Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel hands-on with Nisha the Lawbringer

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel may not quite have been the game fans were expecting – after all, rumors of a fully-fledged third instalment were brewing months before the game’s announcement – but there’s no denying this awkwardly-titled romp packs the same charm, vibrant aesthetics and diverse weapons set that has defined the loot-driven franchise since 2009.

That much is evident from our recent hands-on with Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel at 2K U.K. recently, as we were treated to a 15-minute, cooperative-equipped demo that also offered us our first glimpse at newcomer, Nisha the Lawbringer, a feisty gunslinger who complements fellow playable heroes, Willheim and Athena. The demo offers a brief, albeit tantalizing glimpse at the new setting for Pre-Sequel, namely the space-age antics of Pandora’s Moon.

Right off the bat, the shift to the oxygen-deprived moon setting offers an emphatic shift in gameplay dynamics. After all, your O2 gauge now becomes a perennial concern as you go about your lootin’ n’ shootin’ antics, as your oxygen depletes over time. Fortunately, you can replenish it by soaking up O2 pods scattered throughout the level, but there were times when I was engaged in a hectic firefight and came perilously close to biting the dust. It’s a nice little mechanic, and injects a dose of strategy (and panic, for that matter) into the proceedings, as you keep an eye on your health and oxygen levels.

The good news? The staples of Borderlands are very much there for longtime fans; you’ll battle an assortment of nasties, including sharp-toothed critters and plasma-wielding space grunts, while hoovering up loot from chests, flicking switches, and buffing up your character with perks and skills. The setting also allows for some truly awe-inspiring moon jumps, which apart from feeling like you’re superman, are required to navigate some of the treacherous jumps dotted throughout the base. Radio chatter punctuates the action during the slower-paced moments, with the colorful cast injecting the witty, trademark banter that has become as synonymous with the series as its compelling co-op.

As for Nisha, she certainly lives up to her gunslinger tag. Equipped with a meaty-looking revolver, her trademark special, Kill Frenzy, involves unleashing a barrage of lead at enemies in slow-mo fashion, racking in kills indiscriminately at the cock of a hammer in a move that would make Revolver Ocelot green with envy.  Being a slight lass, Nisha doesn’t get to wield many of the bigger weapons; rather, she specializes quick-firing and sniping, though her Skill Trees are damage-centric, making her deadly nonetheless. Unsurprisingly, I found myself leveling up pretty sharpish after turning most of the attacking force into swiss cheese.

Playing in co-op, I was able to deal out major punishment to enemies thanks to Nisha’s quick trigger-finger. And, while the ‘Fan the Hammer’ skill is centered on gun-based damage, those of you who want to get up close and personal can plump for ‘Law and Order,’ which gives more attention to melee attacks. Finally, the ‘Riflewoman’ sees the slender gunslinger shooting from the hip, scoring quick kills, reloading, and then unleashing yet another barrage of hot lead. Indeed, there’s something for everyone here.

Willheim meanwhile is a bulky chap, who wields some devastating firearms, including a Shotgun and Rocket Launcher, which make mincemeat out of the opposition. His special involves unleashing a pair of drones – Wolf and Saint – who harass foes and providing healing duties, respectively. Rounding off our demo of playable characters is Athena, who feels comfortable in just about any kind of weapon, including a rather nasty tool used to literally break foes down into a puddle of mush. Health wasn’t as much of a concern with Athena, however, she’s able to wield the power to absorb damage and fire it back at her enemies.

Ultimately, my hands-on with Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel was brief, yet the preview still offered a concise view at how 2K’s latest instalment in its successful action-RPG series is shaping up. The shift to Pandora’s Moon is intriguing, and the successful marriage of insane weapons, gripping combat, and ace co-op that has served Borderlands so well up to this point means fans are sure to be jumping on board the bandwagon this fall.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is due out on PlayStation 3, PC, and Xbox 360.