Pre-Preview – Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel

By Alec Meer on April 9th, 2014 at 1:00 pm.

Yesterday I was shown around half an hour of footage from the new Borderlands game, which everyone already knew about as it got leaked on Monday. Here’s what it’s all about.

I’m pretty sure we’re not supposed to take the messy portmanteau ‘Pre-Sequel’ too seriously, given Borderlands’ traditionally derisive-about-everything tone. So while it’s playful rather than the latest ‘expandalone’ or ‘freemium’ or whatever the latest newspeak horror someone’s marketing department has retched up, let’s just hope no-one else is inspired by it and we don’t find ourselves drowning in pre-sequels by this time next year.

Yes, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is a brand-ish new Borderlands game, and due out somewhere around the tail end of this year. More importantly, it’s set on the moon and features jetpacks.

However many tongues that weirdo mouthful of a title might have lodged in its cheek, it’s also accurate in a bunch of ways. Number one, this is not Borderlands 3, but rather a standalone, full-length expansion for Borderlands 2. Number two, narratively it is set in-between Borderlands and Borderlands 2. Hence, it’s a prequel to a sequel. I kind of whish they’d gone with ‘Srequel’, just to screw with everyone’s spellcheck.

For the most part, it seems safe to interpret this as primarily ‘more Borderlands 2′ – apparently the previous DLC has been very successful, there’s been great demand for more, and this is an attempt to meet that with something more significant. There are three major facts to know, however.

1) It is for PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. That means no new engine, no graphical upgrades to speak of, no element whatsoever of being a next-gen Borderlands. The primarily reason for this, apparently, is that the majority of Borderlands’ fanbase is sitting pretty with a last-gen console. More copies of Borderlands 2 have been sold than have Xbones and PS4s combined. Anyway, consoles, whatever.
2) There are four new playable characters, all of which have appeared previously in Borderlands games, and all of which are a brand new class.
3) Most of it is set on the moon. The moon has low gravity and no oxygen. Also everyone gets jetpacks.

Point 3 is where most BTPS most seems to differ from Borderlands 2, and not just because the colour scheme switches to primarily grey-purple. There’s a new focus on verticality, at least presuming jetpack sections don’t turn out to be prescribed interludes like the exterior sections in Doom 3, as you’re shooting from on high, or/and at enemies on high, and with a new Ground Pound ability which allows you wreak massive damage by bottom-plunging onto landlocked foes. As with so many things in Borderlands, items and abilities can alter this so, for instance, it chucks out explosive damage as well, or you can shatter dudes who’ve been frozen by the new Cryo weapon types. Let’s just hope there are some exploding bum-related gags in there, eh?

Further moon-related remixing comes in the form of O2 supplies. You need to keep your tank full, otherwise you’ll lose health, and you get to wear a nifty forcefield bubble-helmet, which unfortunately can be popped by gunfire. Fortunately you can do similar to your enemies in order to expedite their deaths. Oxygen pick-ups and generators look to be commonplace though, and really the focus is on the combat potential of the life-giving gas – for instance, let off fire-related weapons within the hitherto safe air bubble put out by a generator and you create a deadly, even explosive orb of flame.

A complication to all of this is that jetpacks use your O2 supply too, so too many mega-jumps and glides across yawning lunar canyons may risk asphyxiation. It’ll be interesting to see how those dynamics work across the game, but the raw practility of it is a new meter to join health and shield levels. Even if your jetpack’s empty though, exterior moon sections have low-gravity, and that means big, Neil Armstrong jumps. While BTPS looks and sounds inescapably like more Borderlands 2, perhaps the new movement systems means it won’t quite feel like it.

It seems to be attempting to push things with its new playable characters too. For starters we’ve got fan-favourite screechbot Claptrap there, and while Gearbox have as yet revealed little in terms of how he’ll play, a low-to-the-ground camera is promised, as are abilties that make up for his teeniness and apparent frailty, and at one point he was wearing a beret like Bill from Left 4 Dead’s. Apparently he’s the Claptrap first encountered in Borderlands 1, and to be perfectly honest I’m not versed enough in Borderlands lore to grasp whether that makes him The Claptrap or A Claptrap. His class type is termed ‘Fragtrap’, by the way.

