One of the many things that made Borderlands 2 into a massive success was its brilliant villain – Handsome Jack, Hyperion’s megalomaniacal CEO. Given the character’s popularity, it wasn’t that much of a surprise when Gearbox announced Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, a game about Jack’s rise to power and descent into villainy. But is The Pre-Sequel just a lazy cash-grab making the most of the last game’s success, or is it a genuinely great instalment in the franchise?
Set on Elpis, Pandora’s inexplicably Australian moon, The Pre-Sequel tells the story of how Jack went from a well-intentioned programmer to the sadistic overlord we all know and love. As usual, you’re one of four Vault Hunters – Athena the Gladiator, Wilhelm the Enforcer, Nisha the Lawbringer, or Claptrap the joke character – hired by Jack to find a Vault on Elpis. The plan goes awry when the Lost Legion, a fanatical army of Dahl soldiers, take over Hyperion’s moon base and start firing giant space lasers at Elpis. It’s up to you and Jack to save the moon, and the Vault within it.
Gameplay-wise, it’s Borderlands 2. There are guns, lots of guns, and you shoot them at bandits, either by yourself or with up to three friends. And, like Borderlands 2, it’s fun. The Pre-Sequel adds laser guns to your arsenal, which are pretty cool and do feel noticeably different from the other weapons. Cryo weapons, a new elemental type that freezes enemies, have also been added.
The main change in gameplay comes from the moon setting – there’s low gravity, and you’re going to need oxygen to survive on the moon’s surface. When in a vacuum you’ve got to keep track of your slowly-decreasing oxygen supply, and you can use it for more things than breathing. You can boost your jumps, essentially using your oxygen as a jet pack, and slam down onto enemies from above with an AoE attack. It all fits into the game pretty seamlessly, opening up exploration and new approaches to combat, and there’s enough oxygen around that you won’t spend half the game worrying about it running out.
Unfortunately, The Pre-Sequel quickly becomes repetitive. There isn’t much enemy variation; most of the game is spent fighting the same three or four types of bandits or the Lost Legion. The areas are pretty repetitive as well – an endless array of slightly-differently-coloured rocky moonscapes with occasional falling-apart industrial areas.
In general, it’s just not as tightly designed as Borderlands 2. If you want to do all the side quests then there’s going to be an awful lot of backtracking and fighting the exact same groups of enemies again and again. The maps aren’t particularly fun to explore and it can easily become a grind. It’s also pretty glitchy – nothing major, just a bunch of annoyances such as quest objectives not triggering correctly.
One of the defining things about Borderlands 2 is its humour – it’s one of the most consistently funny games I’ve played. The Pre-Sequel, however, feels like it’s trying too hard. The new developer, 2K Australia, seems to have made the most Australian game ever, and lots of the jokes and references just didn’t work for me. Most of the humour falls flat and the new characters are either bland or annoying. This, combined with the weaker design, makes side-questing a real drag – without funny dialogue and entertaining characters, the side missions are just dull. One good thing is that the playable characters actually talk now, and other characters have custom dialogue based on who you’re playing. The Vault Hunters actually feel like part of the world, and that’s definitely something that should be kept in the inevitable Borderlands 3.
The main story is actually pretty good once it gets going. There are some nice character moments and setpiece scenes in the main plot, though the pacing is a bit off – the last mission in particular just drags on and on. The main plot is where returning Borderlands 2 characters show up the most, and they’re by far the best-written and funniest characters in the game, particularly Jack. His character arc is well-handled, and he continues to be the most entertaining thing in the game.
The Pre-Sequel is not as strong as Borderlands 2, but it has some fun moments and if you’re a Borderlands fan you won’t be wasting your time if you give it a go. The combat and ridiculous guns are still entertaining, the side quests and new characters are mostly dull, but the main campaign is good fun, expanding the Borderlands universe and setting up some good stuff for later games. If you’re new to the franchise though, this isn’t a good place to start. Pick up Borderlands 2 instead.