(Before you read this review, and before you play this game, do note that both contain a fair amount of spoilers for the Borderlands series.)
Origins stories are usually pretty neat. Diving into the past of your favorite character, learning the events that drove them to become the kickass fighting dude they are now is a pretty basic staple of many games. But how often to you learn the fears, triumphs, and heroics that led to the creation of your most despised villain?
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel takes place after the opening of the first Vault on Pandora in Borderlands 1 and just prior to the tyrannical rule of Handsome Jack in Borderlands 2. With promises of riches and fame on Elpis, Pandora’s Moon, Jack enlists the help of four familiar characters to search for a brand new Vault. Prior to Jack’s iron grip on the wasteland world, he was just a lowly programmer for the Hyperion Corporation. It’s in this state that you meet the man who becomes the monster.
First, the gameplay. After the initial announcement, many were quick to call the Pre-Sequel a glorified expansion pack, offering less content than the $60 price tag deserved. I can see where these complaints could come from; the Pre-Sequel is built using the same engine as Borderlands 2 and frankly looks exactly the same. The same start menu, the same title splash screen, even the same damn floating inventory panels. Don’t expect the same level of improvement we saw between Borderlands 1 and 2. Personally, I would not agree that the Pre-Sequel feels like a pricey add-on pack, though it gives the distinct feeling that you never quite stopped playing Borderlands 2.
Long-time Borderlands fans will feel right at home blasting away at Dahl soldiers, shielded lava vomit from the local fauna, and taking potshots at wisecracking bosses. The trademarked insanity and humor of the Borderlands series is alive and well within the Pre-Sequel, having me doubled over in laughter before the first full boss fight (who is hilarious and hilariously difficult).
New gameplay mechanics have been introduced to give the game some freshness distinction from its predecessors. On top of your characters shield, Vault Hunters now equip themselves with personal “Oz Kits” to survive the oxygen-deprived surface of Elpis. Running out of oxygen means scrambling to the nearest fill-up point (scattered liberally on the moon’s surface) or dying a slow, pathetic death. Players can also vent oxygen from their tanks to briefly glide around the map and rocket downwards for a brand new “Slam” attack.
Rather than play as the quintessential hero or the nomadic badass looking to do good, players choose one of four existing characters in the Borderlands universe. Rather than becoming a beloved, prolific character like Moxxi or Scooter, you take the helm of one of the four most villainous and hated stars of Borderlands. Players choose between the Atlas assassin/gladiator Athena from The Secret Armory of General Knox, Nisha the Sheriff of Lynchwood in Borderlands 2, Jack’s right-hand-man Wilhelm prior to his becoming a big robot monster, and everybody’s most despised Claptrap.
Visually, the game is pretty great. That would be a much more impressive statement if my gaming rig had anything better than a Core2Quad and DDR2 memory. However, my putsy Radeon 6850 spits this game along at 60fps just fine. Compared to my experiences with Borderlands 2, I would tentatively say that they optimized the shit out of the Pre-Sequel. Even my crap rig can run the game at 1440 with max settings. As was stated before, however, don’t expect any huge differences from Borderlands 2; the game runs on the same engine and thus looks pretty much identical. New textures feel unique to the new game, and I may be tricking myself into believing that the game’s sound may have been improved slightly. Gunfire sounds and feels a bit more responsive and developed than my memories of Borderlands 2.
Overall, I feel like I’m getting more than my money’s worth out of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. While it does reminiscence of Borderlands 2 constantly, the prequel seems like a unique and standalone game. I’m excited to see the changes and new content to be added through Gearbox’s pretty legendary DLC standards. Personally, I’m hoping for a sequel to Borderlands 2’s Assault on Dragon Keep. For long-time fans of the series, this is a no-brainer. Pick it up and have fun. For new players, I would recommend playing the first two games in the series first. The spoilers just in the first ten minutes of the game would ruin the story of the other games and much of the humor may be lost to those who don’t get the references.