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Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel PC Review: Thousand-Yard Stare

If your senses haven't been dulled to Borderlands, this stopgap sequel offers even more of what you love… but not much else.

Review by Bob Mackey, .

Whether or not you'll find Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel worthwhile boils down to one essential question: Do you really need more Borderlands in your life?

It only took the series' debut for me to realize I'd had enough. I bought it, played a good 50 hours—often in spite of myself—and looked back on my experience as a strangely addictive one riddled with frequent annoyances. At my former place of employment, I reviewed Borderlands 2, hopeful that Gearbox would deliver a much-improved sequel, but what I played confirmed the series' intent to coast by on its immense popularity alone. And a recent playthrough with some old friends reaffirmed my criticisms of 2012: By the time we reached the game's halfway point, our Skype chat centered around nothing but Borderlands-related complaints. (I swear, we're normally a carefree group of knuckleheads.)

This previous experience might make me seem unfit to review yet another Borderlands sequel, but hear me out: I love the core concept so much, I'd like nothing more than for the series to meet my semi-reasonable expectations. So, with Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, I brushed the chip off of my shoulder, and walked into this installment with all prior grievances cleared from my mind. And while early parts of the game had me thinking this would be the Borderlands I'd love, developer 2K Australia only had so much room to play with Gearbox's original idea, meaning those same old Borderlands issues haven't gone anywhere.

Still, The Pre-Sequel does what it can to improve the formula. Thanks to its focus on low-gravity environments, characters can now double-jump, and The Pre-Sequel's level design focuses on verticality to exploit this increase in mobility. Vehicles—an underdeveloped and rarely fun feature of the series to date—have been made mostly unessential, and it now takes much less time to run from one end of the map to the other. Flying enemies—one of the most annoying elements of any Borderlands—are much easier to fight, now that they no longer dart crazily across your field of vision in the few seconds they're vulnerable. Just with this handful of changes, it's clear 2K Australia understands the flaws of the series, and set out to soften the series of minor irritations that makes Borderlands much less fun than advertised.

Even with these admittedly welcome improvements, The Pre-Sequel soon falls back into Borderlands' old habits. My issues may seem petty, but, over time, they add up to an experience that has the tendency to be wearying. Why, for instance, do I pick up some items (like money and health) automatically, but not others? Especially when playing single-player: Why wouldn't I want as much ammo as I could possibly get my hands on? Even the increase in mobility is a double-edged sword: Jumping from platform to platform works just fine, but when The Pre-Sequel tasks you with determining how to reach a distant point on the (still terrible) map, you'll end up scraping your face against countless ledges, since the game never does a great job of communicating the limits of your jumping power. And, outside of these minor issues, The Pre-Sequel manages to make some crucial mistakes. When selecting your character class, for instance, you won't be able to see their respective skill trees until you start a new game with said class. It's an incredibly small problem, but still, The Pre-Sequel manages to find countless ways to waste your time.

My biggest issue with The Pre-Sequel can be found in its leaden pacing: Seeing as this installment is coming after two games and an incredible amount of DLC, who is it made for outside of the Borderlands faithful? I understand the need to assist new players, but The Pre-Sequel features the same slow, steady progression as the first two games—meaning the first 5-6 hours will be spent unlocking its most basic features before you can explore the pros and cons of your chosen class' unique skill tree. After playing the first two games, being taught once again how to jump, throw grenades, buy items, and perform the rest of your standard Borderlands actions felt especially egregious. And, unless you have a desire to play those boring early sections again, you're essentially locked into whatever character you choose from the outset. It's great that The Pre-Sequel offers a way to respec your character on a whim (as with the last game), but what's missing is the ability to jump into an entirely different class at any point during the game. As it stands, you may have already invested 8-10 hours into a class before realizing it's not the right one for you—and the only solution is to start a new game and suffer through those tutorials all over again.

