Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel Review
Okay, so it’s not technically “Borderlands 3.” But for the better part of 2014, developer 2K Australia (in conjunction with Gearbox Software) promoted Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel as a full, complete installment in the acclaimed franchise. It’s not a spin-off and it’s not a simple cash-in attempt on an established IP. That was the message gamers received, again and again. Now, while I freely admit that we’re not seeing any innovative upgrades here, we are seeing an entirely fresh adventure that features the Borderlands atmosphere fans know and love.
When I first began my quest, I realized with a smile that The Pre-Sequel looks great on the PS3. It’s really one of the better-looking games currently available on the aging machine, as the game’s design is top-notch and the animations remain fluid and appealing. That being said, it’s clear that the developers are really pushing the boundaries of the PS3 architecture, because we get texture pop-in and the occasional glitch. During an especially chaotic encounter with a huge boss, the game completely froze for a second. I suppose it’s inevitable when you stretch the system’s capacities to the limits, though.
The sound encounters similar technical hang-ups here and there, and the balancing between voices, music and effects isn’t perfect. But you’ve still got stellar voice performances – most of which will make you grin – and an excellent soundtrack. Good actors bring the colorful, charismatic characters to life, while the sweeping score, infused with a wee bit of playfulness, keeps you emotionally involved. The bottom line is that this game looks and feels exactly as it should: At least from a technical perspective, it’s Borderlands to a “T,” and that will undoubtedly satisfy the die-hard fans.
If the title still confuses you, let me explain: This game takes place between the first two entries in the series and this time, players get a different perspective. The playable characters come from Handsome Jack’s camp, and the addition of the always entertaining Claptrap is amusing, if not entirely necessary. There’s Wilhelm, who boasts cyborg implants and utilizes remote drones that can attack and heal, and there’s Athena, from The Secret Armory of General Knoxx DLC. She uses a shield as a weapon, which mixes up the gameplay quite a bit. Lastly, there’s Nisha, sheriff of Lynchtown, who loves to utilize a wide variety of guns. I selected Nisha, just ‘cuz she reminded me of Wild ARMs.
There is one surprising hurdle that I can’t forget to mention— If you’re unfamiliar with the Borderlands storyline, you’ll feel a little lost when playing The Pre-Sequel. In one way, it makes sense; after all, it’s an expansion of an existing storyline, so it stands to reason that players should be familiar with past events. That being said, it’s also a fast-paced shooter and fans of the genre often don’t give a fig about the plot. If you don’t care and have never cared, you’re good to go. But if you didn’t play the games before and you do care, you’re gonna feel left out. Fair warning.
Anyway, as always, Borderlands is all about the gameplay. It’s exactly what you expect with a few significant twists. First up is the zero-gravity mechanic which has a definite impact on the standard first-person shooter formula. You’ll be visiting the Moon and of course, there’s no oxygen up there. When outside, you’re going to continually lose oxygen and you must replenish your “Oz” dispenser in order to stay alive. This may sound a touch aggravating – and after a while, it can be – but the zero-grav environment also introduces a vertical dimension to the fun, and it’s pretty sweet. Fly through the air, execute devastating downward smashes, jump like mad, etc.
On the one hand, I really don’t like having to worry about another gauge. This new addition also starts to encroach on other parts of the game; sometimes, you’re more concerned with oxygen than anything else. Still, it’s a worthy extra that makes the game a bit more interesting and infuses the action with another dimension and more strategy. Another fresh addition is Cryo, which lets you freeze your enemies and then shatter them with a satisfying smash. This isn’t as intriguing, though; we’ve seen such a feature time and time again and really, by this time, the novelty has worn off. This feels more tacked-on and unnecessary than anything else.
However, I do like the new Moonstone currency, which can be traded on the black market to improve weapons and expand your inventory. It may sound like Eridium from Borderlands 2 and it kinda is, but it’s much more plentiful, which immediately makes the process much more dynamic. Plus, it really helps with the new addition of The Grinder, which combines three weapons of the same rarity and crafts them into one totally bad-ass new weapon. Tossing in a moonstone means the resulting weapon will be even more potent. The Grinder also means that the bevy of crap you normally pick up isn’t entirely useless.
And of course, loot-hunting is a big part of this experience, as always. You’re on the hunt for better weapons and equipment, and you want to reach that next Badass Rank. Skill trees are better than ever; they’re diverse and inventive, and they allow you to experiment with one character in a variety of different ways. This is the kind of character customization freedom that makes these games so darn fun, and it’s plenty evident in the new entry. It doesn’t feel gimped in any way, even if it’s not quite as long as the previous installment. This is indeed a fully realized entry designed specifically for the fans. Call it “fan service” if you want; doesn’t make it bad.
Sure, you’ll come across the occasional irritating boss fight, and you’ll sometimes feel as if you can’t really succeed without a few friends. As a solo enthusiast, this ticks me off. But it’s almost impossible to ignore the allure of multiplayer entertainment, as it’s always fast, fun, and super fulfilling. Borderlands remains one of the few games I’d actually want to play with others, and that says something. Perhaps it’s because I prefer co-op to competitive multiplayer, or maybe it’s just because these games are designed so well. The new features here aren’t exactly groundbreaking but they’re pretty cool, and the core of the franchise remains intact.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is fun. Perhaps that’s the simplest and best way to describe it. No, the story isn’t as enticing as I would’ve liked, the Cryo freeze feature doesn’t really enhance the experience, and the zero-grav idea has its drawbacks. But when all is said and done, this is Borderlands. Endless loot-hunting, fantastic co-op entertainment, excellent mechanics and animations, great design, and this overarching tongue-in-cheek comedy that makes you chuckle. It’s a no-holds-barred firefest with a few exotic twists, sans the revolutionary innovation. And you know what? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
The Good: Great design and animation; pushes the PS3. Entertaining voice performances. Diverse skill trees encourage experimentation. Zero-grav gameplay adds another dimension to the standard FPS formula. Love the Moonstones and Grinder.
The Bad: Story isn’t that special. Cryo feels a little weak. The new gameplay features start feeling tired after a while.
The Ugly: “Textures drag a bit…PS4 needed?”
10/17/2014 Ben Dutka