This was the part of the Let’s Play that I had actually been looking forward to since I ended Handsome Jack’s business career with a bullet to the lung. Not because it represents the finale of the Let’s Play (well actually, just a little bit), but rather because of all the excellent things I had heard of Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep. Namely: “You’d like it because it has those rolly boxes in it!” Well, they’re called dice, or sometimes die as in “I HOPE THIS FOUR SIDED DICE WOULD JUST DIE FOR BEING A SODDING CALTROP”
However, before I started I thought “well, I have 130 shiny keys in my pocket, what finale would this be if I didn’t start by poking the ole golden box?” After my experiences recreating the Anglo-Zulu War ended with an ugly difficult muddy situation (I guess like the real thing…), I decided that maybe I should tighten my gear up with some newer, flashier guns. However, 10 keys later, barely anything got replaced. “Well, hopefully this wouldn’t end in getting shot up to Tiny Tina’s amusement…” I lamented to myself, worried for my character’s mortality as I left for the Unassuming Docks.
I confess that the starting cutscenes of Borderlands 2 DLCs act like a double edge sword, often being pushed into my shoulder. I absolutely love the intention of it, as it sets the scene for what you’re about to be thrown into with the grace of a doll disregarded by a toddler. Not only do you know the “what,” “where,” and “how” (important for the sake of coherency,) but Borderlands 2 also sets up the tone of the piece wonderfully each time. This ranges from Sir Hammerlock’s Big Native Hunt’s old fashioned English production to MR TORGUE’S ARENA MODE’s self-mocking self-aware masculinity nudging.
And just like those, Tiny Tina’s D&D Session is very much similar.
However, I admit I never actually felt sold on a DLC based purely on the cutscene. While the voice actor of Marcus does fit as a story-teller for two of the big DLCs and the other two sell you on tone, I never found myself interested or amused by what was being presented. In fact, if anything I felt pushed away, as they actually reminded me of similar attempts at what they seemed to be doing which ended horribly.
Yet Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep starts off strong right out the gate. Unsuspectingly, it seemed to shift tactics, perhaps learning that you can’t just pummel your audience with the tone up to 11 in the hopes to get that nervous laughter reserved for crazy people in confined spaces with you. Compared to the others, it feels mundane as it is a non-stylised form (i.e. not a storytelling by Marcus or an in-game advert).
In its stead it shows off the characterisation built up over the course of Borderlands 1 and 2 in the form of Brick, Mordecai, Lilith, and Tiny Tina (something that more plays to the strengths of the comedy of the series) in the odd situation of playing a tabletop RPG. However, what really drew me in as curious was the seedlings of drama that always seemed missing in previous DLCs; Tiny Tina wants to wait for Roland, but she decides to start anyway thinking he’s just late. This dramatic irony sold me that whatever Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep did, it’d be interesting. Then again, I love myself some drama.
So I walk off the boat, Tiny Tina narrating that I was to investigate a horrible sorcerer who has taken over the land with his curse.
Hhhmm… That’s not right…
Ah, that’s better.
And then I step onto land where the Handsome Sorcerer does the logical thing of crushing all resistance straight away with an undefeatable Handsome Dragon, dumping me into Fight for your Life mode…And then Tiny Tina does the right thing as DM (whose role isn’t to “win” but to actually aid story-telling where the players win…Usually…) by retroactively deciding I didn’t just totally get crushed by an invulnerable dragon. Instead I got to face the devious Mister Boney Pants Guy, who I nobly defeated like an honourable medieval warrior: with a splattering of bullets.
In town, I conversed with the residents who pointed me to chatting with The Queen’s bodyguard about what happened. Ellie the Bodyguard then told me that The Queen had decided to take a walk into the forest to hopefully cure the world of the evil. However, for whatever reason The Queen hasn’t returned for the longest time, so her bodyguard figures that perhaps I should do her work for her by saving her boss. Just…Damn it Ellie.
So off I go to the gatekeeper, who is apparently a push-over, to see if I can be let in. Right then I got the awkward feeling of Scooter appearing to do more “incest shtick,” as he reminds people that he is totally fine with hitting on his sister. Fortunately, a random NPC stood in his place. Then the DM’s phone rang mid-game, making a faux pas by answering it. Turns out MR TORGUE wants in and Tiny Tina, never against a challenge, decides to throw him in right there and then. Two burning scouting blimps and a meeting of Moxxi the Tavern Owner later, and Tiny Tina puts him in the stocks to think about what he’s done.
Although before I ventured off into the forest, I noticed there was side-quests. “I shouldn’t,” I said to myself, but damn they’re just so moreish. So first I solved Sir Reginald Von Bartlesby’s riddle.
