'Borderlands The Pre-Sequel': Hands-On With Athena And Wilhelm Characters At E3 2014 [PREVIEW]

By Alex Riviello , Updated Jun 13, 2014 04:45 PM EDT

No one has ever accused 2K Games of being subtle. Evidence of this was immediately apparent at this year's E3, where they announced their presence with continuous Evolve tournaments while right next to it, the gigantic moon of Pandora loomed, appearing to have crashed into the showroom floor. We were fortunate enough to join a small group of press in a presentation inside that structure, and were among the first to get our hands on a playable demo of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel.

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We entered the domed structure and 2K reps showed us off the latest trailer for the game (the incredible Moon Dance) as well as a lecture by Borderlands 2 villain Handsome Jack about the way to play the game. As the name implies the Pre-Sequel is set between the events of Borderlands 1 and 2, where Jack is just beginning to make a name for himself and is not quite the villain he is destined to be. The game is being developed by 2K Australia instead of series creator Gearbox but you wouldn't know it from the game- it looks, sounds and feels just like the first two games.

After our video presentation we were paired off in twos and led to demo stations. "Have you played Borderlands before?" we were asked by a rep and when we both confirmed that we had "Ok, have fun!" was his only response. There was really nothing else to be told about the game since it's exactly the same- lots of guns, grabbing loot, ridiculous humor, the works. The only big difference here is the gravity. A good portion of the game is set on the moon of Pandora (the world from the first two games) so the low gravity affects every part of combat. You can double jump into the air, sailing far up and drifting far away. Jump above an enemy and slam the b button and you'll come smashing down with a butt bounce on your enemy's heads, or send them flying up into the air.

Everything We Know About The Pre-Sequel's Playable Characters

Jumping is better than getting in cover- it takes some getting used to aiming and shooting while floating around but you move slow enough that not only is it possible, it's encouraged. It takes a bit to get used to just how far you can fly but once you do it's second nature and clearly the most enjoyable way to move around the environment. The only issue here is the low-gravity environment is generally lacking in air. You have an o2 regulator that works a lot like your shield does- you can equip different ones that give you different levels and abilities. But if you start running out you'll need to either pick up a canister (from a downed enemy or crate) or find a station that will cycle oxygen into the surroundings. It's never terrible but it does prevent you from running around and cackling with glee to your heart's content.

You do have a few new weapons to play with. One is a laser weapon that shoots a continuous stream. The one I used didn't stay very straight though, and the longer you keep it held the more it begins to buck like a proton stream from one of the Ghosterbusters' packs.

There are also now guns that do cryo damage, freezing enemies in place. Once they're frozen you can run up and punch (or butt-stomp) them to see them shatter into thousands of glistening, bloody shards.

During my first game I played as Athena, a gladiator who carries a shield as her special move. She will whip it out and soak up damage and the more you do, the more damage you'll dish out when you throw your shield like a certain Marvel supersoldier. It's a pretty great special, and the shield lets you soak up a ton of damage, which is good when you rush in charging like some unnamed authors do, getting killed and constantly forcing your companion to revive you. Those horrible people.

The other character that was playable was Wilhelm the Enforcer, who deploys two drones as his special move, Wolf and Saint. Saint stays close to him and replenishes his health, and has a shield. Wolf runs out to lay fire on enemies and is much more aggressive. It's a nice balance that lets you hang back and let them do some of the work, and cleverly advancing the skill tree to make sure that both can help you out seems key.

The new characters do offer a nice little change-up in playstyle but otherwise, this is exactly Borderlands. It's got you running around completing tasks, hitting switches and unlocking new locations all in the interests of killing more bandits. Besides a huge boss creature that popped out of a lake of lava that we had frozen over there were no real surprises- it’s still got the humor and guns that we all know any love, just with much less gravity than before. Sadly they didn't have a playable build with the other two characters that will be included in the full game, Nisha and a militarized Claptrap. That little robot will be a clear favorite when the title hits.

But playing this was like riding a bike, a fun, bloody bike that's best ridden tandem with good friends. If you never understood the appeal of Borderlands this won't change your mind, but if you wanted something more than an expansion, here it is.

Jump in.

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