A little over one year later, Borderlands 2 continues to be like pizza, macaroni and cheese, or whatever your favorite comfort food is, it’s a comfort game. It isn’t particularly hard, but slides down easy when you just want to spend a couple of hours killing things. I wasn’t a Diablo 2 player back then, but I can probably relate to those who poured hundreds of hours into the game.
I’ve attempted to write a number of reviews, posts, or whatever on the game. A lot of them have been okay, but many of them were kind of skewered. I have a penchant for trying too hard sometimes, either because I want to sound professional, or sound important. The fact is, when you remove all of the fluff from those posts about the “animation, or the sound, or the character work” and whatever whatnot, you get a game where you shoot things, and loot stuff. It’s a formula that has really made Gearbox a success, and from the looks of everything else they do, they should just keep pumping out Borderlands and never change. Easy money until that well runs dry.
So for one year later, let me try to summarize this in less words, and more straight-to-the-point, of why I like Borderlands, and why it’s kept me from playing anything else in 2013 I should have been playing.
With how successful Borderlands was, there was no doubt Gearbox would return again for another. Duke Nukem Forever came and went with little fanfare, and we knew Colonial Marines was on the horizon soon. At PAX East 2012, my wife and I waited in the longest line and managed to get in and watch them roll out the plans for the Mechromancer class, to be included with those who pre-ordered the game. We thought it was pretty cool, and the hype machine just kept building up until the release.
The release of Borderlands 2 was almost as horrible for me as Portal 2, horrible being I just wrecked myself playing as much as possible before having to go to work the next day, or avoid my wife yelling at me for not going to bed soon. Everything I wanted improved in the visuals and controls happened in BL2, the HUD was polished, money and ammo picked up automatically, fancy shield and teleportation effects. But above all, this Borderlands had a FINAL BOSS with a name. Handsome Jack. The four original vault hunters were back, as story characters. There was a real plot, backstory, everything that actually gave the world depth and the player a couple more reasons to play other than blind run-and-gun. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, you could tell where writers overcompensated a little bit in trying to make some characters SO WACKY that you could tell they were pandering to internet kids or webcomic creators. But the experience was so above-and-beyond what they made previously that it was hard to go back to the first for anything less than Scooter’s original voice.
The overall experience of the main game was outstanding, and the world was expansive, but it still felt small. You’re still confined to the borders of the zones (huehue) and the missions are still linear, even if you complete them in a different order. The formula for Borderlands has hardly changed, from the very first game, to the last DLC for BL2. It’s still shoot this, collect that, defeat this dude, loot the room. It’s Munchkin, the card game, in a much more potent form. They’ve tinkered with the characters, played with the story, made some new lands, but we’ve yet to see something really break the mold, and that makes you wonder if there will be a BL3, and will it really just melt face with everything you know?
But speaking of the DLC, I have a few choice thoughts on those.
Borderlands 2 DLC enjoyed one advantage over its predecessor, and that was timely releases of DLC content. Unfortunately, where the predecessor won was the actual DLC content. While BL2 DLC was good, it didn’t make as much of an impact as the first DLCs. Of course, the first DLCs did not have fast-travel points everywhere, so it might just be a nostalgia case.
Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate’s Booty
Of the four, I’d say this one was actually the best in terms of setting. Pandora has always been the home of the quintessential bandit, but it seems to reason that where you have bandits, you’d also have pirates. But being a barren wasteland, it ends up being more like Star Wars than Pirates of the Caribbean. I actually had quite a bit of fun on the main quest line here, and the ending of course was loot satisfaction, when you consider the fact that you can access that room any time making use of a glitch. Scarlett herself is no Moxxi, but she comes pretty close.
What didn’t work for me so much were the new sand skiffs. While I loved them as a vehicle choice, the zones were all constricted and very narrow, which didn’t allow for much open-speed joyriding. I recall that one zone in World of Warcraft per-Cataclysm that was just one large salt flat with a race track. I would have love to see something like that in BL2, but it seems they saved that idea for Torgue. A shame.
Mr. Torgue’s Campaign of Carnage
Mister Torgue is a hillarious character, and I kind of thought at first this was going to be a Moxxi’s Underdome version of BL2. To my joy and disappointment, it was not. While it stands as a pretty decent DLC in terms of main quest line, after that, you’re pretty much done with it. It’s got some amusing side characters and dialogue, a few good fights, a very compromising position for a corpse, and… Mister Torgue. Much like Tiny Tina though, while funny, he gets really old, really quickly. Listening to him talk is like someone ALWAYS TYPING IN CAPS LOCK ALL THE TIME. REQUEST FOR ROOT CAUSE AND REMEDIATION.
Also, to the writers, please stop using the blatantly obvious LOL HE’S GOING TO BETRAY YOU joke. It was pretty much slaughtered to death in the main BL2 story, and Scarlett. Using it ironically as a means of telling the player the plot point after revealing the plot point blatantly in the open, just makes you really fucking lazy.
Sir Hammerlock’s Big Game Hunt
This was probably by-far the most disappointing DLC I have ever played. It’s probably the shortest DLC I played of the four, and I wasn’t over-leveled for this one at all. The only challenge I found were in the Witch Doctors and the end boss. The dialogue was so badly written to the point where even it did not take itself seriously, making jokes about the player being forced to go face the bad guy simply because they should “save the day”. You do face a bad guy, but it’s his totally-obvious-end-boss-monster that you defeat, and then meet him, and he promptly tumbles down the ramp like an idiot. I shot him dead before he even got up. Seriously?
The side quests were about as dull as the main quest. Track and kill this. Track and kill that. OMG CLAPTRAP, CLAPTRAP IS FUNNY? RIGHT GUYS? You also get this multi-zone quests to kill “rare” creatures that pretty much means random one-off spawns among normal spawn groups that you have to kill a bunch of to finish the quest. I got many of them while I was doing the other quests, but I had to Quit/Reset farm the last two, Pink Boroks and Two-Legged Drifters because they would only spawn once and while and only in one zone (that I knew of). The reward was a fucking skin. Fuck.
Look, I know Hammerlock is Gearbox’s way of reminding you that they’re hip and tolerant, with Hammerlock being gay, but his character is pretty much regulated to being given the shit-end of every stick in Borderlands. All of his quests, even in the main game, were garbage LOL KILL BONERFARTS hunting quests to remind you he’s a WILDERNESS MAN. The sad thing is, they had an opportunity to break away from the traditional end-boss DLC and make something sort of like a single-player dungeon-crawler sort of thing, randomly configured zones, random creatures, you’d have to track them and kill them. Sport shoots, sniper challenges, grenade challenges, rocket launcher challenges, it’s like they forgot they can do anything other than “Kill X” or “Find Y” missions. Or is Gearbox afraid that anti-NRA supporters will crash down when they hear ol’ Hammy is promoting shooting fictitious creatures in the face?
Another outsourced Tryptech DLC, and it shows.
Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep
The only thing that keeps this DLC from being the best of the four is one thing, and that is “EZ Mode Writing”. It is my term for everything written about and around the Tiny Tina character. But she is everyone’s favorite character, simply because OMG SHE IS SO WACKY, AND LIKE, MAKES A JOKE ABOUT THAT THING ON THE INTERNET I LIKE. Gearbox loves her because they can be incredibly sloppy with just about everything around her, because nothing in her world carries permanence. She’s the character they use to cut into perfectly good dialogue and ruin it with LOL BUTTS OMG POOP GURL U DA BEST. She is like that annoying girl you know on Twitter who thinks she is funny and relevant, but is just a high-school-age mentality girl unable to cope with the real world. The beautiful thing about that, is the entire DLC is about her using her OH SO WACKY facade to cover up the fact that she can’t get over Roland’s death from the main game. The ending of this DLC is actually a little sad, because the fact that he is dead sinks in for everyone. It’s the only time you’ll actually see Tina acting like an actual person and not an overused meme. To be fair, her character is something like twelve, or thirteen, so if she were a real person, we’d give her the benefit of the doubt in the fact that she is growing up in a hellish world. AoDK is designed around her mind and how she perceives Pandora and the heroes, past and present, and if anything, the writers have managed to successfully capture her character in a way that can only be done through something like tabletop RPG. You’re always battling the GM and their thought process as often as the creatures they put forth.
That being said, Assault on Dragon Keep is by far one of the best DLCs made. For the reasons mentioned above, and if only for the fact that compared to the other three, I actually felt I was playing a DLC that tried to break away from the mold a little and offer a different experience. It was still, in the end, an end-boss linear mission game, but it accomplished some of what Hammerlock could not.
I’m not sure what their plans are now that we’re a little over one year out from BL2’s release, the first season pass over. More content is being made with the Headhunter Packs, and they’re starting to respond to high-level players with more content adding new levels and abilities, as well as Krieg the Psycho, but this is usually the point where they would weigh another major game (BL3) or more content for BL2. Publishers still love that $60 up-front payment, making a BL3 more a reality, but I’d really like episodic gaming, especially the kind that made Telltale a force in the “interactive story game” department something Gearbox could sink into. Custom level creation is probably not going to work, as the toolset isn’t there unlike Portal 2, but they could very well expand into Steam Workshop and capitalize on their market for user-generated content, while continuing to release either smaller packs of content, or more DLC. Even if you’re not making 60 at once, you’re still making 5-10 bucks a pack over the first couple years of its lifespan. Of course, turning BL into a circus a-la-TF2 is probably not what most fans want. I don’t see Gearbox stopping Borderlands at all, as they’ve demonstrated they are unable to make any other IP besides Borderlands work for them. But unlike Blizzard, who tends to spend years developing new content for its games to ensure quality, Gearbox is willing to farm most of its non-core game work to their sub-companies, with mixed results.
The bottom line, as always for me, is that Borderlands is my go-to game for enjoyable shooting-things in a fantasy world. Which isn’t to imply I want to in real life, it just means that sometimes you want to blow up robots and crazy alien creatures. This is your game. For everything else, there is Saints Row 3. Or FTL. Or… something.
I really should finish Skyrim.