I would probably class myself as a large Borderlands fan. I wouldn’t say the number one fan in the world, or the most competent – I certainly do not have the hours to spend with working out the loot drops, to know which bosses are the best to farm, nor finish the game on a 100% completion rate. I find that I progress relatively slowly through most games, usually discovering rare and legendary loot far behind other fans. My relaxed approach is the only I truly love and will probably be the only I will use.
The Borderlands series was introduced to me via my brother, who played the game exclusively with friends as a multiplayer team effort. The more I watched his playthrough, the more intrigued I got; especially when they finally defeated Crawmerax The Invincible. The incredible elation I felt in the room, and heard across his headset from his friends was all-encompassing. Since that very moment, I don’t believe I’ve seen him ever get as excited over a success.
This led to me borrowing the original Borderlands. In the disc went and I was thrust into the colourful and comical world of Pandora. An open world where each character is introduced with a cut-scene, where a lowly Vault Hunter could become rich and where the impending, mysterious Vault is hidden. I spent what is probably best assumed as the good portion of my year playing the game.
I proceeded onwards and upwards, straight to Borderlands 2. A delightful edition featuring four new vault hunters, and for all intents and purposes, your mission is to stop Handsome Jack from ruling over Pandora with his iron fist. This particular game features a host of amazing characters, from the older Vault Hunters from Borderlands to crazy explosions experts like Tiny Tina and your ultimate enemy, the ever so Handsome Jack. I couldn’t get enough of it – I played it after work, on weekends, on my days off, when I was sick – any time I had free I would play this game. Hundreds of hours, completing it several times over.
So as you can imagine, I was very excited to see the release of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. Developed by 2K Australia, I was excited to see what happened with Handsome Jack (in particular, why his face had a weird robotic mask) and to try everything out – new guns, levels, skills, anti-gravity – it was very exciting. When I turned up to EGX 2014 at Earl’s Court, my plan was to visit the 2K stand immediately, to join the queue and never leave until I’ve played the game. This is how dedicated I was – I knew I wanted to take the time to write independent games and others, but I had to absolutely, above everything else, see what the next Borderlands instalment was like for myself. The playthrough was only about ten to fifteen minutes – appropriate for if you are trying to shift through lots of players, but not so ideal to really get a feel for the game.
It was enough to tempt me in – I had played as Athena, the Gladiator, and had tried her special skill using Aspis – essentially a shield and a nifty boomerang-esque weapon. It was interesting to be thrown into the game, immediately killing enemies for fifteen minutes. I needed more, so I pre-ordered the game.
Perhaps I had already hyped it up a bit too much – I had prepared all the snacks, sweets and drinks I was going to consume over the course of 2 days. But something just fell short, or didn’t hit the mark. Why was I so disappointed and less involved in Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel? I haven’t even completed it at the time of writing this blog, because I’m stuck on a boss which requires me to be a higher level than I am. This means level grinding with no other purpose, because unfortunately I’ve done all the side missions already.
So let’s look into this a bit further. There has to be reasons why for me it just didn’t work out as well:
The Voice Over Script
Considering the number of glorious Aussie voices in the game, I was simply taken back by how much they all talked. Going up to a character meant accepting several minutes of chat; even half way through a mission you’d get more from them. I once ran across one of the bigger maps in the game listening to someone and managed to get to the other side prior to them even finishing their piece. After a while, during some side missions and during some cut-scenes, I just desperately wanted everyone to shut up, even for just five minutes. The script seemed to be 4 times longer than Borderlands 2 and considering the size of that game in comparison to this one, that’s an incredible achievement.
