Borderlands Part 6: Destroy the Destroyer

By Shamus
on Aug 17, 2017
Filed under:
Borderlands

In copying the Diablo II style gameplay, it seems pretty clear the Borderlands team wanted to use the idea of the player moving from one town to the next on their journey. This idea didn’t really come together, and most of the towns feel empty.

Dr. Zed and Claptrap are the only inhabitants of Fyrestone, although Shep Sanders and T.K. Baha are stationed nearby. I guess you could argue that they’re still part of this “town”, even though they’re pretty far outside the walls. There are several buildings in here and I think it’s pretty clear that this was supposed to be a village with some NPCs hanging around. There’s a gun shop where Marcus could conceivably hang out, but he never shows up. Some of the homes have places where NPC types could sit on their porch.

The town of Fyrestone. Visible population: 1

The town of Fyrestone. Visible population: 1

I have no idea why the Shep Sanders character is so far out of town. Having him in Fyrestone would make more sense, and it would make the place feel a little more alive. At any rate, this feels like a town that was supposed to be much more populated, but they just ran out of time.

The next “town” is Lucky’s Last Chance Watering Hole. Lucky is the only person who lives there. I’m not sure if this is a town they never finished or if it was just supposed to be a pitstop along the way.

After that is New Haven, the only real town in the game. Marcus the arms dealer is here. Scooter is here. A couple of Claptraps are here. Helena Pierce – the disfigured woman from the original grim-n-gritty trailer – is apparently the mayor or whatever. There are a bunch of silent NPCs hanging around town to make the place feel lived-in.

Later on you get to a bounty board out in the wilderness. It’s got some vending machines and a Catch-A-Ride nearby. It serves as a town in terms of taking quests, getting vehicles, and selling items, but there aren’t any people at all.

So Borderlands only had one “real” town, but they kind of tried to give us a series of them.

Comic Relief Antagonist

A trash fire in front of a crescent moon over the town of New Haven.

A trash fire in front of a crescent moon over the town of New Haven.

The only moments where the story shines – or indeed, works at all – is when it’s operating in comedy mode, and it’s an interesting illustration of just how much a writer can get away with if they can make you smile.

Imagine a Dragon Age game where you’re trying to find the key to control some demon gate thing. The mages explain that a peasant borrowed the key and they send you to talk to him. When you get there the peasant makes all kinds of unreasonable demands and forces you to do a bunch of menial yet dangerous tasks. He sends you out to kill N bandits. When you’re done with that he announces he wants some booze. But rather than allowing you to just buy him some, he has you march halfway across the kingdom and murder a bunch of bandits and steal their booze. Meanwhile, every word out of his mouth is bristling with insults and hostility. He seems to be aware you’re incapable of attacking him.

He keeps giving you jobs like this. Just when you’re at the end of your patience and starting to ask yourself, “Why can’t I just murder this little shit and take the demon key?” the peasant announces that he doesn’t actually have the key. The bad guy showed up and stole it ages ago, and the peasant has just been jerking you around in the meantime. And then he asks you to do more jobs for him. He asks you to go fight a hundred or so bandits because he wants you to find his dog.

The BioWare forums would melt with the white-hot rage as a thousand players demanded to know why their character had to behave like a dumbass. Why can’t I get revenge on this peasant? Why can’t I even call him out on his villainy, or even threaten him? Why am I forced to roleplay as a clueless doormat?

But Borderlands does exactly this, and it works because it’s an amusing questline in a quasi-comedy game and the peasant in question is a vibrant character. Not only is it fine, it’s actually one of the best sections of the game. (Monotonous environment design notwithstanding.) Tannis sends you to get a piece of the vault key from Crazy Earl, and he has you do stupid nonsense jobs like killing bandits for booze.

Crazy Earl

WHATCHU WANT?

WHATCHU WANT?

I strongly suspect this character was added very late in development, which is why he’s voiced by Gearbox founder and CEO Randy Pitchford and not a professional voice actor. (To be fair, Pitchford’s performance is brilliant. Earl is actually one of the most endearing characters in the series.) Crazy Earl is probably is most explicitly comedic character in the game, and his questline works because it’s absurd and amusing. We’re here to murder dudes and find cool loot, and having someone say something funny every 20 minutes or so is a nice bonus.

