Borderlands Part 8: Welcome Back to Pandora

By Shamus Posted Thursday Sep 7, 2017

Filed under: Borderlands 42 comments

Gearbox had a hit on their hands with Borderlands 1. The problem with making lightning in a bottle like this is that the publisher will immediately turn around and ask you to do it again. Gearbox needed to figure out what worked so they could improve it, and what didn’t work so they could fix it. This sounds easy, but you can envision a lot of ways that could have gone wrong.

We Have a Hit. Now What?

Do the fans want more of this guy, and is that even possible?
Do the fans want more of this guy, and is that even possible?

We know fans love those four original vault hunters, but how do we build on that? Do we have those same four characters go on another adventure? Or maybe we come up with four new characters with the exact same powers and skill trees? Or maybe keep the original four playable charactersAnd reset them to level 1 and hope players don’t mind. and add a few of new ones? Or maybe ignore the old characters and just make four new ones?

Fans like the humor, but how do we use that? Do we make a whole game of Crazy Earl style characters and quests? More Claptrap? Do we pester the player with constant communications from the characters, quipping and mugging all the time? Or do fans really just want the humor to take place when they’re in town, and otherwise leave them alone to enjoy the face-shooting?

Fans didn’t really care for the story. Do they even want one? Assuming they do, what should it be like and what should it be about? Opening another vault? Chasing another vault key? Fighting a different corporation? Or do we flip the script and have them work for one of these amoral corporations? The first game established that the vault can open once every 200 years, so do we set the second game 200 years after the first?

Focus groups are saying they would like Claptrap to spend another 10 or even 15 minutes explaining what respawning is.
Focus groups are saying they would like Claptrap to spend another 10 or even 15 minutes explaining what respawning is.

Do we go to a new planet or stay on Pandora? Do we visit new locations or revisit the old ones? How much do we need to acknowledge the events of the first game? Did the vault close and vanish into legend again, thus preserving the status quo of adventurers searching for a supposed myth? Or did the opening of the vault have far-reaching consequences?

Fans like the looting, but how do we improve on that? Do we give them crappy loot more often? Maybe give them good loot more often? Do we create even more exotic tiers of loot for them to chase? Do we amplify the differential between good gear and fantastic gear? If a player finds an ultra-rare shotgun that trivializes combat, will that make them happy or ruin the gameplayTo be fair, I don’t think ANYONE has a good answer to this question.?

Players liked the setting, but where do we go from here? New planet? Do we keep the desert vibe and give them another game set in arid wastelands full of trash? Would players be able to accept (say) swamp or tundra, or do we need to stick with the climate and color palette we’ve got?

And so on. I’m not saying Gearbox had these exact debates, I’m just trying to show that it’s not always obvious where the second game in a series should go, particularly when the first one was kind of a patchwork.

The Expanded Borderlands

Are players open to having TREES in a Borderlands game? I dunno. Let's stick it in a DLC and if they don't like it we can pretend it didn't happen.
Are players open to having TREES in a Borderlands game? I dunno. Let's stick it in a DLC and if they don't like it we can pretend it didn't happen.

The original offered a few pieces of DLC, and it deliberately set itself apart from the core game. In particular, the Zombie Island of Dr. Ned took us to a greener part of Pandora and went all-in on the silliness. Maybe this was the colorful brand of comedy they’d wanted to embrace in Borderlands 1, but they didn’t have time to make it happen during the 11th hour art overhaul. Or maybe they weren’t sure what the fans wanted and they were experimenting to see what worked.

Evidence in favor of the “experiment” theory is that the games have a one-way relationship with the DLC, similar to the way the Star Wars movies treated the expanded universe. Lore would flow from the movies to the books, but the books generally weren’t acknowledged or respected by the movies. Similarly, the Borderlands DLC adventures built on the premise of the core game (you’re a vault hunter who recently opened a vault) but the core titles don’t seem to reference any events in the DLC. Certainly I never heard anyone in Borderlands 2 talk about Dr. Zed’s brother or the zombies he created.

However, I wonder if this one-way flow of lore is going to change. Borderlands 2 has some DLC that – rather than being a disposable one-off adventure – has some honest character growth in it, and would be very awkward to ignore.

