First person shooters are part of a genre routinely and perhaps unfairly bashed for a lack of creativity and innovation, yet you’d be hard pressed to hear such criticism leveled at the Borderlands franchise. In fact, if you knew nothing about +Borderlands at all and guessed its genre solely on gamer discussions and word of mouth, you would probably conclude that it’s a series of RPGs or action-adventures. Hundreds of weapons, an engaging story, experience and leveling up — the shoe definitely fits.
Perhaps it’s this reputation, then, that’s holding Gearbox Software back from developing a third game. Fan expectation is just too high. The CEO of Borderlands publisher 2K Games has gone on record stating that a third Borderlands would have to be massive, and that for this reason neither 2K nor Gearbox itself yet knows quite what the creative vision for Borderlands 3 will be. Though likely to happen eventually, it’s not happening now, nor is it happening anytime soon.
Instead, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, was understood to be a skippable spinoff is, in fact, a full-on Borderlands experience, lacking the moniker of “3” merely because of the time period in which it takes place. If you are a Borderlands fan who simply wants a logical extension of the previous game for 2014, you are absolutely going to get that — and probably then some.
One of the main reasons for that is simple: developer 2K Australia have gone ahead and taken some of the largest items on Borderlands fans’ collective wish list and implemented them without hesitation into the game. This is accomplished first and foremost through The Pre-Sequel’s narrative, which occurs between the first two games. As such, Handsome Jack has yet to escape the Pandoran moon Elpis, nor has he successfully captured and taken over Hyperion’s moonbase. Given that these are accepted facts in Borderlands 2, the discovery of how these events came to be is something we could all experience — even in an eventual Borderlands 3. The idea of a “Pre-Sequel,” then, is a useful one, and may just help flesh out the plots of future Borderlands titles to come.
The story facilitates the realization of fan wish lists, no joke; we are already quite surprised by the volume of direct fanservice 2K Australia has gone ahead and addressed for the game. The largest of the bunch is the ability to play on the moon, something every Borderlands 2 player wanted to eventually happen. Gearbox’s excuse was always that spending time on the moon would be boring for players, mainly because most of the notable events there (namely Handsome Jack’s rise to power and decent to “bad guy-ism”) had already occurred. The Pre-Sequel centers on that very thread, making time spent on Elpis not just worthwhile, but an essential visit.
Locales aside, a plot explaining backstory of the one of the series’ most popular characters ought to be, completely by itself, enough to whip fans into a frenzy. Press materials for the The Pre-Sequel list “more Handsome Jack” as a selling point, and though typically the mere presence of a character wouldn’t be enough to persuade people to buy a game, Borderlands fans understand the difference here. Playing through Handsome Jack’s past is a treat we never expected to experience when it failed to show up via Borderlands 2 DLC, and the fact that The Pre-Sequel is devoting its entire narrative to said events is, in theory, about as compelling as an entirely new mainline game. We will just have to wait a few hours before making comparisons.
Of course, you are not actually playing as Handsome Jack here. The Pre-Sequel features four playable characters–like past Borderlands titles–and this time they’re made up of various NPCs and enemies from earlier games. Most notable among them is Athena, the Atlas Corporation assassin who appeared in The Secret Armory of General Knoxx DLC back in 2010. You may recall Athena’s handy ability to absorb copious amounts of bullets and enemy fire, and her shielding techniques are available in full force if you choose her. Other payables include sheriff Nisha and Wilhelm the engineer from Borderlands 2, as well as–wait for it–the lovable robot Claptrap. Amusingly, he has a skill known as “VaultHunter.exe,” which grants special abilities to your party depending on the situation.
And frankly, what has been the most surprised to learn about The Pre-Sequel under further inspection; it is the next Borderlands game, no holds barred. Despite development by 2K Australia (a perfectly capable team in their own right), Gearbox is overseeing the project and offering a helping hand where needed or when its deemed necessary. Depending on your opinions regarding project management, or your optimism toward game development in general, this as a good thing — fresh blood to handle the nitty gritty and to brainstorm fresh ideas, but seasoned series veterans on hand as well, overseeing the project and making sure anything new still fits how it should. Not only that, but 2K itself enforces reasonable quality standards across the board. If you were mainly worried that the game wouldn’t be up to snuff, we know full well that it’s safe to put those fears to rest.
If instead you were simply wondering whether or not The Pre-Sequel is worth your while, it’s becoming increasingly evident to me that the game is a must-have for players who consider themselves die-hards of the Borderlands universe. The title promises to flesh out the backstory of a franchise-favorite character, and best of all, the chance to meet, play as, and get to know four fresh characters from the Borderlands universe. If it were not for the timeline placement, stamping a “3” on the box when this thing ships honestly would not be all that unreasonable.
We still don’t know for sure if The Pre-Sequel will deliver, and with only hours until release, you’re not going to find out unless you wait for reviews or give it a try. I do think that in this case, though, taking the plunge is more a matter of trust than a leap of faith. Gearbox’s supervision can only bode well, but that aside, my reason for getting the game will be far more simple — I just want more Borderlands. If you need the same itch scratched that I do, then you’re going to want to give Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel a chance.