Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel Reviewed

Reviewed

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel’s been out for a few weeks now. It’s a title that has been met with it’s fair share of critics, even well before it’s release. There were even a few threads on places like Reddit and NeoGAF trying to drum up support for a boycott of 2k Australia’s newest edition to the franchise. It’s fair to say at this point that the Borderlands franchise has matured enough to a point where people are starting to expect some major chances or additions to it moving forward. In some ways The Pre-Sequel, much to the surprise of many gamers does deliver some new things to the Borderlands experience, in other ways however it’s pretty much business as usual in the Borderlands universe.

2014-11-04_00002It’s important to note that The Pre-Sequel is not the successor to Borderlands 2, not really. It’s also not a “proper” sequel from what we’ve come to expect either. The Pre-Sequel is filler within the Borderlands universe, but that’s not a bad thing in this case. While the game does have new playable characters, all of them are characters you’d be familiar if you’ve played the second installment of the series.  There is Nisha the Lawbringer, Athena the Gladiator, Claptrap the Frag Trap and Wilhelm the Enforcer.

The most noticeable difference that players will immediately see is that we’re not on Pandora anymore. This is great for a few reasons. One being that after two games and hundreds of hours played, it’s time for a change of environment. New locations like the Helios space station and Elpis, a moon of Pandora are drastically varying environments from one another and takes the variety seen in BL2 and pushes it a bit further. Elpis, where players will spend most of their time is a pretty lively place for a moon,with things like frozen methane lakes, acrid lava pits, downed space carriers, abandoned factories and derilict mining operations covering it’s surface the landscape just feels like there’s more to see and explore. While similar to what we’re used to seeing on Pandora in many respects, there is just more detail and care seemingly put into each area. This may also explain why the game’s a bit shorter than the first two games as well and waht players may expect. In this case though, you may not notice with all the places to explore and the wide variety of missions there are to do.

Players will quickly learn there’s no atmosphere on the orbiting body, naturally. There is a small chance that you can actually suffocate to death on the planet. It is unlikely to happen, but it does add a unique dynamic we’ve not seen in a Borderlands game before. When players do run out of oxygen they will find it takes quite a significant amount of time to suffocate. Running out of air is much more likely to affect a player’s mobility rather than their existence.2014-11-04_00007 Players can choose to use up some of their air supply to allow them to stay floating off the surface of the moon for awhile, or just to give yourself a quick boost forward to move faster, to reach hidden or hard to access areas of the map. While it sounds like a simple addition to the game, it does give the game a feeling of increased mobility and options for combat that the other games just don’t have. The boost and low gravity features can also be paired with crouching to perform what’s lovingly called a”slam” attack. Basically, once the player has reached a high enough altitude they can hit the crouch key and rocket towards the ground, releasing an area affect attack that will damage or stun nearby enemies. This ability is further improved by the 02 or “OZ” kits that players equip in the game that can grant special abilities. These seemingly small changes do a little more depth to the franchise that helps to break up some of the monotony that players may feel as they progress through the game.

For the most part players are going to see the same weapon-types that were in the first and second game. The Pre-Sequel does add the laser weapon-type to the game though. Just like most weapon-types in Borderlands, there’s a variety within each type. Some work well, other’s not so much. Those typically have to do with the abilities and damage output that is available on the weapons however. There are a few kinds that may affect which ones players like though. This has more to do with play style than anything else. There is the Blaster, Railgun, Beam and Splitter types. The  Blaster is pretty self-explanatory and has a fire pattern akin to what you would see in say, Star Wars. The Railgun is a semi-automatic blast that has a long range and does a pretty significant amount of damage per shot. The Beam-type is  a continuous stream of energy that keeps going as long as you’re holding down your attack button. Basically it looks like the beam from a Ghostbuster’s Proton Pack. The split-type weapon is the scatter version of a laser weapons. It’s great for close range and deals some solid damage, but is pretty terrible after a certain range. These guns are a fun addition to the game, but they certainly don’t replace any other weapon-types in the game. It’s just another optional firearm in a game that in essences is all about the guns.