And, for a series that does its best to provide frivolous fun, The Pre-Sequel continues the Borderlands tradition of being oddly restrictive. Enemies a just few levels below you offer a meaningless amount of experience, while enemies just a few levels above you act as hard-hitting bullet sponges, and the rewards you'll earn rarely justify the risks of suffering through these one-sided encounters. And, once again, Borderlands' focus on randomness gradually makes sifting through piles of dropped weapons and other equipables completely unrewarding—by the time you compare the stats on your hundredth dropped gun, it's easier to just throw up your hands and stick with the one offering the highest attack number. Rarely did I find a weapon significantly more powerful than anything I had equipped, so I eventually began to ignore dropped weapons altogether until the level of my current stock dropped well below my character's.

Ultimately, The Pre-Sequel feels incredibly dated—which isn't surprising, seeing as its core gameplay stems from those reletively ancient days of 2009. In a world where Destiny exists, it's unclear why anyone would opt for The Pre-Sequel over a much more well-crafted co-op FPS that features a similar crowd of addicts who can't stop playing in spite of themselves (or so the Internet says). Admittedly, The Pre-Sequel managed to hook me from time to time, but whenever I thought I'd settled into its world, those old problems would crop up again and remind me that, yes, I'm still playing a Borderlands game. I'm sure Gearbox has lots in store for whatever current-gen installment they're currently dreaming up, but until that sees the light of day, Borderlands remains a series that never quite delivers on its wild ideas.

The Nitty Gritty

  • Visuals: If you've played Borderlands in the past, The Pre-Sequel won't surpise you, but those cel-shaded characters and environments still manage to be visually interesting.
  • Sound: You most likely won't be able to hum a bar of The Pre-Sequel's soundtrack, but it does a great job of underscoring the frequent gunfire, screams, and curses you'll never stop hearing throughout.
  • Interface: Borderlands' maps could definitely use some improvements, meaning the interface has gone completely unchanged. It still works, but it's in desperate need of a revision.
  • Lasting appeal: With four new character classes, there's a lot to dig into here, but exploring the strengths and weaknesses of each new class requires the patience necessary to replay the game's uninvolving early stages all over again.

If you've played Borderlands and the sequel, devoured all the available DLC, and still want more, that's exactly what the Pre-Sequel delivers. If you're looking for anything measurably different than your prior experiences with the series, though, The Pre-Sequel won't satisfy. And this lack of ambition only serves to disappoint: there's a fantastic game buried in here, somewhere, if only its caretakers would perform a serious overhaul.

2.5 /5

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel PC Review: Thousand-Yard Stare Bob Mackey If your senses haven't been dulled to Borderlands, this stopgap sequel offers even more of what you love… but not much else. 2014-10-13T22:00:00-04:00 2.5 5

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Comments 27

  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #1 cldmstrsn 2 years ago
    ya I grew tired of B2 pretty quick so I think I am done with this series.
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  • Avatar for George-Roper #2 George-Roper 2 years ago
    "It only took the series' debut for me to realize I'd had enough. I bought it, played a good 50 hours—often in spite of myself—and looked back on my experience as a strangely addictive one riddled with frequent annoyances. At my former place of employment, I reviewed Borderlands 2, hopeful that Gearbox would deliver a much-improved sequel, but what I played confirmed the series' intent to coast by on its immense popularity alone."

    And so you give this 2.5/5? You state your lack of interest for the series, then go onto review the latest in the series?

    And BTW...

    "If you're looking for anything measurably different than your prior experiences with the series, though, The Pre-Sequel won't satisfy"

    Yet, from your comments in this review, Destiny does? Just LOL right there, as if Destiny offers anything near the level of quality, content and fun that Borderlands 1 and 2 and I assume this does.Edited 3 times. Last edited October 2014 by George-Roper
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  • Avatar for JohnnyBarnstorm #3 JohnnyBarnstorm 2 years ago
    This is me and the bf's favorite series to co-op, we even have spent many hours on the Vita port so you know we're hardcore and very willing to overlook issues.

