Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel moonwalks over the corpse of weak filler

Wednesday, 9 April 2014 13:00 GMT By John Robertson

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“Reduced gravity affects a number of things, from being able to jump higher and further to altering the way in which combat plays out.”

It’s set between the narratives of Borderlands and Borderlands 2. Hence: The Pre-Sequel – prequel to one, sequel to other. You could also read the title as a play on the fact that this is a game coming out ‘previous’ to the inevitable Borderlands 3, but we’re not that cynical.

Whatever the case, it’s a name choice that favours structure over clarity.

The interim story told here – and developed by 2K Australia, in association with Gearbox – centres on the rise and evolution of Handsome Jack, the dictator antagonist of Borderlands 2 and (in)arguably the series’ most arresting and memorable character to date. Pre-Sequel Jack is neither antagonist nor dictator, instead he seems positively trustworthy. Not benevolent, perhaps, but at least decent – so it’ll be interesting to see just how the plot shines light onto his transition over to the dark side.

Jack acts as the primary driving force behind a narrative that guides four new playable characters through further bouts of questing, looting and shooting. The mission we’re shown sees us sent to shut down a communications facility on the moon that is blocking an inter-planetary signal network set up by Jack. Jack wants rid of it, so we get rid of it. Sir, yes, Sir and all that…

Traversing the surface of the moon is not without its quirks. Reduced gravity affects a number of things, from being able to jump higher and further to altering the way in which combat plays out. Discharge a grenade or detonate a handily-placed explosive barrel in the vicinity of enemies, for example, and the resulting blast can be powerful enough to send them shooting away from the celestial body and into the stifling emptiness of space.

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Even if you’re not lucky enough to dispatch enemies in such cinematic style, these blasts, coupled with the gravity reduction, can cause them to hang suspended in air until they’ve regained their senses and overcome the shock. Time enough for you take out at least a couple before they recover.

The most efficient way to combat the bad guys on the moon is to shoot the helmet from their heads, robbing them of oxygen and lowering your ammo spend. Oxygen is something you yourself need to be equally wary of however, as, whenever outside the confines of a designated ‘moon base’ you’ll be consuming the stuff with every step (although we did see a few Oxygen Generators positioned in barren places to keep you from dying in the wilderness too often).

Additionally, should you choose to employ it, you’ve also got a jetpack strapped to your back which eats oxygen as fuel. The jetpack allows you to hover and float for as long as your oxygen supply lasts… just keep in mind that a jetpack is no good to someone without a lungful of O.

To keep your oxygen levels at liveable readings a new equipment slot has been added to each character allowing them to equip ‘Oz Kits’. At their most basic these merely keep you alive and breathing, but further down the line they come coupled with powerful perks that buff your weapons and skills. One example provided you with the ability to, no matter which weapons you have equipped, apply extra elemental (read: magic) damage to your attacks.

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How much of the game is set on the moon is unknown, 2K staying coy on the details of further locations other than to tell us to expect environmental diversity. Surprisingly, perhaps, even the small section we’re shown (roughly 40 minutes in length) features a visual variety of the likes not usually associated with the rock famous for hosting Neil Armstrong’s bootprint. The silvery-grey landscape is punctuated by lava-filled valleys which cast an orange-pink glow over the surrounding area, while moon bases (like the aforementioned communication facility) set an altogether more industrial, polluted tone.

Of the four new characters, we’re only made intimate with two and shown how to play as just one. Her name is Athena and 2K is describing her as the ‘tank’ class, her skills centred around grabbing the attentions of enemies, absorbing damage and healing herself. Athena first appeared in the original Borderlands’ The Secret Armory of General Knoxx DLC, so she’s sure to tug at the nostalgia strings of those players that have played through that particular dose of extra-curricular content.

Getting stuck in is very much Athena’s order of the day. To help her survive the inevitable onslaughts she can employ a Kinetic Aspis, a shield that charges itself full of energy by absorbing ordnance fired at her. Once powered up you can throw it at a foe, dealing significant damage before it boomerangs straight back to your arm. In practise, it works in a not too dissimilar fashion to the Vortex Shield available to Titanfall’s Titans.

This being Borderlands, the Kinetic Aspis (along with everything else) can be upgraded and modified through spending points across various skill trees. You can, for instance, advance the Aspis to a point where it ricochets off multiple enemies in a single throw – allowing you take out small squads before receiving it back.

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“Cryo-type weapons give you a chance at freezing opponents with every shot, with them eventually shattering once they’re fully chilled.”

Accompanying Athena on this particular mission-for-Jack is Wilhelm, whom you may recall took the honour of being the first ‘real’ boss of Borderlands 2′s campaign. In Borderlands 2 he was a robot working, essentially, as one of Handsome Jack’s bodyguards, but here in Pre-Sequel he’s all man. At least to begin with, there’s not a piston in sight.

Levelling up Wilhelm results in him taking on more and more cybernetic components, until he’s eventually transformed into the questionably-human form he takes in Borderlands 2.

In addition to these two are Nisha, a Law Bringer class character who we’ve not yet seen an image of, and the series’ ever-popular mascot Claptrap. Disappointingly, there is no info on either of these characters’ skills, class focus or special abilities.

No matter who you play as you’ve access to the expectedly enormous array of weapons, equipment and ammunition types. Cryo and Laser elemental ammunition types are new to Pre-Sequel, joining the likes of Corrosive, Fire and Slag that have made the jump from previous games.

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Cryo-type weapons give you a chance at freezing opponents with every shot, with them eventually shattering once they’re fully chilled. Laser weapons offer more direct damage, but take a number of forms – from small bursts a la Han Solo’s Blaster, to bigger, messier, prolonged beams the likes of which are more readily associated with a Tesla Coil.

It’s the Cryo weapons that dealt most damage in our demo, with the dangerous, space-suited Badass Outlaws succumbing time and again to a cocoon of ice. Immediately following one of these encounters our heroes-at-Jack’s-behest were ambushed by a boss character, a tiny little man of pear-like proportions with his very own cocoon of red armour. He goes by the name of Red Belly, but we didn’t see him fight.

As he jumps at us a blast from the very same Hyperion space station that orbited Borderlands 2′s planet of Pandora sends a shockwave over the moon and propels us into the purgatorial vacuum. Mission failed? Did the blast also destroy the communications facility we were sent to decommission? Cliffhanger.

This being Borderlands, as Athena is blasted into space she can’t help but give the giant space station a dual-handed two-finger salute. Fade to black. Pre-sequel successfully teased.

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