"I had to tear myself away from the game 10 or so levels into my second playthrough to write this review."
I started the Borderlands series hoping that I'd enjoy it, but also fearing that I'd be terrible at it. I don't play a lot of first-person shooters, so I didn't know if I'd do very well with Borderlands' unusual blend of FPS and RPG mechanics. The first game showed a lot of promise, but some of its quirks (like guns that fired in a wave pattern and quickly respawning enemies) stopped me from out and out loving it. Borderlands 2 refined the formula, but had its own weirdness (the "slag" element was terrible). So when "The Pre-Sequel" was announced with its own twists on 2's gameplay, I knew I'd have to play it and see if the changes were for the better. Unfortunately, I didn't get the chance to play the game when it came out, but I recently picked up The Handsome Collection on PS4, and I had to tear myself away from the game 10 or so levels into my second playthrough to write this review.
Story-wise, The Pre-Sequel comes between the first and second games (hence the name). It chronicles the rise of Handsome Jack from lowly programmer to the head of the Hyperion Corporation (the position he holds in Borderlands 2), and you play as a Vault/Bounty Hunter hired by Jack to help him when a group called The Lost Legion takes over the space station where he works. To accomplish this mission, you must go down to the moon of Elpis, and as any RPG veteran would expect, the immediate mission turns into something longer, grander, and more complicated. The Pre-Sequel maintains the Borderlands series' dark sense of humor, so if you've enjoyed the previous games' stories, you'd enjoy this one. I appreciate getting the backstory, and although it's been a while since my last run of Borderlands 2, I feel like what I learned here doesn't contradict what came before or require me to accept any illogical retconning.
The gameplay generally follows the standard Borderlands formula: shoot enemies, gain experience, pick up loot, complete quests (main and side), gain levels, spend skill points. Your guns can deal elemental damage, and some enemies are vulnerable or resistant to certain elements. You get shields that recharge if you can avoid damage for a few seconds, and when you're killed, you are given a brief amount of time to "Fight For Your Life!" Kill an enemy during this time, and you're revived in place to continue the battle. Fail to do so, and you are respawned at the last save beacon with full shields, health, and ammo, at the cost of 7% of your cash. Each character has a special skill with a cooldown timer and skill trees that improve that special skill and the character's base attributes.
Aside from the those added in DLC, the playable characters in The Pre-Sequel are characters you fight against in Borderlands 2, as this game presents the way they came into Jack's employ. As has been the case in previous games, each character caters to a different playstyle, so however you prefer to play, you can probably find someone you like. There's even a specially-modified Claptrap — activating his special skill analyzes the current situation and picks one of 15 possible skills. I tried playing as him for a few minutes, but really didn't care for the randomness. Instead, I played as one of the DLC characters, Aurelia, because her special skill is a homing ice projectile and she can get equipment that provides her with sniper ammo regeneration. I love getting long-distance kills in these games, so she was the obvious choice for me.
Speaking of ice, it is one of the big changes to gameplay this time around. Ice is a new element that replaces Borderlands 2's slag (and good riddance), allowing you to freeze enemies solid. Flying enemies who are frozen fall and can shatter on impact, and critical hits will also shatter enemies, so if you can reliably freeze enemies, you've got a major advantage. Since most of the game is set on a moon, it features oxygen masks that require periodic recharging and low gravity that allows for both boosted jumps and enemy-crushing ground slams. There are no real downsides to these gameplay additions, since there is always enough oxygen around to recharge your mask, so they go into the Pro column in my book. I'm not sure if the enemy respawn rate was changed between 2 and The Pre-Sequel, but it feels just right this time around.
There isn't much of a tutorial this time around, so The Pre-Sequel is definitely geared toward returning Vault Hunters. That said, a bit of time glancing through the control options will probably be enough for most folks to feel comfortable getting started. I spend a good percentage of my time with PS4 games via Remote Play on the Vita, and although the default controls don't work well for that, one of the alternate schemes was perfect. The same scheme worked well on the PS4 controller as well, so I was able to switch consoles without messing with the controls.
The Pre-Sequel uses the engine from Borderlands 2, so it's unsurprising that it looks just like 2 with the traditional Borderlands cel-shading. It's a look I like, and I haven't run into any graphical issues in the 40 to 60 hours I've played. It also sounds mostly like 2, although everyone new has an Australian accent this time around. If I didn't know that the game was made by 2K Australia, I actually would have worried that a few of them were offensively stereotypical. But hey, if they are, at least the people who made the game knew what they were doing, and in humor, being intentionally offensive is always better than being so unintentionally. The only issue I ran into was that a few NPC responses were not voiced even though the characters' mouths were moving. The internet tells me this is only a problem with the DLC characters, but I have not been able to verify that through experience.
I had a lot of fun with Borderlands 2, and although The Pre-Sequel is pretty similar to 2, its changes are all for the better. Freezing enemies is always good, and being able to jump farther and stomp on enemies is excellent. Getting to play as the characters you had to fight against in the last game is cool too. And having played a lot of games via Remote Play, I really appreciate the developers' great work on the control front. The game's been out for a year at this point, but if you haven't taken the plunge yet and can handle first-person shooters, I highly encourage you to play Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. If you've got a PS4 or an Xbox One, grab The Handsome Collection, which gives you this game, Borderlands 2, and all of the DLC for both of them.