I remember the first Borderlands. It stood out being impressive as the first ever First Person Shooter cum Role-Playing Game in a unique cel-shaded graphics setting loaded with hilarious quests and bazillion guns. It introduced four playable characters known as Vault Hunters. Then there was Borderlands 2, introducing four new playable characters with additional two available through downloadable content. But Borderlands 2 was famous for its insane missions and episodes that were made available as add-ons. The story grew and became intriguing as the characters backstories started becoming entwined and developed into a giant plot.
Naturally, that paves a reason for another sequel and while the community awaits a Borderlands 3, Gearbox hands over the helm to 2K Australia to release an extension to the timeline. Entitled awkwardly as Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! (BTPS), complete with an exclamation mark, this title attempts to enrich the drama and explore new mechanics instead of pushing the story forward.
Bonus point: If you have played the first two games (or at least have a save file), there are cool stuff awarded to you at the beginning of the game in the form of character enhancement options.
It starts off like a reunion as you are greeted with cameos of past characters, diving into a flashback. The agenda of BTPS is to reveal how the villain of Borderlands 2, Handsome Jack became who he is, and why he wears a prosthetic mask. In BTPS, he was introduced as a mere programmer who eventually took the lead of the Corporation. Four different Vault Hunters are playable in this game. I say ‘different’ because they are not ‘new’. Mini-spoiler: If you had explored Borderlands 2 sufficiently, you will know what these characters end up into, so BTPS gives you a prelude to the ‘transformation’.
What’s interesting in the selection this time round is that there are two female characters (Mr Torque shouts “gender equality!”), 1 male and 1 robot. That tin can is none other than ClapTrap, the annoying personality we’ve met since the first Borderlands, and I recommend playing as him (even if the game cautions you against it). His special move is one that triggers off a random ability, and one of them is laughing excessively. As before, all the characters have their own skill trees to customise your playing style.
The premise takes place on Elpis, a Pandora-like setting but this time up on the moon.
This new area allows the new mechanics to be explored – Gravity. The absence of gravity allows you to jump higher to overcome rocky obstacles and cause an area-of-effect slam when landing forcefully. Any life-form hit by the ripple of the slam will receive damage, and it is effective against multiple threats, especially useful when you want to conserve ammo.
But do you need to conserve ammo? Maybe, depends on your weapon of choice and how proficient you are in your shooting. But Borderlands is famous for being littered with crates and cabinets of ammunition and weapons, a huge difference from Destiny, which I was playing up to level 20 before putting it down to play BTPS. Switching from that game and coming here was like a kid returning to a playground full of toys.
Interestingly, Gravity also comes with a drawback. If you chose any of the human characters, you will be forced to take note of oxygen capacity through an O2 kit (or commonly referred to as Oz – because the game is by 2K Australia, geddit?). Once your oxygen supply depletes, your vision is partially impaired, forcing you to retreat to stationed supply points. This is seen as both clever but can be annoying. The only character immune to this drawback is ClapTrap (I guess that’s a tradeoff from tolerating his random power-up).
Unfortunately, nothing is perfect and gravity also confers an issue during quests progression. At times, the Heads-up Display (HUD) seems to not provide an accurate location of the object. As a result, I had to spend a little more time jumping on rooftops to look for the item.
Another new gameplay element is the introduction of The Grinder – a jackpot cum mixer device that allows you to throw in unwanted weapons along to spin off something fresh. This is much welcomed for those who like to experiment, but otherwise you can always sell off those you don’t want for something you’ve been eyeing on off the shelves from the usual suspects of the marketplace.
While there should be no order of sequence in tackling quests (as experienced from past Borderlands games), it seems to be important in BTPS. I also learnt a lesson from an early episode in which there was a sidequest and a main boss quest. I chose to go for the main quest first and despite several attempts and approach (even from recycling my available weapons) I could not defeat the boss. It is only when I decided to take on the sidequest first to gain some XP when I was rewarded with a special weapon that allows me to face the main boss with much ease. There was no alert from the game, and I wasted time and precious moolah respawning multiples times over. That was frustrating.
Having played the first two games, BTPS quests can become repetitive quickly with the same fetch missions and obliterating targets along the way just to get to the next fast travel station or location. It is fine when you have friends joining in the game, otherwise it is recommended to pursue BTPS missions in small bursts and at your own pace. Rushing to complete a couple of missions in one afternoon is not advisable.
At the time of writing this, the first downloadable content is already released in the form of Handsome Jack Doppleganger character and while this costs additional real money, I feel it’s a worthy investment, especially if you plan to get the Season Pass since you will get 4 content packs for the price of 3.
I sense that Gearbox and 2K team know how passionate the community are about Borderlands, and with the dawn of the newer consoles PS4 and XboxOne, I guess they’re secretly working on it and we will get to see the sequel we’re looking for eventually. Other than Season pass content of BTPS, there’s also the recently announced Tales from the Borderlands, a new episodic series.
Until then, BTPS does its job to keep the excitement going and is a great addition to your large library of PS3/Xbox360 titles.
Just one suggestion for the next instalment – With all the crazy customisation of characters, I’m thinking it will be cool to be able to toggle Borderlands into third person view. Agree?