Okay, okay, that was a vent, I apologise. I just simply do not understand why there was so much conversation – in previous games, a little back story and context is provided throughout the game, but it didn’t seem to go on for hours. This one seems to always have something else to say, or to squeeze in that extra joke (which we’ll come to next), which may not actually be adding any value to the game as a whole. At times, it felt that, although we had completed the introductory / training missions, they still insisted on training you again. Put that here, put that there, press this, now run press this, now you’ll have to do this. The Borderlands series already runs the risk of repetitive and predictable missions by simply requiring you to run backwards and forwards for multiple missions (which is always usually found in a review somewhere online), let alone having someone narrate you through it. It makes it more obvious that you are repeatedly doing the same tasks just with different names on by doing this. This is where it becomes frustrating.
Now, I can take all sorts of humour. I love to laugh. I aim for my life to be filled with happiness and as many giggles as possible. I like everything from dry, sarcastic, dark, to slapstick or musical… all comedy is good. The Borderlands series has always done so well with humour – always putting in jokes which sometimes might be a bit ‘toilet humour’ but are pulled off by either not going too far and letting you figure it out and laugh for yourself. Or in your face stupid humour. Or little sneaky sarcastic humour, or humour between the lines. It all exists in Borderlands and Borderlands 2, with the latter being extremely on point. However, with Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, on occasion, the jokes seem to fall flat. It’s like having that dude in your office that makes horrendous puns and goes “yeah? yeah?” afterwards to try and gain validation. It just simply isn’t as funny. The toilet humour is too toilet humour, the sarcasm comes across as simply too mean… something is just off.
The majority of the game is fine – I get the jokes and they are funny. I’m just not laughing out loud, like I used to, like I thought I might.
Anti Gravity Level Design
The addition of anti-gravity in this game is incredible fun. Being able to butt-slam your opponents to death is a pretty fun and wacky way to kill off enemies you particularly despise – especially when you start adding all the elemental effects. There’s just one thing to keep in mind when you start adding this sort of gameplay; just exactly how easy is it to navigate around? I cannot recall the number of times I have been completely lost, on the wrong level (in height) or stuck wandering around the Veins of Helios trying to navigate the map and work out which section jumps to which section. It’s like being stuck in the car and unwilling to ask someone else for directions because you’re too stubborn.
On some levels it works wonderfully – for example, one of the first bosses you come to can electrocute areas of the floor, providing you with another obstacle avoid when battling him. On others however, it just becomes far too confusing. I wanted to be able to find all the ‘out of sight’ jump pads on the Veins of Helios, but I’m yet to even know where half the platforms I’ve already been on are.
The other issue is that, for a full priced game at the time, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel felt more akin to simply being a huge expansion pack for Borderlands 2, rather than a standalone game. This is a shame in some respects – the hundreds of people who put their heart and soul into the game have made what is a large game, but it doesn’t feel like it could compete with the first or second instalment for size and value.
There’s a Lot of Good Stuff Too…
I feel perhaps I have been a bit mean on this particular instalment. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is a fun game. It is great to play with friends – especially the absolute chaos with numerous Claptraps. Rubber ducky probably has to be one of my absolute favourites. The character classes are wonderfully varied, providing new opportunities to explore new skill levels and progression throughout the game. Handsome Jack is an incredible character with a lot to work with, with a great sense of humour which has been utilised in a fun way. It is also delightful to have a new game instalment to keep things fresh and interesting within the Borderlands world; and whilst I will play this through to the end, maybe even play it repeatedly to finish up other skill trees, it just didn’t have the same impact on me as Borderlands 1 or 2. It missed something… unique. Even the use of anti-gravity could have been more utilised (as long as it was not as confusing as the previous point I make about level design).
Is it worth it? Well that’s down to how much of a fan you are. I would be disappointed if I didn’t have it, and I would feel that I had missed out on key storyline elements and back story. I really do enjoy the character classes and it feels new and exciting with loads of new quests to complete. But if you’re looking for that brand new start, with unique and intriguing new missions and game play, it is not necessarily this game. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel feels more like taking a right at the fork where Borderlands 2 took a left, going down an interesting new path for a little while, but ultimately reaching the same destination or re-joining the Borderlands 2 path. All I can hope for is that the next Borderlands is something bigger and greater.