DANIEL WILKS dis­cov­ers that the grim, dark wastes of Can­berra ain’t no place for a hero.

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Where do you go af­ter you’ve de­feated a gi­ant an­cient alien war beast and killed the rich­est man in the galaxy? If you’re Gear­box and 2K Aus­tralia, you go back in time and take a look at the rea­son why the an­tag­o­nist of Border­lands 2, the wildly charis­matic but un­de­ni­ably dick­ish Hand­some Jack, wound up be­com­ing the vil­lain in the first place. And you go to the Elpis, Pan­dora’s moon, be­cause it would be in­con­ceiv­able not to. GEARS TURN­ING >> When Border­lands: The Pre-Se­quel was first an­nounced it re­ceived a sur­pris­ing amount of flack from pun­ters, both be­cause orig­i­nal de­vel­oper Gear­box wouldn’t be tak­ing lead on the project and for the de­ci­sion to only re­lease the game on PC and sev­enth gen­er­a­tion con­soles. The choice of re­lease plat­forms is eas­ily ex­plained by the stel­lar sales of the first two games. As of last count, Border­lands 2 has sold 9 mil­lion copies so far, and the orig­i­nal game has sold over 4.5 mil­lion, so re­leas­ing a game set be­tween the two on a new plat­form could def­i­nitely alien­ate the es­tab­lished fan base. There’s also the mat­ter of the en­gine to con­sider. Util­is­ing the same en­gine as the pre­vi­ous games negates any time con­sum­ing and ex­pen­sive need to re­write the highly mod­i­fied Un­real 3 en­gine used in the pre­vi­ous games to be com­pat­i­ble with new tech­nol­ogy. The rea­son Gear­box isn’t tak­ing the lead on Border­lands: The Pre-Se­quel is sim­ple – due to an as yet unan­nounced new IP pre­sum­ably based on what was go­ing to be Broth­ers in Arms: Fu­ri­ous Four and the re­cently an­nounced “hero shooter”, Bat­tle­born, the de­vel­oper sim­ply didn’t have the man­power needed to do the Border­lands fran­chise jus­tice. En­ter 2K Aus­tralia.

“Around GDC last year we also had this 2K sum­mit, right af­ter we wrapped up BioShock In­fi­nite and we just gen­er­ally got to know some of the guys at Gear­box”, says Joel Eschler, Pro­ducer at 2K Aus­tralia. “Gear­box re­ally wanted to work on an­other Border­lands game but they didn’t have the people to ded­i­cate to it so they started to talk to us about the op­por­tu­nity. We were a team that had worked with Un­real, made BioShock games. The only re­stric­tion they had for us was we had to go to the moon. You have to go to the moon and by proxy the moon­shot fa­cil­ity on the Hype­r­ion space sta­tion. That’s where all the con­ver­sa­tions started.” ONE SMALL STEP >> The moon makes all the dif­fer­ence. There are as­sump­tions that you make when it comes to the moon. You think of low or zero grav­ity and a lack of an at­mos­phere. “We were a lit­tle ner­vous about hav­ing an oxy­gen

sys­tem be­cause it could be re­ally an­noy­ing,” says Eschler. “We had to make sure we came up with a de­sign that went through ev­ery­thing – skills, en­e­mies, move­ment, all that kind of stuff. We didn’t just want to have it for the sake of hav­ing it”.

Oxy­gen is any­thing but an af­fec­ta­tion. It’s an in­te­gral part of both the per­son­al­ity and game­play of the PreSe­quel. Out­side of oxy­genated ar­eas, play­ers al­ways have a counter tick­ing down their re­main­ing air. When it gets to zero the char­ac­ters starts tak­ing dam­age. It seems ar­bi­trar­ily re­stric­tive on paper but in prac­tise the hunt for oxy­gen or oxy­gen gen­er­a­tors adds im­pe­tus to mo­mentto-mo­ment play as well as a def­i­nite di­rec­tion­al­ity to the other­wise open maps. The search isn’t pun­ish­ing, as oxy­gen gey­sers dot the sur­face of Elpis, and many en­e­mies drop oxy­gen tanks when they are killed, but the sim­ple ne­ces­sity of need­ing to con­stantly re­plen­ish a re­source adds a real im­me­di­acy to com­bat.

