Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel Review: Moonbreaker

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel welcomes a new developer to the universe as Gearbox takes a break. 2K Australia puts its own twist on the Borderlands formula. Our review.

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Taking place between the events of Borderlands 1 and 2, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel features an all-new location, new weapons, and a new but familiar cast of playable characters. It's also handled by a different developer, 2K Australia, which clearly puts its own twist on the Borderlands formula, and not just by introducing some NPCs with Aussie accents.

The game is one long flashback, told by Athena, who is being held hostage by Lilith and the other two surviving Vault Hunters from the first game. Lilith wants to know why Athena helped Jack rise to power. So starts a tale that takes place on Elpis, Pandora's moon, and Hyperion's Helios Station, the giant H shaped space station seen in Borderlands 2. A group of Dahl Corporation soldiers called The Lost Legion launched a full scale invasion of the space station. So, the mercenaries that were originally hired to look for mysterious vault on Pandora instead find themselves leaping across the Elpis in an effort to get control of Helios and its mega laser, which is aimed squarely at the moon, out of The Lost Legion's hands. All your deeds are done with the help of Jack: a low level programmer, wannabe hero, and soon-to-be tyrant.

New Setting, New Rules, Same Insanity

The four playable characters include a host of characters that were originally enemies or NPCs in the Borderlands universe. There's Athena, from the General Knoxx expansion, who carries a shield that's charged up by absorbing damage, then thrown. She can also specialize in melee attacks, or add some elemental damage to her moves (mostly lightning). Nisha is a boss from Borderlands 2 who is now much more than a disembodied voice playing on a PA system. She, of course, has a lot of gun specialties and her special move enables her to temporarily auto-target heads. Wilhelm, another boss from B2, has two robotic companions that help him in combat, and he'll add cybernetic upgrades as he progresses. Lastly, there's Claptrap, the quirkiest character of the four. His special is to run software that should equip him with Vault Hunter abilities that best suit whatever situation he's in, but the software doesn't always work correctly. He also has some of the best team-based support abilities of the four characters.

Although the Pre-Sequel features a very strong cast of characters that all seemed inviting in their own ways, I decided to go with Athena. Playing as Claptrap was very tempting, especially since robots don’t need oxygen, but the unpredictable nature of some of his skills, combined with how some abilities have significant downsides (i.e. increased fire rate and reload speed at the cost of accuracy, or gaining health at the cost of shields) made me decide against it. Playing as anyone other than Athena breaks the narrative, since she's supposed to be the one recounting the story and occasionally interjects. This is especially true when playing as Claptrap, and things feel a little off when Hyperion's Claptraps start explaining to him how robots can feel pain. Yes, I should already know, thanks. There are also a number of side missions where you're supposed to gleefully destroy Hyperion's claptrap robots. I'm sure Claptrap has some responses, even as he slaughters his own kind. Perhaps his programming made him do it?

Elpis is a very different environment than the familiar Pandora. First, there's the marked lack of oxygen on the moon's surface. Players have to equip oxygen masks (OZ kits) and keep an eye on their air supply when traversing the moon's surface on foot. Although this does limit exploration during the early parts of the game, things eventually even out. Enemies, even native creatures, will often drop oxygen tanks after being killed. Oxygen domes that can be turned on and off and air geysers are scattered all across the moon's surface. It eventually reaches the point where air isn't really an issue unless you get stuck in an area for too long. I often found myself forgetting about the air meter until the warning sounded or my character was suddenly gasping.

The moon's surface makes The Pre-Sequel a sniper's dream, because enemies have to rely on oxygen masks too. Even if a headshot doesn't kill the enemy outright, shattering their masks will cause them to take damage over time as they run around in vacuum. Another big change is the low gravity, which enables double-jumps and butt slam moves. OZ kits can add elemental damage to slams, which makes them extremely effective area attacks that don't consume ammunition. Low gravity adds an unprecedented amount of vertical action, complete with jump pads, by allowing players to jump up in the air and rain damage down. However, floating up in the air is a bit too exposed for my tastes, so I often found myself using the low gravity to find good sniping perches.

It wouldn't be a Borderlands game without a huge selection of guns, and The Pre-Sequel doesn't disappoint.

