Starting up my Xbox 360 for Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel felt like something akin to the final voyage of an old warship; taking the old girl out for one more spin before being used as a target for torpedo practice.
Which is kind of an awkward starting point for the pre-sequel, because, as the title suggests it is the prelude to Borderlands 2 and the sequel to the first Borderlands and so, rather than wrapping anything up ends up writing itself into the position of most middle stories of a trilogy; kind of noisily not really going anywhere.
The game takes place on Elpis, Pandora’s moon, shortly after Hyperion’s arrival; with a younger and more handsome Jack taking place of the usual Angel to guide you through the story and providing exposition where needed. Unfortunately, for me at least, Elpis is an exaggerated Australia, with the accents ockered up until merely being in the same room as the dialogue makes you sprout bottle-cork hats, tank tops and cans of Fosters.
The moon is filled with all sorts of wacky characters, most of which reveal tragic backstories, in the usual Borderlands style, after a little digging. The cast of the first game is present, including fan favorites such as Moxxie and Crazy Earl apropos of nothing; although the Sir Hammerlock and Torgue trailer lets you know how much value the writers place in continuity.
Gameplay-wise, it’s basically a more expanded version of the previous incarnations; a feat most sequels to games seem unwilling to accomplish. New weapon and elemental damage types abound such as rail guns, laser weapons and cryo damage. The main change to gameplay, however, is the addition of the oz system.
On the face of it, it’s the oxygen kit you need to survive in Elpis’s atmosphere-less environment; practically, however, it allows you to discharge your oxygen in order to double-jump, maneuver more effectively around the battlefield and *groan* “butt-slam” downwards into enemies in a shockwave, ground-pound type attack. Using these abilities does drain your breathable oxygen, but there’s refill spots scattered everywhere and it’s only when you’ve really screwed up that this becomes an issue.
Weaknesses in nomenclature aside, the oz kit adds quite a bit to the traditional style of firefight; jump pads are everywhere as well, letting you rocket around in a style not dissimilar to Quake. The game rewards momentum in kind of organic way, with enemies being pretty liberal with grenades and other lobbed things that explode; any attempt to cower behind cover and pick away at enemies is quickly going to end up with your limbs being scattered around several post-codes.
I played as Wilhelm, the enforcer, who can kind of be considered an evolution of the commando classes of previous games. Partly because I was interested in his story and how he ended up as a mediocre-difficulty boss-fight in the second game, but mostly because my friends have such things as “actual jobs” and “lives”, so I was playing solo and his saint and wolf drones seemed the best compliment to playing by yourself (giggity).
Although his skills did kind of run counter to the freedom allowed by the oz kit, ie, letting your drones play the game for you; I found that spec’ing myself for close-combat allowed for kind of a compromise situation, running in and dealing, just, all the damage before running away and hiding behind a crate sucking my thumb while Saint regenerated me and Wolf mopped up the remaining lunatics and snipers.
The characters are also a lot chattier in this iteration. Usually this results in more than a few controllers embedded in screens as the protagonist repeats the same four or five catch-phrases ad-nauseam; however, as a result of, I’m sure, more than a few weeks of captivity in a sound booth, the vault-hunters have a broad array of sound-bites to keep things fresh, add some context to battles and other events while still being consistently hilarious.
Overall, The Pre-Sequel tells a relatively interesting story in its own right, despite feeling somewhat disconnected from the rest of the franchise, but it plays as all sequels should; the elements that players are all there unmolested and with more things to do and new ways in which to do them.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is a game that knows exactly what it is and offers it in a way that is fun, immersed in personality and, bucking the trend among more recent blockbuster games does not get in the way of the player having an awesome time.
Also, will somebody please be my friend and play with me?
This review was conducted on the Xbox 360. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is available on the 360, PS3, Windows and OS X.