Joining him in the less-archetypal class stakes is Wilhelm, the Enforcer. Wilhelm previously appeared as one of Borderlands 2′s earliest bosses, at which point he was a massive, murderous robot. He starts BTPS as very much human, but character upgrades throughout the game will reflect his journey to hulking machine-man. Hopefully this means that playing him will be significantly changing experience, which immediately makes him the most appealing of the new kids to me.

A little more conventional is Athena, the Gladiator, who previously cropped up in the BL1 General Knox DLC. She’s a tank/healer whose main ability is an energy shield called the Aspis, which with the right upgrades can absorb incoming damage then hurl it back at the send, or do a Captain America thing and take out multiple smaller foes at once. Another ability turns enemy aggro onto her, so her shield can keep ‘em busy while her co-op chums are left unmolested. She has blue hair and says things like “come to momma.”

Final semi-newbie Nisha, the Lawbringer wasn’t on show yet, but we’ve previously seen her as the Sheriff of Lynchwood. This makes it highly likely she will be wearing a purple hat in BTPS.

Also returning, as it were, is BL2 baddie Handsome Jack, who here has yet to fall entirely to darkness, and has recruited our four new heroes as part of his quest to regain control of the moonbase he’s been recently kicked off. In the half hour or so of footage I saw, they took on a few new enemies straight outta the Borderlands style bible – Lunatics and Scavs and midget variations of them, and some with jetpacks of their own.

It did look faster and bouncier and bigger in scale than Borderlands 2 usually did, and that low gravity means bodies are sent spinning off into space lent a Looney Toons vibe to the furious bloodshed. I tired of Borderlands 2 pretty quickly, to be honest, but potential of the jetpack hi-jinx here has me more interested than I’d expected. Titanfall recently reminded me of how important movement is to a good FPS, so if 2K Australia can pull that side of things off this could be a significant shot in the arm despite not entirely being a ‘new’ Borderlands game.

Ah yes, 2K Australia. BTPS is described as a co-operation between Gearbox and the 2K in-house dev who also lent a major hand to several BioShocks and the ill-fated XCOM Declassified, with the Australia team apparently taking a lead on this in order to give Gearbox more room to work on other things (including new IP). I have absolutely no idea what that means for BTPS, as we’ve never really seen a non-Gearbox take on this series before – though Telltale are working on one too, interestingly – but I did note that the dialogue on show didn’t seem to have the aggressively manic, machine gun gags of Borderlands 2. I did hear someone say “I put you on ice” when they killed an enemy with ice bullets at one point, but hopefully as a whole the dialogue’s going to try harder than that. Unless it was a Batman & Robin reference, of course, in which case all is forgiven.

There you go. Borderlands 2.5, but also Borderlands 1.5. Just not, by any measure, Borderlands 3. It’s due out in Autumn/Fall this year, so you’re looking at about a six month wait for it.

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69 Comments »

  1. ran93r says:

    I enjoyed BL1 and I thoroughly enjoyed BL2.
    I will enjoy this… although I have to say that I’m a little disappointed that it’s just a big ol expansion pack.

    There is footage from (shush) PC Gamer:

    • Kollega says:

      I watched the footage, and the gameplay actually looks pretty good. I might be picking this up… not neccesarily, but chances are pretty good.

  2. Jason Moyer says:

    Having just replayed the first 2 games again, I am really excited to see a new one coming out already, even if it’s just basically a BL2 expandalone.

    • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

      I’m not sure why the idea of this one being basically an expansion is getting traction, is it because they claimed it might not be as large as BL2 ( but larger than BL1 ) ? Or that they claimed that they’re still working on the pricing?

      Is there something i don’t know or are we stumbling into a very early ( and dangerously misguided ) meme?

      If that’s just because the gameplay is going to be pretty much the same thing, then spare me: i know myself and a lot of other fans wouldn’t want anything different.

      • Jason Moyer says:

        I suspect it’s because it looks to be using BL2 as a base, with the same tech/etc.

        • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

          Ahwell, i’m just worrying that it might come up as a glorified DLC for ALL the bad reasons, including a quite short campaign and scope. If they avoid that i’m golden already.