Oxy­gen isn’t sim­ply a de­facto count­down timer ei­ther. It’s in­te­grated into move­ment and gear­ing on a fun­da­men­tal level. The new dou­ble jump is achieved by vent­ing some oxy­gen down­wards to give the player a boost, and con­versely the new slam at­tack move (think of it like a Mario butt-stomp, only with more po­ten­tial gibs) vents oxy­gen up­wards to speed de­scent in low grav­ity. Oxy­gen also gives rise to a new piece of equip­ment for the playable cast – the Oz Pack. These oxy­gen tanks de­ter­mine how much oxy­gen can be stored, the base stomp dam­age and can give other bonuses de­ter­mined by how much oxy­gen is left in the tank. MOON BOOTS >> As good as the ad­di­tion of low grav­ity and a dou­ble jump feel in the Border­lands uni­verse – and be­lieve me, jump­ing around on the moon while shoot­ing bad­dies in the face def­i­nitely puts a big dumb grin on your dial – the new move­ment sys­tem def­i­nitely gave the de­vel­op­ers some prob­lems to deal with.

“It’s flowed in pretty nicely but there have been some chal­lenges”, says Jonathan Pelling, Cre­ative Di­rec­tor for 2K Aus­tralia. “We’ve got more en­e­mies that fly now and one of the chal­lenges with com­bat and ver­ti­cal­ity is that play­ers


don’t of­ten think to look up be­cause they haven’t had to in a lot of games”. As such, the en­emy AI had to be made smarter to cope with the player’s new abil­i­ties. In Border­lands 1 and 2 the bat­tle­lines were quite de­fined – the player en­ters from one side, en­e­mies en­ter from an­other, some take cover, oth­ers charge. Now that the player can leap from one end of the bat­tle­field to the other, get mas­sive air with dou­ble jumps, oxy­gen gey­sers and jump pads, can at­tack from nearly ev­ery an­gle and can even come crash­ing down on the heads of en­e­mies, en­coun­ters are more dy­namic and spread out in space. On a more prac­ti­cal level, adding low grav­ity and dou­ble jump al­lows play­ers to get to places that would not have been ac­ces­si­ble in the pre­vi­ous Border­lands ti­tles, forc­ing the de­vel­op­ers to put set dress­ing where they wouldn’t have needed to be­fore and en­sure that loot is hid­den every­where that the player could con­ceiv­ably reach. SCUM AND VILLAINY >> The playable char­ac­ters will be fa­mil­iar to fans of the Border­lands fran­chise, but at least one of them won’t seem like an ob­vi­ous choice un­til played in-game. Wil­helm and Nisha, two bosses and lieu­tenants of Hand­some Jack are all but nec­es­sary in a story about Jack’s de­scent to the depths of douchebag­gery, but Athena, a char­ac­ter from the Border­lands DLC, The Se­cret Ar­mory of Gen­eral Knoxx, and Clap­trap, the an­noy­ing ro­bot whose en­tire prod­uct line was de­stroyed by Hand­some Jack be­fore the events of Border­lands 2, come from a lit­tle fur­ther afield.

Athena has been brought into the game for two main rea­sons, aside from the fact that she was a great part of the Gen­eral Knoxx DLC. This in­clu­sion of Athena in the Pre-Se­quel links the sto­ries of the three games to­gether, con­sol­i­dat­ing the fran­chise and re­mind­ing play­ers that it’s all one nar­ra­tive and that all char­ac­ters, no mat­ter how side­lined they may ap­pear can have a last­ing ef­fect on the world of Pan­dora. Un­like Nisha and Wil­helm, Athena is also a good per­son, a for­mer Lance as­sas­sin turned free­dom fighter who helped the Vault Hunters take down the Gen­eral. The in­clu­sion of a good and mostly moral – in terms of Border­lands moral­ity at any rate – char­ac­ter as an op­er­a­tive brings up in­ter­est­ing ques­tions about the over­ar­ch­ing story. We have seen very lit­tle of it yet save a snip­pet in which Jack en­treats his min­ions to stop the bad­dies from killing in­no­cent civil­ians, but from that and the fact that some­one gen­uinely de­cent is will­ing to fol­low him at all it seems as though Jack might not be such a bad guy. At least not at first, any­way.

The in­clu­sion of Clap­trap, on the other hand seems to be a far more straight­for­ward af­fair ac­cord­ing to Pelling. “Clap­trap was one of those things that needed to hap­pen. He de­signed him­self into the game be­cause why wouldn’t you do that?” Why wouldn’t you in­deed? We don’t know any­thing about the char­ac­ter as yet aside from the fact that his cam­era is placed lower than all the oth­ers, but we’re re­ally hop­ing for him to be a rag­ing so­ciopath who gains power through re­jec­tion. Each of the three char­ac­ters we’ve had a chance to play so far feel both fa­mil­iar and won­der­fully new. Here’s a quick run­down on each. THE EN­FORCER >> Wil­helm is a front line fighter with an

