It takes a special property to be as self-aware as Borderlands, and with each release of DLC, the Borderlands universe expands into more ridiculousness. What is a Pre-Sequel? It’s a prequel to a sequel, of course. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel rests between Borderlands 1 and 2 and tells the story of how Handsome Jack, Borderlands 2’s antagonist, came to be. Does that sound interesting to you? Okay, cool. Read on.
The whole concept of a pre-sequel is kind of hard to grasp in the sense that if you’re not already a Borderlands fan, it’s tough to get into a game set between the first two titles. This marks the series’ official mark as a trilogy, or as close to a trilogy as possible without actually being a trilogy. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is kind of Borderlands 1.5 that came out after 2. It’s convoluted, and that’s precisely why Gearbox released a spoiler-filled timeline to help out those that are having difficulty following the twisting plots. Luckily I loved Borderlands 2 and had hundreds of hours logged, so I was happy to dive into the Pre-Sequel guns akimbo.
The story takes you to Elpis, Pandora’s moon, and a few years or so before Borderlands 2. Jack is a young go-getter trying to convince the Hyperion to build the Helios station around Pandora’s moon, then loud noises happen and a bunch of people die. The Pre-Sequel toes the line of being self-aware to a fault while still not devolving into a hilarious ouroboros. Yes, the writing is sharp and witty enough to compliment the fine action on-screen, and it helps that it doesn’t take itself too seriously like some other games that are basically in the same genre, if you know what I’m talking about (you do, I know you do).
Exactly as you’d expect, the fart jokes and gunplay are turned up to 11 in the Pre-Sequel, as if they had to one-up Borderlands 2, but like GOB Bluth speaking to Tony Wonder, I found myself saying ‘same’ over and over again. Yeah, shooting robots and laughing is great and all, but it’s pretty much just Borderlands 2 DLC priced at $60, right? There’s old art assets (on a decent PC the game looks great, (Why no PS4/Xbone edition?), sound effects and in general everything just feels… Same. If you love Borderlands, this is a godsend, especially with the new gameplay wrinkles.
The time and place that Claptrap, Athena, Wilhelm and Nisha occupy takes place before Slag is a thing, so those guns are out, but Freeze Guns and lasers are in. Beyond that, you’re on a MOON, man. That means you have zero gravity, and the ability to freeze your enemy below you while you float through the atmosphere changes the battlefield dramatically. There are butt stomps, oh yes, there are butt stomps. Why the act hurts an enemy and not you, I’ll never know. But it’s fun, damn it.
So the lack of gravity in 70% of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is the main gameplay change and it’s a big one. I love it, even though it seems like in a way it’s Borderlands embracing everything it held dear in a tongue-in-cheek manner in the first Borderlands. Now you’re jumping, flying, shooting bad guys while Vault Hunters (now voiced) blow up everything in their sight. It’s fun, but unnecessary. It feels like a mod, or something you should’ve been able to switch on in the options after beating the game a couple times in the first two titles. It’s like shooter big head mode, but is tied into the story, so there’s that. Now, despite my reservations over the low gravity, it is admittedly really, really fun to be floating through the air and double jumping towards an enemy with your guns blazing. Too often, however, are your journeys through the air marred by wonky level design and clipping bugs. I should mention that since you’re on a moon, you have no oxygen, thus you need to pick up O2 tanks or stop for a breather (pun completely intended) on oxygen geysers (???) that are popping up all over Elpis.
The oxygen mechanic in B:PS reeks of desperation to add something new to the gameplay. And while the Borderlands well is still full of possibilities this seems like skimming off the top. At first the act of searching for oxygen is annoying, then it becomes pointless. You struggle to find oxygen in the first few hours of the game, then your Oz Kit becomes relatively overpowered and the amount of dropped O2 from enemies is overabundant. The whole need of oxygen becomes an annoying afterthought.
The level design is far more vertical in this game than previous. That comes from the Oz Kits. Eventually you get so used to zooming around that not being in zero grav becomes a chore. Bosses are far more interesting in this game than previous, although they’re pretty much just tank and spanks.
Going back and seeing old friends, some doomed, and playing as a couple of the bosses from Borderlands 2 will make the fanboy giggle, but I have a feeling it will go over most heads. Still, Gearbox is slowly but surely creating a universe in which people want to exist. The more you know about the universe, the funnier the jokes are, and the more you want to play. I think Gearbox deserves a little more praise for their obnoxious-yet-interesting world, and that’s being overlooked because of how little the base game has changed, and the price of this Pre-Sequel.
Asking someone to spend $60 plus the $30 for a Season Pass is a lot in this age of gaming. I could take ninety bucks and go hog wild when the Steam Autumn Sale pops. Yes, you’re getting quite a bit of content, as you’ll want to beat the game at least twice which takes about 25 hours per run. So you’re approaching the dollar-per-hour threshold you want to hit, but…
This game may have solid writing, plenty of fan service and the whole gravity thing, but it still feels like an inconsequential shooting gallery that’s less satisfying than previous games. Shockingly, I was more into the plot and finding all of the easter eggs than moving from firefight to firefight. While the bosses have a little more going for them this time, the combat simply isn’t diversified enough for me to think that it’s anything but pointless at this juncture. Yeah, I get it. Phat lewtz, etc. But your gear ultimately doesn’t matter (in my opinion) because by the time you get to the level cap and then start climbing the gear tiers, there really isn’t much else to do. This was the fatal flaw of the previous two Borderlands games that kept me at 100 hours logged instead of 200. The best part of Diablo and WoW is actually having stuff to do with your badass character, be it PVP or raids. To me, it feels like Borderlands just wants you to keep re-rolling? That’s fine I guess, because the talent differences in the classes are fun. This, of course, is a completely moot point once you get a few friends in the game.
I know people who have played the Borderlands games single player and had a great time. I do not understand these people. I genuinely think this is a mediocre single player experience, and like 99.9% of games, the real fun is had with a couple friends. Synergy between the vault hunters has never been so dynamic, but the battles are broken up by awkward first-person platforming and slow fetch missions which slows the pace considerably. I want to love this game, but how many hurdles do I have to jump?
So what we have in Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is a an expensive, in-joke laden, buggy experience that only hardcore fans will love. It’s a shooting gallery that mainlines enough energy drink into your system that ClapTrap becomes funny and you realize that even with its myriad of flaws, the game is pretty damn fun. And that’s what matters, right?