Nothing is certain when a series migrates from one developer to another. Too often, attempts to replicate the formula in another environment result in something predictably formulaic. But happily, moving Borderlands from Gearbox Studios to 2K Australia has been a highly successful experiment.
The uniquely titled Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is set between the original game and its numerical sequel. It introduces some truly compelling new game mechanics, and provides fresh perspective on some familiar faces.
The Pre-Sequel introduces four "new" vault hunters who have been commissioned by very well-intentioned Hyperion middle manager named Jack. He's a handsome chap, who simply wants to put an end to terrorist attacks targeting Hyperion's base on Pandora's moon. Jack is a loyal company man who will be pushed to the extreme in his desire to do right by Hyperion. The Pre-Sequel is as much about the fall of Handsome Jack as it is about the kill-crazy gunplay the Borderland series is known for.
Not only is Jack back, but the new selection of Vault Hunters are all characters players have met before.
Players first met Athena "The Gladiator" in the Borderlands DLC campaign, The Secret Armory of General Knoxx. She is the tank class, and the narrator of the of this story. Wilhelm “The Enforcer” appears this time as a vault hunter. Players may know him by his later incarnation as a boss in Borderlands 2. Nisha “The Lawbringer” is also back. The future partner of Handsome Jack retains all of the charm and poise of her character in Borderland 2, which is to say she’s a bloodthirsty sociopath.
The final hunter is perhaps the most interesting. He certainly offers the most unique gameplay experience: a Claptrap unit named Fragtrap, a beta release with all the instability and potential for disaster that entails. His skill “vaulthunter.exe” will launch random abilities that could potentially help or hinder the team. Half the fun of playing Fragtrap is the randomness. Occasionally his abilities will irritate, but when things go right he’s a real powerhouse, and in many cases the misfiring of vaulthunter.exe is entertaining enough to forgive the carnage it causes.
Setting the game on Pandora’s moon, Elpis, gave 2K Australia license to explore new mechanics, and it has yielded some interesting results. The lower gravity and lack of atmosphere gives everyone the ability to jump extreme distances, and with the aid of an oxygen tank called an Oz Kit, the vault hunters are able to use their air reserves to double jump and even ground slam enemies.
2K Australia has injected plenty of its own personality in to the game. This includes a lot of Australian accents. The majority of the residents you’ll encounter will have that familiar Aussie twang, and in some cases it's played up for hilarious results, including one great interaction where an NPC attempts to “normalise” her accent to be more easily understood: queue the “'Murica” clichés. It can be jarring to encounter so many accents that aren't American or English in a game, but far from being distracting it gives the game a welcome and refreshing vibe throughout.
Low gravity butt slams aside, the foundation of any Borderlands experience is the loot. Shields, guns, guns, and more guns and that is no different here. The addition of lasers and cryogenic weapons add even more dynamism to the mix and it's extremely satisfying to shatter a frozen enemy and see the parts drift off in to space. Gun play is tight, and hectic as ever. Enemies are pleasingly varied. They include a multitude of new humanoid opponents and elemental creatures that inhabit the surprisingly varied lunar landscape.
Like the moon it's set on, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel sometimes feels as if it's stuck in orbit around Borderlands 2. Even so, there's so much to love here. 2K Australia has bottled Borderlands' weird lightning: fans should proceed without hesitation.