The Videogame Corner: Borderlands the Pre-Sequel

Welcome to part three of the Borderlands reviews on Cubic Creativity. Last time, we talked about the story of the new Vault Hunters that have to stop the big bad evil in form of Handsome Jack from doing all the evil deeds that he inevitably does. However, when I talked about “Borderlands 2”, I already hinted at the fact that Handsome Jack was not just Jack, but John, a corporate employee of Hyperion, at some point in the past. No evil agenda or grand scheme was planned yet; in fact, the only thing this past Jack was thinking about was to keep the lives of innocent people protected, which in his case meant stopping the military force storming the Helios Moonbase from using its laser willy-nilly. But I am getting ahead of myself, so let us start at the beginning:

The Land among the Stars

Even Handsome Jack started as a small corporate lackey with too many problems and a fist in his face.

With the story of “Borderlands” behind us and the occurrences during “Borderlands 2” still yet to come, we the players find ourselves at the Helios Moonbase, which is going to gain quite a significant plot relevance in the story of “Borderlands 2”. You play as a mercenary that was ordered by a Hyperion employee named Jack, who is in over his head with the military force that currently tries to take control over the Moonbase and therefore might cost Jack’s career as well as thousands of innocent lives. Jack cannot have that, and this is where you come in: Wake up, ready your weapon, and fire at the opposition. But wait, are we playing the legendary Vault Hunters to save Jack from distress? No, but we have various other psychopaths to choose from: Athena the Gladiator might be ringing some bells with anyone who played “The Secret Armory of General Knoxx” DLC from the first installment since she was a major plot character for the storyline there. In the Pre-Sequel, she can be played for the first time and allows for some elemental shenanigans with her shield, which she can throw like Captain America. Another well-known character you can choose in the game is Claptrap, who takes the overall silliness of the game franchise and puts it into game mechanics, with random action skills that are not always beneficial, asking teammates of high-fives to give boosts to others or himself, or drawing aggro from enemies when lying on the floor since the enemies cannot help themselves and simply have to “kick him while he’s down”. Talking about enemies, since you play the characters that later make up the opposition during “Borderlands 2”, you also have the option of playing some bosses: Wilhelm, who you probably only know as a huge machine, starts rather human during the story of the Pre-Sequel and enhances himself with implants and augmentations which slowly make him more machine than man. Nisha the Lawbringer is also a familiar face, albeit an opposing one: She is the sheriff of Lynchwood, the western-inspired city that I featured with a screenshot in the “Borderlands 2” article, and wields her hot irons with deadly accuracy. There are also two DLC characters: You can play as Jack himself, except you do not play Jack but a sad soul named Timothy who has been made into one of many Jack clones to make the real Jack a harder target to kill. He does have doppelgangers to work with and gains various boosts regarding Jack’s role as the self-perceived hero and working with sales-based skills like gaining more gun damage whenever he collects money. The last DLC character is Lady Hammerlock, the sister of Sir Hammerlock, who would probably give his life if he knew that it would cause eternal suffering for his sister and who in-game uses a sniper approach and interacts with ice-based skills.

The four basegame characters, all willing to aim their guns at the opposition … as long as Jack manages to pay. (Source: https://www.dontforgetatowel.com/borderlands-presequel-last-hope-trailer/)

You choose one of this jolly crew of misfits, then meet up with Jack to get the situation under control. It turns out that said situation is dire, with the attacking army even being supported by a Guardian creature for some reason and a signal showing that there is further interference from the nearby moon, Alpis. So, Jack hatches a plan which involves shooting you to the moon using the so-called “Moonshot Cannon” to work things out from there while he stays behind to fight against the emerging threat to the best of his ability. And while this moon-shooting business serves as the transition into the last part of the tutorial, it also introduces the world we are going to move in. Alpis is different from Pandora not only in flora and fauna but also literally in atmosphere: Unless there is a machine that provides breathable air, there is not going to be any. However, the people of Alpis are aware of this tiny problem, and therefore have Oz-kits, which form a bubble of air around your head that gives a limited supply of breathable air while also functioning as a movement multitool. Since the gravitation on Alpis is way lower than that of Pandora, you can jump fairly high, and with the help of those Oz-kits, you can go into a floating state that serves as both your double jump as well as a way to get over huge crevices. Furthermore, while in the air you can use these movement tools to perform a stomp attack which can have various additional effects depending on what bonuses your Oz-kit provides which can range from the usual elemental tomfoolery to killing the air reserves of human enemies. But if you now fear sizeable changes to your “Borderlands” experience, rest assured for there is lots of the gun-blasting and loot-shooting action we know and love from the franchise.

A Glimpse at Things to come

“Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel” offers some new things while also staying true to the tried and tested. The game offers players an arsenal of weapons to shoot the opposition with, featuring the usual pistols, revolvers, machine guns, SMGs, rocket launchers, and sniper rifles, while also introducing laser weapons as another way to shoot first and ask questions later. Shields still work as additional life points that can grant various passives, grenades come in various shapes and sizes and can be used creatively to blow the opponents out of cover or to provide further damage certain situations, class mods can still amplify your abilities and differ from character to character, and the aforementioned Oz-kits provide breathable air, additional movement tools and Mario’s stomp attack with a little more bang for the buck. That covers the gear, so let us talk about skills: “Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel” stays true to the three different skill trees that allow you to customize how your character plays. Let us take the playable Jack as an example: His skill trees are called “Hero of this Story”, “Greater Good” and “Free Enterprise”. The “Hero of this Story” skill tree improves both his fighting ability and that of his doppelganger “Digi-Jacks”, The “Greater Good” skill tree also increases the usefulness of your “Digi-Jacks”, but emphasizes your allies getting damage or dying while you avoid damage. The “Free Enterprise” skill tree puts a focus on weapon switching, shooting guns from specific manufacturers, and gaining money. While at some point in the game you will have enough points to spec into multiple skill trees, they all play very differently and allow for diverse gameplay while also inviting experimentation; and this is true for all the characters you can choose.

