Nothing ruins a good bit of care-free shoot-n-loot like a storyline.
By Jonathan Maloney on December 3, 2012 at 12:57 pm
Welcome back to another Community Soapbox article! If you’ve got something you’d like to say to our community, check here for more information about how to get your thoughts up in lights. Mild spoilers for Borderlands 2 may follow.
Jelly or custard. Chicken or steak. Kelly or Liara. Troy or Abed. Borderlands ‘Originale’ or Borderlands 2. Some questions cannot be answered without some serious examination and/or exposition, unless you are Marius (red heads man. Red heads. I hear ya).
Forum lurker that I am, I’ve noticed a bit of a trend lately when it comes to Borderlands 2. Some people can’t bring themselves to finish it. The game doesn’t seem to capture the attention of some, but in many cases these are people who played the ever lovin’ heck out of Original Borderlands. Wouldn’t a more expanded version be something akin to ambrosia for these folks? Wouldn’t they be drawn as moths to flame, uncaring even as their wings alight and so burning, they plummet joyfully into the inferno?
This puzzled me, as many things tend to do (why does bacon taste so damn good? It is a mystery). But I decided to persevere, think about matters, and ignore my initial conclusion that some people are just plain crazy, and should be committed for their own safety. Because it was at that point I realised that I haven’t reached level 50 in the game myself. I am one of those very people.
I played the HELL out of Borderlands, I maxed out my level, I found guns which made enemies weep for a merest heartbeat before I perforated the absolute bejeebus out of them. Although, such weapons are laughable fare now compared to the firearms found in the sequel, with weapons doing tens of thousands of damage per bullet. But the number changing is purely cosmetic. How the combat works and how it feels remains the same, numbers have just been artificially inflated.
What has changed? Why does it fail to latch upon my attention and hard bolt it to the ground, forcing me to go for just one more quest? Why am I already bored on my second playthrough?
There has to be a reason.
First of all, the differences in the game. Strictly speaking, gameplay hasn’t changed that much. Some tweaks, for sure, and some different classes which are more accurately alterations of the original classes for the most part. It was even opened up in terms of weapon use between classes, to the delight of ninja-looting scum everywhere.
You are not playing the same characters any more, either. They’ve moved on to new horizons, after apparently getting respectable jobs as a result of getting their butts handed to them by a collective of jerks designed to warm the cockles of one’s heart and fill the brain with maddened bloodlust with their sheer arrogant smarminess. Worst of all, they took the credit for your hard work. Not the vault hunter characters, that damn level 69 Roland was me and Handsome Jack stole my thunder. Them’s fightin’ words, sonny. Nations have perished for less.
But now, best of all there is a story. A driven plot line full of drama, intrigue, tragedy, revelations, and…
Wait a damn minute. That’s it.
It’s the story, of course.
The first Borderlands has, in every sense, the most vestigial of plots. It’s a simple story, really. Find vault. Loot it. Get stinking rich. The fact it was actually the lair of something out of a bad Japanese cartoon (you know the ones I mean, you sickos) was a bit of a letdown if for no other reason than the fact you were denied so much phat lewt, but it ‘did’ allow for the DLC, which may have been the plan all along.
The point is, the game was gleefully, utterly, ludicrous. Zombie T.K Baha? Check. Mouth barfing dog things? Check. Poop stuck on a windmill? Also check, and what the hell? It was a game that, at no point, took itself seriously. Because it knew that was the stupidest thing it could have possibly done. If you’re going to be funny, you have to stay funny. And it did. General Knox made me chuckle with his self hating, ‘Sorry but I have to kill you now… Bye!’ routine which was, in truth, Handsome Jack Mk1, without the arrogance and gleeful megalomania.
Admittedly, it isn’t as funny as Borderlands 2. The game is hilarious. Memes everywhere, which make you either groan or laugh. Tiny Tina, hands down my favourite character in recent memory (even if she is voiced by the game writer’s sister and he made her say things like… wait. No. I’m not going into this) and, of course, Handsome Jack, who really is a fantastic villain by means of being an absolute asshat on a level I can scarce recall having ever seen before.
He’s no Dolores Umbridge (admit it, you hated her more than Voldemort), but he comes pretty damn close by the end. The guy is like a cackling, wise cracking Palpatine (‘And now young Vault Hunter… down, Butt Stallion! Oh, fine, moment over, but you gotta die now, kay? Bye!’).
But as funny as it is, something else made its way into my emotional mindset as I played.
It’s the end of the world, as we know it.
