Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel review

    To begin, I'd like to mention I consider Borderlands 2 to be one of my top five video games of all time. They go: Skyrim, Dragon Age: Origins, Knights of the Old Republic, Borderlands 2, and Mass Effect 2.

    You might guess from these games, I'm primarily an RPGer, so it's to Borderlands 2's credit I put it on the list. The game is fun, has interesting characters, and is one of the best open-world experiences I've ever played. It was also funny, which deserves kudos by itself. I enjoyed all of Borderland 2's DLC and am planning to go through the first game when time permits.

Moon-bot! It's fun to say Moon-bot!
    Borderlands 2 and its DLC set up numerous sequel hooks: the existence of other Vaults, the assault on Hyperion's space-station above the planet, and the existence of other Sirens. Sadly, Handsome Jack was dead and his passing left big shoes for any successive villain to fill. Gearbox seems to have realized the latter as well, which is why this is an intrequel between the first and the second games.

    The premise is a modification of the "take back Helios" sequel hook. The player characters are one of four Vault Hunters Handsome Jack has hired to, what else, find a Vault. Two of the Vault Hunters are his minions from Borderlands 2: Nisha the Lawgiver and Wilhelm the Enforcer.

    The other two are a mysterious assassin named Athena and series mascot Claptrap. Playing the role of the villain's henchmen isn't so far from the normal Borderlands experience since all the Vault Hunters, with rare exception, are one form of anithero or another.

There's lots more guns--and that's really the whole point, isn't it?
    Handsome Jack isn't the CEO of Hyperion yet. Nothing more than a low-level programmer, Jack is acting way above his pay grade by hiring mercenaries. It's a good thing he did, too, because a legion of former Dahl corporation mercenaries seize control over Helios Station in order to prevent Jack from finding the Vault he's hunting.

    Keeping Jack from opening a Vault is a VERY good idea but it appears they're bad since they attack without provocation. Your character is forced to flee the station and head down to Pandora's moon, which is where you prepare to take back the station. This is where the game really begins.

    For the most part, the Pre-Sequel plays identically to its predecessor. The protagonists and their abilities are different but only slightly. Wilhelm, for example, doesn't have a turret but a pair of flying weapons platforms which heal him as well as attack his enemies. Claptrap is the most interesting character given his abilities are somewhat random. I've yet to play the others but am eager to give them all a try.

    Additions include the moon's gravity being low so super-leaps are now possible. Likewise, air pockets are scarce on the planet so you have to use oxygen tanks in order to move between habitable areas. This swiftly ceases to be a problem, though, as these air-pockets and habitable areas are huge in number. You can also kill Scavengers (replacing Bandits) for their oxygen tanks.

    Gravity slams are a feature as well, sending enemies flying into the air. Enemies are capable of making super-leaps as well and it sometimes becomes difficult to keep track of them in vertical as well as horizontal space.

Handsome Jack is still handsome. That's going to change.
    Long-time fan-favorite Scooter is replaced with Australian lesbian Janey Springs. Janey is one of the few inhabitants of Elpis possessing a moral compass. In a way, I regret the loss of Scooter because he's wonderfully repulsive but I'm interested in this new character. Hopefully, she'll show up in future installments but not replace Scooter permanently.

    So far, I'm seeing a lot of the same only with new environments and a few tweaks. This isn't a bad thing since there's no reason to change a formula which works.We see many characters from the previous games and their presence is always welcome. A few of these characters are contrived in their appearance while other new characters are blatant stand-ins for others (Pickle being Tiny Tina's replacement is particularly obvious) but I liked them nevertheless.

     If I were to give this game a fault, it is the fact the game has a lot of platforming. This is bothersome as I play Borderlands for shooting, not leaping into the air. The driving sections are more difficult, too, due to all the extra rivers of lava and ice. I can't count the number of times I accidentally drove into lava or got myself killed landing on something I thought was solid ground.

Enemies using rocket-packs and leaping around means foes are a lot harder to hit this time around.
    Fans of the series, of course, want to know what the weapons are like. As stated, the majority of them are the same but we an addition of both cryo weapons and lasers. These don't add an amazing amount to play but I found myself enjoying both. There's just something about firing a continuous steams of light into my foes or smashing them to pieces once they're frozen. The weapon drops are less generous this time around, which is surprising. Many of my best weapons came from vending machines, which I never expected to see.

    One addition I liked is the Grinder, a mid-game addition to your town-based services, which allows you to destroy three weapons in order to make a single better one. The addition of crafting to Borderlands is something I'm weary of but gives an additional use for the massive amount of guns you loot. If they carry over one element from the Pre-Sequel to future volumes, I hope it's this. At last, the Legendaries will be mine!


    The story is intricate enough I'll be doing a separate review later in the week. Actually, it's pretty simple but I love the Borderlands characters and could talk about them for hours. Unfortunately, much of the game is just an excuse to use Moxxi, Mister Torgue, Handsome Jack, Lilith, Roland, and so on again. There's very little of the drama from Borderlands 2 and the story is mostly straightforward.

    There's some stand-out moments like Mister Torgue using an exploding space-ship to destroy a laser gun which has offended his love of explosions. Fans might dislike how Handsome Jack is portrayed as he's initially sympathetic but I had no problem believing he was always an evil man who just needed the right stimuli to reach his full potential. Overall, though, the Pre-Sequel has a plot about as good as the ones from the DLC. Which is to say, they're a decent excuse for shooting things but not much else.

A picture of Lilith. Because REASONS.
    So is Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel as good as Borderlands 2?

    Hell no.

    This more or less an independent expansion pack in my mind. A side-story in the universe without much relevance to the main games. It's just an excuse to have more Borderlands 2-esque gameplay, which is not a bad thing. I give any game which can keep me consistently entertained for forty or more hours a ten out of ten and this game has done so. It's not a classic of modern gaming, though. It's more like a really-really expensive and long DLC.

    I hope they do more games like this in the future.

    Fans will appreciate more Handsome Jack and the development of several characters who died in Borderlands 2. They will also be glad to have more chances to shoot bandits in the face on a death-world. That certainly reflects my opinion on the subject. If this is the last video game I ever buy on Xbox 360, then I'm happy to say it's money well-spent.

    For the spoiler-filled review of the storyline, go here.


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