The Helios Moonbase that we know and love from “Borderlands 2”. It still shoots lasers during the Pre-Sequel, but it is clearly not finished yet, as you can see from parts of it missing.

This arsenal of weapons and skills does serve a purpose: To kill your enemies. And there are quite a few enemies to shoot and punch in the Pre-Sequel as well: Humanoid enemies of both the bandit- and the soldier-variant appear plenty often. Both variants also have their own motor pool of vehicles, which allows them to attack the player via buggy or from the air by bringing Jet Fighters. “Guardians”, the weird monster race that normally appears to protect the vaults, are available and nastier than ever. And even some of the known fauna from “Borderlands 2” makes an appearance with one example being the “Stalkers”, which only really appear on Pandora during the second installment due to being shipped there in “The Pre-Sequel”. But there are also a few newcomers: New additions to the ecosystem are the “Kraggons”, which are either fire- or ice-elemental stone dinosaurs that can split into smaller versions of themselves when killed, the “Shuggurath” which are fleshy balloon-esque monsters that can shoot elemental beams at you while also serving as the hive to “Rathyd”, bat-like creatures with the same elemental as the hive they spawned from that will swoop in for attacks, and “Tork” which are armored insectoid creatures that appear in swarms and try to protect their queens against the mercenary threat.

All those enemies have to be housed somewhere, and this is where we talk about the world of “Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel”. If you break the areas of the game down to the very core, there are two major areas you are going to find yourself in: The moon of Pandora called Alpis, and the Helios Moonbase. I was not over the moon (haha, pun) with the choice of areas, but what I do need to admit is that they seem to have learned from the biome approach in “Borderlands 2”: The areas are well-designed and believable, and you have a solid range of different environments to fight in, from cramped laboratories, over bumpy moon-surfaces, to battles against fighter spacecrafts in zero-atmosphere environments. The various quests to take do a solid job explaining the surrounding world to the player, and while they offer a decent amount of work for someone who has never played a “Borderlands” game before, there are various details that explain facts and even happenstances during “Borderlands 2”.

Your new Hyperion head-honcho: Handsome Jack. You can clap now.

Since we are already talking about quests: Jack made a smart investment in hiring you as the mercenary. He would have never gotten anywhere without the help of the rag-tag crew he assembled. During the game’s story, you not only recapture the Helios Moonbase from Colonel Zarpedon and Lost Legion lackeys, but also manage to get a military-grade AI to fit the newly-invested Constructor bots, you transform the army of Hyperion Worker Bots into the dangerous but expendable force it becomes in the second installment of the series, you help him rise to the top of Hyperion, solve various plots against him and not only equip him with helpful and dangerous technology all around, but in the end even manage to give him access to the game’s Vault, in which he gains the insight and information needed to even start his crusade against the Vault Hunters. And while you might now say that the characters of the Pre-Sequel are to blame for all the evil he does later in the story, I find the real culprits in the Vault Hunters and their supporting crew, with a special focus on Lilith and Moxie. True, there were signs that Jack has an … unstable personality, but the straw that broke the camel’s back came in form of the murder plot against Jack, after which he shifts his full attention and newly gained power fully at eradicating them from the face of Pandora. That is also the message that I think the developers wanted the players to take from it all: It could have been different, with Jack being a powerful but potentially benign entity, and that his evil side was only fueled by what happened during his rise to power.

There are also DLCs for “Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel”, albeit not as many as for the other games:

  • “The Holodome Onslaught” is the standard arena wave-fighting mode add-on. The story is about a Vault that can only be opened by fighting the various enemies appearing in front of it and is very much a shoe-horned story on top of a mode with little else to offer.
  • “Claptastic Voyage” is the only story-driven DLC in “The Pre-Sequel”. Tassiter, the (former) president of Hyperion, hid a code inside the last remaining Claptrap and Jack wants to have it. The mercenaries are therefore digitized to search for said code in the depths that are Claptrap’s coding, with various weird and memorable encounters to make and glitched weapons to be found.
One thing I had to include in the article: The gun grinder, hours of fun and the one thing we always raced to in order to be first to trash all the weapons we found.

“Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel” is a must-play title for anyone who liked “Borderlands 2”. There are guns to collect, enemies to shoot, silliness to witness, and villains to be stopped; so pretty much all the boxes are ticked for maximum enjoyment. The game is not perfect: Some of the areas in the game are far too long and tedious like “Tycho’s Ribs”, some of the quests seem to be shoe-horned in for more content like “The Empty Billabong” and certain events in the game felt disappointing and felt me wanting more, like the boss fight against the “Raum-Kampfjet Mark V”; however, all of these points are entirely subjective, and while other people may find their own shortcomings in “Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel”, I think most people will agree that the game is pretty good overall. On Steam, you can get the game for 39,99€, which I would not spend on it since all the “Borderlands” titles go on sale regularly. At the time of writing this article, June 6th of 2021, the game is on sale for 70% off, making the price an affordable 11,99€, and those sales are bound to happen again, which makes this installment of the “Borderlands” series an enjoyable time-waster that offers more of what the players liked in the first two games.

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