Game Opinions

Venture into the Borderlands – Part 9: Big Problems in a Big Hunt

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(Borderlands 2, 2K Games)

It is time for this week’s episode of Venture into the Borderlands, my ongoing written Let’s Play of Borderlands 2. If you’re new to the scene, don’t worry, just scroll to the bottom for the episode list.

In case you need a week refresher of the previous Venture into the Borderlands: I shot Handsome Jack in the face, saved 3/4ths of the Borderlands gang, and rescued Pandora from Hyperion’s clutches. So with the story wrapped up tightly, I thought I’d go on a light hunting holiday with English-caricature Sir Hammerlock before I restarted the game to give the DLC a thrashing. Off I went to start up Sir Hammerlock’s Big Game Hunt which is… Not really about hunting at all…

…Oh…

After arriving at Hammerlock’s camp and clearing the Hunter’s Lodge, there is something that strikes me about what the game seems to be about. Let’s see if you recognise it: You, a sole hero with more firepower than what makes sense, walking into foreign terrain filled with wild beasts, being faced with primitive men armed with spears, clubs, and magic while being protected by shields and wooden masks. It may help to remind you that Hammerlock, your main source of missions, is a caricature of an English gentleman.

For those who appear to be aware of English colonial wars–first, well done. Secondly, what I’m referring to is the Anglo-Zulu War between the English and Zulu Kingdom. I’d talk about the subject but, well, I’d likely be repeating a lot of what was said Week 6 of the Let’s Play with regards to caricatures without identifiable details. Let’s just, well, move on.

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(Borderlands 2, 2K Games)

Might be best to move on.

As I go to help Hammerlock while he fixed the Catch-a-ride (that dispenses boats powered by fans, something that makes sense this time, unlike Scar’s Captain of Booty DLC’s use of boats on sand), I am struck by a revelation simultaneously as my body gets struck by something and is splattered across the floor: Holy #@$& is this DLC hard. I mean really hard.

As I discovered throughout the DLC, an ongoing theme is vulnerability spots hidden away, so you’ll be lucky to find it. Boroks, the newly added creature, have a small spot that looks like a fist-sized blister located at the base of their tails that you have to shoot. As though it isn’t hard enough to have to keep jumping up and down to burst the blister, it originally resides underneath the Boroks, which–through a method I still don’t understand–you must flip over to readily access. My favourite instance of this hiding of weaknesses is the most common enemy you’ll find: The Natives. Not only do they have a shield that can stop bullets, but their masks make shooting their head for critical hits to be unreliable at best. I’m still not sure if their critical hit can be accessed by the front or if you have to shoot them on the back of their heads. Both of these two very common enemies are ones I must tackle alone, quickly increasing the difficulty to mind-bogglingly frustrating levels.

Anyway, as I begin to hunt the wild-game Hammerlock tells me to go get as he stays in the Hunter’s Lodge, likely balancing a drunken buzz without getting rat-arsed, someone begins to taunt the both of us into attacking him. I just wanted to have a nice holiday killing innocent wild creatures, and now I have to go kill this… Dr Nakayama fellow? So Hammerlock decides on my behalf that maybe we’ll have to murder the doctor so we can get some peace and quiet, and go back to hunting with explosives (note: We never get to go back to simply hunting).

Fortunately, Hammerlock tracks the signal to a nearby Native village for me to go butcher. However, upon arrival I’m faced with Claptrap who further manages to ruin what was meant to be a light-hearted holiday from my primary stressor (i.e. him).

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(Borderlands 2, 2K Games)

Of course, Claptrap gets into some hijinks and I must save him.

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(Borderlands 2, 2K Games)

So naturally I walked away and the credits rolled.

…God damn, I wish I was serious.

Anyway, so I find out where to go to reach Nakayama’s lab where he is trying to make a clone of Handsome Jack because… He has an obsession because this is Pandora and everyone is just crazy? Never mind. Before, however, Claptrap asked me to clean up urine that can be only seen at night. This I think brings me nicely to a talk about day/night cycles.

