Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! is Fan-Service in Action

As a term, fan-service tends to convey a pretty negative message. From bizarre chibi underwear scenes to out of context game references, fan-service often takes a way from the experience at large. For all of the nonsensical anime sexuality and random octopi we see on a regular basis, some genuine excitement can result from well-done fan-service. inFAMOUS’ downloadable content, while never as critically received as Sucker Punch’s full releases, succeeds from simply being more inFAMOUS. Hyrule Warriors appears to insert some truly fantastic Zelda fan-service into the much-beloved Dynasty Warriors franchise, refreshing both series after years of repetition. While Borderlands: The Presequel! doesn’t necessarily reinvent the wheel, fans of the series will find that it’s simply more of what they love.

Borderlands: The Presequel! is essentially the largest expansion the Borderlands franchise has seen to date. Sure, this is a full retail release, but its title shows that it isn’t a full-fledged sequel, nor is it a straight up prequel to Borderlands or Borderlands 2. Set on the Hyperion Moon Base, a location alluded to at different points in the series, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! finds a way to illuminate on an already-resolved conflict while still finding subtle ways to change the tried-and-true series formula. Taking the role of one of four former Borderlands NPCs (Athena, Nisha, Willhelm, and the lovably annoying Claptrap), players focus on Handsome Jack’s escape from Hyperion. Nothing new in regards to the story was revealed at PAX Prime 2014, as the demo focused almost entirely on gameplay.

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Though I was originally set to play as Athena, it would have been extremely remiss of me not to take the opportunity to play as Claptrap. After all, the inclusion of the obnoxious robot is arguably the most interesting aspect of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! Though the standard first-person shooter point of view is actually much closer to the ground than it should be (unless all humans are actually four-foot-tall neckless beings), Claptrap’s perspective is far lower than any protagonist we’ve seen before. While it’s not as though you’re playing as one of the RC-XDs in Call of Duty: Black Ops, this vertically-challenged perspective does tangibly alter the way one plays. Instead of simply aiming straight ahead to hit an enemy’s chest or neck, players have to aim slightly upwards. Is this altered point-of-view an absolute game-changer? Of course not, but it’s hard not to marvel at the thought that went into this simple tweak.

The mission I played through was your standard Borderlands fare. I had an objective I needed to reach, a large number of enemies in my way, and some random loot and items scattered about the landscape. Nothing was particularly mind-blowing about my time with Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!, but that doesn’t mean this demo lacked any level of fun. Claptrap’s “VaultHunter.exe” skill was easily the highlight of my demo experience, as the contextually-based ability shuffler inserted a level of unpredictability into what was an extremely familiar package. Perhaps a press of the skill button will cause everyone’s favorite/least-favorite robot to carry a giant bomb to the tune of an eerie jack-in-the-box tune. Maybe players will get access to magic bullets that make quelling various foes much easier. These awesome abilities are far more exciting than the most hilarious possibility, one that leaves Claptrap bouncing up and down without any sense of control. Is VaultHunter.exe a massive enough change to bring new players into the fold? Probably not, but those who adore the Borderlands series will find themselves squealing with laughter over and over again.

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The Hyperion Moon Base setting makes a number of minor changes to the tried-and-true Borderlands formula. The lower level of gravity means that jumping is a far more floaty affair than it previously was, adding a level of verticality to the gun-play. We’ve seen a number of recent and upcoming titles seeking to incorporate the Y-axis into the moment-to-moment combat (namely Titanfall, Destiny, and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare), so this is absolutely a welcome addition to the franchise. Again, this isn’t going to change Borderlands to the point of being unnoticeable, but in a game designed with fans in mind, lower-gravity allows for a higher fun-factor. Various ice and laser weapons have been added to the fold, again providing players with a mild level of ridiculousness on a moment-to-moment basis. Though Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! will touch on the ambiguous nature of good and evil, it’s nice to see that its gameplay doesn’t take itself overly seriously.

In a demo environment, it’s hard to really get immersed in all that Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel has to offer. It’s clear that this is a slightly zanier, low-gravity take on the Borderlands franchise, complete with awesome fan-service moments, but simply playing for twenty minutes isn’t truly satisfying. While some of 2K Australia’s tweaks are immediately noticeable, one will really have to dive into the campaign to fully experience all the changes Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! has to offer. At the end of the day, this is a title that Borderlands fans will end up adoring, simply because it’s more Borderlands.