Every once in a while a game comes along that really makes an impact on the gaming industry, and Borderlands is one of those games. Many people found something to love in the shoot-and-loot gameplay style and dark humor that Gearbox’s lawless wild offered us. A continuous stream of robust DLC made sure that nobody forgot about Borderlands or its sequel as we got massive expansions, new characters, and difficult challenges. With a new generation of consoles, fans began clamoring for Borderlands 3, but Gearbox opted to go with a connecting story between the first and second games on the last generation of consoles. I can’t help but wonder how the experience could have been improved if it had not been.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is not a bad game. In fact, it’s a great game, with all of the traditional Borderlands elements that we have come to know and love — unless of course you don’t love them, in which case you can find the door because you won’t like this game either. My biggest issue with The Pre-Sequel is that it doesn’t really feel like Borderlands 3, which I guess is a good thing, because it’s not Borderlands 3… but it doesn’t ever scream out that it is a new game. It feels like another expansion to Borderlands 2 — a massive expansion at that, but without doing anything innovative enough to really set it on its own. Perhaps that was the idea behind it. Maybe this is just our stopgap to bide the time until the inevitable Borderlands 3 releases on the new generation of consoles, which the story strongly hints towards.
I guess that story is as good a place to start as any. The Pre-Sequel’s story is fantastic. They manage to connect elements of the first game, answer many questions that I personally had about the second, and still provide that amazing sense of humor with very dark undertones that the series is known for. On top of that, even with the game’s story being before Borderlands 2, they manage to set the stage for another numbered title. Many familiar faces reappear (or pre-appear) and in traditional Borderlands style, the multitude of side missions provides you with more insight into the world and characters that you are working with.
The cast of supporting characters introduced in The Pre-Sequel felt a little weak and unmemorable to me, and characters like Mr. Torgue and Hammerlock were only given brief cameos for side missions that didn’t really connect with the overall narrative. This was a minor fault though, because Jack is truly the star player here. Knowing that he becomes the ego-maniacal bad guy in Borderlands 2, it was amazing to see him walk a dark path from a simple guy with a bit of an ego to one of the most memorable villains in gaming history. That aspect alone makes this a game that every Borderlands fan should play.
In gameplay, the slag element is gone (it wouldn’t make sense with when the story takes place), but it has been replaced by the cryo element which can freeze enemies and allows you to deal bonus damage when they are frozen. The classic Borderlands weapons are back, and they are joined by the new “laser’ gun.” This weapon became both my favorite and least favorite as stats like fire rate and accuracy can drastically change the type of laser gun that you have, from an inaccurate continuous stream that does more damage over time, to a slow shooting yet extremely powerful laser cannon. As is usual for my Borderlands experience, I never found one gun that I latched onto and had a ton of fun playing around with the massive variety that the game offers.
The addition of low gravity and oxygen deficient environments is actually what marks The Pre-Sequel as a different game from its predecessors (and/or successor? This pre-sequel thing gets confusing). Players can now equip an O2 canister that will help them breathe in atmospheres that lack oxygen (except Claptrap. He’s a robot. He doesn’t need to breathe), as well as allowing oxygen to be expended for a boost jump, which is a ton of fun in the low gravity areas of the game and certainly changed how I both traversed the environment and approached combat situations. In mid-jump you can perform a butt slam, which is basically a ground pound. The elemental effect and damage output of the butt slam can be adjusted by equipping different O2 canisters. I feared that O2 management would get annoying but it actually lent itself to the most fun features of The Pre-Sequel without requiring players to babysit their O2 excessively — and if you play as Claptrap you won’t have to babysit it at all.
For my wife and I, the couch co-op experience is something that really helps to elevate Borderlands, and The Pre-Sequel still provides an awesome multiplayer game. One annoyance that I’ve always had with couch co-op in Borderlands is the frame-rate dips, particularly when one player has a menu open. The Pre-Sequel maintains this “feature,” and while never gamebreaking, it can get periodically annoying if your co-op buddy decides to manage their inventory while you’re in the middle of an insane firefight. While I assume this small fault doesn’t carry over to the online multiplayer, I did not get an opportunity to test it out, so I cannot say for certain how the online co-op performs.
Graphically, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel doesn’t expand much, if at all, beyond Borderlands 2. Environments were a little bit less memorable that the varied areas of the numbered games, but there is only so much you can really do with a game on a moon. The traditional Borderlands cel shading is here, as is the texture load in anytime you boot up the game or go to a new area. In fact, most of the menus and visuals maintain the impression that this could have been an enormous add-on for Borderlands 2. I’m glad it wasn’t, because Jack’s story deserves the full game that it got, but without making a numbered sequel or moving to the new generation of consoles, it may be hard for people to see this as a proper Borderlands game.
Playing as Claptrap is hilarious and never gets too annoying, low gravity adds a whole new facet, and the story of Jack’s rise to Handsome Jack is a dark yet hilarious narrative that was definitely worth telling. Future plans for expansions and characters indicate that we’ll see that same kind of support for The Pre-Sequel that we saw for both of the original games, which is great news for anybody simply wanting more. The Pre-Sequel isn’t a bad game, but it certainly isn’t a game changer. For a Borderlands fan, The Pre-Sequel is really a no-brainer, but don’t expect anything massively new or innovative outside of the small tweaks. Instead, enjoy a bit (read: a lot) more Borderlands until Gearbox can show us what the series will become on the new generation of consoles.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel review copy provided by publisher. For full information on scoring, read our Review Policy here.