And now I’m back. I boot up Borderlands 2 with a smidge of glee. Then my smile wanes slowly as though I just saw my pet ferret get run over, got its leg trapped on the car and is now having its corpse grinded into the road into a thick red gooey paste. As the loading screen occurs, I remember I’ve still got the last part of Captain’s Hunt For Scarred Booty. I still need to walk to the lighthouse. Fortunately, I’m not alone in my sighs. I’ve got someone to tag along with who has completed Borderlands 2 before, so revisiting the DLC is less frustrating to him and more a resignation to wading through mediocrity.
Off we go to the lighthouse, me as a straight-out-of-the-box default-appearance Axton that can regenerate health at a ridiculous rate and him as an angry dwarf wearing the now-green fur of a beast he probably killed with his own bare hands. Although not before first getting lost for about 5 minutes and having to consult the map of where I was going while my team-mate was likely drumming his fingers on the mouse in a bored rhythm.
To be fair, I think Salvador would fit in Shadowrun without any adjustments needed.
Finally though we get to the lighthouse. I stumbled about for a smidge trying to find a quest on the minimap (something I do enjoy the handiness of, even if it isn’t always clear where they mean on a Z axis), gave up and just rammed the compass into the compartment at the top. Scarlet Captain assured me again that she totally will not betray me, at least not yet, since there is a tiny bit more questing before the treasure is reached.
Well, what a shocking twist I planted my face into as I left the hunk of metal that I guess could be considered a lighthouse for the desert seas. The captain pings me on my coms as I spot pirates walking towards me, twirling their swords around gently in a casual way like leather jacket youths smoking cigarettes on street corners and wearing their sunglasses at night. “Oh, sorry! This is the part where I betray you! I bet you never saw this coming!”.
Damn it, I could feel the beaming grin the writer must have had when scheming this “comical twist” stabbing me in the back of the neck as I slaughtered all the pirates. Especially as Not-Johnny-Depp points out the obvious, screaming frantically “OH NO! SHE’S GOING FOR THE TREASURE! YOU MAY WANT TO RUN!”. Perhaps it was my frustration with the DLC, but I begun wondering if the writers were trying to mimic Family Guy’s anti-humour (or more commonly known as beating a joke to death in the hopes of resurrecting the humour in the process) or got that anxiety of “well, what if they don’t get it? Perhaps we should clarify?”.
Resurrecting a joke by beating it is akin to resurrecting someone by beating them: Has to be done in a very particular way, by a professional and even then it doesn’t restart the heart of it.
So, following Shade’s observation, the Gunzerker and I dash for where the light fell. Fortunately, it was a casual stroll from the Captain’s ship and none of her crew minded us teleporting there so we could kill their boss. However, it oddly fell on a random patch of untouched dirt. Why was it untouched? Where was the Scarlet Captain? Was the treasure buried under our noses this entire time? I begun to ponder more to myself, my friend now kicking the dried up dirt as bored as eve-
…And then a worm engulfed us suddenly.
I looked up and down the corridor. “Are we Lemmiwinks?” I asked to my dwarven team-mate who was as uncertain as I was until I noticed the way we came did look like a tighten sphincter. At that, we both knew we were gerbils who had to find our way out via questing. The only direction we could traverse was the other way. Upon sliding down a moist hole, (hur) it was then we spied a familiar figure: Cap Scar and her lost pet. After shooting dead her mount and letting the captain run away (that plot thread left dangling forever), we went deeper into the belly of the beast. Only to find a smaller version of the monster that swallowed us, like the shoddiest matryoshka doll (aka Russian doll), that we must now euthanise violently. After that, we walked through a door and… Credits roll…
Nope, I don’t even know what the hell I’m looking at.
…Yes, really. The “treasure”? Oh, that was through the door and after the credits roll it was just… A load of guns… I would have preferred 1 chest of 4 excellent guns over the 20+ mediocre guns that they flung about as though I should be pleased. I think I was more satisfied with The Mist’s ending than the anti-climatic “THE TREASURE WAS GUNS” revelation. Then again, considering the rather bland humour, the dull reveals (where drama was sacrificed on the altar of comedy) and mind-numbing decisions, I think I felt more dead inside than annoyed. I collected my guns, sold them, found out you can repeat the final quest as well as pick up a raid boss quest, rubbed my middle finger in Shade’s face and left the land. After all, there was a train to catch.
