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Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel Review



Things are going to get… complicated in this section and (spoiler) not for good reasons.

For the most part, the mechanics are that of Borderlands 2, though there are definitely some tweaks. You still have more variations of weapons and gear than you will ever know what to do with, and some gear has interesting and special abilities to them. For example, Nova shields will blast enemies when they go down and acid weapons will leave a damage-over-time effect and are more effective against armor. Ice has been added as an element, allowing you to freeze enemies, or be frozen by enemies. When frozen, enemies can be shattered and are unable to attack, but when you are frozen you just move slowly and take damage over time. I never really found myself using it much, but it can definitely be effective.

Laser weapons are a new addition to the franchise, but in most forms, are nothing new. I have found three variants of the laser weapons: continuous beam, rail-gun pulse, and laser blast. The laser blast is essentially just a shotgun blast of lasers. The rail-gun version can pierce enemies, which we have already experienced in the other games thanks to special weapons, rail guns, and at least one character ability. The continuous beam is new though, but only because the damage increases as an enemy is attacked. Without that mechanic, they would be, in effect, assault rifles or SMGs with very high rates of fire, especially as they still have recoil. How exactly a laser weapon would produce recoil, I am not sure. (Sure photons have momentum, but not that much.) There is a part of me that believes the lasers are meant more to be cool and bring back those mechanics described above, without having to bring back the weapons that originally brought them to the franchise.


Before going too far, some may be curious about what it was like playing Claptrap. Interesting and unusual may be accurate, but nothing too weird. His abilities do suggest a more complex character than some I remember from the previous games, but it is his Action Skill that is truly unique. Instead of having a single set skill that always comes up, VaultHunter.exe instead pulls out parts of Action Skills from other Vault Hunters in both previous games, along with some new, Claptrap-only abilities. The game says it picks the best features for you, but I am not completely certain about that. Regardless, it is still fun to start dual-wielding weapons without the ability to stop firing, turn invisible, drop a Miniontrap to distract and attack, or pull out a bomb. It is unusual, but amusing and typically effective.

The oxygen system is more novel and interesting, although I did not get the full experience of it. I played as Claptrap, a robot who does not breathe. Claptrap is still able to use the associated boost and slam mechanics, however.


The boost mechanic is actually referred to as a double jump at times in the game, but this is inaccurate. When you jump you are able to hit the jump button again, providing a short boost that can propel you forward and slow your descent. It cannot be used to get any higher though. It also has an independent timer, so you cannot just hold down the button to thrust about, using up your oxygen. It is a pretty useful mechanic for covering large distances quickly. I definitely used it just to cross the maps faster than running alone.

The slam mechanic is really fun to use, but is a little odd in its implementation. When you are in the air, you can press the crouch button to suddenly be propelled downward. If you hold the button until you hit, you will slam into the ground, doing damage to any enemies nearby. (If you do not hold the button down, then it is just a good means to stop your forward momentum and rapidly return to the ground.)


One of the odd aspects to its implementation is the minimum distance needed to actually slam the ground. That distance is approximately the maximum height of your jump. While that does makes sense for balance purposes, it can be quite annoying when you find yourself in an area without low gravity. In such places you cannot jump high enough to slam down, removing the powerful and useful attack from your arsenal. Why some areas have low gravity and others do not, I cannot tell you. Personally I would prefer it if everywhere had low gravity for consistent gameplay. Also coming down directly onto an enemy does not cause a slam. My guess is that this has to do with how the engine is configured to treat jumping on other characters.

The stats of the slam attack are determined by the Oz kit, including maximum damage and damage type. You can cause explosions, fire, freeze your enemies, and even send out acid, depending on the kit. One kit I found even provided a farting noise each time I used it.

While the boost does deplete your oxygen reserves, the slams do not, which is handy. Of course for air-breathing characters, the reserve will go down whenever you are not in an atmosphere, which could be a problem. Though I have only played as Claptrap so far, I would still say that I doubt oxygen will be a problem for most people. Vents, oxygen emitters, and canisters dropped by enemies are plentiful enough that I doubt many will find themselves suffocating, unless they over use the boost or fail to pay attention to their reserves.


I am not sure if this will come as a surprise to anyone, but only a few enemies, which are really only present at the end, are really new. They tend to just be the same enemy types we have encountered in the previous games with different names. Nothing necessarily wrong with that, but a more serious change would still have been nice to see.

