Borderlands 2 was a pretty awesome game. It was funny, tragic, engaging, and complex. It had a plethora of memorable characters, a well written story, and moments that just made you bust up laughing.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, despite being a pretty good game in its own right, doesn’t quite measure up to the same standard. While it does do some things better than its predecessor, most of what it tries to do comes off as shallow and imitative, which is kind of regrettable considering the amount of potential the Borderlands universe has.
Let’s start out where the Pre-Sequel does do better than Borderlands 2: the gameplay. As far as gameplay is concerned, the Pre-Sequel is simply better than Borderlands 2. The mechanics that were introduced in Borderlands 2 have been refined, new concepts have been introduced, and everything seems a little more polished and well thought out than they were in Borderlands 2.
The most obvious change is the introduction of low gravity environments. While the Pre-Sequel isn’t the first game to explore low gravity environments (the concept has existed in gaming since the early 1990’s, with the first example I am aware of being Marathon), it is the first to employ it on such a grand scale. Most of the environments that you explore while playing the game are low gravity. In fact, low gravity environments are so common that the few areas of the game that aren’t low grav feel restrictive and sluggish.
This simple addition provides a huge amount of freedom for both player and developer simply because it allows for a whole new dimension of movement. Vertical movement in games is either limited to vehicles or jumping, but not so for the Pre-Sequel. With low gravity environments, whole new avenues of combat and level design are opened up. Players are suddenly able to explore not only on the main plane of the level, but also on all sorts of structures and places that they couldn’t before. Not only that, but the low gravity gives a new dimension to combat as well, something that the Pre-Sequel encourages players to explore by giving various combat bonuses while airborne, as well as throwing an overwhelming number of airborne enemies. This is a rather interesting and welcome change to the norm. We’ll have to see if other AAA developers pick up on it.
Going hand and hand with low grav environments is the addition of the O2 meter, or Oz meter as it’s called in game. As you might expect, you can’t just go waltzing through hard vacuum with no ill side effects. Quite the contrary; if you do you’re liable to need a new pair of eyeballs, and you can bet that Jack won’t be willing to share his.
This is where Oz Kits come in. They provide the oxygen neccecary for you to do all your treasurehunting missdeeds wherever the loot may lead you, be that indoors where oxygen is readily available, but in hard vacuum as well. Additionally they provide a number of other benefits as well.
First and foremost they allow you to double jump, albeit at the immediate expense of your air supply. This allows you to stay airborne longer, and reach areas that you would never have been able to reach, even in a low gravity environment. Ironically, even this starts to feel restrictive after a while, and I found myself wishing that I could triple and even quadruple jump.
Beyond letting you get to areas that would otherwise be impossible to reach, Oz kits also boost your combat abilities by a considerable amount, but only when you’re airborne. There are all the usual modifiers, like critical hit damage and fire rate, but there are more interesting modifiers as well. These can range from additional gun damage depending on how much (or little) air you have left, to just increased maneuverability when you’re airborne.
The last, and perhaps the most enjoyable, thing that Oz kits allow you to do is to “Butt Slam” opponents. No, seriously, that’s what they call it. When you’re airborne you can press the crouch key, which will rocket you to the ground, causing damage in a radius around your character when you impact. The higher up you are when you slam, the greater the damage. This is about as awesome and unwieldy as you might imagine, and some characters get more use out of it than others. For example, Athena, the Gladiator, likes to get up close and personal with her opponents, as well as an easy way to avoid damage. For her, the being able to slam down on targets is a like being able to lob an extra grenade. On the other hand, the relatively frail Nisha probably won’t get a whole lot of use out of it.
However, like almost any resource in any game ever, O2 is relatively limited. Some Oz kits have greater capacity than others, but in all reality it’s pretty rare that you find an Oz kit that lets you stay out in vacuum for more than 2 minutes. However, in most cases this limitation is almost entirely superfluous. Not only does every single enemy on Elpis drop O2 canisters, which will restore about 25% of your reserves every time you pick one up, but there are dozens of cracks and crevices in the planet’s surface that serve as natural resevoirs of the stuff. Even the vehicles have built in O2 supplies which never run out. In fact, the only time that you really even notice the limitations on your air supply is when you’re exploring, or during extremely long combats where the only time you touch the ground is to double jump away again. In fact, I don’t think I ever ran out in the middle of a fight. This means that, in all reality, the limitations on your oxygen supply are more of an annoyance than anything. Oxygen is almost irrelevant during combat, but keeps you from wandering too far from the beaten path. Ideally it would be the opposite: you constantly have to worry about oxygen in a fight, but be relatively free to explore as much as you wanted.
Another thing that annoys me about the O2 system are the oxygen canisters. While good in concept, they’re rather poorly done in execution, as you pick them up regardless of how much O2 you’ve actually used. Most of the time when you end up picking up a canister, you’ve only used a fraction of your supply, and since they replenish about 25% of your total oxygen, most of the time when you pick one up you end up wasting the grand majority of it. This is particularly true when there are 2 or 3 canisters right next to one another, which happens more often than you’d think. When this happens, you end up picking up all the canisters in an area, whether you need them or not, since any amount of air missing is enough to trigger a canister pick up. Still, this never proved to be a problem, even when I was playing with friends. However, given how common O2 is in the game, it begs the question why they made it scarce at all.
