Here we are at the endgame. Walker has defeated General Cross, but then she stood around and got coughed on. So now she has this nanotrite virus or whatever.
Walker falls over, and then Lily (remember her?) appears out of nowhere and drags her to safety.
The obvious, surface-level problem is that Lily had no possible way to get here, no reason to expect that you would need her, and no way to extract you afterwards. The whole plot of this game was about acquiring the tools to get into this facility, so it comes off as absurdly lazy when another character gets in without any of those tools.
The more pressing problem is that this doesn’t work in a storytelling sense. We haven’t seen Lily since the tutorial and she hasn’t been an active participant in the story since then. It would be like having Trask show up and save the day at the end of KOTOR. We likely haven’t seen this character in ages and the writer hasn’t invested the time to make us care about them.
The game never gave the player any reason to revisit Vineland. Even if the player chooses to go back, Lily never has anything important to say. It makes no dramatic sense to have her suddenly appear here at the end like she’s the missing puzzle piece to this whole adventure.
Fake Endings in 2019
As a total aside, what’s the deal with fake-out endings in 2019? Last year we got:
Control– The game made it look like the bad guy won. The credits rolled, and then the credits got all messed up, fell apart, and the player found themselves needing to fight their way out of a dream world. Borderlands 3– The game made it look like the bad guy won. The game acted like it was setting up sequel bait for the future, then it dumped you back into the game.
- Rage 2 – You beat the bad guy, but the game made it look like you died in the process. It’s not until the credits are over that you get the scene of Lily saving your life and somehow carrying you to safety.
(If you can think of any others, let me know.)
Another odd similarity: Both
Borderlands 3 and Rage 2 had little comic panels scattered through the ending credits as a way of enticing you to stick around. The first game showed us glimpses of how the good guys celebrated their victory, while Rage 2 was just a recap of the story. I like both, although I think the first approach is more useful to the audience as it offers them additional closure.
JK, You’re Not Dead
Anyway, getting back to the main topic: I think the idea of having Lily help out at the end is a good one. The problem is that the rest of the story didn’t lay the groundwork for it.
To fix this:
All of the major towns in the game get a fast-travel point, except for Vineland. It’s tucked in the corner of the map and surrounded by a vast buffer zone of empty spaceThere are a couple of things to do in the area, but this is the most sparse area of the map in terms of open world activities.. So we need to…
- Make Vineland a fast travel destination.
- Sprinkle some low-level encounter zones around the place to give the player a reason to interact with the region.
- Put some shops around so it’s clear Vineland is still a place where people live and not just a big pile of rubble. Ideally, Vineland should be slowly rebuilt during the course of the game. I understand that maybe that would be prohibitively expensive / difficult, but at the very least put up an impassable gate so we can pretend the rest of the town is being rebuilt on the other side of it.
- Put up one of those auto-generated bounty boards like we find in the major cities. Again, this will reinforce the idea that Vineland is a place that we should continue to care about, and not just a big graveyard.
- Most importantly: Give Lily additional dialog as the game does on. I realize this means more script and more voice acting, which means it costs more money. But if this character is going to be the big plot twist deus ex machina savior at the end, then she must be given a proper character arc. If she’s not important enough to deserve a character arc, then she’s not important enough to save the day at the end of the story. You have to decide if this person is a real character or just your tutorial buddy.
- Lily needs an arc that can be completed by saving the day at the end. I realize this is a lowbrow shooter and I’m not asking for a complex character study. We just need a character that has a need, expresses that need, and is then changed by the events of the story so that the need is either fulfilled or replaced by something new.
Some example character arcs:
- Lily has spent her whole life in Walker’s shadow, and is tired of feeling small and needless. When she pulls you out of certain death, she gets to feel like she’s the big hero this time.
- Lily is afraid she’ll never fill her mother’s shoes. She never got much in the way of approval from her mother while Sergeant Prowley was still alive, and now she feels like she’s never going to get the recognition she craves. She feels unworthy of her position as the leader of Vineland. When she saves Walker at the end, Walker says, “You did good. You would’ve made mom proud.” Lily, realizing this to be true, then snaps back with a callback to one of her mother’s drill sergeant sayings. Okay, the game never gave her one, but it would be easy to have Prowley throw out a catchphrase in the opening chapter. Then have Lily repeat that line at the closure of her arc to show she’s embraced her mother’s mantle. It doesn’t need to mean anything profound, but little touches like this go a long way to making characters feel like more than the sum of their dialog.