Then I dealt with MR TORGUE being called a Fake Geek Guy in one of the most heavy-handed quests in Borderlands 2, the type that made me sigh and exclaim “I GET IT” before they proceeded to beat me with a strawman for the next ten or twenty minutes. After that I went to collect crumpets for the village, a quest that went across the land which slowly revealed that crumpets were the only food Tiny Tina lived on. At that point, I had to take a rare break as I couldn’t shake a mental image of Tiny Tina cramming crumpets into her mouth (including trying to punch them in). Then Lilith tried to stage an intervention stating that maybe Tiny Tina should eat other things like salad, panicking at the thought of Tiny Tina choking in desperation to eat more crumpets.
Anyway, after that weird break I went off into… The Forest of Being Eaten Alive by Trees. Needless to say, I had to go burn some trees into the floor while following a road of discarded jewels in the hopes of being led to The Queen. Along the way, I came across the lovely fantasy staple: Orcs. After all, what is fantasy if you can’t commit genocide on a race you see as barbaric, primitive, and violent?
At this point came possibly the second hardest enemy in the DLC, and it is a somewhat regularly reoccurring enemy. Every so often you’ll come across a Warlord Orc that will be the same level as you upon spawn. However, through poor telegraphing, this Orc can and will level severely. At level 32-ish I had a level 37 Warlord Orc chasing me and I had no idea why. This was made worse because the game gives you no noticeable way to delevel said Orc back to a reasonable level. Unsurprisingly, this led to a lot of deaths where I’d be killed in a little over one hit with no means to prepare or counteract beyond whittling down the bullet sponge over 5 or 10 minutes. I guess Borderlands had decided to do the videogame equivalent of pushing me into the deep end of a swimming pool with nails through my water-wings, leading to the swimming centre shrugging and saying “eh, accidents happen” to the grieving parents. Perhaps it would be understandable were this a boss, but the frustration came from the fact that it wasn’t.
After the forest came the next generic tabletop setting: The Graveyard, with all its damn skeletons and all the damn knights who may be damn twisted underneath, or paladins trying to sanctify the hallowed grounds. This led to some hat-tipping towards MMORPGs and Dark Souls, although it also led to a topic I’m not sure if I’ve covered before (at least with any depth).
No, the topic isn’t “smug self-awareness isn’t really humour”. I hope I don’t need to discuss why.
There is a logic that has fortunately reigned throughout media: Do not allow one singular part to dominate, unless intentionally. This has occurred in books, as you balance between description and action. It has occurred in film, balancing cinematographic impressiveness with narrative. It especially occurs in multi-genre media, making sure to avoid spoiling a comedic or drama moment by allowing the other to slip in inappropriately (something actually important throughout this DLC and done with impressive care and agility).
In this case, though, comes balancing tone with gameplay. If you are blending comedy and gameplay, I believe it is important to make sure neither side interferes with the other. You shouldn’t have gameplay that feels overly difficult and grim, as that would be tone-deaf next to the comedy. However, you also shouldn’t sacrifice gameplay enjoyment for a comedy moment, and that is where this DLC face-plants the hardest, I think.
There is a side-quest that makes fun out of critical failures (i.e. when you roll a 1 on a 20 sided dice, something really bad happens). As the gang tries to roll to pick up a weapon, Tiny Tina decides that a 1 breaks all your fingers and the gun flies away. You hit the floor, go into Fight for your Life mode and, if you didn’t lure any mobs beforehand, you get punted back to a checkpoint. This is something that wouldn’t matter normally, except by doing so you wipe out Gaige’s Anarchy stacks (which may be as high as 400, even higher potentially) which took hours to hoard. At this point, the humour dries up like screaming a homophobic term at a LGBT gathering, and then comes the loathing. I had lost 100+ stacks for the sake of a joke that ceased to be funny at that moment.
So I reach a gate, only to be told it can only be opened by a white knight who is near-by. So off I stumble, to reach this personified MacGuffin so I can open this passageway and continue on my fantastical tabletop quest. There, in the ruins of a Zeppelin (well done MR TORGUE) stood a man facing away holding what looked like a gun, wearing white armour.
And then he turned.
And the plot begun.
Rolo then opened the way and, coincidentally, that was when plot begun to pick up in pace. Apparently, the MacGuffin Tree of Life (not to be confused with the film of the same name that is antagonistic to its viewers) holds the ability to reverse the Sorcerer’s curse that The Queen was trying to fix. However, oh no, it turns out random-NPC was not random-NPC at all but was actually the Handsome Sorcerer using the tree to resurrect the dead! The dead who…I then killed… Hhmm…
Damn it Rolo…
So after that, off I stumble into a mine to go help the enslaved underground bearded race: Dwarves. Although they look like a creepy, bearded Axton with his face stretched on a Salvador model. Inside the mine I must rescue the creepy Axtons and talk the Dwarven King into helping me rise up against The Handsome Sorcerer. So, Lilith, Brick, and Mordecai rolled to see who would get to talk to him, and of course Brick got the highest with a nat-20.