We only see him through a slot in the door, which means he doesn’t need a body. (And if he has one, it doesn’t need to be animated.) These are exactly the kinds of shortcuts you’d expect for a character made at the last minute. Also, he’s the more stylized than a lot of the other characters. Scooter the mechanic, Zed the ex-Doctor, Patricia Tannis, and Administrator Pierce are all much more realistically proportioned. It’s possible their character models are leftover from the early stages of Borderlands development. Meanwhile guys like Crazy Earl, Marcus the merchant, and T.K. Baha have far more exaggerated proportions and feel like they were added or redesigned after the big art change.

Earl is also the right kind of “crazy” for this series. Tannis is crazy, but her problems seem to stem from PTSD. Earl is just wacky. He’s not crazy in the sense of mental health, but more in the sense of outlandish behavior. He’s less Travis Bickle and more Cosmo Kramer.

We can compare how well Earl works to how much our main villain doesn’t…

The Bad Guy

The villain introduces herself by literally phoning it in. We won`t hear from her again until the third act.

The villain introduces herself by literally phoning it in. We won`t hear from her again until the third act.

When the player accidentally acquires the first fragment of the vault key from bandit boss Sledge, they’re randomly called up by the closest thing we have to a villain. Commandant Steele represents the Atlas corporation, and she announces that Atlas owns all of the artifacts on this planet. She tells you to hand it over and get out.

As the game goes on, you continue to gather up vault keys. Patricia Tannis tells you where to look for them, and then you go fetch them. At the end of the quest, you hand these pieces over. This never made any sense to me, since why would my vault hunter hand their supposed vault key to someone else? It’s a vault key. I’m trying to open a vault. I did all the work to obtain it. So why don’t I keep it?

You could make the excuse that Tannis needs to study the pieces, but the game doesn’t really sell this idea.

But the reason you give the keys to Tannis is so that Commandant Steele can steal them while you’re off killing more bandit bosses. Then Steele shuts down the ECHOnet, which is the planet’s global internet / telephone service. Angel is dismayed by this and I think you’re supposed to be worried that you’re cut off from your “friend”, but Angel was so repetitive and her information was so frustratingly vapid that I was kind of relieved she was going to stop calling me up and wasting my time.

This is the closest the game comes to having a story. Crazy Tannis sort of betrays you by giving the vault key to Steele. But then later it acts like she did this under duress. But if you go back and read the earlier quests it’s clear she had been lying to you all alongOnce you bring her the third and final piece of the key, she acts like there’s still one left. She’s obviously not under duress at this point.. But then the story makes it sound like she betrayed you by accident because she didn’t realize what Steele was up to, and she didn’t think you’d mind. She has a very plot-driven form of insanity and I’d turn to authorial intent to figure out if she actually betrayed you or not, but I don’t think the text agrees with itself on this matter.

At last, our big confrontation with our semi-adversary! Spoiler: She will be dead before the cutscene is over.

At last, our big confrontation with our semi-adversary! Spoiler: She will be dead before the cutscene is over.

Regardless of whether she’s crazy or cunning, it sort of drove home the idea that the player character was a dumbass for entrusting her with the vault key.

But whatever. What follows is several hours of face-blasting combat. You rescue Tannis, get the ECHOnet back on line, reconnect with Angel, and then descend into an endless corridor filled with alien creatures and soldiers. It’s a huge slog.

When you get to the vault entrance, Steele is waiting for you. This kind of surprised me, since I’d forgotten all about her. Sure, she’s the closest thing the game has to an ongoing antagonist. But this is only the third time we’ve heard from her. She’s had maybe three minutes of screen time in the last 20 hours of leveling and looting, so it was kind of hard for her to leave much of an impression. She has fewer lines of dialog than Crazy Earl, and they’re far less memorable.

By this point in the game you’ve plowed through a dozen or so bandit kings and fantastic monsters on the way to the vault, and Steele’s cranky phone calls just don’t register as a serious problem amidst the chaos. As she gave her big speech I found myself thinking, “Oh. I guess this is supposed to be the main bad guy? Okay. I guess we’ll fight now?”

And just about the time I’d adjusted to the idea that Steele was supposed to be the target of my long-exhausted wrath, the vault opened and she was killed by the tentacle monster that lives inside.

