Saturday, January 23, 2021

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! Ultimate Edition


Moonraker, but Good

The year 2009 saw the release of the Gearbox Software-developed and 2K Games-published Borderlands, which caused quite a stir given its hybrid shooter and RPG mechanics, and its success would lead to its transformation into a franchise that would see several rereleases and remasters, as had been the trend for videogame developers seeking to fill their wallets through nostalgic appeal. Among the later entries of the franchise would be an interquel between the first and second number titles, its latest release titled Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! Ultimate Edition, “part” of the Legendary Collection for Nintendo Switch (albeit obtained through a one-time-use download code), which like its chronological precursor definitely feels at home on the Big N’s hybrid system.

Upon starting a new game, the player can choose among several characters, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Gameplay largely resembles that from the first chronological Borderlands game, with the player’s character initially able to wield two equippable firearms, although this ultimately expands to four, and the chosen protagonist can also wear a shield, grenade modifier, class modifier, and, given the game’s outer space setting, and oxygen modifier. The Pre-Sequel’s oxygen gauge one could consider the equivalent of classic Western RPG systems such as the food mechanic in the early Ultima titles, and it luckily doesn’t hamper the game.

The chosen protagonist’s oxygen modifier also allows him or her to get a boost in the air and slam below to deal damage to surrounding adversaries, which can really come in handy in oxygenated areas (since using said slam or boosting costs some of their oxygen) against multiple ground foes. Of course, as in the other games, the player can shoot their guns at antagonists to get experience and occasional drops such as new weapons, money, ammunition, and health recovery vials. As in The Pre-Sequel’s brethren, moreover, damage from enemies initially goes to the player’s shield before damaging their health, with death coming whenever HP reaches zero.

Fortunately, like other Borderlands titles, the game is nice to players when they die, allowing them a window of opportunity to kill an enemy near death to revive with some shield capacity and health, and one strategy I really found handy was keeping a bazooka on hand, given their high damage capability, to kill foes more easily when close to demise. Should the gauge that appears during death expire, the player’s character revives at the last checkpoint, with some of their money lost (less than ten percent), a fair penalty, especially compared to the harshness of death in many Japanese RPGs. One character ultimately gets an alternate death mode with a better opportunity to kill foes and revive.

As in other entries of the franchise, each character has a unique combat skill that lasts for a minute or two and takes some time to restore, with Wilhelm, for instance, able to summon two drones, one which gradually heals him and the other which attacks the enemy. Leveling fully restores the player’s shields, health, and action command cooldown (although gaining levels happens more slowly compared to many other RPGs), and gives the player a skill point they can invest into one of three skill trees, more powerful skills accessed as they invest points into lower-level skills. Class modifiers can give bonus points to these skills, some actually being fairly useful and critical to completing the game.

Other notable features of the game mechanics include the grinder, where the player can combine three firearms or other equipment (though these have certain limits depending upon the rarity rank) into another of the same type, sometimes with bonuses (and using moonstone, a material also occasionally gained from killing enemies, can increase the chance of a rank up), which definitely helps ease the stress of inventory management, since the number of items the player can carry and store in a facility in Concordia (one of the only towns players encounter in the game) is finite, albeit increasable, along with ammunition capacity.

The mechanics definitely work well, with the difficulty being relatively above average but certainly manageable, especially with the right equipment and abilities, although there are a few occasions, such as one boss towards the end, that drove me to seek help from the internet. Another thing to keep in mind is that certain foes are weak to the different elements that weapons can inflict: shock, freeze, burn, and corrosion. Those unskilled with first-person shooters will also need a steady trigger finger to appreciate the game fully, and there is some repetition should the player die and fail to revive. Despite these issues, the battle system very much serves The Pre-Sequel well.

Control, not so much. While the boosting and slamming system via the oxygen modifiers can be fun to mess around with, they account for some horrid level design, and while there are in-game maps, The Pre-Sequel doesn’t have separate ones for different floors of areas. A suspend same would also have been nice, since saving and quitting the game doesn’t preserve the player’s current location, and if in the middle of a story mission, they most of the time have to start from its beginning when resuming gameplay. There are some bright spots, however, such as the clear direction on how to advance the central plotline and many sidequests, but things could have certainly been better.

The narrative, however, very much serves The Pre-Sequel well, although, despite its setting mostly between the first and second numbered titles, some players may be lost in terms of continuity, and a refresher on events from the first game would have been nice. There are plenty of colorful characters, and the sidequests add decently to the plotline, with a few aspects paying homage to the Star Wars franchise. The script is also reasonably mature, and the clear direction mentioned is a definite plus to the story. However, it does feel somewhat forced down the player’s throat, given the unskippable voiced dialogue, but is otherwise good.

There are a few good tracks in The Pre-Sequel’s soundtrack, such as the theme in the opening level, not to mention the ending theme, and the sound effects very well aid the outer space atmosphere of the storyline, with breathing and laser effects, among other things. The voice acting is also well above average, with a few characters having Australian dialects, although more memorable music would have definitely been welcome. Regardless, the aurals very much help the game more than hurt.

The same goes for the graphics, with a cel-shaded style similar to other Borderlands entries and character models that are both anatomically-correct and look well-designed. The colors are bright and vibrant, and the environments, except for some occasional dithering and blurry, pixilated textures, are more than believable, very well conveying an outer-space atmosphere. The enemy designs are nice as well, as is the overall art direction, although there’s also some choppiness at times. Regardless, The Pre-Sequel is a definite visual treat.

Finally, one can finish the game in a little over one day’s worth of playtime, although there’s plentiful lasting appeal in the different characters, side missions, and Vault Hunter mode (though not all will appreciate going through the oftentimes-badly-designed levels again) accessed when finishing the main storyline, with a potential for up to around five days’ worth of total playing time.

All in all, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! is a solid interquel with many things going for it such as solid shooter-looter mechanics, the entertaining storyline and dialogue, the good voice acting, and pretty visuals. However, it does have issues of which mainstream players need to be aware such as the need for a steady trigger-finger, not to mention the dismal level design, general lack of memorable music, and the fact that the story might not seem well-enough connected to the game’s chronological precursor. Regardless, I very much enjoyed what time I spent with the interquel Borderlands game, and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it, especially to fans of first-person shooters.

This review is based on a playthrough of the version digitally downloaded through the code included with Borderlands Legendary Collection as Wilhelm.

The Good:
+Refined looter-shooter mechanics.
+Enjoyable narrative.
+Great voicework.
+Pretty visuals.
+Plentiful lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Often requires a steady trigger finger.
-Horrid level design.
-Needs suspend save badly.
-Soundtrack largely forgettable.
-Some graphical impurities.

The Bottom Line:
A fine addition to the looter-shooter series.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Game Mechanics: 7.5/10
Controls: 4.0/10
Story: 7.5/10
Music/Sound: 7.5/10
Graphics: 7.5/10
Lasting Appeal: 8.0/10
Difficulty: Hard
Playing Time: 1-5 Days

Overall: 7.0/10

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