Thursday, October 23, 2014

Play-Through Reviews-Borderlands:The Pre-Sequel Part 1


Not the longest title for a post, but it's a start. I'll shorten it next time.

*clears throat*

Welcome to an exciting first installment of a new review series that has been titled "Play-Through Reviews." What does that mean? Well instead of a 5 minute reading of a game review, you're going to get an action-packed, play-by-play, joke-savey insightful review as the game is played. Each Play-Through Review will span multiple blog entries as I go in-depth into the product and provide responses as they occur. The idea is to give you all, the readers, a more realistic perception on what goes through the reviewers head as s/he plays the game. You'll be able to see the highs and lows, and everything in between that you don't normally receive from a one page post.

I hope you all enjoy this first installment with the latest release from Gearbox Software in conjunction with 2K Australia:

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel

As I attempt to be the objective reviewer, I was intrigued at the notion of having an in-between game that bridged the gap between Borderlands 1 and 2. Few games dive into interguels. And if they do, they are small flash and/or mobile titles that are lacking in stable content. As a Borderlands fan, I've been eagerly awaiting this since April when it was officially announced at PAX East. Officially.

The general synopsis is you are a gun for hire courtesy of Handsome Jack, the primary antagonist in Borderlands 2. The plot follows Jack's journey from Hero to Villain, focusing on his escape and capture of the Hyperion Company's base centered on Elpis, the moon of Pandora. NPC's of choice are all characters that appear at one point on another in the other BL games. Clap-Trap, Nisha, Athena, and Wilhelm. Yes. Clap-Trap is a character option. Yes, he is quite useful, mostly for groups based on his skill trees.

Okay. Done with the serious journalism stuff. Now let's get to the game!

I'm roughly 6 to 7 hours in, just past Chapter 5 and have a fairly good grasp on where things are going - or so I believe. The beginning of the game starts sometime after Borderlands 2, where one of the primary Player Characters, Athena, is captured and being questioned by some of the original Vault Hunting crew on Sanctuary. You end up playing the game through Athena's point of view as she becomes the narrator from here on out. Even if Athena is not your choice of vigilante and not in your group of friends, she'll always be there. She's the "Angel" of the Pre-Sequel.

This is one aspect that I'm still trying to adjust myself to. Since the game is playing as a flashback, it makes sense that having a self-imposed narrator is the way to go. But it is a bit jarring when you don't have Athena in your band of misfits. You're not self narrating nor is it the voice guiding you on your path like Angel. It's almost like you're experiencing multiple personality disorder because another person is talking about your journey...and it's not you. It's weird.

Weird overhead voice issues aside, it's been an interesting journey.

One thing you should know is that everyone on the moon is Australian. Everyone. And that's because the game was largely produced by 2K Australia. Go fig. But that's okay. Everyone adapted to the native moon culture. Except Nurse Nina. She still holds that Russian accent quite well for a moon-goer.

Into the actual game play, you begin by assisting Jack as he flee's the Hyperion space station being laid siege by The Lost Legion (essentially the big baddies at this point in time). For new-comers to the franchise, having the game start out in a normal environment was a safe call. It allows for an easier transition into the insanity of Borderlands fights before you throw in lasers, Oxygen bubbles, and that pesky thing called gravity.

From the beginning the story feels a little flat. I think The Lost Legion are brought in a little too quickly, and leave just as fast before you figure out who they are and why they're shooting at you. And for being so insistent on getting off the Hyperion station, Jack is perfectly okay with staying behind while you go to the Moon and disable the overrides. As much as the game tries to ease in newcomers, if you have no idea what went on in BL1 or 2, this whole space mission can be incredibly confusing.

But if you have played the other games, you'll find everything fitting in with the back story gamers sort of know.

As of now, I'm not fully convinced on the story. It's essentially the same set of fetch and shoot quests that Borderlands is known for. When you get shot to the moon, you go through the crash course (hah!) with your first NPC companion, Jaine Sparks, who explains all of the fun that you get to have with gravity and Oxygen. I'm passive about the game from this point because the story is just not gripping me nor as humorous as the previous  games.

What is holding my interest is the game play. Gravity, lasers, and freeze rays add a new level of insanity to Borderlands. You can take more of a tactical role in combat, something you really couldn't do as often, or cleanly, in the past. For example, lasers are essentially beams of light. In a low to 0 gravity environment, they don't spark when they cause damage. In an O2 enriched space, they can catch your target on fire, ensuring additional damage over time. Want to handle a Super Badass while you pick off his friends? Smack the O2 insta-rig, shoot a laser, and let him flail. With the ice weapons are equally entertaining for giggles but! tactical assessment as well. The freezing is just what you would expect. Shoot the enemy, they turn into a giant Popsicle for a few seconds. If they are lower level mobs, they will either die from DOT or with a quick gun shot to blow them to bits - also enjoyable when there is no gravity to watch the ice chunks float away. Bosses and larger mobs are sometimes unaffected, but can succumb to the slowness associated with the freeze effect; great in battles where mobs are swarming your teammates.

Another benefit to low and no gravity scenarios are the super jumps. You will go jump crazy at times, and it can be a bit overwhelming to control at first when you don't realize how much oomph a button tap can do. Initially the super jump is just that: a jump. When you get your first O2 helmet, you earn the power to boost super jump: i.e. you can do your space jump, and tap into your OZ Kit (apparently the manufacturers of the helms thought the #2 looked like a Z so everyone on the moon calls them OZ and not O2), for an extended super jump that allows you to glide across the screen. In my case it has nearly killed me half a dozen times as I sail close to lava-infested ravines. Yes. There is no fire on the moon, but there is lava. Feel free to figure that out. My understanding of high school geology is that some form of carbon and oxygen needs to exist for Magma to be active.

OZ Kits also give you the power of the butt stomp! Jump in the air, do the crouch, and bam! Your feet are on the floor dealing damage to all of those around you. So it's not really a butt stomp, but it's way more fun to say then "accelerated movement in a downward motion." Also enjoyable against frozen enemies.

As of this moment the joy that I have in the game has nothing to do with the story or the characters, and I hope this changes soon. It's nice to see cameos from Lilith, Roland, and Moxxi, but I'm missing the meat of the game. I'm having more fun playing moon-man, law-bringer Nisha. Westerns in space - looks like we have another Star Wars on our hands ladies and gents. Handsome Jack is the new Darth Vader. Let that sink in for a moment. The only thing missing are effective vehicles, which were given me really bad Mako flashbacks from Mass Effect. Try not to hit the walls and run over your enemies. Whoopie.

We'll see where the story goes from here. The last thing I have accomplished was becoming the grand master of butt-slam dunking. Not while on fire - the bonus to the quest because fire does not last outside of the O2 bubble. So there is still plenty to expect in the upcoming chapters, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the story will pick up.

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