon themselves to remind the player they are gay every 15 seconds so in the case of new NPC Janey Springs, or old enemy Nakayama you’d get constant “hey I want to bang Moxxi (or Jack in Nakayama’s case)” reminders to a point that I wasn’t sure if I was playing Borderlands or watching an episode of Grey’s Anatomy.  I’ve said before I don’t like political agendas mixed in my videogames and there were a few plot devices that should have belonged to Roland instead of Lilith (I’m not saying which due to spoilers) as well.  Please, Gearbox, in the future, tone down on the social justice.  It’s awkward when you try to mix politically incorrect humor with political correctness. You can have equality without it being DECLARED constantly.  It was already kind of cool that this one had more playable girls than guys in a positive way.  You did your good deed with that, and I will say that I enjoy Nisha and Athena a lot this go around.

Skill Trees still allow for infinite combinations of abilities for characters.

Skill Trees still allow for infinite combinations of abilities for characters.

If I have one other gripe it’s the fact that for the most part enemies were just the same standard fare from the other game without much new to the mix.  Almost anything added to the game was a re-skin of something from Borderlands 2 but even at that it had less enemies.  Where were the Goliaths, or the Badass Psychos who are giants with a gimpy arm thing?  As a result often times the Pre Sequel feels less like a stand-alone game and more like Borderlands 2 DLC.  Also the psychos felt way less psycho-y and I’m not sure if it’s because they just weren’t saying anything amusing anymore, or because you can’t really hear them, or both.  Please bring back the “psychotic” of the “psycho” enemies.  Psychos are your iconic Borderlands character – they are the Goomba of Borderlands and the lack of MEAT BICYCLES in my Borderlands title really added to that “Borderlands without a soul” feel that it had going on.  I guess its fortunate Jack’s back as he still has plenty of great jokes and one-liners, including flat-out calling Zarpedon’s parents “assholes” for giving her that name while laughing at her maniacally during a moment that’s meant to be taken seriously.

Mistakes were made...

Mistakes were made...

All in all, Borderlands the Pre-Sequel was fun, but it just wasn’t “AS FUN” as Borderlands 2.  It was sort of like a song you like a lot but then someone plays it a few notes off.  You still like the song, but it just didn’t sound as great.  I think that the game left me wanting more, though, so it’s a good thing Tales from the Borderlands has the humor and atmosphere I’m used to from the series.  The Pre-Sequel is a nice attempt at something different in the same universe but it's the Diet Coke of Borderlands so I’m hoping this one goes back to its roots in the third game.  

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