Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel: played at E3 2014
Like any game that opts for a subtitled side-story instead of a full numbered iteration, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel struck me as something of a half-step. Gearbox isn't working at it, and it's filling in a story gap instead of telling a new one. As someone who put a fair bit of time into both Borderlands games, why should I care about this one?
While it may sound trite, the answer is simple: 2K Australia appears to be doing right by the series. Borderlands 2 was only an incremental step up from the first, and this seems more incremental still. But it's building on a solid foundation and adding a few welcome tools to the mix.
The low gravity is the most immediately noticeable change. Rather than a simple traversal tool to overcome minor obstacles, the moon physics allowed me to treat this with much more platforming finesse. That's especially due to the "floating" ability, in which tapping on the jump button in mid-air slows your fall. Think the raccoon suit in Super Mario Bros 3. It's a small touch, but without it the jumping would feel frustrating from constant over-jumps that miss the intended target.
It has combat applications as well. I've never been a fan of how many Borderlands enemies charge straight towards the player, particularly the wildlife. The demo featured pretty large packs of angry creatures, and so leaping above them provided an easy way to extract myself from the frenzy and get my bearings, or simply rain down havoc from above.
The moon comes with its tradeoffs, of course. 2K Australia has added an oxygen mechanic as well. Whenever outside, you'll need to occasionally scavenge for air from specialized points. The timer is generous enough that this isn't often a problem, but why bother at all? An air meter has never been fun, be it in Sonic or Borderlands, and it's not as this is a series beholden to realism. Two of its playable characters have been space witches.
Fortunately it's not so dogged when it comes to weapons. Guns have always been the showcase in Borderlands, and the procedural generation means that adding even a couple of small variations ends up multiplying exponentially. In this case it comes in both weapon types and elemental effects: beam and ice. The ice weapons freeze characters in place, a somewhat obvious missing piece in hindsight. Meanwhile beam weapons finally bring lasers to the Borderlands universe. The beam weapon in the demo acted less like a Star Wars blaster more like the Ghostbusters' proton gun. Wild arcing waves would dance around uncontrollably, making the extremely powerful weapon enjoyably unpredictable.
I can only speak about one of the new cast, and 2K is keeping its playable Claptrap tightly under wraps. I played as Athena the Gladiator, who is quite literally a damage sponge. Her special ability mounts a powerful shield--another solution to the charging problem makes me convinced they consciously meant to address it--and the more damage it soaks up the more it does when she throws it, Captain-America-style. The demo gave a heaping helping of spec points to experiment with, and I went down the path that ultimately allowed it to ricochet off of several enemies.
With its incremental improvements, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel may not appeal to any but the most devoted Vault Hunters. But after two successful games that made a brand new franchise into an instant moneymaker, 2K can probably rest assured there are plenty of those. I'm not entirely sold on all of the new mechanics, but iterative improvement is still improvement. If I'm honest with myself, I'll probably hit the level cap and then re-roll with another character. Looting remains addictive, even as a half-step.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel