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As some of you might know, I am a huge fan of all things Borderlands. When I started playing the series long ago, back when the moon was young…or something, I fell in love with it immediately. Between its nerd references, lack of taking itself seriously, and (most importantly) it’s irreverent sense of humor that matched mine perfectly, it fit me like a glove. And Borderlands 2, if anything, just got better. So when I learned that new Borderlands game was coming out, I was appropriately delighted. I was also, however, a little nervous. Third installments are not typically known for being masterpieces (with the grand exception of Super Mario Bros. 3). Even after the impressive and chuckle-inducing trailer featuring narration from Mister Torgue High-Five Flexington and Sir Hammerlock I was still a little pessimistic. Well, after several hours of gameplay with one character, and starting each of the others, I can safely say that my concerns were thoroughly for naught.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, as its name suggests, takes place in the five year gap between the events Borderlands and Borderlands 2. This time, however, the vault hunters are not murdering their way through the bandits of Pandora to reach the vault. Instead the Pre-Sequel takes place on Pandora’s moon, Elpis, and the Hyperion space station in Pandora’s Orbit, and chronicles Handsome Jack’s rise from obscurity to his villainous reign as president of the Hyperion corporation.
The majority of the game will feel very similar to players of the first two games, particularly players of Borderlands 2. It has the same design in the various menus and HUD as Borderlands 2. Many favorite characters make appearances. Why are they on the moon? As Mister Torgue puts it: because reasons. In fact it looks like the vast majority game’s core mechanics were not modified at all. That is not to say that the Pre-Sequel feels like the same old game just with some new content. Not at all. The new environments and the few new mechanics that are introduced are more than enough to distinguish this game from its predecessors.
Being that much of this game takes place on Pandora’s moon, two new mechanics completely change the way you move around the maps: lack of atmosphere and low gravity. Because there is no atmosphere on Elpis, the only two ways to breathe are in areas with large air bubbles over them and through O2 kits that the locals call Oz kits. Speaking of the locals for a second, almost all of them have Australian accents. While this is likely an artifact of the fact that 2K Australia published the Pre-Sequel, it gives some nice added flavor to the game and makes Elpis feel like a different place from Pandora. Anyway, back to the Oz kits, this was one of the things I was most concerned about from the trailers. Games where you are constantly running out of resources have always struck me less as fun and more as exercises in micromanagement. Thankfully, this is not the case here. The smallest Oz kit I’ve encountered has a capacity of 100 which decreases at a rate of 1 per second in a vacuum (and once you run out you don’t instantly die, you then lose health at a rate of 1 per second) [Edit:The health loss is closer to 2 per second. My bad.]. This coupled with voice alerts for when you enter a vacuum as well as when your kit is half depleted and various different ways to refill your kit means that it is not an annoyance but it does make you adjust your strategies before you travel through an area or open fire on baddies.
The other new mechanic, low gravity, allows for rather absurdly high jumping and aerial combat. And it is not just from you either, but from enemies too. There’s not much else to say about the low gravity in and of itself, but a feature of the Oz kits allows for variations on how you move and attack. While jumping, you can expend a small amount of oxygen from your kit for a double jump. If that wasn’t fantastic enough for those of us who love jumping through levels much to the chagrin of our teammates (everyone wave to RedGuinness), while in mid air you can crouch and slam down to the ground doing damage to all enemies in the immediate area.
Like its predecessors, this new installment features four new vault hunters: Athena – The Gladiator, Wilhelm – The Enforcer, Nisha – The Law Bringer, and Claptrap – The Fragtrap. (I chose Nisha as my primary character because who doesn’t like a sadomasochistic gunslinger cowgirl that melees with a whip?). Unlike its predecessors, however, your choice of character does more than just dictate your action skill and skill trees. This time around, your characters have a lot more to say and the various NPCs that you encounter will have different things to say to each character. This is really the only thing about this game that I think needs work. Some of the character interactions feel awkward. It’s my suspicion that the voice actors were not together when the interactions were recorded. The result is something that sounds like two people reading lines instead of having a conversation.
That aside, so far the rest of the game is exactly what I have come to expect from Borderlands. Through the quips and the murderous hijinks, the folks at Gearbox and 2K Games once again demonstrate that they truly know their audience. And that, in the end, is exactly what makes Borderlands shine.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is rated M for Mature for Blood, Language, Sexual Themes, and Violence. And LASER SHOTGUNS!!