My previous experience with the Borderlands franchise amounts to watching a few parts of a Let’s Play of its first installment. I know that it is a gaming phenomenon, racking up prizes and acclaim with every iteration and I can see why. The beautiful cell shading graphics, the humor, the class variety, gameplay and the option to play single player in co-op mode made this game series one of the most recognizable ones. So, where does this pre-sequel stand?
Story-wise, Borderlands The Pre-Sequel is promptly shoved between the 2 main games and presents the player with 4 new playable characters, all of who were simple NPCs until now. As opposed to previous games, where each character had its own clear-cut role, things get a little bit mixed up, because each character can learn skills which will help not only himself, but also his allies and doesn’t limit you to one battle strategy. So, let’s meet the characters, shall we?
Meet the Characters
Wilhelm is a cyborg who likes to upgrade himself with various robotic parts as he moves up in level and has at his disposal 2 drones, one which spreads death to his enemies and one which will provide healing and buffs to the rest of the team. Fierce and techno-riffic, he makes engineers squee with joy.
Athena is no Greek goddess, but she kicks ass all the same. As you can tell from the shield, her role is a sort of tank, being able to deflect incoming damage. She is also able to throw her shield and hit multiple enemies, Captain America style.
This gun-toting sheriff is a bad girl, for whom killing is as easy as blinking. Her special ability is for a short time to gain perfect accuracy and some buffs, thus making her invincible in any high noon encounter with bandits, creatures or people she doesn’t like.
Now we come to Claptrap, that tiny robot revolutionary who just won’t shut up. During my short playtime, this is the guy I picked, just to see how bizarre the experience would be. First of all, I would like to share with you what happens when you try to pick him.
However, despite the apprehension you may feel towards picking him, he doesn’t need to breathe (because this game takes place on an airless moon, oxygen is a valuable resource) and thus you can use your oxygen propulsion more liberally. His special ability (whose name ends with .exe, because of course it does) analyzes how he may be of help to his crew and chooses the best course.
Speaking about gameplay in a vacuum, without acknowledging the other iterations is both objective and necessary, as I have stated that I haven’t played them.
You play, of course, from a 1st person perspective, you start off with access to 2 gunslots at once time, with the possibility to unlock 2 more as you level up, the weapon types vary from pistols, sub-machine guns, assault rifles, shotguns, sniper rifles etc. You have some throwable weapons, such as grenades and of course your melee, varying from character to character.
You can also spice up your weapons by adding some effects (incendiary, Shock, Corrosive, Explosive, Cryo) which work well against certain protections (Shock works well against shields, Corrosive against armor, etc.).
As equipment, you have a regenerating shield, which protects your precious health from leaking away (the health is not regenerating within the game, although you will find healing shots in most every loot hoard). The fights against melee enemies usually amount to dodging attacks or simply running away while pelting them with bullets. Meanwhile, against the ranged enemies (which will try to flank you if you give them the chance) you can either fire away while popping your head from cover when your shield is regenerated or go with the aggressive route and try to out-flank them.
Of course, every enemy has his weak spots which will trigger critical hits (usually the head) and each of them is weak against certain types of effects depending on what their defenses are.
The loot is everywhere, so you most likely won’t run out of ammo (exploration is key) and money. And even if you do, the equipment and ammo vending machines will make your life as a vault hunter easier… at a cost. Quests range from recovering items, to making motivational posters, to just straight up wiping out entire villages worth of scum.
As oxygen is one of your most important resources in this game, the game devs have seen fit to place oxygen geysers all around the moon, thus making the threat of you running out of air next to impossible. Also, from time to time you will encounter air shields, where you can be safe and properly oxygenized while you bust the heads of the critters who were following you. And of course, buildings come with their own air shields too.
When you place the above elements together, the resulting gameplay is mostly fun, although the fights could get a bit too repetitive after a while (at least the ones with the creatures). For the most part, it contains great concepts, put into practice very effectively.
Let’s get to the way this game looks, sounds and feels. The graphic options are many:
This is a good thing, because the each gamer can optimally configure them to their own machine. The already familiar cell shading visual style is still admirable to look at, bringing life to a usually lifeless rock in space. Sure, it’s not ultra-realistic, but the cartoonish style suits the cartoonish atmosphere, characters and dialogue (adult cartoonish, of course, because of all the blood and verbal violence).
Soundwise, everything seems in order. Many characters have Australian accents (it’s made by their Australia studio, makes sense) and their performances are above decent, despite the story which, many say, is quite convoluted. These 2 elements combine into an otherworldly atmosphere, in which (almost) nobody can hear you scream.
Just to be clear, this is not a review, I haven’t gone through the entire game and thus I’m not here to give you a complete picture of what the whole game is. However, from what I have experienced, it’s a well put together FPS/RPG, with fun gameplay, kickass weapons, heavy skill customization, tons of mostly good humor, oceans of loot and a few new mechanics from the previous games. If you are a fan of the series, then this is a must-buy. If this is your first Borderlands experience, Borderlands The Pre-Sequel is a fine place to start.