Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is a lot of retread
Stop me if you heard this one.
A group of four bounty hunters run amok on Pandora and open a treasure chest filled to the brim with loot after killing a bunch of things.
In fact, you should have stopped me, because you’ve heard that song and dance before. Twice to be precise. It’s because I’ve waxed poetically about two other Borderlands titles in previous issues over the past decade. It was all fine and well, that running amok on Pandora. Until it wasn’t. You see, Borderlands has charm and grace, knowing when it’s hitting its limit at the bar. Borderlands 2, well, you have to tell it when to stop because it thinks it can handle its liquor but really can’t. Pre-Sequel? Brown liquor gives it courage to talk to folks a certain way, and it winds up getting thrown out of the bar and Ubered home. It’s because Pre-Sequel thinks it’s something we’ve never seen before, when we all have and we’re not buying.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is set between the events of Borderlands 1 and 2 storyline-wise but was released chronologically after Borderlands 2. Pre-Sequel tells the parts of the Borderlands saga that we didn’t see happening simultaneously in the first game and mentioned in the second game: How Handsome Jack discovered the Vault; took over the Hyperion Corporation and, by extension, Pandora; and, corralled an earlier group to assist in his nefarious plans of domination and galactic dominion. Along for the ride this time are characters we already know from Borderlands 2: Nisha Kadam, the future sheriff of Lynchwood and Jack’s future girlfriend; Wilhelm, pre-cybernetic obsession and transformation; Athena, wandering Pandora after the events of the Secret Armory of General Knoxx DLC in Borderlands; and, Claptrap, who’s assisted the Pandora Vault Hunters but doesn’t yet know he’s the sacrificial lamb of the story. These Vault Hunters are summoned through an EchoNet call from Jack to find the Vault on Pandora’s moon, Elpis.
Knowing what we know now about Jack and his motives, it’s safe to assume that there will be greed, money and shenanigans involving guns. Those are there, yes, but it’s just Borderlands 2 with a slightly different mask and a lacking story. Because make no mistake: The story is not moving forward here. It’s solely meant to fill in some gaps, but it’s obvious it’s not meant to be some sort of pitch-shifter that Borderlands 2 or Borderlands 3 were and are.
Knowing this about the story, what you find when you get to Elpis is definitely a whole lot of typical Borderlands skullduggery. From the beginning of the journey once you touch down on the planet, the new mechanics of oxygen management and low gravity are a pain to deal with and obnoxious. Yes, you do need something new to spice things up a bit, but it’s not implemented with any type of precision or enjoyment. Constantly having to manage how much oxygen is left while trying to avoid taking damage means distraction, and it ruins any sort of sandbox vibe the game might have been going for. Oxygen management is also taking precedence while working through Borderlands Beginning Syndrome, or when you start a character in a Borderlands playthrough with little to no help. The first few hours of any Borderlands playthrough are slow and a slog with no help, and Pre-Sequel is no exception. All other mechanics are Borderlands 2 based, so there’s nothing else new here of note.
Much like the non-new mechanics, the graphics are Borderlands 2 based as well. So, you’re not going to see new textures, though there are a few new enemies and NPCs to change things up a bit. The new enemies are slightly interesting, as are some of the bosses. This has always been Borderlands’ strength as franchise: Colorful characters that leave an impression. Pre-Sequel manages to create some goodwill with some new characters, but they’re all in the style of Borderlands 2. Borderlands 2 was serviceable in its graphics as a marginally better upgrade to Borderlands, so you’re getting that marginal upgrade here as well. The soundtrack also is Borderlands 2 based, so if you enjoyed that, you’re probably going to enjoy this, too. There are a few tracks that stand out, but nothing special … much like everything else offered here.
Take Pre-Sequel for what it is: a standalone package that really should have been preparatory DLC for Borderlands 2 or even follow-up DLC for that game. It really shouldn’t have been held back after Borderlands 2 because it works well as a stopgap measure between Borderlands and Borderlands 2. As a front-end sequel game, it’s just more of Borderlands 2 — down to the reused assets and soundtrack — and that doesn’t necessarily increase its endearing qualities, no matter how much I love Borderlands as a whole. At this point, it’s suffering from sequel-itis.