Characters level the same way as the previous games. You build experience and get skill points that can be placed in up to three different skill-trees as well as the Badass points earned in BL2. One thing that’s different about The Pre-Sequel is players start earning points a bit faster than the previous games. Instead of the characters unlocking their base ability at level five it happens at level three. This little change gives the feeling of a little bit faster progression in the early levels. It also allows the game to throw more difficult or higher number enemies at the player per encounter to start. 2014-11-06_00008It’s nothing significant, but it’s a good choice that’s been made and helps the game feel more balanced than it’s predecessors. While we’re on the subject of special abilities one thing that’s immediately noticeable and is a vast improvement from previous games is the recharge rate’s much faster. This certainly helps players get out of tough situations more readily, which seem to pop up pretty regularly throughout the game, especially on the second play through. This minor change seems to really improve the experience that players have had with the third installment. It also helps reinforce the differences between the classes in-game,  especially when a player has built their character to fill a specific role.

Enemies in Borderland: The Pre-Sequel are a bit more varied then we’re used to seeing as well. There is no shortage of enemies that have the ability to spawn other creatures, who in turn will also try to kill, eat or maim you. Monolithic monsters called “Shuggraths” spawn these little winged devils known as “Rathyds” while also providing some very accurate and damaging support fire for their newly birthed monsters children. There is also a new monster-type called Kraggons, which at first seem similar to our old pal, the Skag. They’re easy enough to deal with at lower levels, but killing larger ones causes them to split into two of the next largest versions upon killing one. This keeps happening until you’ve killed the lowest type of this monster. If players aren’t careful they can quickly become overwhelmed with a bunch of these little bastards. The Pre-Sequel also touches on the origins of some monsters we’re familiar with in Borderlands 2 and how they end up on Pandora. There is a lot of these little filler bits in the game’s story that helps to clear up some questions that a fan of the series may have  between the two games. Of course, there is also no shortage of killers who will either come running right at you or try shooting you from a distances as well. Though 2k Australia even tried to liven these familiar enemy types up a bit as well, giving some of them jet packs and heavy air support to harass the player a bit more while they’re in combat in the form of attack ships.2014-11-05_00006

As far as story goes, The Pre-Sequel has some of the better storytelling elements in the franchise. There’s some real character development for NPCs like Moxxi and Jack as well as some great banter that we’ve come to expect from the Borderlands titles. This is especially the case between the lovably annoying Clap Trap and Jack. Meeting Jack and having the chance to slowly watch him evolve in the the villain of Borderlands 2 is an interesting and fun experience. While it’s not an incredibly serious journey by any means, it fits in the Borderlands universe while showing us a side of Handsome Jack that makes him much more than he was in BL2.

As you probably know, The Pre-Sequel runs on the same engine that powered Borderlands 2. If there were some bugs and glitches players experienced in BL2, then you may not be too surprised to see the same or similar problems rearing their ugly and malformed heads in this game.  The Most common of these would be the “invisible walls” and clipping problems that occurred regularly in the BL2 and were a frustratingly constant reality in BL2. There is one particular bug in the game though that is not only frustrating but players may consider downright game breaking. It seems like a new problem in franchise and it’s something that most gamers may not be able to overlook until it is fixed. Quite a few players have run into a major bug that certainly dampens an otherwise enjoyable experience.

While playing online there is some form of save error that seems to happen upon logging out of a multiplayer session. From what can be found on the bug online, it seems to only happen when playing online with people. The good news is you’re single player experience is safe. This bug does takes a whole lot of fun out of the experience if you’re worrying about losing items or constantly making a save backup. 2014-11-12_00002The bug removes all the items and weapons you have equipped in your gear slots. They don’t get moved to your inventory, this hardware simply disappears from your save file. Things that are in your inventory seem to be just fine, but everything else just vanishes and cannot seem to be recovered. All the weapons the player has equipped, ammo, money, gear and even the moon shards they’ve collected just seems to disappear from existence.  This is a game breaking bug that seems to leave the player’s character intact, however losing rare and legendary weapons is a kick in the teeth and is more than enough to take the wind out of any gamer’s sails. This is honestly a bug that makes it so I cannot recommend the game to anyone without them at least knowing what can potentially happen to their character as soon as they start playing online with other people. The particularly disheartening fact about this is people have been reporting this bug for quite some time and there is no fix or even acknowledgement that the problem is happening from either 2K or Gearbox on their sites. As it stands, because of this bug the game is broken and it’s really that plain and simple. You can make a regular copy of your save file, but that’s something the player should not have to do to ensure the game runs the way it’s supposed to.

