Remember Bioshock 2? Remember how many feared it would be a decent but unnecessary sequel, fun in its own right but bringing nothing drastically new to its storied heritage? That's Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel in a nutshell. It's a series of small refinements wrapped in a sub-par narrative, filled to the brim with gratuitous fanservice. And while that might be enough to placate Borderlands super-fans, casual players will find that things haven't changed all that much, and that's not enough to make up for its lacking story.
If you’ve played Borderlands 2, things will seem very familiar with The Pre-Sequel. You still run around huge open areas and small, enclosed corridors, only this time on Pandora’s neon, purple-tinged moon Elpis. You still shoot everything in sight, from moon-based bandits to nefarious space beasts, the game's core combat maintaining the series' weird, satisfying mix of anarchic, tactical gunplay and compulsive RPG overtones. And yes, tons of loot explodes out of your freshly exploded foes, ripe for the taking. It's a compelling loop of shooting and looting that--even after spending 18 hours completing the main campaign--I found myself drawn back into, ready to try out new characters and take on the much harder True Vault Hunter mode.
But while the series greatest strengths remain, the overall adherence to what has gone before also means that many of Borderlands main niggles are back as well. Loot drops so frequently that you’re constantly stopping to see if your new stuff is any better than your old stuff, and sorting through your inventory is still incredibly cumbersome. Co-op is far easier and snappier than single player, mainly because you don’t have anyone to revive you if you die while adventuring on your lonesome.
Sure, you can revive yourself with a well-timed kill, but it’s not always a viable solution, and several bosses late in the game will wreck your face without a second player to help out. Borderlands has always been a far more frustrating experience for people who choose to play it solo, and the Pre-Sequel does nothing to change that. Though to be fair Borderlands' class-based, co-op RPG leaning makes that more of a gameplay feature than a problem, And by definition, being the same as its predecessors certainly doesn't make the Pre-Sequel any worse.
A few additions have been made, but most of them feel very slight compared to the huge leap Borderlands 2 made from the first game. Functionally, the newly added laser weapons don’t handle much differently from using any other gun, and mook-freezing Cryo damage feels less a revelation and more like something that should've been in the series ages ago. While appreciated, these tweaks prove to be more of a refinement on the core Borderlands experience than any serious evolution in gameplay.