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I don’t know what the very first looter shooter is, some say it’s Hellgate: London, but I do think it’s safe to say the Borderlands series helped popularize the genre. I can tell you the first game was unlike any other I played before it so it was kind of refreshing for its time. It was followed up by Borderlands 2 which refines existing mechanics and systems and introduces some cool new features. Best of all, the loot system is overhauled, making for a more enjoyable and addictive experience. The series was then further expanded with Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel which is set between the events of the first two games. Developed by 2K Australia, with assistance from Gearbox Software and published by 2K Games, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel was released for PC in October, 2014. For this review, we played the PC version via LAN.
Pre-Sequel’s campaign tells the story of how Hansome Jack rose to power and took over the Hyperion Corporation leading to the events of Borderlands 2. Set after the events of the first game, the story follows a group a Vault Hunters who join up with Athena after she receives an offer from Jack to find a vault on Pandora’s moon. The story in the Claptastic Voyage DLC is set directly after the events of the main campaign. Handsome Jack employs the Vault Hunters to be digitally scanned and sent into Claptrap’s mind to retrieve the H-Source, containing all of Hyperion’s secrets.
The writing and voice performances are on par with that of the previous games, minus Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep DLC which still showcases some of the best writing the series has to offer up to this point. The brand of humor the series is known for is intact so as expected, some of it lands and some of it doesn’t but it will depend on your sense of humor. The Vault Hunters in Pre-Sequel are given more dialogue than those in the previous games and the dialogue can change depending on which characters are present. It’s a nice little touch.
The Pre-Sequel is a looter shooter that supports up to four players and is basically more Borderlands 2. Those familiar with that game will feel right home. You start by selecting your character class, all of which are unique and have different skill trees. You complete missions, kill enemies and explore areas for experience and loot. The more players there are, the more challenging the gameplay and the better the loot. As you level up, you can pump points into various skills across multiple skill trees. The Badass Rank system does return and is unchanged. As you play, you can complete various challenges to earn Badass Rank and when you earn enough you are awarded a token that can be spent on various stat upgrades.
While much of the gameplay feels familiar, there are some new mechanics and features that make it feel slightly different. You can equip up to four weapons, a shield, class mod, grenade mod, and OZ kits. You have to be mindful of oxygen in Pre-Sequel. Due to the moon setting, much of the game has you jumping around in space in low gravity which is pretty cool but oxygen drains when you’re in space and when fully drained, you start to lose health. Your OZ kit will determine how much oxygen you can retain and oxygen can be replenished by entering buildings, from oxygen canisters, and by activating air dome generators.
What makes the oxygen system worse is the environments. Pre-Sequel features a lot of platforming and reaching many areas requires you to go some roundabout way which makes getting around confusing and often frustrating. A lot of areas have jump pads that will launch you into the air, some of which launch you in one direction so that you can take another pad to launch you in the direction you need to go. When in the air, you can slam down which will inflict damage to nearby enemies. You can also boost which is a quick way to get around but boosting will rapidly drain through your oxygen. With how confusing getting around can be sometimes, having to stop or navigate off-course just to replenish oxygen can become tedious. Luckily, that never became too much of a problem because sources of oxygen are everywhere and enemies frequently drop oxygen canisters.
Vehicles can get you around the environments quicker and, unfortunately, several areas don’t feature Catch-A-Ride stations so you have to traverse on foot. Also annoying is areas that don’t contain Fast Travel stations meaning you’ll have to trek across an area to go to a different area just so you can use the Fast Travel station there to teleport where you need to go. Another problem with the environments is that many of them look and feel the same. You’ll navigate around a lot of moon-like areas and facilities and also engage a lot of the same enemies. In general, Pre-Sequel’s main campaign is lacking in terms of variety when compared to Borderlands 2. Although, we do think it’s better than the first game.
As expected, loot comes in many forms and rarities and like Borderlands 2, there’s a large variety of weapon manufacturers with there own strengths and weaknesses. New to Pre-Sequel is laser weapons which are pretty cool. You can upgrade your ammo capacity for each weapon type, how many items you can carry and how many can be stored in the bank at Concordia by spending Moonstones. Concordia is like the hub area for the main campaign where you can buy and sell items, access the Gold Chest, store items in a bank, spend Moonstones, and access the Grinder. The Grinder lets you combine equipment to make higher quality stuff. It’s a neat addition and makes unwanted equipment a little more useful.
Loot is what the game is all about. That’s what should keep the player going and I would say the quality of the drops is on par with that of Borderlands 2. I might even say it’s a little better. Unless I acquired equipment from the Gold Chest, I never felt like I was using the same stuff for super long stretches. I always seemed to find better equipment frequently enough that exploring every nook and cranny felt worthwhile despite getting around often feeling tedious.
If you decide to take on side missions as you progress through the campaign, you’ll be in for a lot of running back and forth. This should not be unexpected to veterans of the series but it does seem amplified here. Probably because getting around is a pain in the ass. There’s still a lot of fetch and kill quests, a lot of going back and forth between areas and a lot of missions that feel like they drag on. On the plus side, the mission design in the Claptastic Voyage campaign is significantly better simply because there’s a lot less backtracking.
Unfortunately, the Holodome Onslaught DLC is one of the worst DLC’s I’ve played in this series so far. You’re required to survive waves of enemies. It’s not as bad as Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot but it is pretty bad and repetitive. Claptasic Voyage is by far the best DLC for the game. It features new enemies and a decent variety of environments which results in a nice change of scenery after playing the main campaign for hours and spending all of the Holodome Onslaught time in one location.
Pre-Sequel retains the colorful and cartoony visual style the series is known for. I would say the presentation is basically on par with that of Borderlands 2 and the game does feature some incredible backgrounds. I would often stop and gaze into the sky just to look at the planet Pandora and the Helios station. It’s unfortunate the environments aren’t as visually diverse as those in the previous game, however the DLC does add some cool new environments, specifically the Claptastic Voyage DLC and as much as I dislike the Holodome DLC, I did enjoy the colorful neon-lit Holodome, itself. As for the audio, weapons and explosions do sound satisfying and much of the soundtrack sounds very I’ll say sci-fi which does fit the theme of the game. On the technical side, I noticed the frame rate dip a few times in certain areas but other than that, I didn’t encounter any major issues.
You know what this game reminds me of? The end of Moonraker. The space station, laser battles, and the ridiculousness of it all. Pre-Sequel does have some ridiculous and fun moments but it does feel very familiar. It feels more or less like an extension of Borderlands 2 and depending on how much patience you have, the fun can be hindered by excessive backtracking and some poorly designed areas. I do like the addition of laser weapons and the low gravity mechanic simply because I enjoyed blowing enemies away while floating and boosting around. It adds an interesting dynamic to the encounters. Many encounters and areas are more vertical than what we’ve experienced in the past. But all the platforming, backtracking, and often confusing environmental design compounded by the whole oxygen mechanic results in more frustration than enjoyment.
We would recommend Pre-Sequel to fans of the series if you can get it on sale. It’s really not a bad game but it doesn’t take any major steps forward. It’s just more of the same but not as good. That’s the best way to describe it. It’s a good looter shooter and a game that’s best enjoyed with friends. It will feel very familiar to veterans of the series and it should keep you occupied for a little while.