I’ll talk more about the DLC later. For now let’s just dig into Borderlands 2…

Hire a Writer

Left: Ashley Burch. Right: Mirror universe Ashley Burch.
Left: Ashley Burch. Right: Mirror universe Ashley Burch.

The largest and most visible change going from the first game to the second is that they decided to have a story this time around, and they made the story a huge focus of the game.

Gearbox hired Anthony Burch, of Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin? fame. This seems like a really good fit. HAWP is basically a straight man vs. clown type comedy act where Anthony plays off of the unhinged antics of Ashley. Ash is just the right kind of “nutty” for the Borderlands series. Anthony’s comedy isn’t going to be mistaken for highbrow entertainment, but it’s fast paced, snappy, and based on characters. The writing in the game itself would finally match the over-the-top tone of those crazy music video trailers.

I know I skipped most of the story in Borderlands 1, but since Borderlands 2 puts such a huge focus on the story I’m going to spend a little more time on it. I’m not going to cover every quest or anything, but we are going to skim over the main plot and poke at a couple of the quests. This isn’t because the story is bad. I think it does exactly what it needs to do. But it makes an interesting contrast with Borderlands 1 and it will serve as a convenient jumping-off point for talking about the other bits of the game.

So You Want to Hear Another Story?

Our four new heroes, plus Handsome Jack.
Our four new heroes, plus Handsome Jack.

This game starts off with a similar style of intro to the previous game. First Marcus tells us a bunch of exposition in the form of a “story” told over a series of fun hand-drawn images. He explains that the previous vault hunters left in disappointment when the vault was just filled with a space monster. Once the vault opened, the rare purple element eridium appeared. The Hyperion Corporation showed up with their Death Star sized space station, which is in the shape of a giant H.

Then we get the music video intro. We meet the four new vault huntersDLC vault hunters don’t get to be part of the story, and the game sort of treats them as non-canon. as they ride a train. Handsome Jack throws a bunch of killer robots at them, announces he’s the REAL hero of the story, and then blows up the train.

The game begins in the wreckage of the train crash, with the player character just having barely survived. Claptrap is here, digging in the snow for salvage. He discovers the player(s) and the tutorial begins.

The first Borderlands made you sit through three ridiculous minutes of non-skippable Claptrap chatter before it let you play the game. Obviously that’s totally unreasonable, so in the sequel they fixed it made it even longer. It’s five minutes of walking beside Claptrap and listening to him talk before this shooter shuts up and lets you shoot something.

To be fair, these five minutes are spent far better than the first three minutes of Borderlands 1. In Borderlands 1 the game explained things to you that you probably already knewI know what a HUD is, thanks game., or could easily intuitI can probably work out that this little device lets me re-color my character., or could figure out laterI think the mechanics of respawning are pretty self-evident once you die., which is why those three minutes felt so long.

The intro has fun moments, like when Knuckledragger grabs Claptrap and pulls out his eye.
The intro has fun moments, like when Knuckledragger grabs Claptrap and pulls out his eye.

Here in Borderlands 2, the pre-gameplay moments are spent on exposition. Claptrap explains that this frozen wasteland is where Handsome Jack dumps the vault hunters that show up on Pandora. He explains that Jack is mining for eridium, a process which seems to be causing planet-wideOr perhaps just continent-wide? It’s sometimes hard to get a sense of scale. tremors. Claptrap is trapped here. He wants to go to someplace called Sanctuary. That place is safe, but the journey to get there is dangerous and he’s been waiting for someone to come along to escort him.

Angel also appears in this section. Like in the first game, she’s here to be your mysterious guide character. Unlike the first game, she has useful things to tell you and is able to give you exposition that Claptrap can’t.

The story is already laying the groundwork. We know who the villain is. (Handsome Jack.) We already have a reason to dislike him. (He tried to kill us and also he’s a massive douche.) We have a little bit of information on his plan. (He’s mining plot crystals.) We have our first short-term goal. (Reach Sanctuary.) We’re also getting a steady feed of jokes to endear us to Claptrap (your mileage may vary) which is good because he’s going to be far more integral to the plot this time around.

