Community Soapbox: How Borderlands 2′s plot stopped me from enjoying some light-hearted murder

Borderlands 2

By 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!

Hmmmm. No.

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!

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.

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.

14 comments (Leave your own)

100% Agree!

Story went sour. And the knowing that the vault was going to be another bad monster thing again, meant that I was already dissapointed before I even got there.

Character events as they were made the dip in enjoyment a sizable obstruction to my desire to replay the singleplayer campaign again. And it’s unlikely that I will.

On top of this, the declassification of weapon exclusive perks for me also ruined the experience. Bad Ass points we’re unintuitive way to upgrade the character. Without seeing the before and after effect on a visual scale, it was difficult to choose a perk and verify the bonus. Where as with B1, I know that if I used that weapon more… I got better in that weapon!

I found playing the commando character (again) was the most boring fps experience in B2 ever! Good luck finding a assault rifle that would be automatic (I still don’t have one thats worth using). My inventory is filled with pistols! by far out powering anything else in the game? Snipers, rockets… none of them had the same repeatable stopping power of pistols. From beginning to end, I felt like I was using the same gun, and purely because the other weapons didn’t feel like they matured like the pistols. Some rockets were big damage but taking 12secs to reload? or the accuracy of some weapons being randomly better than others despite having the same specs?

There was just something not quite right with Borderlands 2 combat. It was ok, but never fun. Take away the comical gore factor of the original (head popping championships we all played with friends) and it was really a non event for me.

Inventory system and weapon swapping was painful compared to the first and even though it was similar, found comparing weapons to keep or throw out was so difficult I ended up just selling everything and keeping the level 33 pistol I had.

Storage decks… remember when they used to be a fun Claptrap mission to unlock those? buying them just seems like I didn’t have to work for it. Especially with earning so much money in game, that 10 mins of gambling at sanctuary you could upgrade and unlock so much with the slot machines…

Borderlands 2 actually dissapointed me. And I agree, hated with what they did to the original characters from Borderlands in Borderlands 2.

Went back to BF3 and Planetside 2. Probably not to return to Borderlands 2, which is a real shame.

Ramjet.

 

It was actually the Dahl corporation that abandoned their science teams and convict workforce who in turn became the bandits and cannon fodder we all know and love. FACT CHECK.

If I hear you bad mouth Jack again I’ll have your hide. Oh by the way, Butt Stallion says hello.

 

I guess it’s up to the player how serious they feel the story gets; I still laughed hilariously at the last third of the game.

And I think Tiny Tina is one of the worst characters in the game; so. ANNOYING.

 
Ralph Wiggum

If you want to experience some of the fun and laughter, play the Mr Torgue DLC. Haven’t laughed that much since General Knoxx.

Truth be told, I thought one and two were pretty much the same in terms of atmosphere.

 

TBH, I think your wrong. From the start, the game had both the funny jokes, and all that, but it was also dead series. I mean, WTF? The train. The recordings of the death of a prominent NPC from the first game in the FIRST DAM AREA. THAT pissed me off. That put me in the mood to kill Jack as soon as I laid my sights on him. Yes, the game is funnier than the first, but its also darker as well.

The problem is not the game, its the players. its the players only seeing what they want to see, and hearing what they want to hear until they are forced to see the darker side of it all. That moment (for those that have player though, you know where I mean) was that point that MADE people see how dark the game actually was. Me, I spotted it right from the get go. The game is as dark as the new Batman games, however it is not dark in the same way as the new Batman games. But its still there. Always there. Was always there in BL1 as well, but it was never forced on to the player, so people just ignored it.

The hints of darkness where always there. you just had to open your eyes to it… to see whats behind it all.. to read between the lines… But no one dose that any more, so people miss out, and take shit totally the wrong way.

 

jagji,

That moment you are talking about surprised me as well, but not too much. Borderlands 1 and 2 both involved carnage and in many cases, quite shocking brutality, but it was tongue in cheek and blackest of black comedy. I can laugh at black comedy, I -enjoy- it. But when the story shifts in Borderlands 2, there isn’t the slightest bit of comedy, black or otherwise, to be seen, and it never really comes back. Thats the point I’m trying to make.

 

I struggled to find humour in the second half of the game to be honest? I also felt the latter half of the game tried to wrap things up a little quickly also. There was some large area’s which for the most part that weren’t used by the story line at all either. Meaning lots of pandora in B2 wasn’t so well used to tell a story. Side missions were exactly that, where as the story line followed a really narrow narrative also.

Did anyone else get the feeling that ammo was waaaay to plentiful also? right from the beginning there was ammo dump after ammo dump… I enjoyed things being tougher in the beginning trying to make each shot count. But it was just too easy to run&gun and replenish.

And too many choices in the skill tree mean’t I was jack of all trades, but master of none!

 

Nemesis_22,

I get what your saying, but it still fits with everything. I mean, the moment it self is the reason for it. Until then, no one really important dies, and then when it happens, things HAVE to change. I mean, if the game killed a prominent NPC, one that you got to know, and now are, for want of a better word, friends with, how else would you expect all the other NPCs to react? No one though that the NPC would die, and everyone was kinda ‘Fuck yeah’ and joking about all of it, and then, BANG, something no one thought would happen happens, and you expect them to stay there up-beat self, and all that shit? Personally, I think that the idea of all the NPCs acting the same after that would be disrespectful to them as characters.

And, you know, the fact that Jack was pissed of SO MUCH cos of what you do then, also works. HE never expected you to do it, and when you do, he is sent over the edge, from ego driven, to made revenge drive. It all works well with in the context of that moment, and for the context of you getting that close to the end of the game. Remember, its like, only about 2-3 hours before the story is over. Not even that.

 

jagji,

I think this is more accurate. It’s probably because I didn’t play Borderlands 1 but I saw how dark the game could be from the beginning, I mean sure it did get a bit darker towards the end but I thought it was mostly well handled and there was enough serious and enough outright lolz worthy moments throughout the game without it being a jarring swing from one extreme to the other.

Also TINY TINA BEST CHARACTER EVER!!!!!!!!! XD Can’t understand people who didn’t like her. :P

Finally if they don’t make DLC where we go to the space station and finally meet Butt Stallion then i’m gonna be :@

 

jagji,

I think the argument is that it shouldn’t have happened in the first place. X shouldn’t have died, Y shouldn’t have happened to have Jack change (i’ll admit there, I really really missed early Jack after he changed because he wasn’t as funny anymore, I liked when I was his puppet :( ).

 

Christ that was a long read, but bloody well written Nemesis, nice work!

 

never finished the first game, never finished the second, i dont get what the huge deal is over borderlands, they’re shit and i regret paying money for both of them.

I thought the second one would be better and they would have learned from their mistakes with how bad the PC version launched. NEK MINUT its worse then borderlands 1.

 

shlaimon: I thought the second one would be better and they would have learned from their mistakes with how bad the PC version launched. NEK MINUT its worse then borderlands 1.

We must have played different games… Or maybe you put your Xbox 360 copy in your PC dvd drive?

 

akira675,

What baffles me is that he bought a sequel to a game he hated expecting it to be completely different.

 
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