Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel
One thing I’d never considered before about game development, is to what extent it was like cooking. Specifically, following celebrity chefs, buying their cookbooks and then trying to make their delicious Tarte Tatin.
In this instance, Gearbox Software are Delia Smith; a world-renowned chef to the common man, who makes tasty titbits to be enjoyed by all. 2K Australia on the other hand are more like a semi-finalist from TV’s Masterchef, in which regular plebs, who’ve had a bit of a go at cooking try and do it properly for the entertainment of others. 2KA have started out by following the recipe set out by Gearbox, but somewhere along the way have settled for cheaper ingredients in some areas and brought some of their own herbs and spices from home – with mixed results.
So Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel tells a story that’s set between the events of Borderlands 1 and 2, before Handsome Jack became the crazed villain we all loved to hate in the second game. It turns out that Jack started out as simply a wise-cracking and thunderingly sarcastic git who has a little ‘something’ about him. You get to discover what that something is as you explore the new Borderlands setting – the moon.
Ah yes, the moon. Pandora’s moon, Elpis, is at once the games’ biggest strength and greatest weakness. It was a very good decision on the part of 2KA to change up the locale for the game. Whilst Elpis is a familiarly dusty wasteland, it’s colour palette is markedly different, with a lot more red and blue than the earlier games dusty browns. Being a moon it naturally lacks the atmosphere of the homeworld – a fact that ties in neatly with the mechanics. When in exterior locations, you are required to constantly be on the hunt to refill your dwindling oxygen reserves. Fortunately, opportunities to do so are frequent, with natural air-geysers (um) and oxygen posts liberally scattered across the surface.
Your precious life-gas isn’t just a timer for certain areas however, it is built into the boost jumps that are now capable of thanks to the lower gravity. The Pre-Sequel now boasts a high-degree of verticality to its play. Areas are designed in such a way as to lend themselves to both yourself and enemies taking advantage of higher ground. Even better, you are now blessed with a stomp attack, where you can thrust yourself into the ground causing enemies surrounding you to take considerable damage. It encourages you to keep mobile, with enemies who can drop in from all sides and heights, simply poking out from behind a box and shooting isn’t as effective as it once was.
Whilst this mechanic is superb, the drawback to Elpis is that it’s simply not as well conceived as many of the locations on Pandora. The first half-dozen hours in particular are pretty slow going, with trudging across the moon’s surface and endless requests to go back through areas on side-missions. Of course, this was a fault with the original Borderlands games as well, but since Pre-Sequel’s environments lack a key ingredient that those games had, namely characters. Too many of B:TPS’ characters feel like recycled versions of people we’ve met in earlier games. It’s very enlightening to see that, when you’ve trudged back across the lunar-scape for the umpteenth time to turn in a quest for Johnny-no-personality, quite how integral to the success of the Borderlands mission system those characters- like Scooter and Ellie were. If you’ve less desire to hear what the NPC’s have to say, due to familiarity or simply less entertaining script, then your likelihood of doing all those side-quests rapidly diminishes.
Fortunately what the game does get right is the combat. Shooting things in Borderlands remains as endlessly entertaining as it did in the previous games, especially with new abilities like freezing to add into the mix. Coupled with the increased mobility, gun-play is very strong. Your characters have skill trees that are significantly changed from earlier games and make all four (including various builds for each) markedly different and change up the game-play considerably.
One thing that struck me from the get go was a sense of, ‘huh, I wonder how that’s going to work’, when looking at how the skills pan out. It lends itself to increased re-playability when you’re very intrigued has to how things might develop. The shield-toting Gladiator, drone-equipped Enforcer and dual-wielding Law-bringer classes are joined by everyone’s favourite mechanical malcontent, Claptrap. Far from being a weak patsy for pratfalls and kickings, Claptrap is a rolling death-dealer with a delicious element of randomisation to his abilities. His VaultHunter.Exe skill allows him to draw upon the talents of other vault hunters – supposedly to best fit the situation, but it’s Claptrap. In order to deal with enemies, he’s constantly exploding, releasing copies of himself and buggering up the plans of his team-mates. It’s stupid and awesome, exactly what you’d hope of a Claptrap playable character.
How much you’re going to enjoy The Pre-Sequel depends entirely on how saturated you are in Borderlands experience right now. If you’ve only just got around to finishing Borderlands 2 and you immediately bite into this title, I think you’re going to get pretty full, pretty fast. This isn’t all that unlikely, since that game has only relatively recently stopped getting DLC, despite being two years old at this point. B:TPS is more of the same, only with writing that would have been sent to the compost pile of the earlier game. If it’s been a while and your taste-buds are tingling for something familiar but with a little twist, then Pre-Sequel should definitely be in your list of things to indulge in.
I’m going to leave it to Jack to sign-off in his own (it turns out, relatively imitable style):
“I called you an asshole because I thought I’d hung up?
Borderlands: The Pre Sequel is out now for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3