A Game of Doors

Here is a locked door like the ones in Borderlands 1. This one is mercifully brief, and is used to illustrate that Angel is able to help you. Also, Angel is depicted as being useful now. Yay!
Here is a locked door like the ones in Borderlands 1. This one is mercifully brief, and is used to illustrate that Angel is able to help you. Also, Angel is depicted as being useful now. Yay!

Like the game before it – and like a lot of RPGs – this is still a story with a lot of locked doors blocking your way. The difference is one of perception. In Borderlands 1 you had to open doors because once you opened enough of them the local NPC would allow you to move on. The doors and the stuff behind them aren’t central to your goals. Here in the second game, your immediate goal is on the other side of whatever door you’re trying to open, so you’re never stuck outside thinking, “Why do I care if this door is opened or not? I don’t need to go in here.”

It sounds like semantics, but this is at the heart of how you make a good “quest”. You need buy-in from the player. They need them to want to overcome the obstacle in front of them. The further they are from their goal, the less interesting it will be to them. You can spice things up with character beats and story (Witcher 3 did this) but that tends to get expensive very quickly. (Personally I’m a fan of the episodic structure of Mass Effect 1 as a way to avoid excessive nesting of quests, but that still hasn’t caught on.)

The rule I use for doors is, “Whatever quest you want me to do to open this door needs to be less hassle than the brute-force alternatives.” Sure, chipping through this stone door with a pickaxe would be a pain in the ass, but if that’s easier and faster than hiking to the top of Mount Death and punching the gold tooth out of the Anger Dragon, then my character would choose the pickaxe. I don’t mind wiping out a bandit camp to get through a door, unless it’s a stupid wood door in the middle of a 2 meter fence that I could easily climb over. I don’t mind doing the quest, I just don’t want to feel like doing the quest is the idiot’s way of opening the door.

It’s true that the sequel does the same bait-and-switch as the first game. It sells you on the idea of being a vault hunter, and then as soon as you’re playing that goal is swapped for another one. But Borderlands 1 sort of did this every chapter: Kill Nine Toes. Kill Sledge. Kill Mad Mel. Kill Baron Flynt. You were always being shoved off-mission. Here in the sequel this only happens once: The vault-hunting goal is replaced with “Stop Handsome Jack”. And since he tried to kill you in the opening cutscene and spends the entire game giving you more reasons to hate him, the player isn’t going to be running into those moments where they go, “Why am I doing this again? And why am I supposed to care?”


Claptrap's place has a bunch of cool little worldbuilding details to gawk at while he's exposition dumping. This place is interesting in a way that the empty parking lot at the start of BL1 was not.
Claptrap's place has a bunch of cool little worldbuilding details to gawk at while he's exposition dumping. This place is interesting in a way that the empty parking lot at the start of BL1 was not.

This chapter with Claptrap is also a tutorial, but the game doesn’t explain every little thing to you. You start the game with a tiny sliver of health, and as you walk with Claptrap you pick up several red vials and observe that they replenish your health. That’s the entire health vial tutorial. It’s done silently, without popups, without interrupting Claptrap’s exposition, and without breaking the flow of gameplay. It gives you all of the basics like this: Opening boxes, following waypoints, turning in quests, and picking up weapons and ammo. The first game wasted a lot of time explaining this stuff to you, but here the game manages to do it faster, smarter, and without insulting your intelligence.

Also, this section generally keeps the player moving. Claptrap escorts you through his house, and there’s lots of fun stuff to look at while he yatters exposition at the story nerds. In Borderlands 1, you were stuck in the same little area with nothing to do but listen to him talkThere were some buildings with lootable containers nearby, but it wasn’t nearly as interesting as Claptrap’s house. Also, going over there would stall Claptrap’s script until you returned..

It really makes me wonder at how much better the first game could have been if the team had a little more time to polish it. But deadlines are a cruel mistress, and sometimes they hurt the games we love. (Or don’t love, if the deadline was particularly damaging.)

I love 50% of Handsome Jack's dialog. Sadly, you gotta listen to 100% of it.
I love 50% of Handsome Jack's dialog. Sadly, you gotta listen to 100% of it.

Once you’ve shot some monsters, Handsome Jack himself phones you up. Like Borderlands 1, everyone can kind of talk to you whenever they like. Sometimes they can see what you’re doingThere’s a sidequest for Scooter later in the game that lampshades this. and sometimes they can’t. Sometimes they can see and even talk to each other and sometimes they can’t. It’s all driven by the need to do exposition and character beats without stopping the action.

