The first two Borderlands games brought loot to first person shooters in a huge way, and in the process, proved to be massive hits with gamers. Now, with the arrival of Borderlands: The Pre Sequel, original developer Gearbox Software have taken a backseat, allowing 2K Australia to fire up the gun generator for another outing, with the hope of blasting players to loot heaven once again.
As the ‘pre-sequel’ title suggests, it slots neatly between the previous two entries in the series, and has you once again taking control of one of four vault hunters. Rather than recycling the classes of previous games, you’re offered up a brand spanking new selection, which includes Athena the gladiator, Nisha the law bringer, Wilhelm the enforcer, and series mascot Claptrap, who’s playable for the first time.
As before, each of the playable characters has a unique primary ability and skill tree, and by unlocking skills along any of your character's three distinct paths, you’re able to customise them to suit your own playstyle. Ultimately, though, it’s each of the protagonist's primary abilities that really shine, and as you level up and increase their potency, you’ll become more and more deadly. Whether you’re using Nisha’s ‘showdown’ to automatically target enemies, or Claptrap's less predictable ‘vaulthunter.exe’ — which randomly gives you an ability from a list each time that you trigger it — you’ll be absolutely decimating the opposition in a hugely satisfying way once your quest nears its end.
On the story front, the game opens with your band of vault hunters being hired by Jack — a Hyperion programmer who goes on to be the main antagonist in Borderlands 2 — to find a vault on Elpis, Pandora's moon. While on their way to meet their employer on the Hyperion space station, the group find themselves under attack by the rival Dahl corporation, who seem intent on stopping their hunt in its tracks, and putting Jack out of the picture forever.
In terms of Borderlands' lore, the pre-sequel provides a lot of backstory to the events of the second game. As a result, any enjoyment that you get from the tale will depend on whether you have any interest in finding out such titbits as why Jack became Handsome Jack, how he built his robot army, or why he has an irrational hatred of vault hunters. While none of these revelations are particularly amazing, they do flesh out the Borderlands world well by working in plenty of nods to both past and future events, while also weaving in familiar characters such as Mad Moxxi, Roland, and Lilith.
Disappointingly, though, the structure of the game has remained largely unchanged, and you’ll be picking up all sorts of missions from a motley crew of quirky quest givers who’ll have you run around Elpis on all manner of bizarre errands. While most of these don’t break away from the usual go here, kill this, or pick up that, the outlandish window dressing around these quests – a hallmark of the Borderlands series – is very much present and correct. This is great if you enjoyed this aspect before, but for those that found it a turn-off, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel won’t trigger a change of heart.
One thing that will immediately jump out to you about this title, however, is the strong antipodean influence that runs throughout the game's presentation. If the name of the developer didn’t already outright tell you where it calls home, the sheer volume of voice actors from the Australian neck of the woods should. While some may find this off putting, most will find the sensibility it brings to the game both fun and refreshing, especially when you find yourself bounding across the surface of the moon with your Oz kit, running a gauntlet of enemies to retrieve a cricket ball.
While most of the game's content doesn’t stray too far from the established blueprint, there are some attempts to change things up a bit, with several additions stemming from the low gravity and absence of an atmosphere on Elpis. The main one is the constant need to keep the oxygen supply in your Oz kit topped up. This mask enables you to breath for a limited time out in the lunar atmosphere, and you can refill your air supply a number of ways: by entering indoor environments, standing over vents, or looting tanks from fallen enemies.
Should you run out of oxygen, your health will begin to deplete, meaning that you’ll need to find some air to avoid an inevitable death. When you first come across this mechanic, you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that it might end up limiting your ability to explore the world properly, but it doesn’t take long to realise it actually has very little impact at all. This is due to there being so many sources of oxygen scattered around the world, and as such, running dry only ever happens occasionally, and when it does, picking up air not only replenishes your supply, but also restores any health that you lost. As a result, it’s unlikely that you’ll die from asphyxiation even once, leaving you to wonder why this pretty pointless addition even made it into the final game.
Fortunately, as well as stopping you suffocating, the Oz kit also lets you to expend air to boost your jumps a little further. While this may sound like a yet another small change, it actually means that along with your floatier jump that comes courtesy of the moon's low gravity, you’re afforded much more mobility than in the previous games. This allows you to hop around the world taking advantage of any verticality that you can find, and when used in conjunction with another new addition — boost pads — you can catapult yourself across the environment and onto new heights.
This also means that 2K Australia has been able to be more creative with some of the environment designs. As a result, there’s plenty of opportunity for locales that ask the player to undertake the sort of traversal not seen in Borderlands before — even if this does lead to some slightly annoying 3-D platforming.
Lastly, the Oz kit can be used as an offensive weapon by pressing the circle after you’ve launched yourself in the air. This boosts you straight back down to the ground, causing damage to any enemies unlucky enough to be in the immediate area. This inclusion means that Oz kits make up another category of loot to find, so you’ll be hunting down kits that not only have larger air tanks, but can also boost the damage of your slam attack — there’s even some kits that apply elemental damage to your offensive.
In addition to the Oz kit, there are also a few updates to the guns this time around, with a new weapon type and new elemental ice attacks that lets you freeze your targets before smashing them into pieces. While these add some fresh options to your arsenal – the newly added lasers can be particularly fun – you’ll still be picking up loads of trash weapons, and managing your overloaded inventory via the terrible menu system in the hope that you've picked up a few diamonds in the rough.
Despite the relatively meagre additions on the weapon front, the combat still satisfies, even if it’s not a whole lot different to what's came before. It’s especially fun when you’re blasting your way through legions of enemies in co-op, where even some occasional technical issues, such as wonky hit detection and enemies who clip into walls, won’t be able to dampen the fun.
Borderlands: The Pre Sequel plays very much like the previous entries in the series, with only minor additions being made to the formula. If you’re still up for more Borderlands, then you’ll find yourself right at home, but if you had your fill of the humour and gameplay after the last outing, then it may be best to hang up your holster and wait to see what the inevitable next-gen offering brings.