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Venture into the Borderlands – Part 2: Roland’s Disapproving Gaze

Welcome to the second part of my written Let’s Play adventure (which you can find the first part to right here!) dubbed “Venture into the Borderlands,” where I slowly drag my way through Borderlands 2, one 5-hour-chunk at a time.

You may recall that last week we got up to arriving at Sanctuary. I had done one or two side missions there, but the story mission I had to do was saving Roland from Firehawk (not the car, that’s Firebird, and not Borderlands‘s Mordecai’s pet hawk; that’s Bloodwing with an incendiary Eridian artefact attached). However, after being told the urgency to rescuing Roland, I had instead grinded for passive bonuses instead by playing sports with the local wildlife. “Don’t worry, he can wait, the game wouldn’t punish me for it–I am sure of it.”

Well, I was right. C’mon, did you expect anything else?

(Borderlands 2, 2K Games)

Although Roland is disappointed.

In fact, Firehawk was confused why I thought they had it. They were pals, comrades in the fight against Handsome Jack and had even dated at one point. We shared a laugh about it and then told me “no, seriously, Roland is in a bandit jail, as in a jail owned by bandits and not a jail for bandits.” So off I went to go free the hero Sanctuary wants (and not the one they deserve), except I came up against the toughest enemy I had faced yet: a locked gate.

This gate, however, didn’t come with a keyhole, but instead a passphrase I had to gather. I had to trick the guard inside that I was their friend by mimicking their bandit buddy’s truck’s horn by getting my own bandit buddy truck with its own horn. What can I say? Borderlands 2 is a RPG FPS, not a point-n-click adventure game involving sticking selotape to cat-flaps and hounding a cat to run by it thus making a moustache.

It is at this point we meet Ellie, who, like her brother Scooter, is a mechanic. Borderlands 2, despite its abuse of memes (e.g. SERIOUSLY AXTON, STOP TELLING PEOPLE “COOL STORY BRO” OR I SWEAR I WILL STAPLE YOUR MOUTH SHUT), does something surprising: It avoids using her weight as the punchline to a joke or three, but instead uses it to add dimension to her.

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(Borderlands 2, 2K Games)

Except when limited by technical things. In those cases, Ellie is a clay-like thing that may be some kind of sacrificial idol to an undying god.

This is a nice, unexpected moment, as I feel many representations of overweight people tend to use that “defining feature” (on the account of being a caricature) as both a punchline and the whole extent of their character. One such example that still grinds on me (although partially due to the out-of-place nature of it) is Norton Mapes from F.E.A.R who serves as the comic relief, including an irritatingly poor joke involving Mapes getting stuck in a vent…Because he’s fat. If they have any other aspect of themselves, their obesity is less used as part of themselves and more as the main character flaw, from Punchout’s King Hippo, to Fat Princess, all the way to Rufus and Birdie from Street Fighter.

It isn’t to suggest all humour involving fat as the punchline should be eliminated. I personally don’t find it humorous, but each to their own at the end of the day. I find it more interesting that amongst this sea of fat characters in games, a very small minority not only avoids using their weight as a comedy leaning-post, but it also recognizes that it does have an impact on them. Despite being what seems to be primarily a comedy game (at least it seems its intention), Borderlands 2 manages to characterise Ellie as an obese woman who, while affected by her weight (e.g. Moxie wanting her to lose weight so Ellie could… “Work” for her), is her own independent character with non-weight related thoughts and feelings (such as how awesome hood ornaments are).

Anyway, after helping assemble the car (which blows things up by launching explosive barrels and is roughly as awesome as it sounds, minus the awkwardness you’d expect), finding some hood ornaments, and helping Loggins get back at his elite aviator crew who kicked him out for ruining their beach volleyball game (before you ask; yes, it is a reference to exactly what you’re thinking of), off I went back to the fort. This time, with a quick beep of my horn, the gates opened to a crimson courtyard that I think used to be brown before I arrived.

