Elpis. A barren and dangerous moon orbiting the alien planet of Pandora. Majestic, scarred and teeming with life, I stood on a cliff and surveyed an outback frontier where bullets were cheap and life less so. I gazed at a herd of majestic Kragons, beasts that were content to wander aimlessly on the plains of Elpis. And then I butt-stomped the f*** out of those rock-skinned monstrosities.
Borderlands may have been a fresh experience when it arrived in 2009, but its 2012 sequel improved on that game in many, many ways. Following that release, players got the chance to experience more of Pandora in subsequent DLC packs, as the game further tinkered with characters and gameplay mechanics. In many ways, Bordelands 2 was too good a sequel, creating a hell of a benchmark should Borderlands 3 ever be made. So what’s the next best step then? Obviously, a game that fleshes out the history of the franchise and its memorable villain, Handsome Jack.
I come from a moon down under
And that’s where the Pre-Sequel throws you. As one of four new Vault Hunters (Wilhelm, Nisha, Athena, Claptrap), players are off to the moon to go help a lowly Hyperion technician with grand ideas named Jack from being turned into compact giblets of bloody organs by the Dahl Lost Legion. Things quickly go south however, with players finding themselves stranded on the Elpis moon, surrounded by local wildlife and a severe lack of oxygen before plunging into a quest to retake the Helios space station an open up a vault that hides treasures within.
And if you’re thinking that this is Borderlands 2 with some new set design, you’d be mostly right. Mostly.
The biggest change to the core gameplay, comes in the form of gravity. Or a lack of it to be precise. Elpis has no atmosphere, resulting in a moon wherein it’s one small step for man and one massive rocket in the face for banditkind. There’s a flow on the moon, wherein players move with a slightly sluggish grace while hopping across chasms. The serves a twofold purpose, as it’s now easier to get across long stretches of the environment by moon-bouncing around and giving your jump an extra kick of oxygen.
Environments are still massive mind you, but this at least allows traversal to be quicker. Then you’ve got oxygen itself. On Elpis, it’s a finite resource, a slowly dwindling pool of life-giving sustenance and a new meter that ties into the traversal and butt-slam gameplay mechanics. On paper, it sounds like a terrible idea, like a stopwatch hanging over your head giving you something else to worry about other than bandits and nightmare fuel wildlife.
In practice however, it’s a fantastic new addition to the game. Once you’ve done your first butt-stomp, you’ll never want to not want to butt-stomp ever again. It’s a deadly new skill, a lethal barrage of your ass interacting with the ground and enemies and when augmented properly, unleashing a cloud of corrosive, pyro or various other elements in order to do extra damage. Have I told you guys how much I love butt-stomping yet?
Flat out like a lizard drinking
This has also resulted in a far more vertical game, with an emphasis on jumping into the frying pan with a electrified ass attack, and leaping right out of danger. Areas now feature higher platforms, cliffs and various other nooks and crannies that the various Scavs (Bandits of Elpis) make equal use of as their melee attackers bounce on your skull and their rocket-troops hover above you. It makes for a nice change, and provides a different pace for even the most experienced of Vault Hunters.
But hey, it’s not just ass-powered melee attacks and moonwalking this year! Borderlands has always been about the guns, and the Pre-Sequel has a few new ones to share. Specifically, guns that utilise the new Cryogenic element and lasers. Cryogenics are easy to use. Fire enough of them into an opponent, chip enough of their health away and they’ll be frozen in time, a monument to your skills and preserved for all eternity as a lifeless husk of ice and despair. Provided that you don’t play hopscotch in their chest cavity after re-enacting the final scene of Demoltion Man on their sub-zero corpses that is.
Call me Space-Bruce
Also joining the stable, is an entirely new form of gun. LAZORZ! They’re a cool rapid-fire class of weaponry, available in various shotgun burst, rail gun blast, automated fire and burst streams that should never ever be crossed lest you risk total protonic reversal. What lasers lack in sheer power, they make up for in terms of velocity, accuracy and elemental damage. A nice balance overall, to other manufacturers such as Dahl, Maliwan and TORGUE!
What’s also a nice change, is that the game manages to feel more unique now depending on which Vault Hunter you choose. Each one has their own set of skills and actions, such as Wilhelm’s ability to send out drones or extra-damage butt slams, Athena’s melee madness and Aspis shield skills, Nisha’s auto-aim gunslinger skills and Claptrap being a random and unpredictable mechanical menace.
Ozzie Ozzie Ozzie! Oy Oy Oy!
Each vault hunter has a trio of skill trees, with the ability to unlock them now being at level 3 instead of 5, while Elpis interacts differently with each character. One Janey Springs may hit on Athena for instance, while completely ignoring Wilhelm. It’s a sorely needed feature, and one that helps promote various playthroughs with different characters at different difficulty levels.
Each character of course, can complement the others in a unique way when you dig into the four-player co-op mode. Athena can draw fire while Wilhelm leaps over her to deliver a devastating butt-stomp, backed up by Nisha filling her hands with lead and Claptrap being, well, Claptrap. Co-op is very much in line with what you’d expect, with no real adjustments being implemented or even necessary.
That’s not a cryo element sniper rifle, this is a cryo element sniper rifle!
In terms of story however, the Pre-Sequel feels like an unbalanced act that will confuse even diehard fans. You’re given little to no exposition as to why a Dahl army is aiming to decorate a space station with your blood, before being sent to Elpis to help secure the station from its vaguely-defined enemies and lacklustre villain Colonel Tungsteena Zarpedon.
The story however, does pick up in terms of sheer characterisation and snappy writing. Villains muse about making your corpse soar like a child’s imagination, the Ozzie humour is in full swing and the tale of how Jack became Handsome Jack is an interestingly grey story that will have you questioning the motives and actions of the so-called heroes of Borderlands.
It’s also one of the shorter Borderlands games out there, although at this point that’s the equivalent of comparing the length of male porn star assets. Expect to spend around a minimum of 14-16 hours on the main campaign, depending on your skill level. Of course this isn’t the end however, as there are still dozens of side quests to take part in and the aforementioned replay value.
Last Updated: October 29, 2014