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Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel review

AT A GLANCE
  • Same great Borderlands shoot-n-loot gameplay
  • Bounding around in low-gravity is awesome
  • Genuinely hilarious for the most part
  • Doesn't fix the series' few shortcomings
  • Most changes and additions are granular
  • Overall plot feels unnecessary

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.

That said, the new control mechanics of dicking around the low-gravity moon of Elpis are awesome, ambient freshen-up. Shortly after starting the game, you’re given an oxygen tank (lovingly called an Oz kit by Elpis’ Australian-sounding inhabitants). Not only does it allow you to breathe in the vacuum of space, it also controls your ability to double-jump. There's an interesting risk/reward mechanic, in that you have to keep an eye on that O2 gauge to make sure you’re not jumping around willy-nilly, otherwise you'll suffocate like Arnold Schwarzenegger at the end of Total Recall. Luckily, enemies drop O2 tanks like candy, and oxygen vents are everywhere, so it never becomes enough of a hassle to interrupt Borderlands' traditional breakneck game-flow. 

Comic book beauty

Borderlands' cel-shaded comic book style has always been gorgeous, and The Pre-Sequel is no exception. Pandora's moon Elpis is covered in neon blues and purples, its cool color palette a far cry from the stark, desert browns of the first game. The series gets a lot of mileage out of its art style, and this new, even greater visual evolution  makes its world more stop-and-gawp worthy than ever. 

What that double-jump does, however, is open up a whole new world of verticality to Borderlands’ manic combat. I regularly launched myself up high to get to better vantage points (why go around when you can go over?) and activated my butt-slam ability (which can cause huge area-of-effect and elemental damage later on) to get the literal drop on my foes. The core act of burning through every enemy you see hasn't changed all that much, but this simple addition adds an exciting new dimension in comparison to the ground-based, typically eye-level combat of its predecessors.

While low gravity makes an ambient change to how you approach Borderlands' combat, the different character classes form the backbone of how you react to each scenario--and the roles in the Pre-Sequel are vastly different than anything you've seen before. Athena the Gladiator acts as the defensive core of the team, with a huge, rapidly-recharging shield that she can use to absorb bullets, and chuck around to smack her enemies. And at higher levels she can use her knife to turn herself into a homing missile of pointy death. The now-playable Claptrap (comedically trollish as ever) has an Action Skill that randomly assigns insane, random status effects to the rest of the team, causing cursing and laughter all at the same time. Even Wilhelm, the typical turret-throwing soldier class seen in every game in the series, shakes things up a bit, with his ability to spawn two hovering bots; one to attack, and one to heal. Each class is fun and distinct, providing multiple, very different games in one, and I had a blast trying out each to see which one I liked best. 

More Info

Release date: Oct 14 2014 - PS3, Xbox 360, PC (US)
Available Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Genre: Shooter
Franchise: Borderlands
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood, Language, Sexual Themes, Violence

If you’re wondering why I’ve waited so long to mention the story, it’s because it’s the weakest aspect of the game. Set during the midway point between Borderlands and Borderlands 2, The Pre-Sequel tells the story of BL2 villain Handsome Jack and his rise from sarcastic asshole to evil sarcastic asshole. Helios Station (owned by Jack’s employer Hyperion) has been hijacked and Jack has hired you to help him get it back.

It’s a fine overall journey, filled with typically zany characters like the kooky and immensely likable mechanic Janey Springs, but none of its plot points are particularly eye-opening. Sure, there are tons of references and cameos for the fans, but when the credits rolled, I didn’t feel like I’d gained any real insight that I hadn’t gleaned from playing Borderlands 2. Given the Pre-Sequel's unique narrative positioning, that feels like a missed opportunity. 

Still, the writing is typically funny and entertaining. Though while there are moments of dire straits to remind you exactly what an amusingly unforgiving hell-hole the Borderlands universe is, the overall tone is much, much lighter than it’s been before. One minute, you're helping a drunken Aussie find his tuckerbag; the next you're watching someone try to dunk a basketball on the moon. These small asides are genuinely humorous, and do help flesh out a main campaign narrative that’s lacking in substance. Oh, and it's all fairly free of Internet memes this time around, so that’s a huge plus.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is packed with fan-service for long-time series vets, and gameplay-wise does a great job of providing more of the same for people who can't get enough of what they already have. For that camp, it's going to be a perfectly fine experience. For others, more of the same isn't quite going to cut it, even with the sporadic--but notable--refinements on display.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is a hilarious, fan-focused continuation of the series' core values. But lacking any truly evolution, it makes for a fun diversion rather than a meaningful new chapter.

