More and more, first person shooters try to boast a leveling system that allows for individualization and customization of the way you play; the Borderlands franchise shows them how it’s done. Building off of the success of the first two games, Borderlands: The Pre-sequel doesn’t drastically change the Borderlands formula. While we aren’t seeing any dramatic changes, The Pre-sequel brings with it enough small improvements, and an incredible story warranting it a place amongst its predecessors.
While this game was made by a different developer from the original games (2K Australia instead of Gearbox) it still has all the heart and feels just as good as the previous entries. Borderlands is a shoot and loot, quest based, first person shooter RPG; now that’s a lot of different labels. The game has you running across the open world, completing quests and side quests, leveling up your character with different perks and abilities, and collecting thousands of guns in the process. All of the different aspects of the game are given appropriate time and depth, nothing feels half done or unfinished. This game is just as much a first person shooter as it is a quest based RPG, a quality that helps it appeal to various gamers.
Combat in The Pre-sequel feels better than it has ever been. A couple new elements were added to the tight first person shooting present in the first games. Zero gravity makes the game faster paced; it has the player constantly jumping, running around, and slamming back on the ground as they fight off enemies. Hopefully, this breath of fresh air is reintroduced back into the series through jetpacks or some other means. Located in space (on Pandoras moon or the Hyperion moon base) the game gives player Oz kits; these are oxygen kits that are a usable resource to leap and smash across the world. These kits are also highly customized giving the player different bonuses for having more/less oxygen creating unique play styles.
The great combat mechanics are coupled with a massive selection of weapons. The Pre-sequel has thousands of weapons, none of which you will see twice, and these weapons all vary in class, element, magazine, fire rate etc. Customizing how you play and adapting your character to your strengths is simple with such a large arsenal at your disposal. Weapon types include the returning smg’s, assault rifles, rocket launchers and new to the party, lasers. In burst fire or continuous streams with different elemental perks, lasers are a deadly new addition to the armory that I found myself using throughout the game.
All of the regular elemental perks are also present (explosive, fire, electric) but joining the fun is the ice elemental perk. While it may seem like something that should have been there all along, I found myself using an ice weapon consistently throughout the game. Usually I don’t like to mess around with the elemental weapons because of their limited use, but the ice attribute will freeze any enemy solid and makes for a great and deadly new addition.
The grinder is a nice addition to the game though more tedious then it is useful. The device allows you to discard three different weapons or equipment and in exchange receive a new piece. Occasionally the device will give you a piece of a better quality, but the item output is too random and I almost always received more trash, more useless items to sell or put back in the grinder. Especially considering the device is only located in one game area, by the end of the Pre-sequel I was never using the Grinder. With some improvements this could be a great device, but it’s currently in too early of a build to be considered useful.
While the new environments (the moon and the hyperion base) are fresh and fun to explore, they suffer from an outdated and dying engine that shows great age. Transitioning back to the Borderlands 2 engine on a 360 is jarring when one is used to next generation visuals. The visuals of The Pre-sequel are noticeably worse than its predecessor; the game suffers from serious pop in texture issues and at some point the game struggles to perform. The game froze consistently when using certain weapons/perks; whenever there was a lot of action happening on screen the game would stop for a second, or chug through the combat consistently taking away from the experience.
To go along with these graphical issues, the game also suffered from a large amount of combat glitches. Dozens of times throughout the game enemies would warp through terrain and barriers; occasionally enemies would be completely underneath the environment and still shooting my character. I expect better quality from Borderlands and was thoroughly disappointed with these glitches and having combat freeze on me. The final technical issue occurred when two quests happened to be in the same area; at this time late in the game the voice work talked over each other making it so I couldn’t understand what either quest was trying to tell me.
Even with these technical issues in mind, they did not drastically take away from my overall enjoyment of Borderlands: The Pre-sequel. The game successfully delivers on one of the better narratives in the series, and at the same time artfully connects the first two games. For me the highlight was that for the first time the character being played communicated and interacted with others throughout the environment. One of the only negatives for me in Borderlands 2 was that the character being played was silent and without personality, The Pre-sequel finally gives us character depth with our four playable characters and hopefully this will be continued with the series onward. This was handled in a semi clunky manner unfortunately, certain NPC’s will interact with your character in an overly vague manner (this is done so their conversation can apply to all vault hunters).
The game’s story connects the events of Borderlands 1 and 2 wonderfully and makes the game a must play for any fan of the series. Jack, Roland, Lilith, and Moxxi are all back again but this is truly Jack’s show. It is nice to once again have Roland and Lilith take main roles, but Jack shines through with his charismatic and engaging personality. Jack is truly the hero of this game, and it follows the story of how he was betrayed and why he eventually became Handsome Jack. The game is funny from beginning to end and has some noticeably great primary and secondary characters with great backstory and voice acting seen throughout.
Another strong highlight of the game is the humor and side quests. The game has a large amount of quests for players to embark on, and this makes the game playable for even the solo gamer. The side quests available provide parodies on Doctor Who, Pokemon, Star Wars and even Ghostbusters and they had me laughing throughout the entire game. From side quests to the main story, Borderlands is funny, but not at the expense of great character development, a deep narrative, and some of the best gameplay in the entire genre.
The final positive to note for Borderlands: The Pre-sequel comes from how deep and robust the skill trees are. Not only are all the characters vastly different from each other (playing as one character is night and day different from how you will play another) but each character has three skill trees. These separate skill trees can be leveled at the player’s choice and mean that any one character can be played in dozens of different ways. The game gives you all the tools you need to play to your own play style and individualize your character.
_Borderlands: The Pre-seque_l suffers from an aging engine and has more technical glitches then I have come to expect from a Borderlands game. At the same time they don’t drastically take away from the experience, and the game comes with enough well defined and polished features to keep me happy throughout. The game had me laughing, running, and gunning for hours and Borderlands continues to set the standard for RPG first person shooters.
Elliott Altland (@ea_gamesnvrdie) is a contributor for The High Screen. He attends SUNY Oswego.