“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
When a gaming formula comes together in spectacular and commercial form, there’s a nasty habit of the gaming industry to tighten its grip around the functions and stay comfortably in their box for as long as possible (usually when the money stops flowing in). Borderlands 2 was a vast improvement over its predecessor in various ways, so much so that the community began salivating for expansions and DLC to keep things fresh. Larger than the usual DLC pack, but not quite its own game either, Borderlands 2: The Pre-Sequel! is something in between that offers little innovation, but overflows with everything that made BL 2 so entertaining.
If you’ve played Borderlands 2, things will seem very familiar here. You run around huge open areas on Pandora’s neon moon Elpis. You still shoot everything in sight, from bandits to nefarious space beasts, and the game’s core combat maintaining the satisfying mix of anarchic gunplay mixed with RPG elements. And yes, tons of loot explodes out from every chest, cabinet and enemy you destroy. It’s a compelling loop of shooting and looting that – even after spending 18 hours completing the main campaign – I found myself drawn back into, ready to try out new characters and take on the much harder True Vault Hunter mode.
The areas of the moon that you can explore are actually quite impressive in size, and there are still plenty of hilarious side missions to tackle, although many of the areas are quite similar and drab. To put it bluntly, you won’t feel shortchanged by The Pre-Sequel, but there isn’t much in the way of new gameplay methods or functions that make the Pre-Sequel fully unique and its own.
There are some new elements to keep the combat from getting too dull in the later chapters. Because of the moon’s low gravity, players quickly gain the ability to do double-jumps that add a new vertical angle to combat. Much like Halo matches or Destiny’s crucible, players can start jump-strafing and vaulting over enemy groups to mix things up.
While low gravity makes an ambient change to how you approach Borderlands’ combat, the different character classes form the backbone of how you play the game, and the roles in the Pre-Sequel are significantly different than previous games. Athena the Gladiator acts as the defensive core of the team, with a huge, rapidly-recharging shield that she can use to absorb bullets and chuck around Captain America-style to down her enemies. At higher levels, she can use her knife to turn herself into a homing missile of pointed mayhem. The now-playable Claptrap, still as upbeat and comically stupid as ever, has an action skill that randomly assigns insane, random status effects to the rest of the team, causing cursing and laughter all at the same time. Each class is markedly distinct, providing multiple, very different experiences that encourage a second, third, and fourth playthrough.
Most of the writing is on point as well. The world is as wacky and hilarious as ever, and Jack’s tale about his descent into madness and rise to power is one which worth telling. Surprisingly, he has some genuinely funny moments 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 hilarious (and demented) individuals.
Clocking in around 16 hours for the entire campaign, Borderlands 2: The Pre-Sequel! is another fun romp through the hyperbolized, sensational realm that Gearbox brought us into. It may not be the quantum leap improvement that BL 2 was over the first, but the humor, characters, and the promise of a cavalcade of interesting weapons is more than enough of an excuse for me to go back into the world of Handsome Jack and the future of Pandora.