Why The Borderlands Pre-Sequel is Amazing (and Why It Isn’t)

See. He's in space. Unfortunately, you don't see a SINGLE instance of this guy in the game. Yep. Spoiler alert.

See. He’s in space. Unfortunately, you don’t see a SINGLE instance of this guy in the game. Yep. Spoiler alert.

A part of me wanted to curl up under the covers today, as I’m fighting a nasty throat cold that leaves all kinds of crusty unmentionables behind. But I must write about this!

I admit. I’m guilty of being a FPS (First Person Shooter) fan. I played the Call of Duty series waaay after it stopped being original and fun. I played Halo much the same way. In a perpetual search to find the Next Awesome Game, I spend way too much money (I don’t have) on games (I might not love. See: Destiny) partially because I love playing them with my game-loving brother, and partially… well. That’s all, really. Without him, I’d probably throw my XBOX out.

While it’s arguable that Borderlands: the Pre-Sequel is a FPS, (it could be an RPG, too), I’m sticking to my guns (puns!) on this. It is the third game in the series from Unreal-engined Gearbox and 2K Games, following four characters across the moon to save the space station Hyperion from a murderous purple-eyed (purple with Eridium that doesn’t exist in this game) general bent on destroying the entire planet. Furthermore, you’re helping the antagonist from the second game, and it feels okay.

My thoughts?

It could be a quarter of the game it is, and still be better than Destiny.

Bitterness aside, let’s talk game.

Gearbox didn’t make it. 2K did. And 2K Australia. I was super nervous about this, given my previous experiences with games passed off to other producers/creators (Army of 2’s sequel for one). But other than every non-main character character (NPC, Baddies, etc) having a distinctly Australian accent, it’s all gravy.

Gameplay:

With the trademark specialization trees, leveling system, crazy cool guns, and a few new perks added here and there, the game has all the trappings of the previous games, but feels nothing like them. Why? We’re on the moon! Pre-Sequel adds several new mechanics that didn’t exist for the first two games: half gravity, the ability to float-and-shoot, and the added offensive ability of ground-slamming.

I can’t stress how much this changes gameplay. With the release of Titanfall, it feels all games instantly began going toward the 3D battlefield, incorporating an aspect of gaming not realized since, well, Ender’s Game. The book. Not the movie. It fundamentally changes everything: high perches, teamwork-on-the-fly, and the idea huge drops won’t kill you. Paired with a few of the classes’ abilities, you’re sitting with potential through the roof.

The game is funny as shit. Nothing about this game (as in the previous ones) takes itself seriously. After beating the game, unlocking “True Vault Hunter Mode,” and beginning all over, one of the several narrators says, “Tell me again! Tell me again! Only make it sound not-so-easy!” While someone else chimes in, “And change the names of the guys you kill.” Breaking the fourth wall, in this way, creates a laid-back environment, and the subtle new content in the new, unlocked mode, makes the whole game worth playing a second time (Take note, Diablo 3. Nevermind. I know nobody’s listening).

The guns are fantastic. 2K added lasers as a viable option in this gun lineup (of assault rifle, pistol, small machine gun, rocket launcher, and shot gun), with some lasers firing high damage (like a sniper rifle) and others slagging a constant stream of close-range corrosive. Unfortunately the bad guys get them, too, and they can be a chore to fight. On top of all that, given the insane amount of guns that drop during the fights, 2K added a gun grinder: don’t like your guns? Put three of a single rarity into the grinder and watch it upgrade (maybe) to something you could actually use (maybe). It’s a crap shoot. And it’s awesome.

Finally, the Pre-Sequel incorporates a Cryo damage type, where the user has a chance to completely freeze the enemy for a while: he takes slow damage, and you get to wail on his sweet spot for as long as he’s frozen. It’s incredibly rewarding.