However, first I had to meet the spy who knew how to get onto the train, one that needed to be woken up to be found. That is when an idea hits Roland like, well, a train: Maybe I should start setting fire to the local wildlife and let their tortured screams wake this spy up? An average person would have perhaps taken this as either a sign that Roland associates the incendiary death-rattles with an alarm clock as a coping mechanism for a stint setting fire to people for weeks upon weeks (“I love the smell of napalm in the morning” less being a quip and more part slogan, part straight-faced fact), or maybe this spy is too insane to be of use. Although, this is Pandora: The home of those a couple of offensive generalisations short of a Daily Mail article. So, with silent compliance, I set about trying to burn three bugs simultaneously.
This is when I spied something that I knew would make a horrid appearance, creeping up with sandpaper skin and wild eyes. You see, despite Gearbox knowing they were going to make DLC for Borderlands 2 (after the success of the original Borderlands DLC), I was curious how they’d handle levelling. I was aware that areas would not level alongside the player automatically and instead each mission and area would have a designated level.
And, if the DLC was a sign of anything, Borderlands 2 could not get by with writing alone. Although to be fair, the DLC’s writing was pretty awful compared to the main game.
With this in mind, they would have to plan out the progression in the main story so someone just doing that wouldn’t be under-levelled. I believed this was safe really, as the Borderlands series always appeared to function fine without the DLC and I’d be surprised they’d accidentally require a player to grind to be able to match up against enemies. However, and this was what I was incredibly curious about, how would the game cope with those levelling higher due to playing through the DLC? Would they compensate in some way by boosting the level of the enemies in the main story once you return to it?
…No, they wouldn’t. Instead, every enemy continued to have a specific level as though you didn’t do the DLC. So you’d be questing with minimal XP hand out, with under-powered items as rewards against enemies that had heath like pouring boiling water on an ant-hive or flinging pocket-salt at slugs. There is something dull about progressing through quests designed for those 5 or so levels back.
I’d comment I wish they had the foresight to realise this problem, but then again each approach presents issues. The tactic mentioned above (about level matching upon DLC completion) would force players to complete a DLC they started, level matching constantly no matter what would rend the levels insignificant as you’d never have different levels battling against each other and doing the current style (level match DLC upon starting, let things go as they go from there) would lead to over-levelling in the main story or DLC missions. I wish there was a better way, but I feel the current system may be the best one I know of as at least the game can catch up to your level by offering minimal XP until it does.
After a reveal of a rather drunk Mordecai with his, hopefully not equally drunk, pet Bloodwing I got sent away to another person. Funny enough, a young girl that has a hell of a reputation amongst Borderlands 2 fans. Even to someone who isn’t too warmed up to her eccentric crazed banter, her perchance to blending childishness with insanity and an explosive tendency (literally usually, as she is apparently the best person with explosives that Rolo knows of), it is hard not to notice how well-written she is.
Although her tendency to keep talking about her “fiiine-ass womens” and their “badonkadonks” does feel awkward coming from a 13 year old, like hearing your grandfather moistly have phone-sex in the same room while you try to sleep.
Although I keep getting the niggling feeling that perhaps it isn’t so much written by Anthony Burch (the writer of Borderlands 2), but rather written by his sister and voice actor of Tina: Ashley Burch. Put simply, Tiny Tina (at least so far) feels like an extension of Ashley Burch in Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin’? They feel different enough that it doesn’t feel like a photocopy, but rather instead Tiny Tina currently feels like her voice actor from another dimension. It would explain why the psychotic 13 year old, despite being a comedy vehicle primarily, actually feels like a plausible person who could exist. A mentally traumatised person who would be heavily medicated, but plausible none-the-less.
So after doing a bit of a run-around to gather explosives for a mentally unstable young girl who appears to have a bright future chewing on the stuffing from the walls of padded rooms, I finally found a way onto the train that has the vault key. The way being explosives, fired directly at the train. Mental flash backs of Herbert and accidentally breaking his part of the compass by shooting a lock open flick through my mind briefly. At least Herbert The Pervert (I seriously only just got that, ugh) wouldn’t be repairing the key if things went wrong.
So off Salvador and I went to see our handy work at derailing a train (and potentially derailing the plot by breaking the vault key). Upon arrival of the train, we saw what happens when you take a wallpaper scraper to the romanticised vision of cyber-punk and transhumanism. Underneath lies not a grim view, a fantastical image or, well, any image at all really. Wilhelm was, just, a human who barely had any human parts left.
I think the grimmest dystopia for cyberpunk fans, is where transhumanism is boring.
