Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel Review

Most of the time, we leave the boiling-down of a review until the final paragraphs before the score - you know, the ones people with less patience than you skip right to. (Thank you, incidentally, for reading from the start.) With Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, however, it makes sense to start at the finish: So, how much do you like Borderlands 2?

Developed by 2K Games Australia in partnership with Borderlands creators Gearbox, The Pre-Sequel sits in a strange sort of spot. It's definitely far too expansive and detailed to have ever been a downloadable content pack for the original Borderlands 2 release, but also doesn't really do enough new that it can be considered a proper, full-blown sequel. In that sense, it actually most commonly resembles old, traditional expansion packs for PC games - the length of a full game, but largely only using the mechanics and tools the game it's based on provides, tweaked.

This probably looks very familiar - the whole game is.

While you can expect the same looting, running and gunning action that was present in Borderlands 2, The Pre-Sequel does offer a few new gameplay elements in an attempt to keep it from being entirely a retread of ground walked upon in its predecessor. 

Set on the moon, the game's main and most notable additions all come from that unique setting. The moon has lower gravity than Pandora, and as such unless you're inside a building or another area where gravity is artificially generated, jumping is higher and more sluggish - and there's an oxygen problem.

The latter is solved with an O2 unit, an additional piece of equipment that adds another type of loot for you to pick up and determines exactly how long your character of choice can breathe out in the moon's natural atmosphere. As you'd expect, as you progress this becomes less of an issue as better loot with additional bonuses is discovered. 

It essentially works like a shield, depleting when you're in the open as your shield does when under fire. When empty your health starts to drop, and at that point you'll want to find an area with oxygen bubbles to recharge your oxygen reserve. A further complication comes in the form of the game's jetpacks, which are powered by your O2 unit. They're useful for mobility, but using them sucks all-important oxygen from where it can be used to help you stay alive for longer.

It's an interesting mechanic, and one that does a lot to adjust the ebb and flow of combat - though I did ultimately find that it could often be hit-and-miss, sometimes serving to create exciting, intriguing challenges and in other moments serving to obscure the core satisfying Borderlands combat for no good reason.

Smarter than that is how the lowered oxygen on the moon changes mobility in general. Heightened moon-jumps are fun, and combat can quickly be as about constantly being on the move as much as it was previously about cover. Crouching in mid-air makes the player pull off a ground-pound move, slamming down with great force, causing damage and knock-back. It's not exactly realistic but is a ton of fun to do, and pounding onto the head of an enemy, Mario-style, is incredibly gratifying. 

A few new gameplay twists serve to add some much-needed variety aside from Borderlands 2's mechanics.

Also new are ice and laser weapon types, the former causing enemies to freeze solid and the latter setting them ablaze. These are hardly ground-shaking but are welcome additions that make each time you open a chest all that more varied - with two new weapon types and O2 kits, there's more loot to gather than ever.

Everything else is so-far-so-Borderlands; there's the same weapon manufacturers, the same core combat, the same weapon vendors, respawn system - all of that stuff. The visuals are more or less identical in quality, too. The co-operative mode is fully intact and, as previous, is absolutely the way to play the game if at all possible. 

The final major addition comes in the form of the four new classes. While they fit into the basic RPG archetypes for a four-player party, they've had some fun with them in both story and gameplay design, and I think Borderlands fans will find enough different to toy with here.

Athena, who I chose to play in my main play through, wields a Captain America style shield she can toss out to enemies that can be buffed to have various effects. She'll be familiar to hardcore Borderlands fans, having appeared in a piece of DLC for the very first game. All of the characters are returning in some respect, in fact - sharpshooter Nisha and cyborg Wilhelm were both present in Borderlands 2, and the final character is rounded out by the series' first opportunity play as the vaguely insane robot Claptrap, whose special ability is - of course - entirely random and often funny.

Talking of humor, the tone of Borderlands 2 - slightly more camp and self aware than the original - continues here. The game uses its space-bound setting to lampoon major science fiction franchises throughout, and is generally as full of one-liners and silliness as ever. In a nice touch, 2K Australia have left their mark by essentially making all of the characters based on the moon Australian - Pandora's moon is, it appears, Space Australia. Which I can get behind.

The new cast of characters are memorable and fun with some unique new abilities.

If there's anybody out there who actually cares for the lore of Borderlands on a serious level, the Pre-Sequel takes place between the first and second games, as the name suggests, and explains how Handsome Jack came to be as he is in Borderlands 2. The story is framed by conversations with the cast from the original game, who get a bit more character development, too.

The Pre-Sequel is competent and solid, then - but on occasion, the cracks begin to show. It's plainly a stop-gap based on the half-evolution in gameplay it offers, and even more plainly was developed on a rather tight schedule, visible in sometimes-repetitive mission design and a seemingly higher number of bugs than previous in the series. That's frustrating, and a shame, but what's here is still an enjoyable time-filler if you're waiting for a proper Borderlands 3.

Nothing about this experience is a must-have, if the truth is told - and so we come back to that first question. How much do you like Borderlands 2? Could you go in for some more of that, with minor changes and evolutions to keep it from being entirely samey? If the answer is yes, and you feel like grinding for loot all over again, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is for you. If not, perhaps hold fire for the next 'big' Borderlands title.