It wouldn't be a Borderlands game without a huge selection of guns, and The Pre-Sequel doesn't disappoint. Since the benefits of slagging haven't been discovered yet, the game provides players with the one element that has been long been missing: ice. By taking advantage of Elpis's cold surface, players can use ice weapons to freeze and subsequently shatter enemies. This element can be very useful when you consider how you can't ignite enemies while they're out in the vacuum of space. Fire needs air, after all. While ice is a welcome addition, especially in multiplayer settings and fighting the requisite "Badass" enemies, I didn't make use of them very often. I found more use out of the new laser weapons, which can sometimes fire a sustained beam against foes. A laser beam that does electrical damage can chain across enemies and destroy their shields, making the weapon invaluable. It's too bad Mr. Torgue made it his life's mission to eliminate lasers from existence (all pew-pew, and no explosions), which explains why they aren't in Borderlands 2.

It's a Long Story

The Pre-Sequel fully embraces the spirit of Borderlands, and mixes its cast of new characters with a host of familiar ones. Lilith makes an appearance, and players will see a whole new side of Moxxi. Crazy Earl even has a residence on Elpis... for some reason. But there are certainly times when that embrace turns from warm affection to a suffocating bear hug.

Parts of the game feel very long and drawn out, which becomes noticeable fairly early because players have to go for a long time using only two weapon slots. The problem is even more exacerbated at the end. One of the best examples is returning to Helios Station after fighting on Elpis for so long. Most of Helios has standard gravity, so there's a whole section where you're fighting some of the toughest enemies of the game, but can't use special moves like double-jumping or slamming. Some of the boss fights are so rough that they border on the absurd, and they almost require a group to fight alongside you.

Additionally, the enemies in the Pre-Sequel lack the kind of memorable one-liners found in Borderlands 2. True, it's tough to top a cannibal shouting "I smell delicious!" when set on fire, but I was at least hoping for a try. Instead, the most memorable quote comes from Lost Legion soldiers talking about how they'd die for their brothers. Some of the humor can be a bit tame by Borderlands standards, including a station announcer who must read every silly message that the Lost Legion submits to her, like "booty salad." The real stand-out moments include characters from the Gearbox games: the lengths Torgue will go to in order to eliminate laser weapons from existence, or some of Claptrap’s responses.

Similarly, the new NPCs aren't as memorable. Janey Springs, a junk dealer who likes writing short and twisted children's stories, is merely a passable stand-in for Scooter. Nurse Nina, by comparison, doesn't quite hold a candle to Doctor Zed. Perhaps they'll be more developed in future content, but it's clear that the real star of the game is Jack, who goes from wannabe hero to Pandora's greatest villain.

The Beginning of the End

The Pre-Sequel's biggest draw is filling in the space between the first and second games, and it does that exceptionally well. The new Vault Hunters have a great variety of skills and they're fun to play. Adventurous players might even take to Claptrap's randomness. There are also some very good sequences in seeing the lengths Jack will go to in order to gain power and become Handsome Jack, the wisecracking, sociopathic, megalomaniac in Borderlands 2.

Much like a Claptrap, parts of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel try too hard to be liked. The freezing element, although welcome, doesn't add much to the gameplay. Between the airless environments and the gravity slams, it's usually far easier to shatter masks and wait for enemies to suffocate than it is to fire a dozen shots in hopes that one of them will freeze an enemy in place for a second or two. Laser weapons, on the other hand, are a great addition--no matter what Mr. Torgue thinks. 2K Australia has injected some of its own personality into Borderlands. While not all of the changes are as welcome as others, it's successful on the whole.


This review is based on a downloadable PC code provided by the publisher. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel will be available in retail stores and digital download services on October 14, for $59.99. The game is rated M.

Managing Editor
Pros
  • Nice cast of playable characters
  • Low gravity is fun
  • Captures the spirit of Borderlands
Cons
  • Some parts can be very long and drawn out
  • Takes too long to unlock new weapon slots
  • Humor can be a little hit-or-miss
From The Chatty
  • reply
    October 13, 2014 5:00 AM

    Steven Wong posted a new article, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel Review: Moonbreaker

    • reply
      October 13, 2014 6:18 AM

      Some of those "cons" seem like they would apply to BL2 as well, and they didn't bother me much.

      How would you say this compares to BL2? Slight better/worse or the more of the same?