If you’re a fan of the Borderlands series and have yet to grow tired of the killing and loot-grabbing as so many have yet to, I can recommend Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. There are some well thought out additions and balance changes to the game. The game’s engine has also been given a bit of a facelift under the hood and seems to run quite a bit better than Borderlands 2, especially in a multiplayer scenario. With that recommendation however comes a harsh warning. The game is still plagued a nasty bug that has yet to be addressed as well as some annoyances that have been around since Borderlands 2. While the changes do add a bit of freshness to the franchise, in the grand scheme of things it’s nothing drastic so don’t expect them to redefine the game for you. While it’s a fun shooter I have trouble giving this game a full recommendation. If it weren’t for disappearing items bug I’d have to say that The Pre-Sequel is the best Borderlands yet, however with such a glaring flaw that strips players of so much hard work, we cannot recommend this game to anyone until it’s been properly patched and tested. It’d be best to take the “Wait and See,” approach with Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel.

Shadow of Mordor: Middle Earth Gets Brutal

Reviewed

There are a lot of folks that have been lifetime fans of all things in the Tolkien Universe. Long after the books have been finished and now that the movies are winding down, there still seems to be ways for the franchise to continue to expand, well after most of us have already read the quintessential fantasy novels that may have gotten us into the Fantasy genre to begin with. The history of Middle Earth continues, adding the game “Shadows of Mordor” to it’s ranks and boy does the title stand apart from the movies, books and other games that exist in Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Behavioral and Monolith certainly take the player on a journey. They tackled a large scale project and definitely did the title the franchise justice and adding something that truly expands the already well established universe that J.R.R. Tolkien started so many years ago.

Let me take you through a bit of what makes this game special within the Lord of the Rings Universe. Shadows of Mordor is decidedly more gruesome than other titles in the series. More so than the books, movies and definitely the other games. The combat is fast-paced, raw and brutal, but flows very smoothly while play through your dance of death. The fighting mechanics are also a very engaging. The proactive style of combat choice for gameplay fails to get old. If I were to compare the combat system to another game’s style I’d have to say it comes closest to the Batman: Arkham franchise. That is, if Batman hopped down out of ruined castles, slashing, gutting, mangling and murdering some of Tolkien’s most nasty and ugly creations; the Orcs and Uruks.

You’re one of the few humans that that Sauron’s Muarading army fears almost as much as Sauron himself. You’re not exactly a one man army though. You’ve got help from a mysterious, Elven wraith who has teamed up with our main character, Talion. A Ranger from the Black Gate and the only “surviving” member of his family, he’s on a quest for revenge that becomes so much more. Talion, himself really isn’t all that impressive, at least the way he looks. He’s got some great skills,  abilities and one hell of an attitude towards just about everyone. It’s not that Talion’s character model looks bad, he just looks like what we’ve come to expect from a Ranger. It’s typical, grizzled Human Ranger that we’d see in character art for a pen and paper RPG like D&D. His dead Elven friend looks about on par with what you’d expect from the graceful, proud race of Elves.Middle-earth™: Shadow of Mordor™_20141007105454

What really stands out is the horde of Orcs, Uruks and their commanding officers. These guys look positively monstrous and some of the most impressive modeling and character design I’ve seen on the new consoles to date. There is an incredible amount of detail put into everything from the most lowly Warrior maggots all the way up to the Warchiefs and their bodyguards. There’s a plethora of skin, eye and hair colors, body shapes, weapons, and armor. Some of it is blackend, jagged Iron carelessly strapped to our enemies. Some other Orc have decided to wear a sickly yellowish white bone as armor. The large rib bones and vertebrae most likely scavenged from the animals they’ve hunted and killed for fresh meat. Some have mouths full of crooked, spike-like teeth, while others are scrawny little whelps that get thrown around and barked at by the larger, more combat able Berserkers.

