Borderlands Pre-Sequel hands-on impressions from GamesCom 2014

borderlands pre sequel hands-onI have been itching to get back into the Borderlands universe. Yes, the DLC content was abundant and released regularly, but getting my hands on some meatier content is just what the doctor prescribed.
After a huge success Borderlands 2 had with over 8 million copies sold, we were all wondering what’s next in line for the franchise. Answer came in the form of Borderland: The Pre-Sequel.

Story behind the Pre-Sequel

Story of the Pre-Sequel is placed in between the first two games. Handsome Jack is not the lunatic we know from the second installment of the series and he gathers a group of vault hunters to help on Pandora’s moon. You will be one of those vault hunters. The game keeps its well known formula of drop-in co-op play, but with new characters/classes and, for the first time, we are introduced to low gravity gameplay as core mechanic of the game. This means you will be able to jump higher and double jump (with help of jet packs you’re equipped with), which brings a whole new dimension to gameplay.

GamesCom presentation and Claptrap

We were introduced to the story behind the game at GamesCom, the largest gaming convention in Europe, by Matthew Armstrong, Borderlands Franchise director and Tony Lawrence, head of studio of 2K Australia. After taking us through the game’s story background and showing us the just released trailer (found a bit bellow) we learned more about the new characters players will be able to control as well as some new mechanics coming to the game. As the trailer suggests, new characters are not the good guys in a traditional sense. We also found out that a new element has been added to the game – Cryo damage – which freezes opponents so you can shatter them into a million pieces with a nicely placed melee punch. Since we are in space it was only natural to add laser rifles into the mix as well, so that is the new weapon type. Fighting in space also means you can shoot out enemy’s oxygen masks to stun them for a brief moment. Low gravity also introduces ability to swoop from above and smash into the ground, greatly damaging any nearby enemies. You can jump and double jump in the air to activate your jetpack. This can help you propel yourself quickly across the battlefield or make loops to come behind enemies, or position yourself above enemy groups and slam down from above all Thor like.

New Vault Hunters

  • Wilhelm was one of the bad guys you got to kill in Borderlands 2 and he is The Enforcer. He has drones, just like during the fight you had with him in Borderlands 2. You can also build him as a tank to soak up damage and heal up.
  • Athena – the Gladiator uses a shield as her active skill. Shield soaks up all damage, but you can throw it at enemies to get bonus damage. You can spec her into being more of a melee combatant or buff her shield
  • Nisha – the Lawbringer – is a bad cow-girl. Her action skill lets you fire twice as fast, reload twice as fast, do more damage and hit everything she aims at. You’ll, pretty much, get an aimbot cheat from her action skill. One more cool thing about her is that she uses a whip as her long range melee skill, which you can spec for in the talent tree.
  • Claptrap – the Fragtrap is the annoying, yet somehow lovable, robot we had to deal with in all previous games. His action skill is called vaulthunter.exe and it basically starts one of the action skills of all other vault hunters. When you cast it, it will analyze the battle field and choose one of the many action skills (some unique to Claptrap). One of them is to drop a mini turret, other is to turn him into a pirate ship that starts firing cannons to Tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture (no, really, I saw it happen, it is real). His talent trees are pretty unpredictable and effects you get can really make or break a fight. Key is to keep an eye out and react to what’s happening with Claptrap and this can make him the most useful fighter in the team.

Hands-on Impressions

When we finally got to sit down and play I went for Claptrap immediately. We had enough skill points to build out the character the way we wanted. I quickly invested the points almost randomly into a single tree because I wanted to see the gameplay asap. Soon enough I was back in Borderlands universe. Graphics were familiar, movement and combat were all there and we were on a quest to save one thing or the other. I really didn’t pay too much attention to the dialogues – too busy fraggin’. Mission was happening in some sort of moon complex and we could see the outside of the moon as well as venture into a base where the bad guys were. Movement felt like in previous games until I did my first jump and figured out the use of jetpacks. At first I did not see too many advantages to the whole double jump and jetpack idea, but as you start learning you see you are now free to move around in lots of new ways. Shooting was awesome as it should be in a Borderlands game. We had good equipment in the demo so it was a pleasure handing out headshots to bad guys all over the place. New cryo damage really spices things up and makes killing mobs more fun. At the end of the quest we were fighting waves of mobs and I activated Claptrap’s action skill several times. There is a chaotic element to Claptrap because you pretty much never know what is going to happen. Once your action skill starts you need to get closer to your friends if the action skill that gets activated is a buff or if it is the pirate ship action skill starts you need to aim at the biggest enemy on the screen, because those cannons will demolish him. It was an awesome sight when I first turned into a pirate ship. Iconic music starts playing and claptrap shoots a cannon ball from his sides at exactly the right moment of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture reaching crescendo. The first time you witness it for yourself you will want to play Claptrap forever. I am really not sure what 2K plans on doing to make people play other characters. My prediction is that we will witness a universe of Claptraps running around randomly exploding in people’s faces while double jumping with their jetpacks.

Conclusion

In the end Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is same old Borderlands, but with new content in a new setting and with new skills and characters. It is still insanely fun with loads of loot and explosions pretty much everywhere. Skillful gameplay will net better rewards and greater satisfaction. It is a co-op bonanza that it always was. Fans of the series have nothing to fear – the game is solid Borderlands stuff. We can’t help but feel that with this part of the franchise 2K decided play it safe and just give us more of the same. They did not go for reinvention, because, lets face it, there was nothing wrong with the previous games. If I had one thing I wish they did differently than it’s the visual component of the game that felt pretty much the same as it did in the previous game and lacks that next-gen punch. In one of the statements by game developers it was said that Borderlands 3 will have to be something massive and complex to really blow people’s minds after Borderlands 2 success. The Pre-Sequel is not this game, but rather more high quality content for the fans of the franchise. One thing is for sure, I won’t mind digging into it while waiting for Borderlands 3.

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