Without giving too much away to the six or seven people (maybe ten… maybe) who haven’t played up to that point, there are some character deaths in Borderlands 2. And they are not, in any shape, way or form, the slightest bit funny. Not even a second of brevity. Not a moment of hilarity. Suddenly things took a sharp turn towards Dramatown and no one knows where the hell the exit turnoff back to Funsville is. And that ‘ole train just keeps on chuggin’, railroading you down to a game that suddenly, unexpectedly, feels somewhat serious. You’ve got to save the world, Vault Hunter. You’ve got to stop the evil plans. You’ve got to avenge the fallen. Here, have a gun to remember them by, and mourn their fall.
Hang the bloody hell on here, folks. This isn’t the ride I signed up for. I came here to have fun. What is this salty liquid coursing down my cheeks? What is this burning desire for revenge in my heart? What is this ice cold fury tearing through my skull? WHERE IS MY FUN, I WANT IT BACK NOW THANK YOU.
Tiny Tina is nowhere to be found to give you levity. This is no place for a murdering thirteen year old with a bomb fixation. Suddenly you are feeling uncomfortable doing side quests. There is this nagging sensation that you’ve been doing it wrong all this time. This isn’t a comedy extravaganza of bullets and asplodin’. It’s a deadly serious save the world Call Of Duty scenario where one more madman has his hands on one more unsecured nuclear weapon, in this case a great big monster (which, compared to a warhead, seems disgustingly inefficient). Go forth! Claim your tangential reward and victory!
You do not take a super light-hearted game about murdering make-believe people and make-believe bad guys with make-believe heroes and suddenly make us painfully aware that it is, in fact, a serious story. You go one way or the other, but it seems in this case that the writers couldn’t decide. Suddenly Borderlands 2 is not about having fun, getting loot and shooting bad guys. It has, suddenly and irrevocably, become a serious drama with a bit of comedy in it, where you have to bravely go and fight an ancient evil to save the world, as you are its sole hope for victory and continued mucking about.
Bit of a shift from the original, where four folks who were out to get themselves an actual mountain of cash.
Speaking of which, what the hell happened to those four? I remember Roland’s gleeful kill cries from Borderlands. It would appear, however, that the tentacle monster at the end managed to forcibly shove a whole treeful of sticks up his backside while I wasn’t looking. Instead of a gleeful treasure hunter he seems determined to turn the Borderlands into the BOREderlands. Mordecai is a drunk mourning his lost squeeze, Lilith is a drug addict, and Brick became a bandit!
Actually, that last one is probably the most accurate.
But despite all that, despite all the funny stuff that happens in the game, it is just plain weird to get shoved from one extreme to the other. Are you supposed to be laughing? Crying? Indifferent? What? In case you didn’t notice, I’m confused here.
I should have known when you learn early through Tannis, that each and every person you are shooting ‘used’ to be a scientist or worker for Hyperion, driven mad by the ordeal, and probably some funky drugs put into the food for all we know. ‘We’re all broken because of them,’ she says. That’s nice and all Tannis, but I don’t want to feel guilty while shooting a gibbering axe murderer in the face. It’s not supposed to be an issue.
I’ll admit, however, that I liked the storyline from Borderlands 2. I did. There is some truly excellent writing going on here, and brilliant, just plain delicious dialogue that makes me snap my pen in sheer, glistening envy. I can tell they wanted to stretch their muscles a bit, and it does give the game a bit more ‘wow’ factor that the end game of the first Borderlands simply did not have.
But you cannot tell me that it is isn’t a very jarring experience. Whether you consciously grasp it or not, it’s still there. The slight sense that something is just a touch ‘off’ about the experience after a certain point. Where the game can’t decide to be full time funny or full time serious. For a game that started as a light hearted jaunt, it suddenly got really heavy, really fast. And I’m not sure where that leaves us. Why did I have to ‘suddenly’ become emotionally invested? Isn’t gettting rich enough? Can’t we leave it as light hearted fun?
Will I continue to play Borderlands 2 until I max out my level cap? Yes. I most certainly will. Will I enjoy my second play through as much as the first? No. Probably not. Because it’s not about fun, this time. I know what’s coming, I know the swerve before I hit it, but I’m still going to find myself flung against it. Original Borderlands was pure, emotionally uninvested, escapist fun of the first calibre. The sequel, not so much. And that changes things – in particular, the enjoyment. Because now there’s just this little twinge that makes you frown, and for some of us, well, it’s enough to remind us that our light hearted escapism is all grown up. And we miss its innocence.
‘…Booty like POW!’
Oh Tina. Never change.