Borderlands: The Presequel (Spoilers Ahoy)
I’m a fan of the Borderlands series. I enjoy the goofy, off-the-wall and usually more than a little inappropriate humor as much as I do its occasionally biting social commentary. That’s why I was so excited to play Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel.
Set between Borderlands and Borderlands 2 (hence the “pre-sequel” moniker), Borderlands: TPS (that’s what we’re calling it now, because I’m already tired of typing the entire title out and we’re not even through the second paragraph yet)walks the player through Handsome Jack’s origin story. If you’ve ever wondered how he became Hyperion’s megolomaniacal CEO, or what happened to his face, this game answers those questions. Yuo also play a part in creating some of Borderlands 2’s most frustrating baddies.
Unlike its predecessors, Borderlands:TPS isn’t set on the planet of Pandora. Instead, it takes place on Pandora’s moon, Elpis, which is an entirely new setting only if your definition of “new” is “basically exactly the same, only we changed the names”. The biggest change is due to Elpis’ low gravity; instead of running, the player bounds from place to place, taking giant leaps fueled by the oxygen tank you’re forced to obsessively monitor to avoid an agonizing death by suffocation. The low-gravity mechanics might have been fun if they hadn’t made me so horribly motion sick.
Combat mechanics are almost identical to those in Borderlands 2, which is to say they were super fun. Laser rifles are a new addition to the Borderlands arsenal, much to the dismay of the ultra-masculine yet charmingly socially-aware returning character Mister Torque. (They don’t explode. What use is a gun that doesn’t explode?) There are no surprises in how the combat handles in this game, which could feel tedious if it weren’t so polished. I encountered very few bugs, and those I did run across were amusing rather than frustrating.
I played as bounty hunter Nisha, who appears in Borderlands 2 as the Sheriff of Lynchwood (and Jack’s girlfriend, which may have had something to do with my reasons for playing her). Nisha’s action ability is called “Showdown”, and when it’s activated she both gains several buffs and aims automatically at your enemies, scoring critical hit after critical hit. I’m generally not very good at shooters because I aim too slowly, so Showdown made my experience exponentially more enjoyable and made combat far more manageable.
The game’s story is presented as a tale told by Athena, one of Borderlands: TPS’s playable characters, to Lilith, Mordecai, and Brick (three of the player characters from the original Borderlands) after the events of Borderlands 2. This generation of vault hunters is hired by Jack to track down the vault on Elpis. They journey to Hyperion Corporation’s Helios Station, which orbits the moon, but their meeting with Jack is canceled because of an invasion by this game’s antagonist. Tungsteena Zarpedon takes over the space station and starts attacking Elpis with a giant laser, rambling about destroying the world to save it. She’s clearly lost her damn mind and must be dealt with, which becomes the Vault Hunter’s priority.
Jack is once again the best part of the game. He presents himself as a Really Nice Guy at first, but as you progress further into the story it becomes clear that he is the same raging asshole we all desperately enjoyed punching in the mask at the end of Borderlands 2. Borderlands: TPS suffers from the lack of a real antagonist, because Zarpedon feels more like an annoyance than a threat. Once that annoyance is eliminated (about halfway through the game) the search for the vault feels like a chore. The highlight of the story is the very end: a giant cliffhanger that leaves the player yearning for the next installment in the Borderlands series.
Jack may be the best part of the game, but he’s hardly the only enjoyable character. Borderlands veterans Roland and Lilith make a return, along with vampy Bartender Moxxxi. This time around we get to see new facets to Moxxxi’s personality, and seeing her as a mechanic and a technical wizard was deeply satisfying. New characters like junk dealer Janey Springs add flavor (and questlines!) to the game.
The brightest spot in Borderlands: TPS was its casual inclusivity and biting social commentary. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual characters are included in the world as a natural part of it, rather than having their sexuality presented as a defining trait. Mister Torque pulls a “nice guy” early in the game, only to pipe in during the narration to apologize for his ignorance. These little touches left me feeling good about playing this game. My biggest complaint on the inclusivity scale is that I didn’t feel like people of color were adequately represented.
Overall, however, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is a strong game that stays faithful to the Borderlands formula. It’s not terribly innovative or exciting. It’s just good fun.