Gearbox is working on a new Borderlands game! Surprise!
Except it wasn't much of a surprise for several reasons: one, Borderlands is by far the most successful franchise Gearbox has going on right now, and two, anonymous sources leaked the existence of the peculiarly named Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel earlier this week.
What perhaps is a surprise is the fact that Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is not coming to Xbox One and PlayStation 4; instead, it's going to be a PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 title based on the existing Borderlands 2 engine (which was, itself, a tweaked version of Unreal Engine 3), due out in the fall of this year. According to Gearbox bossman Randy Pitchford, speaking at a reveal event attended by our sister site Eurogamer, the reason for this is that Borderlands' main playerbase is supposedly still largely using current-gen systems, and thus that's where the demand for new Borderlands games lives. To put it another way, according to Pitchford, "there are fewer Xbox Ones and PS4s than we sold copies of Borderlands 2."
So what's going on with this "pre-sequel" business, and why isn't it just called, I don't know, Borderlands 1.5, Borderlands Zero or Borderlands Gaiden? And what actually is the difference between "pre-sequel" and "prequel?"
Well, the new game isn't a prequel to Borderlands as a whole; instead it's a game that slots in narrative-wise between the first and second games in the series, chronicling Borderlands 2 villain Handsome Jack's rise to power. Technically this makes it several things: a Borderlands 2 prequel, a Borderlands sequel 1 and an "interquel" or, yes, "pre-sequel" between Borderlands 1 and 2 if you really want to use words that sound like they're not real things.
The new game has more than just Handsome Jack from the other games; the playable characters are drawn from both installments, too, including Athena the Gladiator from Borderlands 1 DLC The Secret Armory of General Knoxx; Wilhelm the Enforcer, the first boss of Borderlands 2; Nisha the Lawbringer, aka Borderlands 2's Sheriff of Lynchwood, and Claptrap. Yes, that Claptrap; the same Claptrap you meet at the beginning of Borderlands 1 and the last surviving Claptrap unit in Borderlands 2. Following series tradition, each of these characters is effectively a "class" to play with their own unique skills, abilities and specialisms, and in Claptrap's case the fact your camera is considerably closer to the ground is made up for with some powerful abilities.
The game unfolds on the moon and the Hyperion space station in orbit around the other games' setting Pandora, and as such adds a couple of new elements to the mix -- most notably low gravity, allowing for exaggerated bounding around for comic effect, and the need to manage your oxygen supply as well as your health, shield and ammunition levels. Oxygen can be collected much like other pickups, or also through oxygen generators, which create a small bubble of atmosphere which can also be used to allow elemental damage that requires oxygen -- like, say, fire. The low gravity and oxygen impacts combat, too; hit someone hard enough and you can send them flying into space, never to return, and blast someone in the oxygen tank or helmet and they'll suffocate to death.
For those concerned Gearbox is becoming nothing but "the Borderlands studio," fear not; Pitchford notes that the team is building new IP alongside the new Borderlands offering and any future installments in the Borderlands franchise.
"If we took the posture that we should only make sequels because they're safe and it's a sure thing, Borderlands wouldn't even exist," he said. "We can't help ourselves. We like to invent, so we create new things."