Before there was Handsome Jack, there was John. He wasn’t so evil, he wasn’t full of hatred towards Vault Hunters but he always had that wicked sense of humour and a penchant for world domination. The truth is, John started out as somewhat of a hero – a different man to the one you know from Borderlands 2, and The Pre-Sequel charts his rise to power, allowing you to discover the story behind one of the greatest recent video game villains.
Prequels – or interquels in this case – are often better after having experienced the thing it leads up to. And while it’s often nice to see how the developers have planned Jack’s journey and just how everything ties in, this game might work better – or at least just as well – if you play it before Borderlands 2. Sure, when you do get to the next game you’ll miss the moon jumping and other improvements, but The Pre-Sequel feels like an introduction as well as an exploration of the second game’s main villain.
It’s not all about Jack, though. There are your usual bunch of ragtag Vault Hunters along for the ride. This time, they’re hired to find the Vault rather than being self-motivated, but these are more great characters with their own unique abilities and skills. I played as Athena, a Gladiator who can use her shield to protect herself, absorb incoming fire, reflect bullets, and even throw it back at enemies causing massive damage once upgraded. There’s also Wilhelm, an assault-type class with drones to control; Claptrap, who you’ll immediately recognise as one of the CL4P-TP robots from the previous titles; and Nisha, a lawbringing gunslinger with the ability to auto-aim her guns.
As ever, Borderlands is about the guns – there’s no count to how many there is in the game, with several types from pistols to automatic rifles or even rocket launchers, all with different stats, abilities and bullet types, randomised to create a procedural loot system which sits at the core of the game. There are some brilliant combinations here, with elemental damage even coming into play – including new types in Cryo and Laser – and you’re always looking for that next great weapon to use against the hordes of scavengers on Elpis.
That’s the moon, by the way. Elpis is where this game is set – not on the grounds of Pandora as per the previous games. While many systems and the inherent gameplay remain very similar to Borderlands 2, the fact that it’s set on the moon represents the biggest change for the game. There’s the aforementioned moon jumping, which allows you to float quite high, then either slamming back down to the ground to cause damage to enemies in proximity or take a more controlled descent (or ascent) with a boost, which uses up O2. It really adds some vericality to the gunplay, and is a welcome addition to firefights.
You’ll only have a limited supply of O2, and you’ll need this to breath when outside of oxygen-rich environments. Thankfully, oxygen management isn’t too difficult and while it limits exploration at certain points, you never feel as though you’re constantly clamouring to find a canister; it just comes naturally, with enemies dropping plenty of it as with other loot.
The areas of the moon that you can explore are actually quite impressive in size – this isn’t cut down compared to previous games because of the smaller mass of the world, and there are still plenty of hilarious side missions to tackle, although many of the areas (aside from the last, which is rather stunning) are quite similar and drab. To put it simply: you won’t feel shortchanged by The Pre-Sequel, and it certainly doesn’t take anything away from Borderlands. In fact, with the further enhancements to weapons, the ability to mix them together to create something better, the awesome array of moon-based characters and bosses, and even the new vehicles, this builds on the previous game enough to keep any fan happy.
All of the writing is on form too – the world is as wacky and hilarious as ever, and Jack’s tale charting his descent into madness and rise to power is genuinely one which feels like it’s worth telling. He’s really funny, too, and there’s a certain charm which permeates every corner of the game world, particularly the side missions where you’ll meet some downright delusional individuals – I think it might be a result of the high-oxygen environments on the moon.
The sense of progression is superb, as you’re trying to level up to get points for your chosen skilltree, or just trying to find that elusive legendary weapon, and it never feels like too much of a grind. While the gunplay could perhaps be a tad more refined – that goes hand-in-hand with the fact that there are billions of guns – it’s still great to play, and there’s a genuine sense of joy in finding and testing out new weapons, or using them against one of the many bosses, which are as awesome as ever.
The game is at its best when played co-operatively, of course, and does lose a certain something when you’re going it alone; you’re still able to do it, and the difficulty is balanced well between playing in each mode, but a lot of the skills are based on co-operative play, such as Athena providing close-proximity health regeneration, or being able to revive players by throwing her shield at them. It’s definitely best to get a few friends – ones which won’t claim all of the loot for themselves – and each play as different classes in this one.
It’s quite interesting playing on the other side of things, and there are certainly a few moral and ethical questions to Jack’s motives. You can’t change his mind, of course, but it does create some interesting plot points throughout. Of course, there has to be an opposing side and while the antagonist of this story (no, not Jack) is quite weak, several familiar faces pop up and it’s interesting to see how they react to the situation at hand, and the uprising of Jack.
In terms of visuals and sound, it’s pretty much identical to Borderlands 2, although it’s still quite good looking at some points and the skyboxes can wow at times – there’s also a lot of Australian voice acting, a fact which the game itself lampoons. There’s a noticeable amount of texture pop-in as you enter an area, however, which can be quite jarring. It’s not without its fair share of bugs too – there’s nothing game breaking but it can be annoying when you’re unable to place something down or pick something up, and the signposting is bad at times, which suggests that the level design is a bit off since it wasn’t quite as bad in Borderlands 2. This won’t spoil your adventure, though.
To say that Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is nothing more than Borderlands 2 on the moon would be a disservice to the hard work that the developers have put in, and the new features that are definitely noticable. It’s not better than that game, but it’s pretty much essential for anyone seeking out more Borderlands, or someone eager to learn more about the lore of the universe. The Pre-Sequel is a superb action RPG which anyone can jump into, with tons of guns and plenty of fun to be found.
Version tested: PC