With the release of Borderlands 3 (for PC at least) right around the corner, I've found myself thinking back on the last Borderlands game and reflecting on what it got right and wrong.
I'm also curious about what elements they may carry over to BL3 from The Pre-sequel. TPS was made by 2K Australia and not the main 2K studios, which is why the game also had such a different flavor and was full of Australian accents and humor.
Claptrap, we're not on Pandora anymore! One of the appeals of TPS was that it takes place on Pandora's moon, rather than the planet itself. The moon is gorgeous, full of haunting beauty, excellent lighting, and space-y landscapes. The downside was notably decreased environmental variety as compared to BL2.
Another upside of the moon setting was consistent low-gravity which let you zoom around much quicker compared to normal. Also, the epic "butt-slams" were very fun, although sadly they don't look like they will make a reappearance.
One of my problems with initial runs through Borderlands games is that they are a snoozefest. You can use any loadout or guns and cruise through the game until you get to the second difficult tier of True Vault Hunter mode. TPS throws that out the window with enemies that will kick your face in upfront. I remember getting downed when I was level 2! Unheard of in other BL games, but typical for TPS. The downside was that TVH mode was brutally difficult off the bat, which I think hindered its replayability in addition to repetitive environs.
Combat was generally improved - the AI was a lot smarter and would move, dodge, roll, jump or fly around. The low gravity that helped you could also help foes or those equipped with jetpacks. Fights contained a lot more verticality and variety, something I loved and hope they bring to BL3.
I rather liked the TPS playable characters better than previous incarnations overall. Athena's shield play was terrific, Wilhelms enforcer drones were great, and Nisha's old west theme and skills were a blast. Let's not forget the DLC characters, of which Doppelganger was one of the best. If you loved cryo and sniping, then Sir Hammerlock's elegant sister would do the trick.
The characters were also a lot more talkative, conversing, and commenting with a frequency not seen in previous games. It seems this will carry over to BL3 as far as I've seen.
Other awesome stuff:
Cryo was an insanely fun new elemental damage type and quickly became my favorite. It dealt reliable damage to shields and froze enemies solid. You could then shatter them into tiny, bloody pieces which never got old. Thankfully Cryo is making the transition to BL3.
Faster leveling - For reasons I'll never understand Borderlands 1 & 2 don't let you start acquiring skill points until level 5. TPS shortcuts this by allowing you get points at level 3, meaning you're hitting your character stride sooner. I'm hoping in BL3 you get points at level 1 or 2 to make this even better.
The Grinder - this handy machine lets you put in gear, and it would spit out something of an equal or better rarity. It was a fun way to recycle equipment you would otherwise be dumping in a vending machine for money you probably didn't need. You could even craft legendaries out of it for extra moonstones. As far as I know, this nifty machine is going to make some appearance in BL3.
I've lavished no end of praise upon TPS, so why wasn't it more popular? I believe there are three main reasons for this:
It wasn't as funny
Borderlands is built on quirky humor. TPS was decently entertaining in that regard but notably short of other titles in the series. For me, two main NPC's stood out in a big way to contribute to this. One is Pickle, the apparent replacement for Tiny Tina. I can just hear some exec going "Hey, we need a funny kid in this game, make sure you have one" and that's how Pickle appeared. He is so mind-numbingly annoying that I was compelled to mute voice audio and turn on subtitles for what was way too many main quests.
The other unamusing NPC replacement was Nurse Nina, the stand-in for Doctor Zed. The moment I saw her introduction, I knew she wouldn't be humorous. To her credit, there is a side quest that is a hoot involving finding her a marriage partner, but that's it.
It wasn't as replayable.
While the setting is beautiful, the truth is the base game isn't as long as BL2, and lack of areas to farm such as Caustic Caverns or Lynchtown from BL2 means the game was fun to play through once, but less so to play through again. Even with the narration cleverly changing for round two, I found it wasn't as compelling.
Another problem was the savage difficulty increase. The challenge I praised upfront turns into a punishing slog in True Vault Hunter mode to the point where I didn't even want to play since basic enemies would shred your face in seconds.
It didn't have as much content
This is more of an extension of the replayability section, but the game didn't have as much content. Borderlands 2 received five major DLC packs along with half a dozen mini-events that were holiday-themed and more stuff like new arenas. Only Sir Hammerlocks Big Game Hunt fell short, while the rest were highly entertaining, adding new locations, loot, and characters to enjoy. Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep is legendary and won many DLC of the Year awards. They could make an entire game based around the D&D theme, and I think many, including myself, would gladly play it.
In contrast, TPS only had one major DLC pack, although it did receive two full extra characters in the Doppelganger and Baroness. The good news is that the DLC pack was entertaining and different, taking you on a Tron-Esque journey into the digital mind of an infected claptrap. More content was planned, but with the game's overall poor reception among players, it seems all further content was canned.
TPS is still a good, solid Borderlands game, but it's eclipsed by the overall superior Borderlands 2. From everything I've seen, Borderlands 3 looks like it's up the monumental challenge of being a worthy successor.