So, vault hunters. You’ve come back for more. And this time your adventures will take place on the moon. A change of scenery is always good. Especially considering I’ve spent over 400 hours on the first Borderlands and at least 200 on Borderlands 2. It’s fair to say I know my Borderlands. But Borderlands 2 failed to create that spark within me that made me take days off work and just generally attempt to avoid everything that wasn’t Borderlands. So I visit the moon in the hope that spark returns.
And because this is a moon that comes with a nice fat helping of low gravity gameplay. Sadly low gravity isn’t as fun as 2K Australia seem to think it is. After the first couple of higher-than-normal jumps the novelty has more than worn off. And so you spend most of the game hitting your head on low objects and just generally wishing you could jump, run and sprint the way you usually do. Sadly it’s nothing more than a gimmick wedged into the game. Adding the need for topping up oxygen reserves and an associated item, called Oz Kits, for you to loot increasing your tanks and providing various other abilities really doesn’t do enough to validate it. If you remove low gravity, the need for oxygen and the ‘Oz Kits’ completely out of The Pre-Sequel nothing would change and in fact the gameplay would be much less cluttered.
Borderlands hasn’t returned to the original ways of an almost irrelevant plot and constant instances of ‘what was that guys name?’. Although truth be told that never bothered me and the first Borderlands, irrelevant plot and all, is still my favourite. The constant humour and general foolishness are perpetual in The Pre-Sequel. Borderlands still remains the only game that can genuinely make me laugh. And I don’t mean the odd chuckle or a smile I mean actual audible laughter. But The Pre-Sequel doesn’t quite have the same punch that Borderlands 2 had.
Instead it attempts to make up for less quips and quick-witted pop culture references by offering a unique perspective. Any of the characters you can play as, except for the beloved Claptrap, is a villain. The concept that Handsome Jack isn’t a villain in his own mind is further explored in The Pre-Sequel by putting you in control of one of those villains. The game is set far enough in the past that there are plenty of notable characters for you to see periodically and on occasion even interact with.
But all this really does is convince you that you’d rather be playing as someone else. I was a Mordecai guy myself and I accepted the events that transpired in Borderlands 2 only because it hit me so hard (seriously I swear I shed a proper tear). My co-op partner played Roland and again we all just had to accept the outcomes of Borderlands 2. Even then all we really wanted was to play as the original characters but the franchise moved forwards so we learned to love our new roster of Vault Hunters.
In The Pre-Sequel this is taken to a new level. We know what happens to most of the characters and we know what happens in the overall story. Being constantly reminded that the plot you’re in and the characters you’re controlling and meeting have totally predetermined endings doesn’t allow you to even come close to feeling connected with your characters. If the second Borderlands strained the relationship between player and character then The Pre-Sequel totally dismantles it and burns it. At least in Borderlands 2 there could be meaningful events. That simply isn’t possible without feeling connected to a character and The Pre-Sequel doesn’t even try to make room for such a connection.
Those things aside, The Pre-Sequel does things much the same as other Borderlands titles. The addition of the ‘Grinder’ vending machine allows you to sacrifice three guns and have a chance to turn them into something better – or at least rarer. So if you put in 3 uncommon pistols you get a chance to get a rare pistol. If you put in three different weapon types of the same rarity you might get any one of those weapons. The odds of ‘winning’ and getting a good return are surprisingly high for Borderlands, or any loot-em-up really, and from my experience seem to give around a 50/50 chance of either returning a weapon of equal rarity to the parts provided or one of higher rarity. Rather generously you can also spend moon-shards on the process and guarantee the best result. In the end game this is a fantastic way to scrap loot when the shops no longer cater for your needs and also gives you a way to spend shards rather than them becoming totally redundant after you’ve bought all the SDUs.
I didn’t get that feeling I got jumping from the first Borderlands to the second. The Pre-Sequel is built using the same engine as Borderlands 2 and there are no obvious mechanical or visual improvements. Even at its best The Pre-Sequel feels like DLC. Admittedly this would be the mother of all DLC’s but really there’s less difference between Borderlands 2 and The Pre-Sequel as there is between the first Borderlands pre and post Knoxx’s Armoury. And that just stings a little bit.
And it’s not the only thing that stings. There are regular frame rate drops, especially when using some of Borderland’s more interesting weapons. Early game I used a unique MIRV (which is a type of grenade that separates into various child grenades before exploding) which boasted double the child grenades in the flavour text. And they did, often at risk to my own life, but they were very effective in the right circumstances – small rooms being a particular specialty. But for both me and my co-op partner frames dropped to 1/second and beyond so I just had to stop using them. More general ‘lag’ is a problem too and clients in particular can expect regular momentary interruptions or the need to press reload at least twice. By the third game this should be sorted. Especially given the decision to play it safe and release the game on last gen tech using the same engine, this really shouldn’t be happening anymore. Claptrap himself says it best in the game “This is prooobably fixed. Someone else’ll test it, anyway.”.
It’s impossible to see The Pre-Sequel as anything other than DLC. Due to its very nature as a prequel we know what happens to the world and its characters. Putting plot aside, never too challenging in a Borderlands title, the gameplay is exactly like Borderlands 2 with low gravity forced in as an attempt to refresh the gameplay. The grinder makes a noticeable, and welcome, change to late game looting but it’s still something that could’ve been added with DLC.
With very few new features and old hardware the latest instalment of Borderlands does virtually nothing to move the franchise forward. But The Pre-Sequel is undoubtedly good fun and thankfully Borderlands hasn’t lost its identity. Humour is still integral but all your favourite characters remain off limits and serve only to make playable characters feel like third place; second place being won already. That is except Claptrap who you won’t be seeing because he is playable. Instead you’ll be presented with more generic Claptrap units than ever. They’re still funny but they’re not our beloved Claptrap who first opened a gate for some wannabe Vault Hunters way, way back in the early days on Pandora. The Pre-Sequel is good fun but it is a prequel in both title and design. For the true Borderlands experience the first game and its DLC’s are still the way to go. I’m starting to think they always will be.