From the moment you jump into the world of Borderlands for the first time, three things strike you - it looks different, it sounds different, but it all feels familiar.
Where things feel familiar is the gameplay. Buttons do what you think they should do and character control feels natural. First-person shooter fans will feel right at home here, but even those passingly familiar with games will find that both games are not only easy to pick up, but walk you through every aspect to a very thorough degree - so much so that it can prove a tad tedious for returning players in fact.
The series sets you up in a far flung corner of space on a planet called Pandora (and, in the case of the Pre-Sequel, its moon), as you follow the story of Handsome Jack - hence the name of the game.
Jack’s character grows considerably across the narrative of both games...he is a little on the crazy side...
To say that Jack is an interesting character is an understatement, in many ways he sums up what the Borderlands series is all about (including the first game, which is conspicuously absent from this collection) - a clear sense of style, comedy and action. Jack’s character grows considerably across the narrative of both games, and it isn’t really a spoiler to say that by the time you get to know him it will be obvious that he is a little on the crazy side. That said he is endearing, and whenever he pops up in the top right of your screen with an order, a threat or a witticism, it’s always welcome.
Another character who you may have seen around is Claptrap, the Wall-E-like robot with an irritating voice who serves as your companion through the first part of Borderlands 2. Slightly less endearing than Jack, his personality can grate occasionally but for the most part he is as entertaining as your average companion character. In the Pre-Sequel you can even play as him (or his doppelganger), thanks to all the DLC for both games being included on disc, which is a staggering amount of content by itself and adds two characters to the roster for each title.
There are a few other things inside the box which give this iteration of the game a leg up on its predecessors two, namely Golden Keys. Normally unlocked by entering Shift Codes from Twitter and other social media, Golden Keys can be used in both games to unlock some of the greatest, rarest loot your character can get hold of, which unlocks at your current level. It might be tempting to save these keys for higher levels but in fact you have so many you can afford to use a few every few levels to make sure your weapons, armour and items are up to scratch.
Both games have a similar structure, with a central storyline of story missions, which take you across different areas on a combination of killing, looting and fetch quests as the stories unfold. For the most part it’s fair to say your character doesn’t know what they are doing, they are just following the objectives where they lead. This slightly unfocused approach could prove un-engaging for those who need a linear storyline to hold their attention, but really the games work more like Skyrim from that point of view (albeit on a much smaller scale) in that you find yourself getting sucked into optional side missions here there and everywhere.
Even sticking to the story missions only will still clock up about 18 hours for the Pre-Sequel and over 30 for Borderlands 2 (not to mention the hours added by those DLC packs), and, most likely, they will also give you the experience and gear you need to finish them as well, it will just prove very tough going towards the end as you find yourself under-levelled (as denoted by skulls next to enemies health bars when they are more than two levels above you). Side missions also have difficulty recommendations attached to them, everything from trivial if you will breeze through, up to impossible if you are heading for an endless cycle of death.
Dying itself isn’t the end, of course. If you are taken out in combat you fall into a fight-for-your-life scenario, where getting a kill will revive you with a fraction of your health. If you have co-op partners along for the ride then this will become easier (though the games do beef up the enemies to compensate), but even if you do die you are only charged a percentage of your money to be revived at a reconstruction station, which tend to be fairly liberally spread through levels.
Successfully slaughtering your foes earns you XP which allows you to level up in a fairly predictable way. Each level earns you a single skill point which you can spend on one of three skill trees to increase your character’s abilities. While it isn’t full RPG territory, the three trees - which you can cherry pick elements of rather than committing to one right off the bat - allow you to customise your character to the style of play which works for you.
The most important skill is the action skill, which is the first one which each character unlocks and is unique to them. It might be a shield, which can be used for protection or thrown around, Captain America style, or a turret you can chuck onto the battlefield to help you in a fight, or simple the ability to fire more guns or more quickly. These skills are where the individual classes show their individuality, something more distinct in the Pre-Sequel than its successor (sort of), but there is plenty of variety in both games.
In terms of value for money, this is a great purchase, particularly for those who haven’t given it a try already. Both games are put together well, though you can find the odd glitch and a serious level of texture pop-in, especially in the Pre-Sequel, but it’s nothing game-breaking. That said, neither game looks particularly impressive for a 2015 release, even when you compare it to similarly structured cross-gen games like Destiny.
Unlike Destiny though, you can enjoy this game perfectly fine on your own if you like, though if you need co-op companions (after doing a shout-out in our Forums) there is matchmaking in both games, it goes a long way to bumping up the fun level of the whole experience.
Both games are really good fun and despite having a lot of shared DNA still feel different. Bouncing around on the moon feels more free than the world-hopping of Borderlands 2, but the supporting characters on the second game feel more fleshed out (plus, the fact that the Pre-Sequel was co-developed by 2K Australia really sticks out with the percentage of Australian accents flying around).
Ultimately, you can’t help but feel the package would feel more complete with the game which started it all included - not that there isn’t an awful lot of content on offer here. Just from a narrative point of view it would be nice to hear the beginning of the story, even if it was something a bit more substantial than the summary at the beginning of 2 which lays it out in a nutshell, perhaps something more along the lines of Mass Effect’s semi-interactive comic? Or even a quick round-up episode of Tales from the Borderlands. It feels like a missed opportunity (perhaps something for the 10th anniversary edition), but even without it this is a package well worth picking up.