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You are here: MacNN Forums > News > Tech News > Hands On: Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel (OS X, Windows)

Hands On: Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel (OS X, Windows)
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Nov 10, 2014, 05:24 PM
If there was a game series introduced in the last 10 years that broke the mold for first-person shooters, it's the Borderlands franchise from Gearbox Software. Generous heaps of role-playing game (RPG) elements, cookie-cutter shooter tropes, and sacks full of humor are artfully baked into a game series that begs for consumption. Gearbox Software and 2K Australia teamed up for the latest tasty morsel in the Borderlands series, releasing Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel to bring players to a new frontier of humorous action.

The name of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel prompts some explaining, as it isn't a sequel to Borderlands 2 chronologically. It fits between the first and second game, giving some background to the way Borderlands 2 started. Where the game largely differs from the others is in the main storyline, as Jack is painted as a budding hero and one of the main protagonists. However, through the course of the game Jack slowly dips into darker territory, with his jabs getting meaner and his actions becoming questionable and more lethal.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel starts offs with a call to action for players, as Jack sent out a request for mercenaries to help find a vault. The type of call varies from a legitimate request for work to a 15 second conversation that a character quickly claims as the entire basis of his backstory. Plans to find the vault quickly go awry as a radical arm of Dhal soldiers led by Colonel Zarpedon take over the Hyperion space station that Jack somewhat manages. In the ensuing conflict the mercenaries turned Vault Hunters are shot to the moon of Elpis to begin their quest to help Jack.

An interesting point of The Pre-Sequel is in how it bridges the two games together. Athena, one of the playable characters, is captured and interrogated by characters from the first game after the events on Elpis come to an end. She then sporadically tells what happened as the player progresses, giving context to what moments mean and the impact they had on the future. Characters from the first game interact with players either face to face or through communications as well, including Roland, Lilith and Mad Moxxi.

While a nice consideration to pull the previous games together, the storytelling can be distracting to the game. Not only because it pops up in the middle of doing something, but also because it creates a weird continuity problem where players need to figure out which version of a character is talking. It also feels like it was tacked onto the game to force the connection at times, not granting much that adds to the overall storytelling in Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel.

Like the other Borderlands games, players to choose from one of four playable characters to progress through The Pre-Sequel. Each character brings something different to the table, but also slightly changes the pattern previously established in the series. The kicker is that each character is already exists in the world, with all four having a noticeable role in the franchise.

The gladiator Athena, who first appeared in Borderlands downloadable content (DLC), uses a shield to absorb or reflect damage, with a path to weaponize it. Of all of the characters, she serves as the voice of reason in spite of being an assassin. Nisha "the Lawbringer" appeared in Borderlands 2 as the Sheriff of Lynchwood, but comes to The Pre-Sequel with what amounts to an auto-aim special for quickly taking out enemies with increased damage. She's the bad apple of the bunch, with Jack pointing out that she was a bandit that killed other bandits for fun. Athena and Nisha represent the strongest and weakest characters currently, as Athena feels underpowered compared to the rest. By contrast, Nisha's special ability makes most mob situations easier due to its power.

Wilhelm is the enforcer character, appearing as a boss in Borderlands 2. He is fixated on cybernetic upgrades, but uses the drones Wolf and Saint to fight enemies and heal himself respectively. The final character is the crowd-favorite robot Claptrap "the Fragtrap." The deranged, smart aleck robot uses a special ability that randomly grants bonuses based on previous characters in the series, or sometimes causes him to explode. His path gets even stranger, as one of his abilities grants buffs through a high five. Wilhelm and Claptrap sit somewhere in the middle for character balance, though Claptrap has unique issues due to the oddity of the character and not necessarily his power.

Playing Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel doesn't feel functionally any different than Borderlands 2, as it retains the same smooth shooter qualities and cel-shaded styling. Even running it on a Core i7 3.5GHz system with 32GB of RAM and Nvidia GTX 660Ti--which was high-end at the time Borderlands 2 was released--doesn't present any technical issues. Since the game was rolled out on OS X at the same time through Aspyr, the game was ran through its paces on a 2011 MacBook Pro with 16GB of RAM. The game ran essentially flawlessly at high settings, creating an experience that was on par with the PC.

There are some minor differences in Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, such as players receiving access to special abilities at level three or changing up how gear is handled in some ways with the grinder. Moonstones replace Eridium from Borderlands 2 for equipment slot upgrades, but can also be used for "luneshine" effects on weapons ran through the grinder. Otherwise, the RPG elements like tree progression and levels continue to exist with the constant collection of items and cash. Players continue to collect weapons like candy, with new weapon types for elemental cryo damage and lasers added. Scav weapons also replace Bandit weapons from Borderlands 2.

The biggest charge is actually due to the setting of the game. Since almost all of it takes part on Pandora's moon or in space, players deal with a lack of gravity. This adds a change in the dynamic, as maneuvering, gaining access to certain points of a map, and combat have a different feel to them. Players can plant their feet, but The Pre-Sequel doesn't encourage it in most areas. The lack of gravity needs to be compensated for, as enemies can come at players from any direction. It can make Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel feel more frantic at times because of everything coming at players, but also disconnects them from the action by hovering outside it.

There is another change perpetrated by the space setting, as players need to watch their oxygen levels while running about. To enable players to run around without dying, oxygen wells on the surface are stood on to replenish reserves. Oz kits are worn as equipment to extend the oxygen pool, placed in the inventory spot reserved for relics in Borderlands 2. These kits can grant various bonuses, but also help extend the use of jetpacks since they use the player's oxygen as fuel.

For all Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel offers, there is one area it could do better in--length. It takes roughly 35 hours to beat the main storyline tossing in some additional side quests to help level differences in some areas. Compared to other Borderlands titles, this feels a smidgen shorter. However, gamers can opt to play through progressively harder replays, the same system that was established in Borderlands.

Length isn't the only problem, as the pacing is inconsistent. Some places in the game it feels like it's event after event that unfolds into action, while others are spent filling in backstory while wandering around. It creates a sensation that distances players, breaking the immersion from the world and otherwise stellar writing.

The greatest fun in Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel remains in playing with a group of friends. While it can be enjoyed in solo play, the fun that is mixed with the unique humor of the series makes for memorable experiences. Be it the group rooting for or cursing at the last remaining survivor trying to revive everyone in the middle of a boss fight or the team cracking up as the story unfolds, The Pre-Sequel is something that is sure to be fondly remembered.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is another fun, chuckle worthy entry in the franchise, making the work of everyone involved well worth the $60 cost of entry. While the length of the game isn't as fulfilling as it could be, Gearbox and 2K Australia are committed to offering DLC to extend the experience. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is a welcome addition to the series, connecting the franchise in a meaningful and unique way that is sure to be embraced by fans.

Who would like Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel: 

Gamers that want to take their shooter experience to space, those that love genre-bending games, and established fans of the series that always wanted to play some of the smaller characters.

Who wouldn't like Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel:
Players that have no interest in shooters, games with an odd sense of humor, cel-shaded visuals or don't like any story connection to their games.

- Jordan Anderson (@draeno)
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