I'm walking around E3 looking for boxes with little green lights on them. This fever dream is what I get for daring to take on both of the new Borderlands games back-to-back during E3. Both 2K's Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel and Telltale Game's story-centric Tales from the Borderlands are on display at the show, and both launch by the end of this year.
How did I feel after eating a double helping of Borderlands? A bit empty, to be honest.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel
When it comes to canon, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel takes place between the original Borderlands and Borderlands 2. After fans fell in love with the villain of Borderlands 2, the egomaniacal Handsome Jack, Gearbox and 2K sought a way to incorporate him into another game. The result: This prequel, which chronicles some of Jack's earlier activities.
"More Borderlands" is the most succinct way to describe the Pre-Sequel. There's no "polite" way to put it: The Pre-Sequel is a stopgap game before we receive the inevitable Borderlands 3. It's the Batman: Arkham Origins to Rocksteady's Arkham Knight. It's Borderland's Assassin's Creed: Revelations. It's, in other words, the game you make because you know it'll bring in money while your A-team works on the real sequel.
And it will make money, because people love Borderlands, and as I said, this is simply more Borderlands. Except with lasers. On the moon.
Yes, on the moon. When you jump, your character floats through the air like a rhinoceros tossed into low gravity. It's probably the stand-out feature of the new game, allowing for more verticality than previous titles.
Once again the developers have wiped the playable cast, bringing in four new vault hunters. During my demo I briefly played as both Athena, who uses a shield to block damage, and Wilhelm, who uses a pair of drones to deal damage and heal himself. I fell in love with Wilhelm immediately, as his drones most resembled the best Borderlands character of all time, fan-favorite Mordecai, who used his bird Bloodwing to attack enemies.
The similarities don't end with Wilhelm. The Pre-Sequel as I saw it in the demo was nothing but Borderlands in a new location—same UI, same feel to the guns, same (though reskinned) enemies, same look to much of the environment. It feels more like an enormous expansion pack.
That's not a bad thing, if you're a Borderlands fan. You're there for the loot, and Borderlands ups the available arsenal with a whole new class of laser weapons. You're there for the quirky characters, and those are certainly here in spades. You're there to open a lot of tiny, green-lit boxes, and in that case you'll probably die and go to heaven—I reached box overload only two minutes into my demo.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is not a bad-looking game by any means. It's merely uninspiring. I walked away from my demo feeling a bit empty—there was no feature I wanted to rush home and talk about, no character I cared about, no amazing story I wanted to tell. It's another Borderlands game, and as someone who'd tired of the franchise's schtick by the mid-point of Borderlands 2, I'm not terribly excited to get on that merry-go-round again, especially for a game that's filler instead of a proper next-gen Borderlands.
On that note, I do want to raise some concerns about platforms. The game is coming only to PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3. I don't know how the final product will turn out, but I'm going to assume the PC version is the one to get. There's still some time for optimization, but I think the demo I saw was running on an Xbox, and boy did it stutter. During especially chaotic firefights the framerate plummeted consistently. A bit of stutter isn't uncommon in pre-release demos, but it would be enough to give me pause before preordering—there's a reason we've left those old machines behind.
Hit the next page for my impressions of Tales from the Borderlands. Does the Borderlands universe mesh well with Telltale Games' vaunted story-telling chops?