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Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is a professionally-made, premium-priced mod

By Rob Crossley on Wednesday 9th Apr 2014 at 12:00 PM UTC

"Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel" is an awfully ridiculous name and, as confirmed by the skyscraper-sized exclamation-mark in its logo, no one at Gearbox is pretending otherwise.

But it's probably the best description for game which blurs the lines between generous DLC and questionable retail release; a project wedged somewhere between fan-service and cynical cash-in.

This third canonical entry in the Borderlands series needs to scream "I am not Borderlands 3" and "I am more than Borderlands 2 DLC" at the same time. "Pre-Sequel exclamation-mark" is probably what I'd go for too.

Scheduled to ship on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC by the end of 2014, the Pre-Sequel is built on the Borderlands 2 engine, and it would be a stretch to imagine otherwise. The current-gen-only game carries a HUD and UI that is near-identical to Borderlands 2, and no specific focus on graphical advancement was suggested in the hands-off reveal that CVG attended. Its creators have opted instead to efficiently draw new worlds with the same tools.

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"I've been careful to make sure no-one should expect what they might expect for Borderlands 3," series co-creator Randy Pitchford said during the reveal showcase.

He also makes clear that 2K Australia, and not the series' Texas-based custodians at Gearbox, is the principal developer of this project. Pitchford and his team are collaborating and supervising here, but mainly have their attentions on new IP and technologies.

"We love Borderlands, but we did at some point have to dedicate our attentions towards building new things, and new technologies for new platforms. This cut into our ability to tend to this franchise," he said.

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2K Australia, which early last year was made available for other projects after it helped ship BioShock Infinite, is adding various new ideas and gameplay hooks, but isn't tasked with making significant changes. Pitchford nevertheless appeared upbeat about the studio's progress so far.

"They don't have the same rules as we do, and they were able to cut free and add their own ideas. They almost approached it like fans did."

Fans will be taken for the first time off Pandora and to the moon that hangs in the previous games' sky-box. The story covers the rise of Handsome Jack, and makes four characters playable: Athena the Gladiator; Wilhelm the Enforcer; Nisha the Lawbringer; and Claptrap the Fragtrap.

New items include elemental effects and an oxygen gauge, the latter of which depletes slowly as players moon-jump across the cold blue rock. Players must hit certain spots to create dome-sized oxygen bubbles, but the main benefit of Oxygen tanks is to fuel the new jetpack.

Pitchford spoke with an inimitable enthusiasm for the jetpacks, as well as another new element.

"I've been careful to make sure no-one should expect what they might expect for Borderlands 3"

"I've always wanted ice bullets in Borderlands and we finally have them. Internally we used to argue about this, but the 2K Australia team didn't care about arguments and said, fuck it, we want ice bullets."

The Pre-Sequel is an odd idea that is nevertheless wholly appropriate for a games industry that is so constantly in a state of flux and evolving stages of peril.

Publisher 2K Games is more aware than most of us of the exorbitance of building blockbusters, as well as the high stakes in backing them fully. In February its Boston-based Irrational Games studio closed down; perhaps the biggest and most acclaimed victim yet of a business that quickly becomes unsustainable when not at its most efficient.

Yet Borderlands 2 proves there are still triple-A horses to back. This well-admired 'loot-shooter' is 2K Games' biggest success yet, shipping more than 8.5 million units, with a vast and active player base that has consumed two seasons of DLC.

The Pre-Sequel is no doubt seen by 2K as a high-margin opportunity and a well-deserved gasp of air.

It's also further testament to the commercial reach of the Borderlands brand and the shifting priorities of its creators at Gearbox. This is the second game in the series that will be built outside of that Texas studio, following the recent announcement that Tales From The Borderlands is being developed at acclaimed Walking Dead studio Telltale Games.

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There was suggestions that Gearbox, now in an enviable position for any independent studio, has capitalised on its own success by having more sway in its future decisions.

"We're still arguing internally about how much time we should spend in the Borderlands space," he said.

"If we take the philosophy that we should only make sequels because they're safe, then Borderlands wouldn't have existed in the first place. We would have just been making Brothers In Arms for the rest of our existence."

"The Pre-Sequel is no doubt seen by 2K as a high-margin opportunity"

But at the same time he is promoting this sequel, which would have likely be widely derided as cash-in if part of the Call of Duty or Battlefield series.

Pitchford briefly half-confirmed that technically it would have been difficult to add this new content simply as DLC, but didn't particularly emphasise this.

"The demand from our fans has been unfathomable", he said, "and we have not been able to serve the demand sufficiently with DLC. We've consumed all the memory there is to consume to add more content to Borderlands 2."

Whether fans will buy his argument as much as they bought the first two games is the major question here.