This game was reviewed on PC.

20 comments

  • dennis-cardenas - October 21, 2014 2:23 a.m.

    Get Borderlands The Pre Sequel Cheats & Trainers FLiNG here: http://gamehostia.com/pc-cheats-borderlands-the-pre-sequel-trainer-fling/
  • talleyXIV - October 18, 2014 10:04 p.m.

    I am sure it is great but it feels like they have something bigger in store for us, or at least this re-done on next gen consoles.
  • Bigdamnhero - October 16, 2014 11:31 p.m.

    Yes its not that big of a Change from Borderlands 2.. and thats ok because Borderlands 2 is still a great game.Playing this game you do the impossible and that makes you feel mighty
  • ajbburn - October 16, 2014 12:25 p.m.

    This game, if its the same as the lasts, will be the best gaming. For those whinging Next Gen, those who know about games already know, unreal4 has not been realized, this game is based on the unreal series game engine, for a great reason, its the best FPS engine available, the mechanics are spot on. (SNIPING IS JUST MAKING ME SO HORNY) Jumping (NOW DOUBLE JUMP, LIKE DOUBLE ORGASM). Unreal always delivers. If you want a next gen game, play destiny, although I already know its not as fun. Its watered down borderlands with demanding graphics. That's what next gen has available, until DEVS start releasing new engines.
  • BigBadDogIV - December 20, 2014 6:29 a.m.

    Destiny is a sad joke of what it was supposed to be. I've played both Destiny and BLTPS. BLTPS is far better then Destiny. Or at least the actual Destiny that launched. If Destiny had been the same game they showed in the Destiny Trailers and Destiny Pre-Release Marketing Stuff then Destiny would prolly be Better then BLTPS. Sadly they are not the same Game. I'm Spending Most of My time now days on BLTPS even after throwing away $90 on Destiny.
  • BigBadDogIV - December 20, 2014 6:32 a.m.

    For Clarification I played Destiny on PS4 and i still feel the PS4 version of Destiny is worse then BLTPS on PS3.
  • explodie - October 16, 2014 11:42 a.m.

    I think the game is pretty cool. I'm glad simply for the fact that there are new levels and enemies. I'd pay the money for that.
  • xxxoverload - October 14, 2014 4:30 a.m.

    This is sad! I was extremely looking forward to playing this game and so we're a few people I know; however, when I went to purchase my copy of borderlands pre sequel today I was shocked to find they only released it on the old consoles! I don't know about anyone else but, I stopped gaming a couple years ago because I was tired of gaming on the old chappy looking system that I don't even use for anything but, a Blu-ray player now days. I have absolutely zero interest in buying games for a seven year old system I would like to see go away! I also have 0 interest in buying another game that's over a year old by the time they decide they want to release it on the new systems, which seems to me is the whole reason they are doing this in the first place. They know a lot of stupid people will buy it for their old ps3 and then again when an expansion comes out when they will re-release it on the new systems for another $60 when it should be $15. This could be the best game in the world, which I doubt, but, I for one will be boycotting this game for this simple reason. Bad move gearbox and 2K games!
  • David_Roberts - October 14, 2014 10:58 a.m.

    No one expected this latest generation to take off as quickly as it did, so I'm guessing that's why this wasn't originally designed to be on next-gen consoles. Still, the PC version looks pretty dang good. :D
  • LigerXT5 - October 16, 2014 11:33 a.m.

    Wow, might want to look up some reasons as to why they didn't release for the newer consoles, other than assuming it was done for the money. They made a statement, months ago, as to why they didn't release for the Xbox One or the PS4. They wanted to have the game out to a wider audience, as most people still had a Xbox 360 or Xbox one. Lastly, if you are complaining about getting new games, but not for older consoles, spend your console money on a decent gaming computer. No need to worry about console issues. Heck, jump into the SteamOS systems if need be.
  • lewins - October 16, 2014 1:27 p.m.

