Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!: A breath of fresh air

October 20, 2014


Borderlands doesn’t step tenderly around anything, and the developers’ devotion to a joke or a theme is to be applauded. Dogged determination doesn’t always work out, though. Not every moon is our moon, and recreating the sense of slowness seen in footage from ours does not translate well to Pandora’s moon, Elpis. Some other additions and changes are good, however. I don’t ever want to play another Borderlands game in which my only option is to sell trash guns back to Marcus. Throwing them into the Grinder — and admittedly often receiving more valuable trash guns — is too enticing to empty my backpack every time I pass a vending machine.

Everything I wanted is here in full force, but a key thing has changed: Elpis is, for the most part, without an atmosphere. This means that your character will need an O2 kit. The basic model will keep you breathing, allow double-jumps and grant the ability to ground-pound enemies while you’re airborne. It makes characters feel more maneuverable, it makes long chasms traversible on foot, and there are enough oxygen geysers and oxygen generators around that you’re never really in any danger of dying from asphyxiation.

The tradeoff is worth it, too, as O2 kits function as a second class mod. I’ve found kits that make O2 canisters grant health as well as oxygen, and kits that make my ground-pound electrocute nearby foes. There are even kits that function differently in vacuum and oxygen-rich environments. I do wish that O2 kits didn’t show up as blue items, though. I’m constantly excited an enemy has dropped something amazing, and all that’s there is oxygen that I don’t really need now that the fight is over.


There are four new character classes to choose from here, though in a departure from the first two games, none of them is a siren. Instead, there’s Athena the Gladiator, from The Secret Armory of General Knoxx in the original Borderlands; Nisha the Lawbringer, Borderlands 2’s sheriff of Lynchwood; Wilhelm, Handsome Jack’s right-hand cyborg from Borderlands 2; and the yellow CL4P-TP unit featured as an NPC in both previous games.

Action skills are varied and interesting. Athena uses a shield to absorb enemy attacks, and then knocks the nearest enemy in the head with it a la Captain America. Nisha sees the world go sepia-toned and gets the huge accuracy and damage increase you’d expect from any Western movie hero. Wilhelm releases Wolf and Saint — his attacking and healing robots — who feel like the best possible combination of Axton’s turret and Gaige’s Deathtrap. Claptrap spins a virtual roulette wheel until imbuing the whole team with “abilities” like Rubber Ducky and Torgue Fiesta, which make all players jump uncontrollably (which is actually great for repeatedly ground-pounding nearby enemies) or launch an unlimited supply of grenades. Claptrap isn’t always the most useful guy to have around, but his ability set matches the world and character perfectly, and whenever I die while a VaultHunter.exe routing is in effect, I do so with a smile on my face.


Also new this time around are the laser weapon type and the cryo weapon effect. Lasers are great, slowing down and freezing guys is great, and as soon as I found a laser with the cryo effect, it went directly into my top weapon slot. It doesn’t deal the most damage, but I feel a bit like a Ghostbuster with it and cryo, like explosive damage, seems to affect almost every enemy in the game. I like setting guys on fire as much as the next guy, but if your main damage dealer is a fire weapon and all of the enemies around are armored, you won’t be doing a whole lot of damage.

Cars are back, but they’re not great. The mobility afforded by Elpis’s low gravity makes the lunar buggy’s only real selling point that it functions as an oxygen source and can come with homing rockets. In terms of mobility, I can jump further with a double-jump and a good supply of oxygen. The Stingray is a cool concept, but in a game that supports up to four players, I don’t like knowing that full party has to have two walkers in it because you can only have one vehicle type out at a time and the Stingray can’t carry four. It jumps and ground-pounds, though so if you’re playing with a maximum of two, it may be worth using.

Level geometry is all over the place. I came down on what looked like solid ground, only to die because I’d gone out of bounds, more times than I care to count. Also, on one occasion I could not move at full speed. Everybody else in the party was fine, but I was moving at a “sprint” and teammates could pass me while they walked. It felt like I was moving at the vacuum speed indoors and half that again while outdoors. The only thing that fixed it was quitting the game completely and starting it back up from the menu.


Despite the setbacks and change in developers (The Pre-Sequel! is a 2K Australia joint, not Gearbox), this feels like a Borderlands game, and honestly that’s what most wanted. There’s enough low-brow humor, fun shooting and new toys to keep me tided over until the eventual release of Borderlands 3. I only hope that Gearbox takes some of what 2K Australia did and folds it into the next game, because ground-pounding enemies is more fun that it has any right to be, and these are honestly some of the best action skills I’ve ever played with in a Borderlands title. The Grinder also ought to to become a series mainstay; I love taking my chances on generating a great item, instead of selling them to vendors and hoping to one day have enough cash to buy the item of the day.

Pros: Great new action skills, O2 kits provide interesting effects, Grinder is a great alternative for vendor trash
Cons: Everything feels slow, level design leads to inadvertent deaths, technical issues abound

Score: 4/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.