PAX East 2014: To the moon with Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel

For the latest Borderlands game, which takes place between the events of the first and second games, Gearbox President Randy Pitchford pushed for the name “Borderlands 1.5”. The team eventually decided on “The Pre-Sequel” because, from a gameplay perspective the game is far closer to Borderlands 2.5.

Yep, 2.5, not 3. That’s a pretty honest assessment of an upcoming game from a company president, but that’s one of the great things about Pitchford, who was humble and humbled by the fanbase at PAX. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is a full, brand-new Borderlands game, but it’s based heavily on the foundation Gearbox built with Borderlands 2.

It also isn’t strictly made by Gearbox. The Pre-Sequel is a collaboration between Gearbox and 2K Australia, who previously worked on all of the Bioshock games. “We were given a brief ‘we want to go to the moon, throw out ideas,let’s start talking,’ so it was a really good starting point,” 2K Australia Producer Joel Eschler told me during an interview. “We’re talking every single day, we’re going to each other’s studios all the time. We’re working on this game together and designing this game together. It’s been a really organic relationship so far.”

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel

So yeah, for Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, 2K Australia and Gearbox are taking us to the moon. That means low gravity, oxygen tanks, and a sci-fi slant that justifies things like laser beams and freeze guns. “It’s the moon of Pandora, it’s not the moon of Earth,” Eschler explained. “You can expect some pretty varied environments as you’re playing through the game. And you don’t just play on the moon, you actually go up to the Hyperion space station as well.”

During the PAX East panel, Pitchford told the story of trying to get freeze weapons in Borderlands 2, how they couldn’t do it, and how 2K Australia managed it in a couple days. “One of our programmers actually figured out a way to procedurally freeze and smash the guys so it’s different every time,” Eschler explained. He didn’t deny that their experience working on BioShock helped a little bit.

2K Australia’s influence is felt in the storyline as well. During development the team sent Gearbox sequences with placeholder voice acting featuring really bad attempts at American accents. At Gearbox, they couldn’t tell that the voices were American accents at all, and after a laugh, decided that the moon denizens would be Aussie. So in the Borderlands universe, Australia is the moon.

That also means some of the writing will be coming from a different place this time around. “Anthony Burch is writing some of it and giving creative feedback, but Joel’s team has two writers as well,” Gearbox Producer James Lopez told me.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel

While I’ve always enjoyed the Borderlands games, I also found the cross-chat between the characters problematic. It was enough of an issue in Borderlands 2 that I had to write about it, as I couldn’t really appreciate the funny writing when characters constantly talked over each other. “That is something that from a system level we have done a bit of work to try and help with,” Escher assured me.  Not everyone has had this issue (as the comments on that article clearly indicated), but I’m glad 2K is addressing it anyway.

The Pre-Sequel may be more like a side-game than a full-on sequel, but the 2K collaboration and the moon setting seem to be leading to a refreshing experience. Low gravity allows for things like double jumps and stomp attacks, while 2K’s previous work has helped to freshen up the weaponry. You’re the bad guys this time around, too, working for Handsome Jack along his rise to power. You’ll even be able to play as Claptrap!

All-in-all, whether you can’t get enough of Borderlands (despite the endless DLC releases), or you’ve had your fill, The Pre-Sequel looks fresh enough to be on anyone’s radar. That is, assuming you didn’t — as Pitchford apologized for at the Gearbox panel — sell your 360 or PS3 for a next-gen console.

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