So you fight the monster. You win. It drops a little pile of loot. Roll credits.

Wait. Is That It?

I`m level 69 here because the game was turning into a huge slog at the end and I didn`t want to burn four hours just to get these screenshots. I`m not incompetent. I`m just lazy.

I`m level 69 here because the game was turning into a huge slog at the end and I didn`t want to burn four hours just to get these screenshots. I`m not incompetent. I`m just lazy.

It’s not that the writer was bad. I honestly can’t appraise the writer’s skill at all. This story must have been hacked to pieces and re-written as the game took shape, and the result is that the story feels like it’s missing most of the time, and when it does show up it’s barebones and wildly inconsistent in terms of tone.

I know I left out a lot of details. The journey from Fyrestone to the Vault is long and meandering. There are a few good bits on the way and a lot of forgettable sections, but I don’t think it’s worth spending three months dissecting the game quest by quest, picking apart characters, motivations, and player action. It’s a story that spins its wheels for the majority of its running time, then tries to establish a villain near the end, then just gives up and has you fight a tentacle monster.

So that was the first Borderlands game. It was a bit of a mess around the edges, but it was also a breath of fresh air in terms of art style and gameplay. It was fun, it was new, and it was occasionally funny.

Next time we’ll move on to the sequel.

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Footnotes:

[1] Once you bring her the third and final piece of the key, she acts like there’s still one left. She’s obviously not under duress at this point.


20201151 comments. It's getting crowded in here.

From the Archives:

  1. Joe says:

    If you mean the middle of nowhere bounty board, there’s one person hanging out there. He has a couple of quests, and for some reason stays once those are complete. Tannis is the only NPC to change locations, IIRC.

    Interesting to note that the starting towns for both 2 and TPS only have one inhabitant each. Hammerlock and Springs, who both relocate to the big hub towns. For that matter, those hub towns are separate levels, while New Haven has bandits and creatures elsewhere in the level.

    • Blastinburn says:

      Doesn’t Dr. Zed move from Fyrestone to New Haven?

      On the subject of Tannis, I was under the impression that she had been approached by Steele before we gathered all the valut key pieces (maybe even before we met her) and so she was planning to betray us the entire time because she was under duress. As for why we hand them over, I’m pretty sure the vault key needs to be assembled (or at least we were told that, even if it turned out to not be true), which is what Tannis promised to do.

  2. Erik says:

    I was pissed off at the end of Borderlands 1.

    The last few hours are indeed a huge slog, but they teased you with a vault with a gigantic amount of loot. We (me and my friend) killed the final boss and… it didnt drop anything good.

    So not only was the payoff not there, we felt like we just wasted a good couple of hours slogging through for nothing.

    Also, I didnt really remember miss Steele until you brought her up. I still only barely remember her after you did.

    • Radiosity says:

      Honestly, the best stuff was mostly found on random enemies. What I loved in the first game was being hammered by an enemy, thinking ‘what in God’s name is he throwing at me? MOUNTAINS?’, killing the bastard, then looting the very same gun for my own use.

      Borderlands 2 REALLY dropped the ball by changing that mechanic and going for an awful super low drop rate MMO style system of tedious grinding.

    • Echo Tango says:

      Does the vault in Borderlands 1 at least have some plot device in it? Like, after you kill the space-octopus, is there a cutscene that explains that it was guarding some ancient artifact, and that it’ll take decades of research to unlock its power? It’ll end world hunger, and power all the machinery? I want to say that this game has something like that, but it might actually be the second game…

      • Shoeboxjeddy says:

        Opening the vault in the first game makes dozens of vaults all over the planet appear. So says the second game at least.

      • Erik says:

        Not that I can remember, no. I think it only says “Well, i guess it was not a vault to store ancient artifacts but the prison of some alien” or something similar.

        The fact other vaults opened up, and the appearance of that pink material you find in Borderlands 2 only gets explained at the beginning of borderlands 2.

        • Abnaxis says:

          I only vaguely recall, but as I remember it the game explicitly says essentially “lol you thought you’d get phat lootz but only tentacle monster here.” It’s a deliberate “princess in another castle” ending.

    • Sleeping Dragon says:

      I thought the very final approach was actually pretty cool designwise. We didn’t get snowy areas earlier, the aliens use different attack patterns to previous enemies and it begins with that big vertical chamber, which is also something the game hasn’t done before.

