Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel takes place on the moon of the planet Pandora in the time between the first and second games, with players working for Handsome Jack. Not played any of the other games? Don’t worry; this is a simple place to start and newcomer friendly while giving plenty of nudges to the fans. So let’s dive in and see what 2K Australia has brought to the table since Gearbox handed them the reigns.
Two playable characters were available to choose from in this demo. First time through the snaking queue at the MCM Manchester Expo I tried Athena, a light and nimble character packing a collection of long-range weapons. Her standard mêlée move involves a sweet red katana slash that has a satisfying feel. Athena's most impressive feature though is her shield ability. A tap of L1 sees her raise her shield in her left hand, leaving the right free to continue firing a gun. The shield can be thrown Captain America style for a devastating attack with a tap of L1. The shield is thrown automatically after the meter has depleted too. It’s a great way to create some breathing room when multiple enemies are closing in. You're going to be happy to splurge hard-earned skill points on reducing the cooldown period for this one.
The second character I was able to choose was the imposing figure of Wilhelm. So, it comes as no surprise that we’ve found this Pre-Sequel’s tank character. His default loadout favored more explosive weaponry like shotguns and rocket launchers. Sadly, his melee attack lacked any sort of impact or visual style compared to Athena’s. Why should we be content with a standard rifle butt jab when Athena gets a freakin’ sword? Come on 2K, give him a hammer at least or seeing as we expect mental weapons from this series, maybe a small rabid skag on a stick would be better? Wilhelm’s special ability is much more useful (but again not very unique), a small backup drone that flies around you shooting at will. Frankly, I was too busy shooting to see how useful it was being.
Whoever you play as though, you're going to have one hell of a time with the latest line of those awesome guns. The new space setting provides the perfect excuse for brining all sorts of lethal laser weaponry to the party. There are burst fire lasers, methodical and deadly rail gun lasers or good old fashioned Ghostbusters-like proton pack lasers. All of which do a glorious job of shedding enemies of those precious hit points. Ice weapons make their Borderlands debut too, allowing you to freeze and smash enemies, not exactly a new concept for games, but then again, neither is lasers, and look how fun they are!
Don’t worry if you prefer traditional gunfire over nerdy lasers though, as the moon is packed with boomsticks for everyone. Of course there are assault rifles and shotguns, but how about a rocket launcher with a semi-automatic shotgun type rate of fire? Yeah, you want that don’t you? Trust me, you do.
There’s a caveat to all this fun though and that is the need to breath. Oxygen is now a depleting commodity that must be maintained so you avoid scenes like those found when stepping outside with Arnie in Total Recall. Enemies, human or skag alike, drop oxygen canisters and there are oxygen stations that deploy large air-packed domes so you can top up your supplies. In the demo I found that as long as you’re near one of these stations or have a regular supply of enemies, you can breathe long and deep.
However, as soon as you want to explore or take your time between action scenes or, heaven forbid, head in the opposite direction to the objective marker, you run the risk of running on empty and becoming a dusty moonside corpse. As first impressions go, I think the oxygen concept goes completely against one of the most engaging aspects of the Borderlands series -exploring for loot. Hopefully, we’ll be able to upgrade characters to become less reliant on regular top ups.
The lack of oxygen does have one advantage though and that is the low sense of gravity that allows you to leap to epic heights to add a generous vertical angle of attack to the series. It also made the switch from my recent stint with the very floaty Destiny much smoother. Jump pads allow you to fly even higher and will prove essential to passing over larger gorges on the moon’s surface.
There’s also a new stomp attack that takes advantage of the floaty mechanics. Press the crouch button while in orbit and you come thundering back down to the surface. It’s useful for navigating platforms with speed and precision and also as an attack. Later on in the game you’ll be able to add elemental features to these strikes. I have heard that these ground attacks will consume a chunk of oxygen, but I didn’t find this to be the case during my playthrough. Maybe it’s just when you start adding powerful elemental edges to them. As I’ve already mentioned though, we don’t need any further challenges with the good old O2.
The stage I played wasn’t what you’d called packed with set pieces. Essentially you run from point A-B, kill everything in sight and spin a few valve switches. This almost led to some excitement as the last one unleashed a torrent of chemicals to freeze over a lava lakes so we could cross. Except our jog across the surface was interrupted by a large boss creature smashing through from underneath. Then the demo ended. There’s always an argument for leave the audience wanting more, then there’s mine of shooting a few goons and pressing a couple of switches isn’t enough to warrant braving the crowd of a comic convention. Except I really want to play more. Damn you 2K!
As a showcase of what to expect from Borderlands: The Pre Sequel, it looks like 2K has brought enough to the table to keep us interested, despite how much Destiny is threatening to completely swallow up our time. Athena is looking like the more interesting character from the ones we’ve tried so far, but it will be interesting to see how the claptrap robot handles, or maybe we’ll just trundle the smarmy little git into a giant toaster. The oxygen concept is somewhat troubling given the restrictive nature on exploration I experienced, but if 2K can balance it better in the full game, I’m sure we’ll all be doing co-op moon jumps for joy on October 17th.
A special thanks to MCM Manchester Comic Con for squeezing me into the show at the last minute. Be sure to keep up-to-date with future expos around the UK at their website.