          • Shuck says:

            I’m told that the scale of production was comparable with Borderlands 2 in terms of the work that was required. So I’m guessing the amount of content is on par with a full game.

  3. gschmidl says:

    I believe the term is the horrendous “interquel”.

    • lordfrikk says:

      First time I’ve heard of it, but it’s 100% better than pre-sequel.

    • Chuckleluck says:

      I’m gonna have to go with The Lion King and call this one Borderlands: One and a Half.

    • Geebs says:

      Sprequel

    • Josh W says:

      Or as it’s balanced ambiguously between the two, we could call it an “equel”.

  4. Anthile says:

    Actually, most of the Borderlands DLC was outsourced so we do know what a non-Gearbox take looks like and it wasn’t very good for the most part.

    • db1331 says:

      The Torque and Tiny Tina DLC were great. Especially Tiny Tina. That’s exactly the kind of stuff I want as DLC.

      • Rao Dao Zao says:

        I think Tiny Tina was in-house, all the others were outsourced. Tiny Tina was by far the best in my opinion, so, eh…

        • db1331 says:

          Sure, Tiny Tina was by far the best, but the Torque DLC regularly cracked me up as well.

    • Shuck says:

      A friend of mine at Gearbox was recently complaining that they hadn’t given enough support or time to most of the third party developers who did the DLC, which had often caused problems, and they’d made the same mistakes with 2K for this – not giving them any support or nearly enough time given the size of the undertaking, so…

    • Tei says:

      Yea, please. More of the good BL (like tiny tina one) and less of the bad ones.

  5. Kollega says:

    And I bet it’s Anthony Burch writing it, so that means we’re again in for more of Handsome Jack’s not-fucking-funny douchebaggery. But hey! Jetpacks! And ice weapons that were for some reason previously deemed unsuitable for the original BL2!

    • RedViv says:

      Boy am I glad that humour is still objectively measurable!

    • Philomelle says:

      Given that Burch stated on the development blog that the game’s narrative theme was “hatred” and Jack was intentionally written as a self-absorbed loathesome douchebag who is funny only to himself and people who find self-absorbed douchebags funny, I’m not sure what you’re complaining about. That the character came off exactly as intended? How is that a problem?

      • Kollega says:

        I must have missed the memo then. Burch must be a really good writer, because his attempts to make the player hate Jack worked… how do I put it tactfully… a little too well.

        (Also, I don’t like Burch for turning Claptrap into a useless, arrogant jackass when in the first game Claptraps were kind and helpful.)

        • Philomelle says:

          He’s a good writer in my opinion, at least. I found his explanations for Jack’s character design and writing on the development blog very insightful. He does mention that Jack was originally written to be straight-up comical, but comedy didn’t click with anyone on the development team and they decided to rework him into a character players would end up hating with every fiber of their being.

          It’s why the game ends how it ends, with a huge emotional wind-down that can be resolved in a single bullet. It’s an emotional outlet both for the characters and the player.

          Personally, I’d think the way other characters perceive Jack should be a good hint to how he’s supposed to come off. I mean, absolutely nobody finds him funny and Maya actually throws up while wearing his disguise because she hates hearing his voice so much.

        • Skeletor68 says:

          I like Anthony Burch but do find the new Claptraps significantly less endearing.

        • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

          Hating Jack? How is that even remotely possible? It’s already in my all-time top ten.

          Jokes aside, i’m perfectly aware that he’s supposed to be perceived as the ultimate scumbag, but he’s so magnificently ( ??? ) bad that i can’t help myself.

          • SuicideKing says:

            True, I found him quite entertaining. Or i kept thinking “my god what’s wrong with this dude!”

            But that’s Borderlands for you. Confuses your morals in a lot of ways.

    • derbefrier says:

      as long as they leave that little girl out(i forget her name) I am golden. seriously that had to be one of the most annoying video game characters ever created. The entire time she talked all i could think about was punching the person who came up with that character in the face repeatedly.