This isn’t available for XBOX 1 or PS4. My brother and I were tickled pink how intelligent these guys are with their development: 2K states it costs way too much money to develop the game for two other platforms, and the chance someone has an XBOX 1 and not a 360 or PS3 is next to nil. Beautiful. This allows them to bypass the Destiny money sink, thus producing and distributing a much higher caliber game without sacrificing playability for pretty, pretty lights.

Yes, it looks the same as the previous games. This hurts the game a little: I don’t particularly care for the color palette the Unreal engine incorporates. It doesn’t play the same, though, and that makes all the difference. I can deal with graphics that don’t blow me out of the water if the whole thing is balanced.

Boss Fights:

Sustainable boss fights where two-four players are rewarded over the single player grind make this game replayable. Where Destiny simply throws a baddie at you and expects you to shoot it in the critical spot a thousand times (two thousand for two players.), The Pre-Sequel makes each boss fight creative. It becomes a dance of shooting the boss and assisting the other players in the group. The boss rewards you handsomely when killed, with guns and caches aplenty. And the final boss? Of the whole game? I must have fought him ten times so far, replaying it over and over, and it never gets old. It’s a seven-part sustainability fight, where the boss goes through all the damage types before he dies. I feel absolutely fine replaying the fight over and over, leveling slowly and collecting gear. It’s exceptionally fun.

And each boss is unique. Whether you’re dancing around platform-to-platform to avoid electricity, staving off hordes of enemies while simultaneously fighting the boss, or deconstructing an enemy, piece by piece, everything has a uniqueness to it. The game actually has shoot-’em puzzles for you, in the bosses. Very, very enjoyable.

Class Deconstruction:

We got four classes, three trees per class. Some are more group-friendly than others, and others focus entirely on damage.

  • Athena, Gladiator – The most tanky class in the lineup, her special incorporates a shield she can use to deflect and absorb damage from the front, and then thrown to damage enemies. The “shield” branch greatly increases shield and gun damage with her max level allowing the shield to ricochet off multiple enemies; the “close range” branch increases melee, movement, and weapon damage, with a dash-smash melee skill unlocking at max level; the “elemental” branch increases elemental damage, with max level unlocking a shock tether ability that deals strong damage to those nearby.
  • Nisha, Sharpshooter – Her speciality is pistols, and her special allows the player to instantly zoom in on critical spots on nearby enemies while increasing her fire rate, reload speed, and (sometimes) damage. It’s a quick ability, but it reloads quite fast as well. Her “combo” branch upgrades damage and health based on being hit, with a max level ability creating a cone of shock damage that deals more damage the more damage you’ve been dealt (tricky class); the “pistol” branch focuses on crit hits and overall gun damage, with the max ability being an exact replica pistol (pistol only) in the second hand, firing dual wielding damage; the “hip firing” branch emphasizes weapons with high ammo count, increasing damage and accuracy while hip-firing, with the max ability allowing bullets to ricochet through other enemies, then triggering a nova on all those still standing, and damaged, by the bullets.
  • Wilhelm, Fighter – This guy breathes survivability. With a special that drops an attack, and a defense drone, he enjoys being in the middle of a fight. The “attack drone” branch focuses entirely on damage and damage buffs for Wilhelm, with a culminating max ability of Wolf (the attack drone) periodically shooting missiles instead of bullets at the enemy; the “cyborg” branch upgrades Wilhelm’s damage and survivability while replacing body parts with cybernetics, with the max ability being a Vengeance Cannon that activates when you lose your shields; the “defense drone” branch highly buffs both Wilhelm and everyone on the team with shields and other defensive ups, with the max ability upping ammo regen, reload speed, and movement speed when special is deployed–for the whole team.
  • Claptrap, Wild Card! – He’s about as random as you can imagine, with high support skill and many team assists. His special is a program that analyzes the team fight and (randomly) assigns an ability for the group. His is the most rewarding, and most difficult/annoying class to play with, given he changes the playing field so often with his special–sometimes in damaging ways. The “explosive” tree balances health regen and explosive damage with close range, with the max ability unlocking a pirate ship damage mode rife with damage and reload speed/fire rate; “teamwork” branch focuses on a high amount of team buffs, including health regen, increased revive speed, and aggro, culminating at a max ability that upgrades gun damage, fire rate, and health regen–and for your teammate, too, if he gives you a high five; “random” branch randomizes Claptrap’s ability, with heightened damage for random weapons, melee damage randomly increased, and elemental chance randomly increased, with a max ability of casting a rainbow nova when the randomizer changes, dealing incredible damage. Claptrap is by far the most difficult to play, but in a group, the most rewarding.