One new mechanic has been added that I am sure many people are going to be happy about. Instead of just relying on vendors and drops to get new and better gear, you can, through a side mission, unlock access to a Grinder. By sacrificing three items of the same quality, you can get a new item that has stats from what was sacrificed. By spending Moonstones, a secondary currency, the Grinder will select the best stats for the new item. As odd as it may sound, I find this use of Moonstones important as it gives an open end to their economy. Besides the Grinder, Moonstones are also used to purchase ammo capacity, bank, and storage upgrades, of which there are a limited number.


Thus far, the Grinder has failed to impress me, but then that may be intentional, in a weird way. While the game does tell you that there are recipes for the Grinder, it does not present you with any. Obviously knowing the best recipes would grant a higher opinion of its capabilities, but until someone puts together a wiki of them, the best you can do is experiment and hope for the best. Considering the cost of three items, I am not sure how many people will experiment with it.

I found progression to be abysmal. It took five hours before I finally found gear that represented a significant upgrade from what I started with, and the same five hours to get the upgrade to carry more than two weapons at a time. This is not pitiful, because I have no pity for it. This is just lousy design that allows many enemies to be able to one-shot you, or very close to it, just because the gear you have is that inferior. Mind you, these enemies are near your character level, so theoretically you should be able to handle them. The many deaths I suffered and poor drops also led me to be quite poor, so even when I found a good item in a vendor, I often could not afford it. One of the two legendaries I encountered in my entire playthrough was in a vendor and too expensive for me. Seriously, whenever I saw I crossed $10,000 I was surprised because that is how slow you accumulate wealth in the game. It also does not last long because of deaths and finding those occasional upgrades in vendors.


In case you missed it, yes, I said I only encountered two legendaries in the entire playthrough. For a game so centered on loot I find this to be a joke, because finding legendaries is what makes looting fun, with their crazy abilities. The one I was able to get is a grenade mod and the other was a shield, I think (could not buy it, so I cannot remember). Both encounters were early in the game and I was really hopeful to see more as I played on, but alas, nothing.

With loot progression really slow, the difficulty becomes artificially inflated against even the basic mobs. Before long I became apathetic to the game and just wanted to finish playing for the sake of this review. The apathy was interrupted a few times by rage though, as unbelievably bad design allowed for no other emotional reaction.

The first time I was angered enough that I actually had to stop playing (oh, I got quite angry before this) was in a boss fight that feels like it was designed to be abusive to solo players, like myself. First, the respawn point is set behind a death trap, so every time you die you have to wait on the trap before getting to the elevator that takes a brief moment to get you back to the arena. That affects everyone, single and multi-players, but at least when you are with people, someone may still be alive, doing damage. What really is an insult to solo players are some of the mobs with the boss. (In case you cannot tell, this got me a bit hot under the collar, but at least read the end of the section.)

This is a different boss fight.


The Borderlands franchise has a Fight for your Life mechanic that gives you a chance to get back up when you lose all of your health. To successfully revive, you just have to kill an enemy. In this boss fight though, many of those enemies will actually transform at low health, refilling their health bars. Combined with the horrible progression, you stand almost no chance to successfully fight for your life, as your damage is that limited compared to their health. The only hope you have is that one of the lesser mobs, which do not transform but are less common, is nearby so you can kill them. Because of how uncommon they are during the fight, just press the button to respawn immediately. Besides, Jack is actually in the arena with you, and can kill those enemies before you get a chance, so you are really screwed.

To get past this boss fight I just ran away and completed the few side missions I had to gain what little experience I could. I did gain a couple levels this way, but even then it was pure luck that I succeeded. Just before the timer ran out on a Fight for your Life, I was able to kill an enemy and get back up. I had no expectation I was going to kill that enemy though; I was just firing at it because I did not feel like not firing.

This is not a situation any player should find themselves in, but it is exactly what you will be subjected to, unless you are playing with someone else. In that case, someone may stay in the arena while the other respawns, preventing the boss from returning to full health. As I talked about in the Borderlands 2 review, the implementation of the respawn system is completely unbalanced with regard to solo play, and remains so. Whenever you die, you lose some ammo, money, and grenades (respawning can give you some ammo back, but generally does not completely refill you, and grenades I have never seen returned), but the boss is always, without exception, returned to full strength.


The second boss fight that was so horrible and really angered me was actually the next one. It involved fighting a flying boss, similar to the Bunker from Borderlands 2, but with one critical flaw that is only the result of a bad design choice. When fighting the Bunker, it would periodically stop moving to shoot you, giving you an opportunity to shoot it, before flying away. In this fight, the boss almost never stops moving, but when it does, it is to send out a massive barrage that will make you dodge more than shoot. It will also just fly by while unleashing these attacks, so you will have to be good and lucky to do much damage to it at these times. What finally pushed me to just rage-cheat against this boss was what I consider a bug.