ac­tion skill that sum­mons two drones, one of which at­tacks en­e­mies while the other re­plen­ishes the cy­borg’s health. The na­ture of his ac­tion skill makes Wil­helm feel like balls-to-the-wall kind of guy, re­ly­ing on his drones for de­fence and heal­ing rather than tak­ing cover and choos­ing shots. His three skill trees are split be­tween buff­ing Wolf, the com­bat drone, Saint, the buff­ing drone or cy­borg­ing Wil­helm him­self to make the char­ac­ter pro­gres­sively dead­lier and less hu­man. In some ways Wil­helm feels like a more mo­bile Ax­ton with his of­fense/de­fense cen­tered ac­tion skill, but many of his other skills, in­clud­ing a gi­ant pneu­matic punch that re­places the nor­mal melee at­tack also bring to mind the skill trees of Brick from Border­lands 1. THE GLAD­I­A­TOR >> Athena’s skills cen­tre around a unique piece of equip­ment, the Ki­netic Aspis, a shield that she can de­ploy to ab­sorb and re­di­rect in­com­ing dam­age. From our ex­pe­ri­ence, Athena felt like a far more tac­ti­cal char­ac­ter than Wil­helm, based more around give and take in com­bat rather than sim­ply rush­ing in head first and punch­ing things to death with a gi­ant ro­bot fist. Athena’s three skill trees are ded­i­cated to buff­ing the Aspis, en­hanc­ing her melee abil­i­ties and chan­nel­ing el­e­men­tal pow­ers. The Pha­lanx tree, en­abling her to charge the shield with in­com­ing el­e­men­tal ef­fects, ric­o­chet it be­tween mul­ti­ple tar­gets, use in­com­ing dam­age to re­plen­ish team­mates shields and other skills geared more to­wards tank­ing and de­fen­sive­ness than of­fence def­i­nitely pits her as a group tank, but the Cer­au­nic (el­e­men­tal), and Xiphos (melee) trees feel pleas­antly rem­i­nis­cent to those of Lil­lith and Zero, re­spec­tively. THE LAW­BRINGER >> Hands on time with Nisha was limited but what we got to play was ex­tremely en­joy­able. She is very much a glass can­non style char­ac­ter, with the vast ma­jor­ity of her skills ded­i­cated to dish­ing out harder and faster shots. Some of her skills echo those of the Gun­z­erker, with the last six bul­lets in a gun do­ing ex­tra dam­age, or dam­age

be­ing in­creased af­ter a weapon swap, whilst oth­ers bring to mind Zero, with stack­ing crits and melee at­tacks in­creas­ing gun dam­age. Her ac­tion skill, Show­down, ac­ti­vates snap-to tar­get­ing for a cou­ple of sec­onds, with the Law­giver lets her quickly and un­err­ingly switch be­tween tar­gets sim­ply by flick­ing the mouse or thumb­stick in the di­rec­tion of the next en­emy. Hold­ing down the iron sights but­ton while Show­down is ac­tive in­stantly snaps to the tar­get’s crit­i­cal spot, some­thing that feels both in­valu­able and dev­as­tat­ingly ef­fec­tive when fac­ing Badasses or bosses. Al­though we weren’t able to ex­per­i­ment with them, her ul­ti­mate skills also seem like a great deal of fun and def­i­nitely add to the Wild-West flavour of the char­ac­ter. One re­quires Nisha to be wield­ing a pis­tol while Show­down is ac­ti­vated. When ef­fected by the ac­tion skill, Nisha’s pis­tol is repli­cated in her off hand, en­abling her to pull off some se­ri­ous two gun mojo. An­other re­quires the use of a ri­fle. Each shot fired dur­ing show­down ric­o­chets to an­other tar­get do­ing 10% dam­age and plac­ing an ex­plo­sive charge on the sec­ondary tar­get. Once the du­ra­tion of the ac­tion skill runs out, Nisha det­o­nates the ex­plo­sives. With Anthony Burch still leading the writ­ing team, and the de­vel­op­ment headed up by the men and women re­spon­si­ble for Free­dom Force and its se­quel, the BioShock fran­chise, SWAT 4 and Tribes Vengeance, Border­lands: The Pre-Se­quel is in safe hands. Put sim­ply, it looks fan­tas­tic, it feels right and it leaves you with the same stupid grin on your face as the pre­vi­ous two Border­lands ti­tles. You can’t re­ally ask for more than that.

Born a wildlife war­rior, die a wildlife war­rior The Glad­i­a­tor

The Elpis equiv­a­lent of Ford Vs. Holden

The Law­bringer

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