No Borderlands 3 might seem like a bit of a missed opportunity, but when you consider what’s actually happened over the period between the first game and the second in that series, there are plenty of blanks waiting to be filled. Also, as an Aussie, it doesn’t bother me in the slightest how the chronological order of things plays out because 2K Australia, who has worked on all three BioShock titles, is, by the sound of it, a little more than a co-developer here on the recently announced Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel.
If you wanted to though, you could look at it as a testbed to see how the Aussie digital scribes handle as much freedom as Pitchford tells us they’ve been given. And with trends in the industry being what they are, you could stretch your mind to thinking about this being a first step to Borderlands going on a yearly release cycle with two teams at the helm… seriously, it’s food for thought (especially that this would mean Gearbox is working on a proper next-gen release of the game in an official third entry). But let’s switch gears
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is like a giant fanboy mod. It’s set on the moon and details Handsome Jack’s rise to lunar power. It features NPCs from both Borderlands 1 and 2 as its new Vault Hunters and it has systems-based gameplay up the ying-yang. The moon, as you may have already figured out, means low gravity which means moon-physics. It also means oxygen is an important game-tool for both survival and its natural properties on a place like the moon. This is one of the first big examples of the freedom the Aussie team has been afforded Randy likes to point out: they came up with the concept of its multiple uses -- one of these being a ground-pound to either stun enemies or smash frozen ones.
Let me set the scene: you’re fighting spacesuited-up Scavs on the moon (hilarious in its own right). You’re running out of oxygen but use it as a fire-spreading property while also aiming at the helmets of enemies so that shooting them off sees the natural results of no air to breathe. You throw a grenade and watch as one enemy is lifted so high off the surface, he escapes the moon’s low gravity and is set to drift lifelessly out to space. You also have your Kinetic Aspis shield which absorbs the energy of any weapons being fired at you so that you can eventually use it to throw the shield back at them (ala Captain America). But perhaps best of all is your Ice Bullets -- a feature Randy has been arguing to have in the game since its inception and one he’s glad his new Aussie buddies were happy to oblige. You fire these bad-boys at an enemy, freeze them, double-jump in their direction and then hit crouch while in mid-air to perform the aforementioned ground-pound which, in glorious fashion, shatters the frozen enemy into tiny pieces.
To say the combat, already, in this new update to the series is frenetic and visceral, would be an understatement and a half. We watched roughly 15-minutes of gameplay on the moon featuring two playable characters: Athena from original Borderlands DLC, and Wilhelm who you may remember as a giant cyborg boss from Borderlands 2. Both carried various unique and interesting abilities which were, in typical Borderlands fashion, a compliment to one another. In fact, on the whole things look similar enough for the game to be an easy sell, but it’s the moon and its gravity that will really shake things up. Pitchford even went so far as to say after playing enough of this new entry with its weightlessness, going back to Borderlands 2 now was a bit hard for him -- probably similarly to going back to a competitive shooter that isn’t Titanfall and features no double jump or wallrun.
It also looks gorgeous. When asked if there were any challenges filling a barren place like the moon with interesting art and design, 2K Australia’s Joel Eschler who serves as producer on the game noted that if any wastes in the playspace existed, they did so by design. And there are some serious liberties being taken here with mooning concepts, like a lava lake for example. But it’s all in a narrative effort to loosely fill in the blanks between the first two games and to help give Jack some backstory -- to really help us all understand how and why he became the dickhole that he is, as Joaby refers him to.
It’s arriving on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360, which Randy explains to us is the customers who want the game and have the means. We asked him directly about the lack of next-gen support and were met with some… differences of opinion in that space. I still feel it’s a missed opportunity and maybe a Borderlands next-gen would actually help shift the new consoles, but I digress. Even on last-gen machines it still looks good and for the PC master race it doesn’t really matter, right?
We still have a lot to learn about Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, but considering the gameplay demo ended with a boss encounter of truly Aussie, Aussie, Aussie… Oi, Oi, Oi proportions (his name was Red Belley -- a pisstake on the iconic Aussie bushranger and one of our native snakes), we’re pretty stoked. Hopefully we move beyond the moon and Claptrap is a decent playable character (oh, did we forget to mention that?), but regardless it all looks pretty spot-on and playable. If the teams can come up with a way to reward players from each other iteration in the series, it would be a perfect link, but even without any such thing we’re in for a bit of looting treat.