…One punch later, and now I’m waging something of a war against the dwarves. Naturally, I have to find my own way out of the tunnel system. This is something I could have solved myself, except for the locked door with the missing four lettered keys that spell out the secret nefarious code (…Which is fart, because Tiny Tina is still a child). However, one of the keys is held by a corrupted dwarf by the name of Greedtooth. Fortunately, I broke his curse so he’s free to think for himself and… He still hates me because I killed his leader.
A couple of hundred dead Dwarves later (including some I may have gotten drunk and lead into some industrial mining equipment), and I’ve got the four keys to get out. Although first, I managed to craft a beard for Claptrap so it could feel like a wizard. At the risk of being dragged into something, I gave it the beard. Sadly, well, the beard went to its head and decided to recreate the Micky Mouse short film The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (and now I get why it got referenced). So I hope we learnt a lesson about proper beard responsibility.
So I scaled the tower (including slaying the mighty King Jeffrey, along with his guards Molehill and Canine…Yep, it invoked that reference), and climbed inside the keep. Inside I get dropped into the dungeon and then tediously crawled out of the sodding maze.
On the other hand I did get satisfaction using Prince Jeffrey as a doll, slapping him for additional referential phrases.
At the end, I manage to find Angel who is being kept prisoner and begs for me to loosen the restraints. Unconcerned with things like “what is a woman doing tied up to a post in an arena place,” it turns out Handsome Ja- Sorcerer intended for me to free his daughter and get killed in the process by the now-violent Angel. “Is this a reverse of the story, where instead of going from tratior to good guy she is going good guy to traitor?” I wondered to myself as I finally crushed her face under my boot.
Finally, I find myself staring at the lift that leads up to where The Handsome Sorcerer awaits. Riding it up, I get that odd feeling that something is wrong. I had just killed The Handsome Sorcerer’s daughter, and now I’m seeing him with Rolo… Nah, I’m sure it was nothing. So off I ride up, and he tells me I’m too late to save The Queen from having her head used as a piñata, although not at all too late to be murdered by his three different forms. I admit I had an incredibly hard time with this, as his final form includes a dragon that hits like a train crashing through a school’s windows. After many attempts, though, I had slain Handsome Ja- Sorcerer…
…Or so I thought, as he stumbles around and fires a shot at Roland’s back. Up to this point, the game had only slightly leaked in the rare dramatic moment. However, the leak turned to a flood as the leaking barrier broke when Lilith screams exacerbated:
Like everyone else in the plot, she missed Roland. Enough to want to usher him as the main character of the tale. It wasn’t that Tiny Tina was in denial that Roland was dead, just…She didn’t want to let go of him. However, Lilith decides that while it is important to acknowledge that someone is gone, that doesn’t mean they can’t live on in your fantasy world as a fond memory.
At that, a bird suddenly swoops in to deflect the skull back to The Handsome Sorcerer, thus vanquishing him. Then it lands on Roland’s shoulder.
Tiny Tina wraps up the tale, as the majestic Queen is freed from her captive prison by the heroes: You and Roland. I admit all this time I was trying to mentally guess who it could be, knowing it’ll be a cameo of an NPC. However, I couldn’t be any more wrong if I tried.
But can you blame me?
And at that, The Queen cured the land of the curse. At that point, Maya comes in to say that they found information about a Hyperion moon base and if we want to blow it up. Then the DLC comes to a close as the gang likely raced to the nearest ship.
I believe it was perfect to pick this DLC as the final part, as it ends not on a self-contained ending, but rather a symbolic finish to Borderlands 2 as a whole. We say goodbye to those who perished on the journey and hold them in our thoughts. We venture on into the borderlands further, like a skag chasing cars, hoping to one day catch a break so we can finally find peace with the companions we’ve found along the way, either living or dead.
Next week I’ll be writing an epilogue of the entirety of Borderlands 2, with things I liked, things I didn’t, and misc aspects that interest me greatly. After that, well, I’ll need a break. But once I work out what game to do next I’ll be sure to return with it. Thank you for staying with me as long as you have through this playthrough of Borderlands 2. I’ll see you next week for the conclusion!
[Part 1: Funny Little Robot] [Part 2: Roland’s Disapproving Gaze] [Part 3: The Worst Fear & Loathing Tribute Band] [Part 4: Tiny Tina’s Troubling Temperament] [Part 5: CAPS LOCK IS CRUISE CONTROL FOR HUMOUR] [Part 6: There’s Brakes on the Plot] [Part 7: It’s Fear That Gives Men Wings] [Part 8: The End of Handsome Jack] [Part 9: Big Problems in a Big Hunt] [Part 10: Hunting for Seasonal Heads]