      Though this is comparing to the rest of the level design so the bar is not very high…

    • Michael says:

      Yeah, I got, I think, two legendaries out of it, so I thought, “hey, that was pretty cool.” Learned later I was just stupidly lucky, and it normally drops garbage.

      I seem to recall having your reaction to the Warrior in 2, though.

      EDIT: Also, it occurs to me, the single deciding factor on whether the final zone is a slog or not comes down to one question: do you have a lightning weapon? If you do, the aliens die quickly, and you can carve your way through pretty painlessly. If the answer is no, then the aliens are a huge pain, because their shields have way too many HP.

      • Destrustor says:

        Mordecai has a skill that lets his bullets ignore shields entirely. It makes this section even more of a cakewalk, since the aliens are designed to have their shields be something like 90% of their total “health”.

  3. Tizzy says:

    My guess would be that Steele was one of those holdover elements from the grimdark version of the game. Grimdark gotta have a human antagonist, bonus points for her being a puppet of a faceless corporation.

    • SPCTRE says:

      Yeah, does seem like the most plausible explanation for her non-ness.

      • Abnaxis says:

        It’s weird, because I just noticed the tattoos make her look like a siren. I wonder if the “weird tattooed woman = siren” thing was also only invented in the second game, or if they dropped that from Steele’s character arc?

        Also, I’ve beaten all the main campaigns, including Tales of the Borderlands, and I totally thought Steele was an antagonist character from a BL1 DLC or something when you run into her in the museum in Tales. She is such a massively unmemorable character

        • Hector says:

          Officially, Steele was indeed a Siren, although it’s not altogether clear exactly *when* Gearbox decided that. Definitely before BL2, but possibly not before finishing BL1. They did bring Steele back (kinda) in a DLC.

  4. Darren says:

    You’re not going to discuss any of the DLC campaigns for BL1? They are where the series’ writing really started to come into focus.

    • Alexander says:

      Maybe he’s saving the DLC for all of the games for after he covers all of the games’ stories.
      I agree that the DLC, especially Knoxx, really delivered on a lot of things the base game didn’t, especially with regard to writing and characters. The Underdome is one of the better FPS horde modes and the Armory was super fun for loot runs

  5. Lee says:

    You made it all the way through this without bringing up the vehicle jousting you made a previous article on? Or did I miss it? Emergent gameplay, sure, but it is still part of the game.

  6. Agammamon says:

    The BioWare forums would melt with the white-hot rage as a thousand players demanded to know why their character had to behave like a dumbass. Why can’t I get revenge on this peasant? Why can’t I even call him out on his villainy, or even threaten him? Why am I forced to roleplay as a clueless doormat?

    Nah. Because Bioware will make him ‘romanceable’ no matter what. Then the forums will be filled with people swooning over him and looking for help on how to get his affinity up high enough to get the lovin’ cutscene.

  7. Vermander says:

    I happen to live near an unofficial National Videogame Museum, which provides a surprisingly cool and comprehensive tour through the history of the industry. There are interactive exhibits on Pong, the early 80s crash, console wars, etc. and virtually every classic game mentioned in an exhibit or display can actually be played somewhere in the museum.

    I’ve really enjoyed visiting that place, but the one exhibit I found puzzling was an exact mockup of Randy Pitchford’s office. His original desk, office furniture, and assorted decorations and memorabilia are all perfectly arranged like they were at the time he was working on Borderlands. It looks like something you’d expect to see at Independence Hall or Mount Vernon, as if some important historical event had occurred there.

    I realize Gearbox has made some popular games, but I doubt most visitors know or care who Randy Pitchford is (I didn’t at the time). I believe that there was some mention of him helping found the museum or at least being a big donor, but I still found the exhibit really funny.

  8. BlueHorus says:

    Imagine a Dragon Age game where you’re trying to find the key to control some demon gate thing…[and you end up being jerked around for hours on side quests that are tangential to your purpose.]

    We did have that, didn’t we? It was called the Deep Roads.

    (Dragon age: Origins spoilers)
    So we’ve come to here to get an army of dwarves to help save the world. Oh, but first we need to know who’s the next king! Can you go and find this woman for us so she can decide?
    No, she doesn’t care, but we want to to ask her anyway. By the way, she went on a suicidal mission to the other side of the world some time ago and never returned. Good luck!

