You know what I love? The Goliath enemy in Borderlands 2. While initially it might seem like just a slightly larger bullet-sponge than all the other bullet-sponge enemies in the game, the Goliath allows several unique engagements from the player that greatly mixup Borderlands 2’s base gameplay.
Perhaps more accurately, the Goliath demands the player engages with them in unique ways. They force the player to think, and they can become an embodiment of the player’s self-defined goals.
While I thoroughly enjoyed the first Borderlands for all its original and surprising guns, there were very few enemies that were actually interesting to shoot. You spend half the game fighting the terribly uninteresting skags, and the other half fighting bandits whose only real variation is whether they shoot you or hit you. When the Crimson Knights turn up way later in the game, they finally mix up the battles with a variety of enemy types, forcing you to think on your feet a little more, but for most of the game you can just stand there and shoot and hope your gun is bigger than their gun.
Apart from a couple of hours at the start spent fighting bullymongers (think snow skags), Borderlands 2’s skirmishes often throw a greater variety of enemy types at you at any one time, often forcing you to move around and constantly change weapons to deal with different enemies at different distances. It’s still a grind, to be sure, but a grind that has you thinking on your feet just that bit more. You might have a suicidal bandit running at you with a grenade (perfect for a shotgun) while another one is hiding behind a giant shield (asking for something with explosive shells); another one’s electric backpack will start draining your shield if you get too close (certainly not perfect for a shotgun), while an armoured air vehicle is firing rockets at you (asking for something with a quick bullet velocity).
For most enemy types, its a simple case of looking at what enemy you need to take out next, and picking the right gun from your inventory to deal with that enemy. But by far the most inspired and interesting enemy of the game, the Goliath always demands a bit more than that. The Goliath always demands that you pay attention to them, that you always stop and think about how you are going to deal with them. Or, how you won’t.
At first glance the Goliath just looks like a towering, musclier version of a typical bandit, carrying two guns. Like all humanoid enemies, his weak spot is his head. But if you shoot the Goliath in his helmet, all you do is make him angry. Very angry. He throws down his guns, his spine and skull burst out of his mouth to coil above his torso like some cadaverous snake, and he regains all his health. The Goliath rages out, going berserk and attacking any target he can get close to.
As he rages, killing his own allies, the Goliath levels up, much like the player levels up. Every time he levels up, he gets all his health back, much like the player gets all their health back when they level up. The more powerful the Goliath gets, the more EXP and rarer loot it will drop when it is eventually killed. On the other hand, the more powerful the Goliath gets, the harder it will be to actually kill it.
Every time a Goliath marches out onto the battlefield, you have to think about how you are going to deal with it. Are you going to try to kill him without enraging him, determinedly shooting him everywhere but his weak spot? It’s the safest best, to be sure, but what if a stray bullet accidentally clips his helmet? Then he will recharge all his health and all those bullets will have been wasted. Usually, I find it best to just go straight for the helmet and get the rage over and done with. It’s going to happen sooner or later, so it might as well be soon.
But then, once he is enraged, do you let him just fight on and, more than likely, eventually get killed by all the other bandits? Do you help the bandits take him down while he is distracted? Or do you help the Goliath take the bandits down, to get more powerful and drop more loot and exp—and then pray that you will be able to deal with him when you have to?
It’s not that the Goliath is impossible to deal with. Like all enemies, you know which of your weapons will put it down quickly if you have to. It’s a rare occasion that a Goliath actually becomes too powerful to deal with—but it could happen. Ultimately, unlike all the other enemies in the game, every time you see a Goliath, you have to think about how you are going to deal with it, about what you want this Goliath to do for you. And there is always the slight chance that things will get out of control. Maybe the Goliath will kill one enemy too many and that dreaded skull will appear next to its health bar, warning you that you might want to consider running away.
To top it all off is the attention to detail Gearbox have clearly devoted to the Goliath. From the way the Goliath’s name changes every time it levels up, to the sheer absurdity of its skull waving around above its head as it runs at you (seriously what is with that?!), to, most important of all, the “CLUNK” of a single bullet hitting its helmet and the shrill violin sound flagging its enragement.
And that’s why I love the Goliath. In a game where I expect to be able to just zone out and go through the motions without having to think about anything, the Goliath constantly forces me to wake up and take notice, to pay attention to what is happening and to think about what I want to happen. It plays with my thirst for more loot and tempts me to gamble with my life. The Goliath is exactly the kind of enemy Borderlands 2 needed.