    • Ryuuga says:

      We all see different things in games, enjoy different aspects, but to me, Borderlands 2 is the perfect example of how to focus on the wrong things and end up with a mediocre game. What I loved about the first game was the looting & shooting, running & gunning. Any story, to me, was a story about me and someone right next to me or on skype that was frantically fighting high level mobs, dying, getting 2nd wind, dying, getting revived, having a blast, always looking for another fun gun. Voiceover and quests? Well, Scooter was fun a couple times, other than that, nothing that stood out. Environments, music, a sense of place? Now that was more central.

      With the second game, suddenly the story seems to want to take center stage, and can’t seem to make up its’ mind if it wants to be funny, or cruel, or serious. In the end, it kinda left me with a bad taste in the mouth and seldom made me crack a smile. Halfway thru I turned off voice volume altogether, tired of constant tirades from Handsome Jack interrupting my gameplay. Moments of glory were few and far between, while tired, heartstring-tugging schlock was all over, all the time, a constant barrage of empty bluster.

      But horses for courses. Many individual aspects of Borderlands 2 were great, but overall, every time me and my friend try to get thru it again, we stop, feeling like it’s a job, a chore. Combat never takes off, guns are never fun, some NPC always goes off on another tiring tirade, jokes falling flat. Meanwhile, we’ve played thru the first game some 2 times so far, working on the 3rd..

      Shame no other dev gave the diablo-FPS genre a try. Instead we just get gearbox doing diablo-FPS-Opera..

  6. amateurviking says:

    Cautiously optimistic?

    I really dug BL2 despite it being a little bit OTT for my grumpy 30 somethingness. Finished it wanting more, which is always a good sign!

  7. Awesumo says:

    >Follow borderlands link
    You arrive at an age restriction barrier. It look intimidating. What do you do?
    >Explain I was born on first of January 1900.
    The wall is apologetic at having taken up so much of what little time you have left in the world and lets you pass.
    You arrive at the borderlands 2 website. It curtiously explains that they have amazing new DLC called ‘assualt on dragon keep’
    >Search for information on pre-sequel
    Syntax not recognized.
    >Look for information on pre-sequel
    What is a ‘pre-sequel’
    >Look for information on prequel
    You look for information on prequel and are guided to the Borderlands 1 website.
    You arrive in the Borderlands 1 website. It carefully explains about the amazing new ‘game of the year edition’ of Borderlands 1.
    >Look for information on prequel
    You look for information on prequel and are guided to the Borderlands 1 website.
    You arrive in the Borderlands 1 website. It carefully explains about the amazing new ‘game of the year edition’ of Borderlands 1.
    >Pull pin on hand grenade
    You prime the holy hand grenade. Would you like to throweth the holy hand grenade?
    >No.
    The holy hand grenade explodeth when the count doth reacheth to 5.
    GAME OVER

  8. G says:

    Are those aliens inspired by the box art from UFO: Enemy Unknown?

  9. Stevostin says:

    This is excellent news. I am not tired at all of borderlands and I am way more interested in new content than new engine – actually I played BL1 lately and it looked better than BL2 in place. Those games don’t need better engine (I could go with better animations for NPC / Quest givers thus)

  10. SuicideKing says:

    I picked up the GOTY edition during the winter on sale, I’ve sunk 70 hours into at and haven’t even touched the DLC yet. Probably be done by Autumn, but won’t buy till next winter, so yeah, looking forward to the child of Titanfall and BL2 (and Ground Pound is from Crysis 2).

  11. SuicideKing says:

    Alec, “Claptrap” is the robot type in general, just like 343 Guilty Spark was a particular Monitor of a particular Halo. Claptrap in BL2 was the last Claptrap unit apparently (or so it says).

    • Detocroix says:

      Yeah, apparently Handsome Jack discontinued the claptrap line and butchered other claptrap except for THE claptrap.

      • SuicideKing says:

        Yup. I wonder what “Fragtrap” is hinting at, I mean this is Borderlands after all, a “fragtrap” could be something as obtuse as all grenades gravitating towards Claptrap.

        • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

          I think they came up without only to fullfill the usual naming convention, like “Maya – Siren”.

          In this case i’m pretty sure it’s just a reference to the arena shooters of old!

  12. SuicideKing says:

    But damn, Borderlands 2 did diversity very well (also recognized and accepted homosexuality in the dialogue), and look, out of 4 playable characters, two are female and one is a weaker robot.