There is a whole society and culture that exists for these Orcs, a hierarchy and to at least some degree, a barbaric civility that exists between these monstrous creatures. Within the Orcish society, there are rivals and grudge matches between certain captains and Warchiefs. They’re all vying for more power and control over Sauron’s army. Every once in awhile there is a massive shift within the ranks. Especially after you’ve been killed. The enemy that defeats you move up in rank. This has the potential to change your enemies chain of command. Captains and even the Warlords themselves in some cases. This upheaval can give you a whole new batch of baddies to deal with that have their own strengths and weaknesses. Some will be easier to deal with, while others just stop you in your tracks by either killing you, or running away.  It’s a pretty amazing amount of detail put into the Orcs, much more than a player may actually expect from a game like this.

While on the face of it, Shadow of Mordor does seem like a mash-up of Batman: Arkham City and Assassin’s Creed, there is actually a whole lot more detail going on below the surface compared to these other games. Compared to the enemies  in either of these titles, there is much more variety. There was a lot more care taken into their design, mannerisms and even their dialogue. Your enemies remember when they fight you and when they’ve retreated. They also remember when they’ve killed you and are definitely confused, but more than willing to try again to see if they can get it right. Certain, brutal kills will make their allies run, or try to find reinforcements. There is a myriad of reactions from groups of the Orcs that you’re fighting. Some become enraged and fight harder, others run for their lives. Some just stand their, quaking in their boots while you rip into their comrades.

You eventually gain the ability to even corrupt the mind of an Orc or Uruk, making them essentially your slaves in combat. This is an incredibly cool skill to have. While I suppose you could go through the game without using it, why would you? It gives you a massive advantage, especially when you’re out-numbered. The number of abilities the game gives you at your disposal allows for a variety of tactics to be taken at any given time. This aspect definitely makes the game more enjoyable in the long run. Once you are able to implement a new ability and use it successfully in combat, there seems to be another one waiting in the wings for you to upgrade to immediately and start playing around with.

Middle-earth™: Shadow of Mordor™_20141007113910These extras abilities and options are particularly good too, since combat at the beginning of the game does have a pretty steep learning curve. It’s difficult, but not impossible. As you progress though, you’ll be able to deal with bigger groups of enemies that have a more varieties as well. Talion certainly knows how to deal with the Orcish hordes and some of Sauron’s most deadly warriors, some of which aren’t even Orcs.

The game’s surprisingly polished too. I’ve experienced very few bugs, one being that I wasn’t able to pick up a collectable, but that was only minor. I simply left the immediate area, doubled-back while doing a mission and was able to pick it up without a problem, no need to even restart the game. I am sure there are more bugs, as a few people have reported them through gaming sites, some to what appear to be hilarious effect. These problems do appear to be few and far between, so it isn’t even really worth worrying about.

Unfortunately the story really isn’t what you might hope to come from a game that’s a part of the Middle Earth saga, at least to start. If you want to get the most from the plot, you’re going to have to spend quite a bit of time fetching collectables. There are quite a few of them to say the least. You need to find things for your own storyline as well as the part that ties into the your mysterious Elven friend. His story frankly is a bit more compelling than Talion’s as you discover more about him. The story, at least what exists of it is done well. There doesn’t appear to be any major plot holes and the few non-hostile supporting characters you do meet are interesting.  Even some of the baddies you deal with are pretty interesting. If you’re hoping for the depth of a Tolkien novel, or the films you’re most likely going to be left wanting. It’s probably tough getting licensing rights for the stories of either the books or the films as well, so it may not be the developers fault at all. Owning the rights to a franchise like Lord the Fellowship of the Ring is a money-maker, no doubt. I am sure it’s carefully guarded and navigating the differences between the literature or films is probably a veritable mine field.

Even with Mordor’s story being a little skimpy around the waist, the game is still an excellent experience. The environments are beautiful, expansive and highly detailed. Almost as much as the enemies themselves. If you’re looking for a good action game that has good character progression and some familiar elements that are introduced in a bit of a different light I can recommend Shadow of Mordor. The game provides a higher quality play experience than I have had from any Lord of the Ring games to date. It may be what you’re looking for in an action game wit ha bit more depth and character development than what you may find in similar genres. Shadow of Mordor is currently available for the PS4, XBox One, PC, 360 and PS3. Just about every platform has a version of this game and I recommend giving it a try.