- Perhaps Walker could save Lily’s life in the opening, and then Lily feels like she “owes” Walker for the rest of the game. Now that she’s an administrator and Walker is in the field, she realizes that she’s never going to get a chance to return the favor. But then she does at the end, and that satisfies the debt in her mind.
- Lily dreams of adventure beyond the walls of Vineland, but because of her vague health problems (whatever unexplained condition prevents her from utilizing Ranger armor) she’s stuck at home. Her one crazy dive into the heart of the Authority base to save Walker’s life then cures her of this desire and she realizes that running a town isn’t so bad after all.
Those are literally off the top of my head. They don’t all fit with the brash and angry version of Lily we see in the game, but the point is that the Lily we see in the game doesn’t have enough going on to carry the existing ending. These various suggested arcs are all different ways you could rewrite the character.
I want to stress that I’m not talking about adding a ton of dialog to the game. Arcs like these are incredibly simple. In fact, we’re basically talking about four additional lines of dialog for Lily, plus four additional reaction lines for Walker. The cost is trivial when compared to the overall size and scope of this game. The lines would need to be spaced out like so:
- Something at the start, where she expresses her need / desire.
- A reminder later in the game, to reinforce that this is a real concern and not just a passing fancy.
- A final reminder just before the end of the game – perhaps during Walker’s drive to the Authority base for Project Dagger – where we foreshadow that Lily is getting restless and is about to act on her desire.
- A final payoff at the end, after she saves Walker’s life.
In a movie you could skip either #2 or #3, but here I think you need all of them to allow for the distracted pacing of an open world game where we might lose track of the plot for a few hours.
Salt In the Wound
In a post-credits scene, Lily somehow drags your limp body to the opposite side of the map so Dr. Kvasir can have a look at you. Not only does the writer act like Kvasir betrayed you, but Lily seems to have read the script and come to that same unsupported conclusion even though she’s been out of the loop. She doesn’t arrive until your conversation with Cross is over. Walker doesn’t seem to be able to talk, but she takes one look at her sibling and somehow figures out what (nearly) killed you.
Once Kvasir saves Walker’s life, she holds a gun to Kvasir’s head and debates whether or not she should kill him. He argues that since he was able to cure Walker, that means that someone else could theoretically cure Cross. Therefore, he concludes, you still need him.
Just to rub salt in the wound, Loosum and Marshal stop by and re-explain the ending to Walker. Marshal says, “No more Cross clones to worry about… that we know of.”
I find it both alarming and sad that the writer felt the need to give themselves a back door to continue using Cross in future games. Cross is a one-note villain with a cliche design and nothing interesting to say. Like, even if you don’t have any ideas for the future, why in the world would you keep THIS character? The minimum-effort way to handle this is to introduce Rage 3 by saying there’s a new commander, GENERAL SCOWL, with a similar design and line delivery.
Hinting that the player’s hard-fought victory was ultimately pointless because you can’t even be bothered to invent a NEW cliche villain is a move of diabolical laziness.
How I’d have done it:
(Note that I’m not going to get into the problems with the existing ending, which leaves us with the question of: “If Cross was immortal because of the Clone-O-Tron, then why did we put so much effort into killing Cross rather than destroying the machine? If someone else becomes leader, then we’ll end up right back where we started!” That’s a complicated question that would require extensive re-writes to fix, and ultimately I don’t think it’s worth going to all that effort in this series to address some leftover fridge logic. I’m just putting this disclaimer here to acknowledge that yes, I am aware of this problem.)
Earlier in this series I suggested making the existing leaders Marshal, Loosum, and Kvasir be passive or complacent. This post-credits moment would be the point where they change their ways. They would admit that Walker’s proactive approach ultimately saved them. This change of heart would then impact their future plans. They’d talk about the need to expand outward and tame the wasteland instead of hiding inside their walled cities.
This would give the player a secondary victory. Not only did they neutralize the Big Bad, but in the process they’ve created reform that will (presumably) benefit the people of the wasteland and make society stronger and more adaptable in the future. This would also give the leaders a bit of a character arc, which they’re lacking in the story as told.
So that’s the story of Rage 2. It managed to disappoint on every level. It was a barebones plot with a boring villain and paper-thin characters that were fighting over a world we have no reason to care about.
So why did I write this series? Why did I waste time beating this dead horse? I have one last post that talks about that.
 There are a couple of things to do in the area, but this is the most sparse area of the map in terms of open world activities.
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