We humans have a special knack for the appreciation and recognition of patterns. Once we find something we thoroughly enjoy, we tend to expect something similar (yet improved) when it comes to its successors of the same category, actively relying on what’s familiar, while at the same time desiring something novel. This seems to be what 2K Australia, Gearbox, and Aspyr had in mind as they simultaneously sifted through the earnings reports of Borderlands and Borderlands 2, while brainstorming for a third installment. The result: Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, the blue-hued, gravity-challenged stepchild of the series as a whole.
Fitting in between the events of Borderlands and Borderlands 2, The Pre-Sequel takes place on Pandora’s ornery moon, Elpis (cleverly playing on the Pandora’s Box myth). Four new vault hunters (Wilhelm the Enforcer, Athena the Gladiator, Nisha the Lawbringer, and Claptrap the Fragtrap), who have all made NPC appearances in the previous games, must fight alongside the previously-vilified Handsome Jack to save the moon from utter destruction at the hands of the Dahl Corporation’s Lost Legion. The brand new maps are chock full of dangerous creatures, violent psychopaths, and bundles of loot.
With four new vault hunters comes four new sets of skill trees, each varying based on your character. I chose Wilhelm the Enforcer for my first playthrough because I saw the words “Cyborg Mercenary” and needed no further prompting, and was pleasantly surprised with the balanced potency of his special ability (unleashing two drones that both support you and push the offensive). While I only experienced a taste of the various skills available amongst the four characters, the gist of it all is something much akin to Borderlands 2. Perks come in the form of Kill Skills, health/shield increases, weapon upgrades, and special abilities, and it’s all very well balanced in terms of leveling up at a steady pace.
Along with a new cast of playable characters, enemies, and NPCs, The Pre-Sequel boasts two new weapon classes and a spin on the traditional Borderlands mobility. While you still have the various assortments of explosive, shock, acid, and fire weapons, your vault hunter can now harness the power of lasers and freeze guns. The lasers are a bit weak, and not at all unlike any of the previous elemental weapons before them, while the ability to freeze opponents adds to your tactical capabilities. Since you’re on the moon, gravity is low and jumping becomes highly efficient, once again changing up the stand-and-shoot style seen on Pandora. With the lack of gravity also comes a lack of oxygen (I looked it up, it checks out), and though you do have to constantly keep an eye on your Ozkit levels, it’s not as stressful or detracting as other game’s environmental effects (such as Farcry 2’s malaria bullshit). Overall, the best way to describe these new features boils down to a word I’ll use at least a few more times: balanced.
Though The Pre-Sequel offers a handful of new features and an interesting storyline, there’s still more familiarity than novelty. The serious lack of exciting vehicles has become so commonplace that I can hardly complain about it anymore without sounding like your grandfather on the topic of “kids these days”, and the laborious comparison of weapons that are possibly-maybe-almost better than your current armory is still a major black eye. I get that the game is loot-centric, and I love that. What I don’t love is 2K games taking advantage of my ADD by throwing in a combination of statistical differences that would make Stephen Hawking grimace (well, I’m going to Hell). Yes, there needs to be balanced variation in loot, but if I spend more than ten seconds comparing rocket launchers only to find that the new one has a 1% increase in accuracy, I’m going to sell it out of spite. Sure, there are *insert stupid number*-bazillion items to find, but that doesn’t mean anything if the successive standard deviation of each one to the other is .0001.
Another genetic error common to the franchise thus far is the cripplingly stupid enemy AI. I can 360-noscope (or whatever kids are doing these days) moon psychos till the cows come home because the formula for enemy attacks reads like the to-do list of Hodor. This isn’t so bad for the multitude of cannon fodder enemies you’ll encounter because feeling like a god is actually quite cathartic, but the same unfortunately goes for Boss fights. The huge rooms they take place in offer an overabundance of cover and ammo, thus taking any real challenge out of the equation. This has long been an issue for Borderlands, and with the level of copypaste seen so far, it’s no surprise that it carried over.
The cell-shading style of art made famous in the first Borderlands is as beautiful as ever, regardless of how blue everything is. The music accompanying you on your journey is best described as unremarkable, and the three or four mission-based Dubstep tracks feel like they were crammed in to satisfy whatever group of coke-fueled rave-goers funded the project. Though I ran into more than a few clipping and rendering errors, the game overall looks like a pretty, energy drink-inspired Candyland.
All of this really boils down into one question: Should you buy Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel? To answer it honestly, you first have to do a little bit of soul searching. If you absolutely loved the first two, and wouldn’t mind devoting hours of your life to what could have been a very large DLC for Borderlands 2, then yes, run to the store and buy yourself a copy. For those of you looking for something more than a spruced up clone with a different color scheme, wait till the retail price drops. Dropping the same amount of coin for a game you played a year ago will only serve to frustrate you.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel boasts all the strengths and weaknesses of the Borderlands games before it because it’s a perfect carbon copy. For the hardcore Borderlands fans among us, this is hardly a problem. We appreciate the pattern 2K dishes out, and we enjoy the slight variation each new installment adds. The balance of loot, perks, and overall cheekiness of the game is all very formulaic, but it’s an equation that works for those of us who can’t get enough of the first two games. With that being said, if you came to Elpis expecting something Pandora-shatteringly new, you’re going to leave feeling disappointed.