Borderlands 1 made us wait something like 4 or 5 hours before we heard from the main villain, and at the time we weren’t even sure if she was supposed to be THE villain, or just the next bossfight in a long series of them. But this time the story is characterizing him and building up our adversary right from the start. I love Jack’s dialog. He’s a massive jerk and you want to punch him in his smug face pretty much as soon as he starts talking.

Having said that, this might have been an over-correction. Jack spends a lot of time talking to you. It’s funny the first time, but there are six character classes in this game so it’s likely you’ll hear his shtick more than once. If nothing else, I wish I had a way to hang up on him. I realize that allowing the player to cut off exposition might create game-breaking problems, but sometimes you just want the NPCs to shut up for a minute and let you shoot some snow monsters.



[1] And reset them to level 1 and hope players don’t mind.

[2] To be fair, I don’t think ANYONE has a good answer to this question.

[3] DLC vault hunters don’t get to be part of the story, and the game sort of treats them as non-canon.

[4] I know what a HUD is, thanks game.

[5] I can probably work out that this little device lets me re-color my character.

[6] I think the mechanics of respawning are pretty self-evident once you die.

[7] Or perhaps just continent-wide? It’s sometimes hard to get a sense of scale.

[8] There were some buildings with lootable containers nearby, but it wasn’t nearly as interesting as Claptrap’s house. Also, going over there would stall Claptrap’s script until you returned.

[9] There’s a sidequest for Scooter later in the game that lampshades this.

From The Archives:

42 thoughts on “Borderlands Part 8: Welcome Back to Pandora

  1. =David says:

    You’ve really encapsulated everything I like about BL2’s story (and wasn’t so keen on about BL1, though I still enjoyed it). It’s interesting how much more coherent the BL2 narrative is, and how much more like barely-connected-story-beads-on-a-string BL1 feels, when you compare them so directly. Even when they’re really similar games, gameplay-loop-wise.

    Obviously, as you noted, that’s all down to the last-minute rewrite they had to do (and I think the BL1 DLC proves that there were competent storytellers at Gearbox even before they hired the HAWP dude), but I guess the bottom line of this comment is I’d like to see an Overhaulout-style series about how you’d rework BL1 if given the chance from the start.

    1. Inwoods says:

      Putting this here for visibility, but it’s really worth watching Anthony Burch’s presentation on writing for Blands 2.

      Anthony Burch – Dying is Funny, Comedy is Easy

  2. Rick says:

    I really should go back and finish Borderlands 2.

    I really like how you’ve dissected how it improve over the sequel and why it works better.

    1. Nimrandir says:

      I was thinking this too. Then I remembered that the disc drive on my Xbox 360 won’t read discs any longer, and I’m pretty sure I had uninstalled Borderlands to make room for other stuff.

      Yes, I’m aware that it exists on other platforms, but I only re-purchase Final Fantasies and Baldur’s Gate.

      1. If you wait for a Steam sale, you can probably get BL2 with all the DLC for $7.50. :P

  3. Kathryn says:

    I can’t comment on Borderlands specifically, but one of the problems with sequels, especially unplanned ones, is that they very often rehash the same conflict the resolution of which was a major plot point in the first installment. Like, Cars 2 goes back to the same Lightning being embarrassed by Mater conflict that was already resolved in the first one, and any TMNT incarnation will have conflict between Leo and Raph no matter how it was resolved in preceding installments.

    Despicable Me 2, on the other hand, did not go back to the same conflict between Gru and the girls. Rather, the conflict between Gru and Dr. Nefario, which was never properly resolved in the first one, ends up driving a lot of the plot in the second. And I think the second is just as good as the first. (one problem: the minions were really popular, so they end up having a larger role in the second…the movie gets really close to having too much of the minions. But imo, the line doesn’t get crossed, unlike how the Ice Age sequels have way too much Scrat.)

    (Can you tell from my examples that I have little boys?)

    1. Fade2Gray says:

      This is part of what I liked about the Kung Fu Panda movies. Each one felt like it was building on the previous movie rather than simply rehashing it. Po actually grew as a character over the course of each movie without resetting between them.