    • Bedeage says:

      But shit, there’s no chicks with dicks. Also the negativity surrounding mentally disabled characters, particularly the Psycho-types, is horrendously normative. Does anyone remember how BL depicted dwarfs?

      • SuicideKing says:

        Calling them midgets? Well in that way, maybe. But i don’t know. BL2 sort of poked fun at everyone and everything.

        Were they making fun of mental disabilities? I don’t think so. Never felt that way, though I guess i’m not affected so privilege and all that comes into picture. But really, “psychos” were psychopaths, murderers, suicide bombers or cultists (they mock cultists). To a large extent, so are you in the game. You can even play as a psycho.

        But honestly, everyone felt like they’re on the same footing. BL2 did end up with “save the damsel in distress” as the main mission objective, though seeing that you’ve saved/killed/killed for pretty much everyone, I don’t know.

        No “chicks with dicks”, but I never said anything about transgender representation. I just said homosexuality, which does come into the dialogue.

        Think about it, they had tiny people, half people, big people, mutated people, not people, thin people, normal humans (both men and women, equally strong and equally weak).

        Think about it, Athena is female gladiator. Even Hollywood hasn’t done that yet.

        • Kollega says:

          Unless you count Xena: Warrior Princess. Not exactly a gladiator, but still.

  13. bstard says:

    BL is one of those games you want very much, but after a few bites you’ve had enough. You as in me. Few bites as in a few bytes.

  14. db1331 says:

    I wonder how they’re going to handle stairs with a player playing as Claptrap.

  15. Flank Sinatra says:

    I’m glad they are finally getting off Pandora. After 2 games worth of deserts and icescapes full of Mad Max shanty towns and robots, I’m a little sick of the place. The Bouncing around the moon with jet packs is a nice change.
    I hope they open up the Borderlands universe a bit more in Borderlands 3. I mean, they are in space after all. Presumably there are other planets and starships. I’d love to see multiple planets that the player can hop between like the Star Wars: The Old Republic games, maybe even have our own upgradable starfighter and have Freelancer style space combat be part of the game.
    Or maybe they’ll save all that for the inevitable Borderlands MMO.

    • Horg says:

      That BL2 ending pretty much left the story open for some universe hopping vault hunting so i’d eat my hat if we end up back on Pandora for BL3.

  16. Shooop says:

    This is completely unnecessary.

    Who cares about Jack’s backstory? What we did find out about him in Borderlands 2 didn’t make him a deep enough character for any more research.

    What we do need is a larger playground and more of the first game’s anarchist approach to guns instead of the more restricted sequel’s. This game isn’t offering either of those things.

    It looks to me like they’re trying to get people to forget about the Duke Nukem and Aliens disasters by offering more of the thing they’re actually good at.

  17. mariandavid says:

    Nothing clever to say except much pleasure at the news. To me the Borderlands series are an utterly welcome pleasure – an oasis of meaningless, enjoyable even charming mayhem that allows rest from decisions and thought and angst – and so a charming contrast with other games I play.

  18. Ridiculous Human says:

    I always liked “in-betweequel”

  19. aliksy says:

    So I guess they’re leaving in the awful “level difference = damage modifier * 10″ system. Hate it. Makes side quests worthless or undoable if you’re the wrong level, takes a lot of the skill out of the game.

    • Snidesworth says:

      I hope they change the exponential power curve in the game too. I’d found the “regular” game (up to level 35 or 40, I think?) quite enjoyable, but the massive jump in numbers between every level after that sucked the fun out of it. It turned enemies into massive damage sponges and made any gun that wasn’t your exact level more or less useless.

  20. The Random One says:

    Oh great, I can’t wait to shoot at a guy for fifteen seconds while he barely flinches and then dies explosively.

    Sorry about that. There was too much happiness in this thread and I had to do something.

  21. Jupiah says:

    It’ll be nice to see more of Wilhelm. The second game claimed that he was so powerful he defeated all four of the original game’s vault hunters by himself, but he only has like a half dozen lines and his only in-person appearance is an underwhelming boss battle where he dies because he let you win. I was expecting a lot more from that guy with the way the game talked him up early on.

  22. MykulJaxin says:

    The Prequel to the Sequel?! Between the Buried and Me!?