Storyline:

The story follows the actions of those hired by Handsome Jack to fight against the marauding craziness on the moon. It’s twisty, fun, and the quests, while mostly focused on hunt-and-shoot, also change the environment from time to time. It’s hilarious–with the dialogue between Claptrap (if he’s in your group) and Handsome Jack being incredibly enjoyable. Again, this game doesn’t take itself seriously, and has a whole lot of fun while doing it. While the main quest takes up nearly twenty hours of play time, the replayability of the bosses and specific quests are worth it. With the amount of DLC from the previous game (Borderlands 2), I’ll also assume a whole lot more content coming down the pipe to constantly improve on the game.

Why this game works:

Lots of replay. Lots of guns. Lots of drops. Lots of specializations to improve self and group. Great style, great mechanics, great overall play. Critical hits are rewarded. Chest-shots with shot guns are rewarded. Actually, everything in this game is rewarding. Literally. Like a series of Pavlovian bells, this game is one long gambling session. Random guns, random slot machine, random grinder. All the rewards can be used to get more rewards, etc. I feel fulfilled while playing. I love the hidden corners with secrets and secret stories and secret raid bosses. Very enjoyable, especially with a teammate. This game is ten times better with someone to play with you.

Why this game doesn’t work:

While complex 3D scenery saves me from the drab colors, the colors still hinder the game. I could have gone for more story (as I’ll almost always want). I could do with a larger world (although I’ve been spoiled by Skyrim et al). Replaying the same storyline after level 28 is difficult for me: I lose interest fast without new content, and it always felt like a bit of a copout to regurgitate the same game, only harder (looking at you, Diablo 3. 5 times replayed? REALLY?). True Vault Hunter mode makes killing enemies with elemental weapons difficult, so some fights I’m slaughtering the opposition with a weapon, and the next fight is a terrifying, run-for-your-life fight that doesn’t make sense until you consider the parameters. Although it could have been the Claptrap teammate lowering my elemental damage. 2K did away with some of the baddies showcased in Borderlands 2, leaving one-arm bandits and loot baddies by the wayside. I loved those guys. They balanced it with more chests and weapons chests. The enemies feel very similar to the previous two games, stylistically, with the only major difference being Shugguraths, floating elemental guys that move like little floating fortresses.

It looks cartoony. Not realistic at all. It DOES have the feel of the previous games, in some aspects. If you don’t like the colors, or the overall construction of the previous games, don’t get this one.

PVP (player vs player) does NOT exist on this game, so far. This is a huge hit for some. There is no world chat, no trading post, nothing in-game to tie other players in. THIS IS NOT AN MMO. (which, in its defense, neither is Destiny. Yeah. I said it. What?)

Final result:

While I’ll always be looking for inventive new gameplay, buying the third game in a series, I didn’t expect fireworks. Borderlands and Borderlands 2 were purchased, played, and returned within the week. I don’t usually have so much fun with  goofy gameplay. Fortunately for everyone involved, this game DID deliver fireworks, with the game style changes (double jumps, ground slams, lower gravity), with the character class trees, and with the replayable bosses. I LOVE the 3D focus these new games are getting (I might even purchase Advanced Warfare. Maybe. Maybe. Eventually. After Christmas. With my tax refund).

Thank you 2K Australia for making this. I greatly appreciate your hard work and diligent effort. 8/10. I might buy the DLC.

Do you have any questions/input? Please feel free to leave a comment!

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