      Sadly I don’t have any children to blame for my familiarity with these movies…

      1. King Marth says:

        “Wait, when you’re an adult you can still have toys?”
        “When you’re an adult, no-one can stop you from having them.”

        1. Kathryn says:

          I may have been using my children as an excuse :-) (except for Cars 2. I am so sick of Cars. Even Bruce Campbell isn’t enough to make me want to actually sit through that entire movie.)

          Actually, where the children do come into it is that I’ve seen their movies so many times each that I can’t help analyzing them all, especially their problems. I was actually thinking just this morning that I should write Shamus-style long form dissections of the Monsters Inc universe, Finding Nemo, and Cars. (What do the cars eat? Just kidding, the real question is, why are there modern chickens in a world inhabited by cars who would have had no reason to breed them?)

          1. Philadelphus says:

            People breed chickens for reasons other than food today (namely, poultry shows), though it’s admittedly a bit of a stretch to assume that we would do so if we didn’t already have a bunch of chickens lying around being used for their meat and eggs. After all, it’s not like we’ve suddenly started breeding, say, seagulls for shows within the last hundred years just because we now have the leisure time as a species to make that possible.

          2. Syal says:

            Cars continue to breed chickens out of a pathological drive to understand why the chicken crosses the road.

            1. Daniel says:

              I would thumbs up this comment, if that was an option.

              Made me chuckle.

      2. Alex says:

        “Sadly I don't have any children to blame for my familiarity with these movies…”

        It’s a movie about animal-style kung fu. There’s your justification.

  4. Darren says:

    Episodic quest structure is a shamefully neglected way of structuring an RPG. Bioware experimented with it in KotOR and Mass Effect, but the only other game I can think of that used it is Legend of Mana, an underrated PS1 game released by Squaresoft in 1999. I’d love to see more game developers explore structuring their games this way.

    Incidentally, Legend of Mana is a really odd game in a number of ways, and I’d recommend it if you ever want something cheap (it’s on PSN for like five bucks), short, and unusual to analyze. I’m not saying you’d necessarily like it, but it tackles a number of common game features–including crafting and open-world exploration–in ways that have never really been done elsewhere, which is exactly the kind of thing you like to write about.

    1. Daimbert says:

      Sakura Wars: So Long My Love did it explicitly, turning it into an interactive anime for the most part. And I think you could argue that the later Persona games do that, with each month being essentially an episode. Fatal Frame probably did it as well, with its separate nights. And Suikoden III did it with the tri-view system. In fact, lots of JRPGs do something similar, although they don’t tend to be “One area until completion and move on” but instead “One event chain to the end, and then move on”, which allows them to be bigger and yet reset things between “episodes”.

      Also, arguably the time jumps in Dragon Age 2 count as episodes.

    2. John says:

      I’ve always thought of episodic quest structure as The Bioware Way, perhaps because the only Bioware games I’ve played are KoTOR and NWN, which is like three or four weaker KoTOR’s stacked one on top of the other. Are you saying that Bioware is capable of doing something other than episodic quest structure?

      1. Zekiel says:

        A long, long, long time ago there was Baldur’s Gate…

        But yeah, Dragon age Origins and the Mass Effect trilogy all use episode structure too.

      2. Adrian Burt says:

        Ever since Mass Effect 2 they’ve been doing a sort of hub-based structure where you go to one of several central locations, get a bunch of shit to do, and then go off and do it.

    3. Genericide says:

      To play devil’s advocate, I’ve played episodic games with crummy stories as well. I finished Dragon Quest 7 not long ago, and the first two-thirds of that game are a series of many islands that all have individual story arcs and characters, usually featuring a dungeon and a boss. Problem is, they were completely isolated from each other. Everything was about what issues the next batch of NPCs had. There were no re-occurring characters, no ongoing mysteries and zero long-term character development. The fact that the game was like 100 hours long didn’t help. I was REALLY tired of the episodic structure in the latter half.

      That being said, I’ve seen games with great writing that could be described as episodic. Bioware games for one, and much of Final Fantasy 6 worked like this as well. The difference is the individual episodes all had strong character moments. They also usually connected to the main plot or at least interesting world-building. Episodic structure can work well, but I think it can also make a story less cohesive and let writers (especially if there are more than one) miss the forest for the trees. It’s just a different way of writing, not necessarily better or worse.

