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Critical Review: Borderlands - The Pre-Sequel is Boring, Desultory, & Repetitive

Posted on November 5, 2014

The existence of “virtual laziness” is either profound commentary on the degradation of human nature or an example of poor game design. We've discussed it before: Laziness developing within games is common, especially where backtracking or repetitious, unnecessary combat inhibit actual exploration of the game's world and story.


It's tough not to be hard on oneself when the prospect of holding “w” for a few minutes – because walking across a moon's surface requires shockingly little use of “s” – becomes too much to bear. It's too much work, too far to walk, and that pit of lava is looking rather inviting right now.

Our experience with Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel (BLPS) began with innocent GPU benchmarking, but struck enough of a chord to warrant a full review. This is in similar fashion to our Watch_Dogs experience. After hours of enduring backtracking, dull character progression, a lack of motivating storytelling, juvenile jokes, and forced, mind-numbingly boring traversal of desolate environments, we're here with the review: Borderlands is boring.

What is Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel?

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel's name rings true to its marketed humorous slant. BLPS is an FPS/RPG with some elements borrowed from the world of MMOs, though it is a co-operative FPS at its core. The game is billed as effectively “Borderlands 1.5,” taking place between the first and second games. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is set in space, with most of the game taking place on a lightly-colonized moon with frontier-like stylings and characters. Bickering between characters prevails, as always.

2K Australia doesn't necessarily advertise Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel as a fully new game – it's not Borderlands 3 – and as such, the Pre-Sequel plays a bit more like a massive DLC pack that's priced at $60.

As with the previous titles, BLPS allows for co-operative play with up to four total players. Four characters are available in the game: Athena (effectively Captain America), Wilhelm (tank-like assault weapons specialist), Nisha (sniper / pistoleer), and Claptrap (a dysfunctional robot infected with malware).

The story isn't really explained in much depth within the game, but the gist is that we've traveled to Elpis, the moon of Borderlands' previous settings (Pandora), and must duke it out with inhabitants in low-gravity combat. We're hunting for vaults containing limitless treasure. I think. It's not really made clear. The game's story is second-rate to its environment, which seems like it wants to be an open world setting.

Fundamental Design Issues & Information Conveyance

borderlands-rev-2Get used to doing this.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is like a game of Scoutz Knivez with the appearance of character progression and skill advancement. Core gameplay mechanics primarily consist of the usual suspects: standard shooting elements with iron sights, sprinting, a few weapons in the inventory, and that's about it. Shoot the endlessly-spawning bad guys, kill the boss, kill the still-spawning bad guys, pick up the loot, and repeat until you've grown bored of the area and acquire a quest.

The quests largely consist of “find the signal, find the echo” back-and-forth hikes, effectively acting as a more boring version of an MMORPG mailman quest. Despite their oft-poor implementation, delivery quests serve a critical goal in MMORPGs: Keep pacing the challenge with the player's level by showing her the next city or zone. That's it. Get the player to the next zone, in case they haven't found it on their own. There's an entire hand-holding discussion to be had about this, but that's for another post.

In Borderlands, the signal / echo quests involve minutes of traversing the desolate moon environment in effort to locate a transmitter. Once located, we destroy it (or mark it) and then find the next one in the quest. The travel is inherently boring and uninteresting, leaving enough time between hikes to forget what the objective is and why you're doing it.

Visual information conveyance is poor enough that it's easy to get lost or miss out on the rare, guiding banter over the radio. We tended to mentally block-out any incoming comms since it was often loaded with irritating jokes and content-less bickering.

Thankfully, 2K fills the regions with the same set of mobs to further slow-down the game with pointless combat that yields useless drops. In this manner, Borderlands becomes a bit of a player-punishing slug-fest of not-fun shooting mechanics, halting dead in its tracks every time some semblance of flow picks-up. The weapon drops and focus on crate-opening and E-bashing act as an inhibitor to flow and actual progression.

No Worthwhile Loot, No Consequence, No Motivation

borderlands-rev-3Aimbot mode engaged.

Despite Borderlands' branding as a “shoot 'n loot” game, it took about two hours of gameplay for me to find a weapon that was actually better than my starting sniper rifle and pistol. Even after that, the difference was marginal – a few points of damage over the previous gun – and min-maxing upgrades to favor reload time made everything else seem sort of pointless. The fact that the sniper's core class ability is an aimbot (push “F” and hold right-click to auto lock-on to enemy heads, then spam left click until out of ammo; rinse, repeat) reduces further any player engagement in the game. This is shown several times throughout our above video.

I'm not exagarating: Push F, hold right-click, spam left-click, and everything is dead. No friends need apply.

In fact, the only time the game even becomes challenging is when it disproportionately overruns players with so many enemies that it becomes impossible to kill them quickly enough; or when it boosts HP and damage of an enemy to such levels that a single shot will down the player. No worries, though, because you enter “martyrdom mode” when downed – kill a single enemy and instantly gain 40-60% of your HP back. It is sometimes more efficient to be downed and kill an enemy than to actually heal.

And when death does happen, it's without consequence. We respawn seconds away from combat and have a few dollars deducted from burgeoning bank accounts that never see use for anything beyond respawn cost. As with everything else in Borderlands, the only consequence is inconvenience and mercilessly extended, boring, unimaginative combat without reward.

This lack of consequence couples with a lack of investment in characters – a failing of 2K to build depth beyond awful and repeated jokes (saying it twice makes it funnier) – furthering the deficit of motivation. But there's still more to eliminate motivation, in case you had any left.

All the game's upgrades and progression are without flavor. Each “Badass Token” increases some attribute by about 1% and each skill increases or decreases some other number. This is something we tore Neverwinter apart for: Make the numbers bigger in traditional min-maxing fashion, ensuring characters lack any level of strategic depth beyond increasing raw DPS.

Fear not, though, for the game is filled with unopened boxes and crates for you to hammer “E” at. We easily spent the most time opening crates for no other reason than our naive desire to feel some meager sense of accomplishment.

To recap:

  • Weapon drops are meaningless, time-consuming, and unexciting.
  • Upgrades are entirely numeric, limiting depth of character development.
  • Exploration is time-consuming, uninteresting, and fruitless, fraught with pointless and dull combat.
  • Story quests and side quests are largely confined to mailman routines, with almost no story filled in between the bad jokes.
  • Balance issues ensure friends rarely get in on combat once the sniper has learned how to use her aimbot ability.
  • Balance issues mean that combat only becomes challenging when the game spawns an insurmountable count of enemies or supplies a boss that insta-kills players, creating a frustrating experience rather than a challenging one. This is still easily overcome after respawning a few feet away.
  • A lack of consequence for death means less motivation to invest time and effort.
  • Even the oxygen mechanic (O2 dwindles and requires refills) is pointless, given the prevalence of O2 tanks and breathing spots. It just becomes another minor annoyance, as with the previously-discussed mechanics.
  • Boring. Just boring. Everything above contributes to this.

True to Its Name: Boring.

borderlands-rev-4Overrunning players for the sake of "challenge."

It's been a long time since I've felt such profound levels of boredom in a video game. I've been frustrated, I've been upset with design, but those two emotions at least provide something: A desire to learn what's wrong and how to fix it. Borderlands evokes nothing. Our play sessions often ended in slack-jawed disinterest and groaning, followed by unenthusiastic discussion about how to possibly review this game in a manner that does the boredom justice.

Our advice is clear-cut, this time: Don't buy it. Unless you've run out of ambien, then perhaps give it a go.

- Steve “Lelldorianx” Burke.