    • reply
      October 13, 2014 6:18 AM

      Hmm. $45 at GMG with a 25% voucher. Not sure if I want to bite right now or wait for a winter sale.

      • reply
        October 13, 2014 7:18 AM

        hmm what is this voucher you speak of???

        • reply
          October 13, 2014 7:27 AM

          It was in my inbox. I guess it's a personal one time use voucher but check your email.

      • reply
        October 13, 2014 3:08 PM

        H9A06S-IV2T8T-IYBPUI worked for me from a vouchers website.

      • reply
        October 13, 2014 5:29 PM

        None of the ones in my inbox seem to want to work for me.

    • reply
      October 13, 2014 7:31 AM

      Today's the last day of my 3 day weekend. They should lose a point for not releasing this game last Friday.

      • reply
        October 13, 2014 7:43 AM

        I am similarly dismayed. I get it on Thursday, and on Saturday I have to fly to Nashville for a week-long conference. Booooo

      • reply
        October 13, 2014 8:09 AM

        It's my son's fall break, so I'm home all week. Couldn't have accidentally planned it any better.

    • reply
      October 13, 2014 7:59 AM

      Why aren't comments at the bottom of articles anymore. That's not a conscious decision, right? Because it sucks

      • reply
        October 13, 2014 9:54 AM

        They are over on the right side, and there is a link there to continue the discussion with then takes you to the thread itself.

        • reply
          October 13, 2014 12:06 PM

          That's an odd place for comments. Most people are probably subconsciously trained to ignore this area of sites because that is where ads and "from around the web" stuff goes.

      • reply
        October 13, 2014 12:13 PM

        Widescreen monitors = lots of sidebar space to use up.

    • reply
      October 13, 2014 8:05 AM

      Pre-loading now. Friend me on steam so that we may smite enemies for glorious loot. http://steamcommunity.com/id/sofakinghuge/

    • reply
      October 13, 2014 8:31 AM

      Is this game not released yet? I thought it was out today, but it says the game is sitll locked.

      • reply
        October 13, 2014 9:07 AM

        Games release on Tuesday like music and other stuff.

    • reply
      October 13, 2014 9:44 AM

      Already preloaded and ready to go!

    • reply
      October 13, 2014 10:03 AM

      preloaded and waiting!

      friend me on steam - starfish711

      • reply
        October 13, 2014 12:11 PM

        I just tried to search for you on Steam Android app and it said no results. I'll try again on PC when I get home.

    • reply
      October 13, 2014 11:57 AM

      Long is good, for me. The Borderlands series is the only series I find really compelling in terms of combat gameplay right now.

    • reply
      October 13, 2014 12:28 PM

      Preloaded, bring it on!

    • reply
      October 13, 2014 4:49 PM

      what time does it release?

      • reply
        October 13, 2014 5:23 PM

        Unlocks in "approximately four hours", so, maybe midnight EST?

    • reply
      October 13, 2014 9:10 PM

      my brother and I have occasionally been trying to finish the DLCs together, but the difficulty curve is too messed up for us. i dont know how it is for other people, but for us most enemies are just bullet sponges.

      most gear we get dropped for us isnt any good. the best gear we have isnt doing enough. most enemies get through shields and kill in 2-3 hits. my current best shield is a low strength, very fast recharge shield with a strong fire nova, so i take (usually) 1 hit, the shield depletes, fire nova goes off, and i have to try to not get hit again till the shield is back up.

      we're both lvl 50, any enemies that are the same level range between moderately tough to somewhat bullet-sponge and hit a bit too hard, enemies that are 1 or 2+ levels above that very quikly become unmanageable. meanwhile any enemies that are 1 or 2+ levels lower are drop like flies.

      there seem to be very few options for kiting enemies or taking cover or other kinds of tactical play. there's rarely cover, enemies always seem to be faster than a back-pedaling player (no shooting while running) and dont have any notable AI.

      as i remember it, my brother and I didnt have this problem at lower level ranges, so i feel like the difficulty "curve" or whatever becomes skewed at high levels?

      has anyone else had a similar or different experience? Im a rather burned out by it and I dont see myself getting pre-sequel for a long while.

      • reply
        October 13, 2014 9:11 PM

        that post is about BL2, i didnt really make that clear.