    Right now we're going back and playing Borderlands 1 together, and the weapons feel better, more solid, and more fun to use in the first game than the sequel. But I love the characters and the environment. I guess we'd probably really get into Destiny as well, but we're waiting to get a PS4 or XBone before venturing into that territory.

    At any rate, I'm still getting this game because we are the people you described as its target audience, and even a mediocre game in a series you like is still fun co-op.
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  • Avatar for bobservo #4 bobservo 2 years ago
    @George-Roper Looks like we disagree! It happens.
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #5 jeremy.parish 2 years ago
    @George-Roper Hey, sorry you don't agree with the score, but I would definitely recommend you read the full review. Once you do, you'll see that Bob specifically stated he has no axe to grind, likes the Borderlands concept, wants to see it executed well, and went into this review optimistic and open-minded. In fact, I specifically assigned him to this review because his experience with the series put him in a perfect position to say whether or not the new developer was able to rectify the previous Borderlands' flaws. I know the tendency on the Internet is to view everything in absolute terms, but a 2.5/5 score is the very definition of mixed feelings.
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  • Avatar for nickn #6 nickn 2 years ago
    @George-Roper Bob wrote a paragraph immediately after the paragraph that you quoted addressing why he would review it. You can agree or disagree with his explanation but he addressed it.
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #7 brionfoulke91 2 years ago
    Seems like a fair score to me. The downside of Borderlands has always been it's repetitive nature, just like Diablo. It's all too easy for a series like this to wear out it's welcome.

    There's also that intangible thing called "inspiration," the mechanics and levels and quests may seem solid enough, but if that intangible thing is missing, it all just isn't very much fun.
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  • Avatar for dimasok #8 dimasok 2 years ago
    I am a bit confused by the review. All the criticisms are well-deserved and I can definitely relate to them since they seem to be the same ones that the earlier games had however this is still the Borderlands I always loved so I am definitely picking this up.

    The confusing part is that none of the important parts were addressed: where are the bits about the far better character specs than in Borderlands 2 and what sort of powers they have and how different they play? What about the story? Anything about the graphics? What makes the maps terrible as you said? There were enough words left unsaid to leave me perplexed.

    It does seem to come from a negatively biased perspective from someone who is simply tired of the series, but I had no doubt in my mind that they wouldn't change the fundamentals of what made this series successful so I am not sure why it comes as a surprise.
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  • Avatar for nimzy #9 nimzy 2 years ago
    Looks like the perfect loot-shooter is still out there somewhere.
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  • Avatar for Whinybabyclub #10 Whinybabyclub 2 years ago
    Came free with my new video card, figure i'll give it a shot. The only thing that keeps me from multiple playthroughs on BL games is that when you start a new game plus, you have to unlock every stupid waypoint again. They're so far spread out, it's very annoying.
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  • Avatar for Whinybabyclub #11 Whinybabyclub 2 years ago
    @dimasok isn't it amazing how on this site you get downvoted for poking holes in reviews?
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #12 cldmstrsn 2 years ago
    @larkan511 that's every site, its called people don't agree with you.
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  • Avatar for MamboManiac #13 MamboManiac 2 years ago
    "In a world where Destiny exists, it's unclear why anyone would opt for The Pre-Sequel over a much more well-crafted co-op FPS"

    Seriously? The metacritic score for Destiny is 76-(PS4)-78 (Xbone), the metacritic review score for Borderlands 2 is 89 to 91, the Metacritic user score for Borderlands 2 is 8.1/8.2, Destiny's user score is 5.7 to 6.4. That "well-crafted co-op FPS" exists only in this reviewers head!

    I havent played the presequel yet, but im eagerly looking forward to it. Do us all a favor and next Borderlands game, dont review it, its not for you and your friends evidently.