A few hundred bullets later, no vault key. Mordecai offers the consolation prize of a round of beers for our wasted efforts. Although, in its steed, we did pick up a nifty little power core that we could use to improve the shields of Sanctuary (“was that even something that needed doing?” I wondered, I still can not remember if the shielding did need upgrading). So back to Sanctuary we went, and plugged it in.
…Well, it didn’t go to plan. The power core was hacked to ruin the shielding system and now Sanctuary wasn’t a sanctuary at all. It was, instead, a target for Handsome Jack’s rockets. One mad dash around the Syria reconstruction later, including picking up a quest I couldn’t help but feel I should have done before triggering the event, and the city rose into the sky through the combined efforts of the under-city mechanisms and Lilith’s Siren powers over-charged on “magic crystals”; which seem to function like the Siren’s equivalent of crystal meth. Like Handsome Jack said, I was also confused how sending a city up into the sky will make it any less of a target. That was when the city teleported suddenly by Lilith’s over-charged power alone. I’m sure that level of overclocking of her abilities wouldn’t end badly at all…
At this point, I needed a break and by the time I got back my team mate needed to sleep (partially because he’s a few hours ahead of me, partially because I waited until about midnight before jumping back on and he isn’t nocturnal like I am). So off I stumbled, alone into the Borderlands. That was when I remembered there was that thing Lilith wanted me to do. Now with the obvious hand-in point (i.e. Lilith in Sanctuary) gone somewhere, I figured this was a good a time as any to do it. After shooting some miners (who, fortunately, weren’t minors or this game would likely be banned in a few countries who aren’t thrilled by the simulation of child murder) in the face, Lilith contacted me on the coms. Rather than updating on her situation, telling me where Sanctuary went or other useful information, she decided that now I should steal the miner’s wages.
This scheme would involve a train robbery. Now, considering the first train attack ended with being blown up and only through blind luck surviving and the second one leading to Sanctuary’s shields being destroyed, I was surprised Lilith was up for a third attempt. Axton responded to the plan with silence, presumingly symbolic of his never-ending interest in bad ideas. Although, to give credit to the siren (and Tiny Tina who helped out), the plan was simple. Go to the station, break the gate and break open the safes. As long the train didn’t know how to reverse, we’d be rolling around with dosh for days.
At Ripoff Station no less!
Well, long story short, the heist went without a problem. In the place where I was asked to put in the mined ore that was to be traded for money, I instead placed explosives, and money flooded out after the explosion. I guess it was a good thing this is the non-flammable type of currency or we’d be in trouble. Back-up came in the form of turrets, which due to being over-levelled I easily shot down. At this point, I then decided perhaps I should do what the electronic Judas in my head tells me to, rather than conclude she’s still helping Handsome Jack track down the original vault hunters and get me killed, and walk into The Fridge where Sanctuary may have gone.
It was then I realised plot was up ahead. I was nervous, my knees shook at the possibilities, and then decided I would do precisely not that. “What if Rolo wants me to do something?” I muttered anxiously to myself. So I found a convenient little side-quest to do in the form of a watered down version of Mad Moxii’s Underdome Riot arena mode called Fink’s Slaughterhouse, where I’d have to survive waves of enemies for cash. Fortunately the enemies were now back on my level, so it was a bit of a challenge and took a bit of time. Although unlike the Underdome Riot, it was actually pretty fun and short enough to avoid fatigue and the boredom of repetition to set in. After about an hour, I managed to defeat all five waves of the Slaughterhouse, sold the grand prize and realised this might be a good place to stop.
On a related subject: PLEASE STOP WITH THE CREEPY BULGING WHITE BUG-EYES.
Despite all my various complaints about bits here and there, it feels good to be out of the DLC. Even though I have a few grumbles about a couple of parts, such as the confusion of why Handsome Jack would sacrifice what sounds like a highly lethal mercenary, considering the purpose of the train (according to Jack) was pretty much to get me to pick up the hacked component and plug it into Sanctuary, Borderlands 2 has my interest again.
…So, of course, I’m going to put that interest on the line again. Frustratingly, even though the DLC starting levels do try to match your level, there is a limit to this matching apparently. So there is one more DLC out of the remining three that is expected to be played before the end of the game which I’ll hopefully be playing on the next part of Venture Into The Borderlands. “Which DLC?” you may ask, well… Let’s say it leaves Carnage in the aftermath of its Campaign. I’ll see you next week!