Few heroes ever find a moment’s rest.
The princess may been found, the galaxy saved, the villain vanquished, but at a time where worlds can be extended indefinitely — provided that world digs its roots deep enough in the minds and hearts — few modern videogame heroes will ever find the joys of retirement. None epitomise this more than the nebulous Vault Hunters, who after two games and numerous DLC releases are yet to find a corner of Pandora that is secluded enough to finally rest their feet.
Instead, with Handsome Jack vanquished, and Pandora saved, they now find themselves seeking peace on Pandora’s newly uncovered continent of Aegrus, following in the footsteps of Sir Hammerlock who himself has made the trek for nothing more than a quiet weekend of “Hunting, companionship, and bawdy jokes about social taboos.” (as you do).
But this was never going to be a quiet weekend, despite Hammerlock’s dogged determination to turn a blind eye to Pandora’s latest threat in a post-Jack world, a point made even clearer when the voice of a mysterious man by the name of Nakayama pipes up and literally begs you to come and fight him, to stop his plan to clone to Handsome man himself. And so begins Hammerlock’s Big Game Hunt.
It’s that greater sense of self-awareness that manages to mask much of the fetch-quest stylings of Hammerlock’s structure, from the ability to sacrifice yourself to man-eating monsters through to your role at the center of “Dietmar’s” documentary on the Vault Hunter’s time in Aegrus – a man who lacks the richness of David Attenborough’s wildlife observations but more than makes up for it with his fake German accent and colourful commentary.
Dietmar’s desire to document your endeavours is pretty understandable: Aegrus is the kind of place worth documenting. Its dark, dank, almost-swamp environment is nestled under the arch of a massive monument of rock and stone that ensures it is constantly in shadow, which when accompanied by the strings of an altogether haunting backing track evokes clearer images of Diablo than Borderlands has managed before – despite sharing DNA from day one. Accentuating this all the more is the fact that Aegrus is filled with Witch Doctors controlling hordes of savages, healing them while throwing magic at you. More than just a set dressing, these Doctors also ensure even hardened Vault Hunters will need to change tactics when they come face to face.
Of course, there are more dangerous beasts than just bandits here, as from these swamplands new enemies rise — Hammerlock’s Hunt, fittingly, has a satisfying focus on bringing down grand beasts and hoarding their loot — offering challenges for a Vault Hunter who is yet to meet their equal: a far sterner challenge, hailing Gearbox’s change in focus from concurrent side-stories to true post-game content, with an adventure tuned for those over level 30.
More than anything, Hammerlock’s outing is proof that Borderlands 2 still “has it”. What is it? An ability to craft a location. A combat tension. A feeling. And a subtlety, more so here than before, in its characterisation and humour that belies its try-hard edge and harder comic book lines.
It also affirms Gearbox as one of few developers harnessing the true nature of DLC – to seamlessly extend outward, upward, and onward – serialising their characters and digging that much deeper, below their surface, to the amusement of all.
And so the future doesn’t look any less busy for a Vault Hunter, then — it will be awhile yet before Pandora is finally quiet and a hero can rest his feet — but then, since when was Borderlands 2 ever at its best when it was quiet? This may be a hero’s continued torture, but it is a player’s gift.
- The same self-aware humour, this time less abrasive and more charming in its subtlety.
- New enemies – such as the Witch Doctor – call for new approaches to combat encounters.
- Loot. Loot. Loot. Aegrus has it in spades. Expect a change in load-out within minutes.
- A Monster Hunter-esque style, setting out in search of Big, Bigger and Biggest Monsters.
- The melee focus of many of the Witch Doctor’s minions can also result in stale encounters.
- The odd bug and quirk of enemies disappearing through objects.