    Comparing it to Destiny was a nice joke. I bought Destiny for PS4 at launch and regret it, its Halo combat with a extremely MEH story, a confusing hub area that drops you in with barely any explanation, and the game just feels like a unpolished mesh. Bungie really dropped the ball.
    Borderlands 2 is twice the game that Destiny ever tried to be.Edited 2 times. Last edited October 2014 by MamboManiac
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  • Avatar for secularsage #14 secularsage 2 years ago
    Games like this make me wish review scores didn't exist. They are such a distraction from the content of the review.

    What a reviewer of a consumer product needs to say (to be useful) is:
    1) Whether or not this is worth the price asked. (I favor BUY IT, RENT IT or AVOID IT)
    2) Who it's most likely to appeal to, and who it's not.
    3) If there are any issues with quality, value, etc that need to be understood.

    Everything else is "Here's some criticism and/or praise in my reactions as a reviewer." And that's what we're here to read, because that individual experience is what makes reviews worthwhile.

    Bob Mackey laid out a pretty good case for why this game is mediocre - it's essentially a variation on a theme we all heard years ago with the first Borderlands, itself an interesting but largely mediocre loot shooter. If you still enjoy that song, Bob's saying, buy the latest version, because it's more of the same. Otherwise, he continues, here are some thoughts on what needs to happen to make the next one seem fresh and new, because this slightly remixed version isn't cutting it.

    Scores really distract from that important qualitative context.
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  • Avatar for pdubb #15 pdubb 2 years ago
    I think its funny everyone who is so mad about the Destiny mention seemingly ignores the tongue in cheek comment in parentheses in the same sentence.

    Thanks for the review, it told me everything I wanted to know. Destiny has been scratching my guns and loot itch, was wondering if the new Borderlands might do the same. After reading the review I remembered all the little things that made BL2 so fun the first time and a half through, but painful otherwise.

    Destiny has its problems, but a game like border lands would do well to copy the instance based mission structures in some ways. For example in borderlands places like the shock cave and the area right around the "angel" reveal in BL2 werent fun to me, so I wouldn't want to replay them. Yet, the wildlife reserve, the Crimson Lance (?) area in one, and the futuristic city in 2, were really fun to me, and if there was a way to replay those areas tuned to my current gear level it'd be great. Sadly once you out level areas in borderlands there is never a reason to go back, no matter how well its done.
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  • Avatar for George-Roper #16 George-Roper 2 years ago
    @jeremy.parish

    That still doesn't explain this apparently throwaway comment...

    "At my former place of employment, I reviewed Borderlands 2, hopeful that Gearbox would deliver a much-improved sequel, but what I played confirmed the series' intent to coast by on its immense popularity alone."

    ...for a game commanding almost 9/10 on Metacritic.

    http://www.metacritic.com/game/pc/borderlands-2

    So what we really have here is someone burned out/uninterested in the premise of the IP scoring 2.5/5 on that basis. Yet, the tone of the review says that if you like Borderlands 1 and 2, this is more of the same. So if its more of the same, why not 3.5-4/5?

    How anyone could say this game isn't pushing the boundaries enough get away with it, when in the same review they're extolling the virtues of Destiny is utterly confusing to me. And I quote...

    "In a world where Destiny exists, it's unclear why anyone would opt for The Pre-Sequel over a much more well-crafted co-op FPS that features a similar crowd of addicts who can't stop playing in spite of themselves (or so the Internet says)"

    That right there, Destiny, is a classic example of a flash-in-the-pan game, here today gone tomorrow with zero longevity. Something the Borderlands series has in droves.
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  • Avatar for nickn #17 nickn 2 years ago
    @George-Roper

    Im sure that any minute now Bob will realize that his opinion is wrong and your opinion on a game that you haven't played is in fact the one true opinion. Perhaps you can solve another important debate, potatoes or stuffing?Edited October 2014 by nickn
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  • Avatar for George-Roper #18 George-Roper 2 years ago
    @nickn

    "Im sure that any minute now Bob will realize that his opinion is wrong and your opinion on a game that you haven't played is in fact the one true opinion."