    It’ll be hours before you meet her, and you’ll have slogged through an enemy stronghold before you get there. And a load of side-plot, most of which demonstrates that the woman you’re looking for is batshit crazy and shouldn’t have her opinion asked on anything, ever.
    And the best bit? When you eventully find her, she STILL DOESN’T CARE ABOUT WHO’S KING. You don’t bring her back to decide the victor, you bring back a crown she made as ‘proof’ of you finding her – then YOU make the choice.
    Or you kill her, and someone else makes you a crown that allows you to choose the king.

    Seriously? If all I needed was a pretty crown, couldn’t I have just made a fake one, four hours ago?
    Or just killed one of the contenders the instant someone suggested a trek to the other side of the world in search of a woman that’s almost certainly dead?

    • Michael says:

      Yeah, it’s not just the Deep Roads, there’s a lot of cases in Origins, and especially Inquisition where you’re getting jerked around by quest givers, because they just know you can’t harm them at all.

      • Adrian Burt says:

        Witcher 3. The whole Find Dandelion quest is an endless series of nested problems that doesn’t even really pay off. The reason why you’re looking for Dandelion is because he may have a lead on Ciri. He doesn’t.

        • Droid says:

          That is only your motivation to start looking for him, the quest hook, so to speak. The quest itself is supposed to be about saving Dandelion simply because Geralt likes him a lot.

          • Taellosse says:

            That’s one of those spots where playing a nominally defined character, instead of a full-on player-insert, sort of falls down. The only way that quest actually works, motivationally, is if the player has investment of their own in Dandelion – either read the books or played the prior games, and liked him. If you as the player don’t know who he is aside from the backstory presented in Witcher 3, or know and still don’t care about him, the entire quest line becomes incredibly tedious.

            This is notably in contrast to most of the rest of the game, too, which is part of why it can stand out so much – pretty much every other character in 3 that Geralt already knows is introduced fairly directly, and there’s a lot more “show don’t tell” in establishing their backstory and relationship to Geralt. If you’re not already steeped in Witcher lore, it isn’t hard to determine why Geralt feels the way he does about any given character, and you even generally have some influence about how he responds (do you let Keira Metz seduce you, even knowing she’s kind of a schemer? How far do you push the obvious tension and bad blood between Geralt and Emperor Emhyr? You know they don’t get along, and you know they have to work together for mutual interest, so do you play along mostly politely, or do you take advantage of circumstances to tweak Emhyr’s nose? Do you try to rekindle things with Triss even though you know there’s a fairly recent painful breakup, and an older love Geralt wants to restore?). But with Dandelion, you don’t even see him until the quest line is almost finished, you’re just told they’re best buddies. For those who are choosing to play Geralt as more emotionless, they’re told Dandelion maybe has a lead on Ciri, which is what’s driving the entire game (though he mostly doesn’t, which means those following that path find the entire quest line thoroughly unsatisfying). It probably wouldn’t have been a big deal if it didn’t go on so long, but the whole thing takes several hours to play out, and it can feel like both a bait and switch and a waste of time.

  9. poiumty says:

    The last boss was legendarily, infamously disappointing. It was the main gripe many players had with the game, myself included.

    But BL1 isn’t complete without its DLCs, which were some of the best pieces of DLC out there, The Secret Armory of General Knoxx specifically.

    Not only do you get a proper boss this time (plus an optional ultra-ultra-hard one for the hardcore players), you also get a room full of ridiculous amount of loot boxes dropping amazing loot that you can get most of before the whole place explodes.

    And General Knoxx is actually sympathetic and one of the better villains in the Borderlands franchise. Hell, maybe even the best – all we have is Jack and whoever-that-was in TPS anyway, and they don’t hold a candle to Knoxx.

    The General Knoxx DLC was really the perfect send-off for the first game, took the game in a few unconventional directions, didn’t overstay its welcome, had all sorts of new challenges for longtime fans, raised the level cap, had a good story. I recommend it to anyone who picks up Borderlands thanks to these articles.