    4. Rob says:

      Just a heads up to anyone who ever decides to play Legend of Mana: it’s a decent game, but it’s saddled with what has to be one of the worst design decisions I’ve ever encountered: its main gimmick is that the world map is created by the player as the game progresses, and the quests/shops/pets/crafting materials available are determined using a points system based on where map markers are placed in relation to each other. You can miss out on the endings to multiple questlines due to this awful system, and since it’s never properly explained you definitely will miss something (probably many things) on a first playthrough.

      There are entire guides devoted solely to how to set up the world map in a way that allows for 100% completion. If anyone decides to pick up this game, make sure you read one of these! Nothing’s more frustrating than a story that goes nowhere, but this game goes out of its way to make that the case.

      1. Darren says:

        Honestly, I don’t think it’s that bad. I played–and loved–the game for years without ever realizing there were Gilbert quests I didn’t know about. I thought he just got petrified for being a horny creep. It was dark, but it was also pretty funny. Most of the missable quests are really minor; I don’t think there’s any way to lock yourself out of any of the three major story lines that lead to the ending.

        But really, weird as the system is, it’s part of the game’s charm, and why I try to recommend it to people interested in game design. Good or bad, it’s doing stuff that no other game has tried, with interesting results.

        1. Sleeping Dragon says:

          This. It’s not nearly as bad as it seems from Rob’s post. It’s been a while but I’m pretty sure at least some of the areas with more specific requirements are technically a mild variety of “secret quests”. And those guides Rob mentioned are fairly good.

          Also, the game has like, IIRC, three main questlines and reaching endgame requires completion of any one of those, as well as a NG+ system (which is how the player is meant to be able to reach the content they might have missed the first time around).

  5. Grudgeal says:

    Like I’ve said here before, I personally thought Gearbox were trying too hard with Handsome Jack. I mean, sure, a villain needs to take the scene and be likeable, or hateable, enough so that you feel bad or good about foiling their schemes and defeating them — or feeling *something* at any rate. Having your relationship to the villain be “meh, I don’t really care about you but I’m stopping you because the plot dictates it” is not a good motivating force or source of enjoyment about a game’s writing.

    That said, it seemed to me like BL2 was overselling ‘villain takes the scene’ a bit too much. Having him narrate the game’s class introduction trailer sort of told me that much. I mean, there’s one thing to centre a game’s narrative around the villain because the protagonists are featureless/customizable/not as important in the grand scheme, but BL2 was basically waving a flag in my face saying “look at this guy! He is important! He is more important than you!”. It might also be because I was playing Portal 2 and System Shock 2 at the time, both games with strong-personality antagonists that have way more story importance than the player character, but it felt less to me like Looking Glass/Valve were trying to put a spotlight on that fact. Like, GladOS narrates the first trailer to Portal 2 as well, but it’s only a voiceover. The entire trailer isn’t focused on her mug.

    EDIT: The links got eaten by the spam filter, looks like.

    1. Xeorm says:

      Don’t forget the other important bit: the Borderlands series has a heavy emphasis on multiplayer with the campaigns. They needed to design a story that works when multiple characters are relatively featureless and interchangeable. Having a villain centric storyline works amazingly for that.

      System Shock 2 and Portal 2 work better character wise because they’re able to play off that connection between the protagonist and villain, but BL2 didn’t have that luxury.

      1. Grudgeal says:

        I see that in Portal 2, though not so much in the original Portal where Chell was mostly a featureless void with no backstory or history with GladOS. Similarly, in System Shock 2 your character was mostly defined by their role and circumstance (“the hacker”), similarly to in Borderlands 2 (“the vault hunter”) with the villain having a personal connection to you that was mostly unrelated to who you were (SHODAN modified the hacker and is manipulating them into fighting The Many, Jack blew up the vault hunters’ train and is manipulating them into lowering Sanctuary’s shield — both are connections of circumstance and role, not who they are as a person).