One advantage of having a day time and a night time in a game is, I think, you can further increase the believability and interest of the setting by having AI or the environment behave in a way depending on the time. A basic example would be “at night, all NPCs go to bed”. It also creates more things to explore due to this change in behaviour. This leads to the desire of designers to utilize this possibility by making in-game-time-specific missions; that, for instance, only activate during the day or at night.

However, there are two problems that can crop up that I believe this DLC manages to trip up on. The first is an issue of “how do you know what time it is?”. It doesn’t have to be a specific time scale, unless the game demands you to know when it is a particular time, but the player has to instantly know when it is day and when it is night. The most obvious and easiest way to do this without being too on-the-nose about it is a difference in lighting. The knowledge of “it is light during the day and dark at night” is something instinctual to humanity (unless you live in areas affected by the midnight sun, then you put the word “sometimes” at the end of that knowledge statement).

The ability to tell the difference in an area of the game can arise due to environmental lighting differences. The majority of Borderlands 2 up to this point have been incredibly bright, often being able to see the sun to be able to tell, with night time being a moon-lit darkness. Then you get to the swamps of Scylla’s Grove and, well, it is so muddy, dark and monochrome that it constantly looks like night. It is very possibly this was just a personal struggle, but often I couldn’t quite work out if it was day or night. I couldn’t even look to the sky as the mists of the swamp blotted the sky out enough. So I was confused if I was unable to find an object due to personal inability or wrong time of day.

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(Borderlands 2, 2K Games)

Sir Hammerlock’s Big Game Hunt really does look more muddy than the Fallout series.

The second problem that can arise is one that is a lot easier to observe: Waiting. In a game like Borderlands 2 that focuses on combat and primarily punishes you for death by making you walk back to where you were, waiting is a form of punishment. A player should not have to wait to do the mission. Yet, Borderlands 2 demands you to wait if you want to do a time-specific mission sooner due to its lack of an in-game wait function akin to the Fallout, Witcher and GTA series. Sure you can come back later, but who’s to say where you will be when you find yourself at the right time? Maybe you’ll be busy until after this allotted slot? It was simply not a good idea to miss out on a wait function while also having night-focused missions.

So off I went to go break the lab and the various Handsome Jack DNA lying around (that fortunately was in double-helix form, and not the expected “Jack’s personal garbage” form). Then I shot the summoned Borok with a Handsome Jack face screwed onto it until it stopped twitching. At that point, Claptrap felt the need to tell me specifically where Dr Nakayama was hiding (his ship), so I went on my way.

After a lot of running past enemies (considering the Natives boil down to bullet-sponges to kite around the map, they’re tedious), I finally arrived at where Nakayama hid. After opening the front door with a code Claptrap just told me (after I half expected him to just lie, get it wrong or make it into a game) I crawled into the now-slightly-flooded cargo room. There I faced off against… Well…

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(Borderlands 2, 2K Games)

Yep.

After that, finally, Nakayama came out of hiding, giving me his villain speech about how he is scared but knows that while I am a brute he has the brains, the ship and gun and… Then he fell down the stairs. Yep, the main villain in the DLC, defeated by stairs. No, of course I’m not disappointed, this is exactly what I wanted, it is as climatic as I wanted… Yeah… Not anti-climatic at all…

Ugh…

And then, that was it. This part may be a bit light but, well, all the bad parts pretty much killed all the excitement in me. I can’t even bare to talk about the various side quests I did (e.g. luring a Borok into a cage as an Austrian-sounding man does an awkward impression of early-1900s documentaries) or the DLC’s tendency to try to make you run to as many places as possible. One hour in, I really wanted it to stop and felt let down. Struggling for things to compliment it on, Nakayama was pretty well written when it didn’t feel like a bad tribute to Joss Whedon. I think it felt mildly worse than Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate’s Booty, partially because the difficulty climbed up a cliff somewhat due to awkward vulnerability spots.

Fortunately, I have a level 15 character waiting in the wings already, so I can leap to the rest of the DLC (5 Headhunters and then the finale in the form of Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep) next week.

Until next week, bye!

[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]

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