    I don't have a problem with opinions but lets have some structure in place that means you're not putting reviewers onto games that they're already disenchanted with. The content and tone of the review entirely says that he doesn't like Borderlands 2, pretty much a universally loved and critically acclaimed game. So why on earth would that person be suitable to review another sequel?

    And the final statement...

    "If you've played Borderlands and the sequel, devoured all the available DLC, and still want more, that's exactly what the Pre-Sequel delivers."

    So for fans, the exact audience they're going for, 2.5/5?

    "If you're looking for anything measurably different than your prior experiences with the series, though, The Pre-Sequel won't satisfy."

    Why would anyone bought into the IP be looking for anything different? That's the whole point of a franchise isn't it? That you serve your customers known needs? Borderlands 1 and 2 are immensely successful games, with a loot-em-up formula that works, and extremely well presented DLC, so why would they now turn that inside out to try and appeal to this mysterious audience that the reviewer is alluding to?

    None of this review makes any sense. It comes across as being negative just to try and be different, to stand out. Don't do that. You'll just alienate yourselves.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #19 VotesForCows 2 years ago
    I wanted to love Borderlands 2, but the stupid amount of almost identical loot made me hate it. I got bored very, very quickly. Will not go back to the series again, which is a shame because I love the look and tone of it.
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  • Avatar for nickn #20 nickn 2 years ago
    @George-Roper

    Well, we disagree. I don't think any reviewer should be disqualified from reviewing this game just because they didn't enjoy the previous entry in the series. If Kat doesn't like Madden 15 does that disqualify her from reviewing Madden 16? That's ludicrous, because perhaps she loves the core concept of football so much that she wants to see these games succeed and to improve.

    The review score of 2.5/5 is not for the fans. I certainly hope that no reviewer at Usgamer scores a game based on what the fans of a series want. In my opinion, review scores should reflect the opinion of the reviewer. I in turn try to read the reviews of each reviewer and come to an understanding of what they like and dislike in a game. Then I can compare that to my own likes and make an informed decision. In this case, I just needed verification that Borderlands hasn't taken a big enough step forward to justify a purchase.

    It's great if you personally don't want Borderlands to improve on the formula. If you want them to stick to the game plan that's great. A lot of developers/publishers do just that. Call of Duty has done just that since Modern Warfare. I enjoyed Modern Warfare and immediately grew tired of the lack of improvement from game to game. I stopped playing that series early on for that reason. I also only played half of Borderlands 2 for that very reason.

    With that said, this review provides Borderlands fans that just want more Borderlands with all the information they need. If you love Borderlands then you'll dig it. Why spend so much time trying to change a numbered score? It doesn't matter.
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  • Avatar for chronicdog #21 chronicdog 2 years ago
    @nickn Actually I disagree. If you didnt like the previous two games, it does seem to be a big stretch that you'd like the third seeing as though its not billed as a revelation. I do think that sites and magazines have an obligation to give games the best and most optimistic reviewer of a game. Two people look at a glass, one sees it half full and the other sees it half empty. Go with the review that sees the glass half full. Its only fair to the developer and the fans.

    Im not a Borderlands fanboy by any means, but please understand this is a franchise that is hugely popular and there are literally millions of players who finished the first two games and played through it multiple times, it is often cited as one of the top 10 coop games of all time. OK, it doesnt mean the game is "objectively" great just because lots of people play it - but it does mean you need to respect these people in picking a person to review a game.

    I would never, ever review a Call of Duty game because its a series which just doesnt appeal to me, Im not great at twitch based FPS games and Im not big into competitive multiplayer. Sure on paper the features of CoD might appeal to me (big set pieces, high budget single player campaign, great graphics, precise controls, big community, coop, VS, released on every platform) like the Borderlands features appeal to Bob - but I know in practice they just dont make for a game Im gonna play a lot.

    When you pick a reviewer for a game, you need to pick someone that is both familiar with the genre and the previous games. I feel like I didnt learn that much about the classes or weapons or any of the new systems present here other than double jumps and a lack of vehicles. The Lore in Borderlands is very tongue in cheek, is that kept up here?