While I haven’t gotten to play all the vault hunters yet, the ones I have played (and the ones my friends have played) all seem to be both enjoyable and fairly balanced. Additionally, since most of the Vault Hunters from the Pre-Sequel appear in Borderlands 2, they give a bit of backstory to the game as well.
Nisha, the Lawbringer
This is the character that I actually beat the game with, and the one I have the most experience with. Most of her skills deal with either directly increasing her damage or making her active skill more useful. Despite this, she’s a bit lackluster.
Her active skill, called Showdown, is basically a 6 second aimbot that can’t account for movement and has the tendency to switch between targets like someone with ADHD. Between how short the duration is, the inability to track, and the tendency to switch targets willy nilly, you’ll probably spend more time spewing curses at the screen than you will actually killing opponents. Still, the skill can be incredibly rewarding when coupled with a high damage weapon, typically a Jacobs, a shotgun, or a laser weapon. Since you don’t have to worry about recoil, even the most ungaily weapons become incredibly leathal in your hands. Additionally, when you aim down the sights while Showdown is active, you automatically lock on to critical hit points, further increasing your damage output.
All in all, though, the skill would have been a whole lot better had they simply left out the aimbot part. I found an unfortunate number of situations in which my skill was practically useless because the target I was shooting at was moving too fast for the aimbot to compensate, where it would switch targets without prompting, focusing on missiles, mooks, and pretty much everything BUT the intended victim of my ire, targeting enemies behind walls or rocks that I had no chance of shooting, or simply missed completely. I would have much prefered to have my accuraccy increased to 100 and my recoil decreased to 0.
Still, once you get past her quirks and get a reliable weapon (preferably a laser, since they tend to hit instantly) she is by far the biggest damage dealer of the group.
Athena, the Gladiator
Athena, on the other hand, is almost entirely defenseive. Her active skill, Kinetic Aspis absorbs all incoming damage from a 90 degree arc in front of you for 11 seconds. At that point, you turn into good old Captain America and hurl your shield at an enemy, dealing all the damage that your shield absorbed while it was up, which can sometimes be an incredible amount of damage. Additionally, the cooldown is only 16 seconds, meaning that you can have it up almost half the time when you’re in combat. The only downside to the skill is that you can’t aim down the sights when you’ve got your shield up, meaning that you’re forced to adopt a spray and pray style of play, essentially limiting you to SMGs, assault rifles, and shotguns.
Wilhelm, the Enforcer
If Nisha is the damage dealer and Athena is the tank, then Wilhelm is the hybrid between the two. His skill, Wolf and Saint, while it has an unreasonbly long cooldown, is probably one of the most powerful in the game, at least early on. The jury’s still out on when he reaches the level cap.
Wolf and Saint digistructs two flying bots, Wolf and Saint, just like the name suggests. Wolf is a hunter-killer drone that will fly around seeking out enemies to frag, while Saint sticks around and protects its master. This gives him considerably more utility than his Commando counterparts from Borderlands 1 & 2.
Claptrap, the Fragtrap
Claptrap, on the other hand, has no distinctive role in the group other than to piss everyone the hell off. His skill, VaultHunter.EXE, essentially gives him a random skill from a pool. Some of these skills are better than others, and you can expand the pool through some of the skills in his various skill trees. These skills range from constructing a large bomb that you have to drop on an enemy before it explodes to turning you (and everyone in your party) into a pirate ship. With explosive cannons. Because why not.
Honestly, the best part about having a Claptrap in your party isn’t because of what he actually contributes, even though some of his skills can end up being quite beneficial, it’s because of the universal groans that he gets whenever he uses his active skill. For example, Wilhelm will say, “You’re an embarrassment to robots everywhere!”
This never ceases to be funny.
Probably the best thing that Borderlands did, though, is how it rebalanced the gameplay progression. In Borderlands 2, at least, you almost never felt truly threatened until you hit the level cap. This made for, let’s be honest, some rather boring gameplay.
The Pre-Sequel, on the other hand, lets you know that it means business almost right from the start. The enemies, while no smarter than the enemies from Borderlands 2, are a lot more capable of handing you your ass on a silver platter any time you decide to do something stupid. On the other hand, the guns the game gives you have significantly more bite too, leaving the game feeling a lot more mean and sleek than it’s predecessor.
All in all, the Pre-Sequel is a lot better mechanically than its predecessor was. The enemies are more challenging, the player characters are better balanced and more diverse, and the addition of laser weapons and low gravity environments only adds to the fun.
What it lacks, however, is soul.
Most of the characters that you meet in the Pre-Sequel are almost entirely forgettable, even the ones that you interact with on a regular basis. There are no Tiny Tinas, no Liliths, no Rolands, nobody that you really grow to know or care about. They’re all throwaway characters that, in the end, don’t matter in the slightest. Even the ones that have a semblance of personality are never given the attention that they merit, leaving the game to be little more than a grindfest for better guns.
Beyond that, the story is entirely lackluster, elaborating on trivial details that don’t matter, like the development of the Moonshot Cannon, passing over more interesting details, and even contradicting some of what was said in the Borderlands 2. Worse yet, the game completely fails to deliver on the story it promised: Jack’s descent into madness. In fact, Jack is almost completely ignored for the majority of the game, and his insanity just sort of… happens at the end, despite clear signals in the second game that he was quite the psychopath even before he came to Pandora.