  10. Syal says:

    Sheesh, I stopped playing after that monster truck bandit guy, and was left with the impression Commander Steele was going to be a questgiver. “Hey, listen to me” is just such a non-threat. That’s how Claptrap was introduced. And Angel. Angel was more villainous than Steele.

  11. C.J.Geringer says:

    Would you p´lease do the DLCs before going to the sequel?

    They are not just more of the main game, they really are a step between the first and the second. Borderlands 1.5 if you will.

    I feel the DLCs don´t suffer from a lot of the problems the main game do, they are much better structured experiences and a lot more cohesive.

    I feel the main game has leftover of it´s gritty version, but the DLCs are not hindered by that, and by then the developers had fully embraced the redesign. I think at least the zombie and Robolution DLC´s deserve your attention.

    • Michael says:

      Yeah, I’d second this as a good idea. The DLC from Borderlands is a really interesting chance to see where Gearbox was learning from their mistakes, and trying to correct them. There’s a weird kind of design continuity from BL1, through the DLC, into the tone for Borderlands 2. Revolution is an outlier there, but, if I remember correctly, that one was farmed out, while Zed and Knoxx were both developed by Gearbox (I think).

  12. modus0 says:

    But the game explains why there is only person still living in Fyrestone: Bandits have killed most of them, and the rest ran off (flee and live, or stay and be killed kind of deal).

    You know Shamus, it’s weird seeing you harp so much on the story for one series, and then ignore story elements in another. It’s almost like you’re doing so on purpose to give you something to complain about.

    Please tell me you’re not going to question why Liar’s Berg is abandoned in your next installment. Because you get told the exact reason everyone left while you’re running around the area.

    • Shamus says:

      You’re mixing in-game and out-of-game reasoning.

      I didn’t say “It’s never explained why the town is abandoned.” I wondered why the developers chose to make it this way.

      “It’s almost like you’re doing so on purpose to give you something to complain about.”

      It’s almost as if I’m analyzing the game and looking for interesting aspects to talk about. I could exhaustively list all the parts that simply work as they should, but that would be boring and pointless.

      • The Thermian Argument! (Not entirely and not entirely illegitimately, just found it funny that in-text and out-of-text needed to be distinguished again).

      • modus0 says:

        Okay, but what benefit would there have been, if Fyrestone had been fully populated? Would it have served a narrative better, or been a distraction?

        At any rate, this feels like a town that was supposed to be much more populated, but they just ran out of time.

        Or maybe they wanted to place to feel like a town people had actually lived in, instead of a stripped-down Hollywoodesque set piece. I know I personally have gotten a bit tired of the dungeons and ruins that were supposedly lived in/used but for the sake of platforming make you wonder if the inhabitants had to be trained gymnasts just to get around.

        There’s a fine line between analyzing for discussion and complaining, and I can’t help but feel that you’ve sometimes crossed over it. Not so much here, but I’ve felt it a few times in regards to Spoiler Warning episodes where you ranted about the story not making any sense while seeming to ignore the (not hidden away) parts of the game that explain the story and give it some sense.

        Maybe I read too much into that, and it was something done “in the spirit” of Spoiler Warning. I don’t know, I’m not a psychic.

  13. Christopher says:

    This is a bit of an off-topic comment, but I can’t think of a fitting place to ask anymore. Have you decided on what you’re gonna do with a podcast, if that’s something you’re thinking on continuing with another crew? Hit me today that it’s been a good long while since I’ve hard you and Bay’s voices talking about games.

  14. Type_V says:

    Going to assume future posts will comment on stuff like Legendary weapons or Eridians (won’t be seeing them in bl2) or Vehicles or DLC right? The Knoxx DLC is probably the best part of BL1.

  15. Aevylmar says:

    I thought that there were actually a bunch of people in Fyrestone – they’re just hiding in their houses because of all the bandits (and because models are expensive). The bounty board has all those quests, after all, and most of the quests are written with a different “voice” than any of the tiny number of characters in Fyrestone have. It doesn’t sound as though the questgiver is always Zed or Claptrap; sometimes it’s “some guy in Fyrestone who they didn’t have the budget to make a model for.”

  16. Daniel says:

    WHATCHU WANT?

    Catch-A-Ride!!!!

    Catch-A-Gun! Guh, I’m never doing that again.

    I hope I am not the only one who finds themselves randomly repeating lines as I play these games.