    And comparing it to Destiny, I mean I have to say Im a little shocked here. Destiny has some of the most bland lore in the history of Science Fiction. That doesnt mean its a bad game in fact its truly great despite that fact. But Borderlands has always had extremely colorful characters and the emphasis was never on being serious and mostly just on being wacky, zany, and fun. Borderlands is a very "videogamey" franchise - its self aware and certainly never takes itself seriously. I understand, that might not appeal to everyone, and sure its very hard for any game to have gunplay which compares to something made by Bungie. Sure, I get that. But dont hold it against Borderlands, I dont think thats entirely fair. Its not trying to be a perfectly balanced competitive shooter with massive PvE MMO style gameplay. Im sure the development budget of Destiny was 20x what it was for this.

    Im not saying its a "bad" review and all reviews are just one persons opinion, and yes playing another coop shooter right after Destiny is a tough task. But recognize that this was a very, very popular franchise last gen and many people would gladly take more of the same. Sure, thats not what the reviewer wants - he just wants to get back to playing Destiny. But dont hold that against Borderlands - it simply isnt fair.

    And finally of note - there is no Destiny on the PC and there never will be.Edited October 2014 by chronicdog
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  • Avatar for nickdaniel17 #22 nickdaniel17 2 years ago
    @chronicdog If you want to give the game to the most 'optimistic' reviewer why not just let the publisher write their own review?
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  • Avatar for Monkey-Tamer #23 Monkey-Tamer 2 years ago
    I enjoyed the previous games enough to put some serious time into both. With limited time to game, those two ladies got all my attention, which says something. I'm liking the Pre-Sequel, but it's feeling old and tired already. Probably from reusing objects, voices, and menus from the second game. It's feeling more like a DLC than a game in its own right.

    The trouble with fresh and new is you can only rehash it so many times before it feels like more of the same. It happened to the recent Batman games for me, and other franchises have churned out content with little variation so long as the games made a profit. I'm liking the new tweaks, but that's all they amount to. My brother and I will play it and have fun, but this isn't blowing me away by any means. Maybe some DLC down the line will liven things up, but that's hard to do with this already feeling like DLC to me. If people didn't like the first two, they sure won't like this one.
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  • Avatar for chronicdog #24 chronicdog 2 years ago
    @nickdaniel17 Im fine with a critical review, and I havent played this game. What I want is a review of the game by somebody who has played both games completely (that means New Game + and all DLC completed). If this game cant please the Borderlands faithful, then it deserves a poor score.

    I honestly dont think this reviewer was the most qualified staffer to write this review (not knowing how many staffers they have or if any enjoyed the original games), I think the place to lay the blame on that is his editor. If you dont have a well qualified reviewer, outsource the article or hire new staff.
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  • Avatar for bobservo #25 bobservo 2 years ago
    @chronicdog Hi, I played both Borderlands games, and finished 2 twice. Didn't play any of the DLC, but I didn't want to. I'm not sure how I could be more qualified to review the Pre-Sequel.
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  • Avatar for Matt-Liparota #26 Matt-Liparota 2 years ago
    @George-Roper Is it possible that franchises don't exist in a vacuum and doing more-or-less the same thing over and over can wear thin over time?Edited October 2014 by Matt-Liparota
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  • Avatar for jessewaynewatkins05 #27 jessewaynewatkins05 2 years ago
    I honestly can't think of anything wrong with this game.
    Missed your jump? That's YOUR fault. Not the game's.

    Wanna know how to not miss your jumps? Always overshoot the jumps then butt-slam when you get where you want. Not that hard.

    It's just as a die hard fan of the Borderlands series it annoys me to see such little tiny problems effect a perfectly good game.

    What needs to change about the interface? Can I see my health? Yes. Shields? Yes. Oxygen level? Yes. Actual level, and progress to next level? Yes. Cross hair? Yes. Some form of map system? Yes. I fail to see anything that can be changed.
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