Gearbox is keeping busy. After the disastrous launch of Aliens: Colonial Marines, all the skeptics wondered if the next Borderlands game might suffer a similar, mediocre fate. Rather than jump into Borderlands 3 straight away, they’ve opted to work on a co-op MOBA game called Battleborn, leaving many to speculate that they’re probably deep in the throes of readying Borderlands 3 for a current gen console release. In the meantime, PS3, Xbox 360 and PC gamers can enjoy Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, by 2K Australia. It’s a game that does a decent—but not spectacular—job of scratching the Borderlands itch until the next full game comes out.
The Stop Gap
If this “pre-sequel” had been a PC only release, it would have been called an expansion. It takes the graphics engine, interface and mechanics of Borderlands 2, and spices them up with a few tweaks and additions such as new elements like gravity and oxygen considerations, then wraps it all up in a decidedly Australian story about Handsome Jack, the man would go on to become the arch-villain of Borderlands 2.
The big changes here are a result of the game’s new location, Elpis, the moon of Pandora, which sits behind the massive H-shaped space station that hovered over Pandora in Borderlands 2. As a result of less gravity, no oxygen and some new types of elemental damage. The pre-sequel changes the combat somewhat while providing everything else that players expect; more loot, more zany missions, lots of pop culture references and FPS mayhem with a comedy bent. In a way, the pre-sequel’s closest parallel is Batman: Arkham Origins, a game with two titles by its original developer, while the third was handed off to a different studio as Rocksteady geared up for a next generation version. Warner Brothers Interactive, in that specific case, played it safe and simply created a new Batman game on the same engine with a new story and some minor changes to central gameplay mechanics.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is almost exactly the same kind of animal, right down to the overall quality of the experience. It’s a “safe” game in that 2K Australia took an “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to the Borderlands concepts, and have given players more of the same in a different location and set in the franchise’s past. And for fans of the series, this works. With new loot and some new mechanics to negotiate, the game feels just different enough that series fans will feel like they have something new to do, but none of it is so new or comprehensively integrated into the central mechanics that it feels like the pre-sequel is a genuine evolution for the series. The oxygen concept, while interesting, feels ultimately limiting, requiring players to either scramble for oxygen tanks when they drop, or be mindful of oxygen “geysers” and other sources while fighting, so as not to suddenly start taking damage when the O2 runs out. It’s doubtful this mechanic will make a return to the series past this game.
In many ways, the pre-sequel feels like a pleasant place-holder. It’s something to keep fans occupied while everyone waits for Gearbox to make Borderlands 3. The story is guaranteed to keep fans of the franchise happy, revealing a few more bits and pieces of the past of Handsome Jack, while remaining a bit obtuse to non-fans. This is definitely NOT the game that players new to the series should be starting with. The game assumes players are familiar with both the story and the central mechanics of the game, so it doesn’t get very detailed about explaining elemental damage or the usage of special abilities, counting on players to have familiarized themselves with these concepts for two games. And while the PC version is just as robust—if not moreso—than its console siblings in the online co-op play department, it lacks the local split-screen co-op option so beloved by roommates, siblings, spouses and other groups that want to play the game together in the same room without needing two machines and displays to do it.
If you loved the last two Borderlands games, you’ll like this, although it definitely won’t feel like a full-blown sequel that is evolving the franchise. If you’re not a fan of the series, this is not going to change your mind, since it’s just trying to do more of the same on a planet no oxygen and less gravity. A competent, conservative addition to the series that will satisfy fans, but won’t necessarily impress them.