    Because of this series, I have started playing Borderlands: TPS for the first time. Not sure if I should thank you (for the fun I will have playing it) or curse you (for the amount of time I am going to spend playing it).

  17. IanTheM1 says:

    I was inspired by this series to give the first game another whirl, for nostalgia’s sake. I was surprised at how mostly smooth it is to play solo.

    I’m going to disagree with Shamus in the lightest, lightest way possible in that I think the story holds together *holds fingers a millimeter apart* this much more if you pay attention to all of the dialogue and especially the un-voiced quest text. On the downside, you also get to see the ugly side of the game where, I guess for lack of a better insult, your character calls both Tannis and Steele bitches for plotting against you. It’s still fractured as all get out, mind, I just had a slightly better time understanding it.

    The DLC is definitely an overall improvement on the base game, but it’s a one step forward, one step back sort of situation. The gameplay is sometimes better, other times much worse. The insane levels of asset re-use right next to fantastic new art is dizzying. The writing is all over the place.

    Lockdown Palace, where the entire joke is that its population of male, prison-themed bandits is gay, is a real low point for the game. (And that’s without getting into the baffling justification for that entire section’s existence.) Knoxx himself is well-written, but the ultimate reason for his displeasure – Atlas placing a five year old in the Admiralty – strains credibility. The whole Dr. Ned situation is funny at first but then falls apart because they quickly step back from it and maintain status quo by making it clear that he really isn’t Dr. Zed. The humor regularly ping-pongs around like this, ultimately sabotaging the jokes that do work and leaving the really awful ones to thud.

    That’s why Crazy Earl works so well – he’s simple. A cranky old coot, secluded away in his junkyard is a really straightforward character archetype to mine humor from. (And they even give him a little humanity with his companion Skrappy.) I’m just wrapping up Robo-Revolution and Blake has stood out for having some decent ones amongst his many “stiff businessman, paperwork paperwork, TPS reports” style lines.

    Random writing note: I realized the game has a funny little book-end thing going on by way of referencing Bioshock. Angel drops a “Would you kindly” at the very start of the game, Claptrap does the Ryan speech during Robo-Revolution.

    • Boobah says:

      Admiral Mikey was less ‘the ultimate reason for his [Knoxx’s] displeasure’ than he was a symptom, and arguably the straw that broke the camel’s back. The whole point was that Atlas was that ludicrously corrupt; not only did they name a five-year old to a position like that, they actually expected a career soldier like Knoxx to follow his orders.

      • IanTheM1 says:

        Well, considering it’s Mikey who ordered Knoxx to Pandora in the first place, I’d still consider him the ultimate source of Knoxx’s grumpiness at the whole affair. :p

        Beyond that, another reason I feel like the joke over-steps is because it starts to erode away at the credibility of Atlas as an enemy. They bit off more than they could chew in the main game, but were still a tangible threat, and so the DLC is positioned as their big counter-strike. But then the story reveals that Knoxx couldn’t care less anymore and command is a bunch of corrupt, incompetent goofballs which stands in stark contrast to the tough Crimson Lance soldiers you end up fighting from beginning to end.

        Obviously there’s a difference between the soldiers on the ground and command off-world, but the clash between the higher-ups being, for lack of a better description “very Borderlands” and the soldiers being totally self-serious skull-faced shock troops meant to challenge the player (even as their support drones babble on in Atlas advertisement-speak) makes the whole thing sputter out for me.

        It’s almost like the player is being tasked with putting the final bullet in the head of the grim and gritty remainders from the original version of the game.

        • IanTheM1 says:

          In hindsight, perhaps with a different pacing/presentation it really would’ve cracked me up. Perhaps if the Knoxx Echo scavenger hunt was DLC-wide instead of showing up 80% of the way through and left the nature of the Admiral more ambiguous up until the final one dropped off of Knoxx himself after you kill him, which then reveals Knoxx has been pissed off at a five year-old the entire time. A well-executed brick joke.

          I’ll stop dissecting this frog now.

  18. Dragmire says:

    I’m super late on this but I do want to say that I really enjoyed the snowy area leading to the end of the game. We got a new enemy(though there is one earlier in a sidequest as foreshadowing) and they’re actively fighting the Crimson Lance. Racing to the Vault amidst a literal warzone was exhilarating!

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