Like many boss fights in many games, there are stages to this fight, triggered by lowering boss health. In this case, more and more powerful mobs spawn. The bug I found was that after taking the boss to about a quarter health and dying, causing the boss to return to full health, these additional, more powerful mobs did not stop spawning. So beyond the respawn punishment (less ammo and money) making the fight harder, the fight itself became harder because stronger enemies than should have been spawning were. The only solution was to exit the game, causing me to have to run back to the arena, through many enemies. After still having no success, I found a way to cheat, and did so to get past that horribly designed fight. Even when cheating though, the bad design was present as I had to rely mostly on my sniper rifle to actually hit the boss, as it continually flew out of range of my other weapons. (Actually it was at the rifle's maximum range, as shots would not connect if I was standing too far away on the tall, central platform of the arena.) There were also issues, before cheating, of finding enemies I could kill to be revived without respawning, but thankfully those enemies tended to stay near their spawn points, so it was not as bad as the previous fight.


When the time came for the final boss, I did not care enough to give it a fair chance, so I cheated again and just blew it away. Considering how long that took though, I cannot guess how long it would have taken for me to do it alone, without cheating.

Boss fights are not the only examples of bad or poor design, though. Many missions, campaign and side, force the player to traverse maps on foot and present no shortcuts for returning. Some missions fortunately were designed to loop back on themselves, so you would end where you needed to be, instead of having to run off and through a bunch of enemies to progress in the quest.

Easily the side mission with the worst design for solo players was one involving a lock. To open the lock you had to input a combination. That combination is found in another room and only the area is indicated on your map, so I did spend some time searching for the thing. Once you know where it is though, you have to input the code before it resets. Inputting the code requires shooting buttons on the lock to turn the dials. So, you have get the code from one room and run back, leaving only a limited amount of time the code is good for, while also having to wait on your weapon's firing rate, and potentially also on reload speed.

Honestly though, what I have just described is not too bad. It is not that good and definitely not fun, but what pushes it fully into the realm of bad design is this: the dials have a cooldown. If you have to move a dial by more than one turn, you have to shoot it multiple times, waiting in between each shoot so that an invisible cooldown can end. And, of course, after setting the combination, you have to run to manually activate the code - it will not just be accepted. I really do not like that mission and my animosity towards it is mostly because of that cooldown that has no purpose except to frustrate players. You already have limited fire rates to slow the player, so why have this as well? Of course if you were playing with a friend, one person could stand near the combination and tell it to the person that actually inputs it, giving you back the time otherwise spent running.

This video is the entire mission, and so is something of a spoiler.


One last example of the bad design is at the end of the game. After beating the boss and watching the credits, you have to turn in the mission to actually finish the playthrough. Turning in the mission requires running through the entire dungeon, with enemies, that you had to get through to approach the boss. I cannot imagine a reason for this when a one-way fast travel station could have been placed near the boss fight or a side-exit, if you will, could have also manifested, allowing for a speedy exit, much like in Borderlands 2.

In total, I spent 16 hours and four minutes to complete a single, Normal playthrough of the campaign and most side missions. I would guess that completing every side mission will bring it up to or at least near 20 hours for one playthrough. True Vault Hunter Mode is unlocked for your character after completing Normal, so that can double your playtime, and with a total of four heroes (at the moment) the playtime goes even higher.

Now things are about to get weird. Despite everything I have said, I would not classify The Pre-Sequel as a bad game. There are definitely worse games, but it is not even that. It was never the game itself that I felt was bad, but many (too many) of the design decisions behind it. A bad game would have overpowered enemies, while this game has troubling enemy mechanics. Sure, progression issues can make the enemies seem overpowered, but by completing side missions or just grinding they can be overcome. Also giving up caring about death helps; enemies may return to full health, but they do not revive.


One can still find it fun and enjoyable, but a lone, solo player is going to feel like things have been stacked against them, and for no good reason. While playing with a friend would ease some of the problems, the problems still exist, which makes me wonder how much time was spent testing solo play. Of course that will not help with loot progression, but at least you will not be alone and a second player will effectively double your DPS, double the HP pool, and may even reduce incoming damage by being a distracting target.

Not a truly bad experience, but also not good for solo play.

  1. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel Review - Introduction
  2. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel Review - Graphics
  3. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel Review - Story
  4. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel Review - Gameplay
  5. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel Review - Additional Gameplay Media
  6. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel Review - Conclusion
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