    Errr, if they wanted to release the game to a wider audience then they would have released on as many consoles as possible. The only excuse for not releasing the game on the PS4 and Xbox One is that it would cost money, although they would likely have gained that back. I wouldn't be surprised if they're looking to cash in on double sales further down the line with a re-release on current gen consoles, or even a 'HD remake'
  • LigerXT5 - October 16, 2014 9:05 p.m.

    If they released on PS4 or Xboxone, the players would not be gaining anything different than playing on the 360 or PS3. The game is designed in 720p, not 1080. The game is meant to look cartoonish, you won't see much of a worth while difference if it went to 1080p either way. I play it on decently powerful PC and I hardly have FPS drops or see resolution issues between my 32" or 22" monitors. I agree, however, with the idea of placing the game on more consoles, however again, they would have to spend more time redesigning the games to work on PS4 and XBox One due to the console changes from 360 to One and PS3 to PS4, hence the reason all 360 and PS3 games don't work on their newer consoles, such as Halo 4. Either they would had to have the games delayed to be released on all consoles, or work with the consoles they have experience to push out a game quickly, then experiment redesigning the code to work on the newer consoles.
  • shawksta - October 13, 2014 6:21 p.m.

    Nice, cant wait for this.
  • Doctor_Pancakes - October 13, 2014 3:16 p.m.

    PLEASE let this come to PS4 or PSNow... I really don't want to buy another PS3 after trading it for a 4...
  • homestar99 - October 13, 2014 7:16 a.m.

    I don't really think this game falls into the Bioshock 2 sequel category. It lacks the one quality that makes me hate Bioshock 2 so dearly. It never really had a good story to begin with. The thing that makes Bioshock 2 so awful is that it took a perfectly good and finished story from its predecessor and took a massive shit on it by opening up more plot. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel on the other hand is simply tying a knot between BL1's nonexistent story to BL2's more acceptable and decent story. The material this game has on hand for story is heavily restricted due to the period of the universe it takes place in. But at the end of the day, who cares about what I'm saying? Borderlands is, and always has been, primarily about shooting dudes in the face with randomly found exotic weaponry. Which is actually the other thing that separates it from the Bioshock 2 sequel typecast. Bioshock had a primary focus on story over gameplay. Borderlands 2 was more gameplay focused. Ergo, nobody gives nearly as much of a shit when the story isn't good in a Borderlands game when compared to a Bioshock one.
  • WrathLord03 - October 13, 2014 12:48 p.m.

    I disagree. Although it is simply tying a knot, that knot is so important to a fan-favourite character that the fact that this offers no insight into Handsome Jack is a real shame. Also, Borderlands 2 was one of the few games where I cared about what was happening to the characters by the end of it. In fact, I cared more about the last hour of Borderlands 2 than I did Uncharted 3, which, considering Uncharted's focus on story, is still a huge surprise to me. I felt that Borderlands' narrative was an important part of the game, and sure, the focus is on gameplay, but it certainly bolstered what was on offer. I'm still going to pick The Pre-Sequel up, because as you and the reviewer have indicated, the gameplay is still fun, but I'm disappointed the story isn't as strong as it could have been.
  • homestar99 - October 13, 2014 5:54 p.m.

    I can see where you're coming from on this. I had feelings for the characters of Borderlands 2 as well. Who knows? I haven't even played the game yet (and I bet you haven't either) and I may change my views upon viewing the story firsthand.
  • WrathLord03 - October 13, 2014 8:37 p.m.

    Definitely haven't played the game yet. I did some further research since posting that comment, and some outlets think the story filled the gap really well. But yeah, looks like it's up to us, the consumer, to decide for ourselves! After spending our money on the product, of course.
  • homestar99 - October 13, 2014 9:05 p.m.

    And I currently have none.
  • bobob101 - October 13, 2014 6:35 a.m.

    Guns, Guns, Guns, So so so many Guns!!! I am a big Borderlands fan, so there is no question whether or not I will play this game. As long as there are funny characters and a bazillion guns, I'm cool. I doubt Borderlands 3 will come out for at least 2-3 more years, but judging from how much re-playability there is in these games, I'm cool with that.

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