I then looked upon a fort that part of me genuinely couldn’t work out if bandits did it or not. It has the hallmarks of insane banditry, yet if I was a corporation trying to intentionally hide my work, what better place is there? I mean, look at it.

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(Borderlands 2, 2K Games)

Seriously, look at it.

Okay, I have to say this section of the game features some pretty excellent environmental design in terms of pure aesthetics, characterisation, and environment. Sure, it is let down by the linear nature that makes coming back to do side-quests a headache as well as some pretty awful water effects that look like transparent gel, but putting that aside it is probably the most awe-inspiring moment in the game so far, personally (including the entrance above). So, like an elderly couple back from holiday, I would like to show my screenshots of the fort and the section just after.

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(Borderlands 2, 2K Games)

“And here, my dear, is where I went to a particularly nice cafe and eviscerated everyone in the queue with a teaspoon. By the end, they either knew their manners or were gargling on their own blood. It’s the way things are when you go on a campervan holiday down to Somerset.”

Anyway, back to story time. So fortunately Roland is just taking a nap in jail when, due to me being followed, Handsome Jack swoops in and grabs him. After failing to get him back at the Marcus monument above (because what bandit doesn’t love weaponry that shoots fire?), I then managed to grab him at a nearby Hyperion facility. Roland goes home, meets Lilith again, and we all have pink lemonade.

Except that’s not the end of my wandering in the Pandora wastelands. What RPG doesn’t have countless side missions that continue to keep making references to things (I spotted you Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)? Most of them. However Borderlands 2 is, if nothing else, unique in its ability to lean on referential humour as hard as it does.

It’s simultaneously surprising and predictable, though, that the most memorable of the side-quests were the ones that went by without a reference I could spot. One involved helping a fire cult who could be just harmless in their self-immolation, until the moment they decided to play Wickerman with a Pandora citizen.

Although, after helping Matchstick see fiery enlightenment, the game begun to randomly stutter as though my PC was about to hit a blue screen of death. The thing I was more paranoid about than my save file (which I trust is in cloud storage) was my unsaved list of screenshots. I had taken a lot and hadn’t touched them since I begun playing four hours prior. I should have quit the game and gone to sort that out, but once the stuttering stopped the anxiety about crashing drained from my body.

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(Borderlands 2, 2K Games)

If Matchstick symbolises anything, it is the creeping sensation that you just cooked your PC.

On the third stutter, the game closed suddenly. It wasn’t a crash, as the screenshot manager popped up and closed straight away. This was something more devious than simple hardware (or software) malfunction, now shutting everything down. This was something crueller, as now I risked losing my save due to a potential corruption (which would have ended the Let’s Play) and risked destroying all 50+ screenshots (which would have led to me relying on basic Google Images).

This was Windows Update suddenly rearing its head without warning, restarting my computer.

Fortunately though, I managed to get my screenshots back, and my save file was left unharmed by the tackle Windows did on my game. Sure, it kicked me back to a checkpoint where I had to go back to more running (it was about 20+ minutes of just running), but everything was completely fine.

Another quest set me out to keep putting a robot into things under the promise it wouldn’t kill me this time, except every time it does try to murder me, including one time it tried to drive me to suicide with a Gearbox karaoke night mix tape. Where that quest really hit a high point was upon getting the shotgun for completing the quest, it begun to talk to me. So naturally I sold my better shotgun, kept that one and, like seeing a particularly psychotic therapist, have been getting positive reinforcement for my murdering ever since.

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The type of psychotic therapist who leaves me messages.

So, after weighing up if I should help Roland with his urgent train issue, I’ve decided to take on one of the DLCs next week. Something about some form of panicking about Sanctuary, the Crimson Raiders, and their leader Roland just inspires a feeling in me like there has to be something else to do. Maybe they can wait, with held breath, to see if Handsome Jack will indeed turn Sanctuary into a crater so deep and inhospitable it’ll only be a sanctuary for a hole-y cult.

…Ah, bugger off, I’ll see you next week.

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