BORDERLANDS: THE PRE-SEQUEL
DANIEL WILKS discovers that the grim, dark wastes of Canberra ain’t no place for a hero.
BEFORE HE WAS HANDSOME, HE WAS JUST JACK...
BANG, ZOOM! STRAIGHT TO THE M OON!
BORDERLANDS: THE PRE-SEQUEL PLATFORM: PC, PS3, Xbox 360 CATEGORY: RPG/ FPS DEVELOPER: 2K Australia PUBLISHER: 2K DUE: October 17
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
ENCOUNTERS ARE MORE DYNAMIC AND SPREAD OUT
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.
The Elpis equivalent of Ford Vs. Holden
Born a wildlife warrior, die a wildlife warrior