        Again, I just felt the villain-centricity came on too strong. Knowing Jack blew up your train and tried to kill you from day 1, and getting reinforcements of “this guy is really terrible”, should be enough without having him prank-call you every five minutes to remind you he exists. Like, SHODAN sends you personal messages throughout the latter half of SS2, after she’s been revealed and you’ve made a personal connection through your actions in the plot. By contrast, Jack is there constantly and the difference in approach and how important the writers want their villain to be was really noticeable. Like, maybe after you defeat Wilhelm and Sanctuary’s shields fall, that would be a poignant moment for Jack to reveal himself and show he’s known what you’ve been doing all this time.

    2. Nessus says:

      To me it felt weird that Handsome Jack was constantly calling the player up to taunt them right from the beginning of the game.

      I mean, on the one hand, it’s definitely important to establish him from the beginning, and to keep him in the players mind as such, but on the other hand, it really felt like Jack had zero reason to personally care about some rando vault hunters until they did something big. Like, Jack shouldn’t notice you until you’ve established a pattern of blowing up important shit of his, and he shouldn’t start calling you up until… maybe after you kill Wilhelm? Until then it should be all second hand, like seeing/hearing his propaganda, overhearing him call up Roland & co to trashtalk them, intercepting comms where he tells his men/robots to “maybe be on the lookout for this new loser, and shoot ’em if you see ’em”, etc.

      I also feel like what he says and how interested he is should vary a lot between characters. Like, he should be REALLY interested in Maya because she’s a siren, maybe noticing her and trying to half-assedly cajole her from the very beginning. Like using really eyerolling PUA “psychology” to try to recruit her to his side (not trying to get in her pants, just trying to convince her that his side is the one with all the cool winners and she should totes want to work for him), and comically betraying himself due to his narcissistic lack of self awareness. Zero he’d notice from the beginning, since he’s an alien (and therefore a valuable commodity/research subject), but he’d treat him like a misbehaving robot or something instead of being all trashtalky, ’cause he sees Zer0 as even less of a person than he does other humans. He wouldn’t notice Salvadore or Axton until after they’d rescued Roland, and wouldn’t call them until after they’d killed Wilhelm. He’d try to trashtalk Salvadore, but Sal would just laugh and blow him off, so he’d get frustrated with him much faster than with the others. He’d trashtalk Axton too, but Axton would trashtalk him right back, leading to sprawling snark battles (proverbial “wrestling with a pig”).

      1. Hector says:

        Jack doesn’t talk to you very often. Oh, he pops up every mission or three for a quick chat, but he actually isn’t a big factor, mostly there to remind the player that Handsome Jack is, in fact, still the villain. He’s no bigger a character than most of the cast. It also makes the late-game twists a bit more effective, because he goes from an annoying jerk on the radio to a more active presence in the game.

        Second, without spoiling anything, Jack was deliberately manipulating the characters from the beginning anyway. He didn’t need to engage in some kind of further game, and this is a bad guy who really doesn’t care how many bodies he has to pile up before getting his way. Although he clearly identified the main-cast Vault Hunters as particularly good prospects, Jack had been murdering other vault hunters for awhile and probably just didn’t get the results he needed.

      2. Syal says:

        I figured it meant Jack had everything else completely under control and was just killing time taunting the newbie.

  6. Paul Spooner says:

    I’m surprised the HAWP link wasn’t the one about Borderlands 2:

  7. Echo Tango says:

    here the game manages to do it faster, smarter, and without insulting your intelligence

    I must have forgotten how bad the first game was, because I found the tutorial in Borderlands 2 slow, dumb, and insulting. They spent minutes of dialogue telling me how to pick up a gun, instead of just letting me discover a cool looking gun in the building, with a “press E to grab” thing hovering over it. The game assumes you somehow know how to WSAD + mouse-look, but then wastes your time with other things that are on the same level of obviousness.

    It’s not like making a good tutorial is a mystical art, either. They had 8 years to copy Half Life 2’s ability to do an invisible/seamless tutorial, and 23 years to learn from Mega Man X. I was very unimpressed with Borderlands 2’s forced tutorial when I was playing the game.

    1. Fade2Gray says:

      Every time I decided to role a new character in the BL1 & 2, the tutorial made me almost immediately regret my decision.

    2. IanTheM1 says:

      In fairness, the Borderlands games were clearly designed for a console audience. And I say that not as a blanket statement re: the intelligence of console players or anything lame like that, but rather to point out that there were a broad set of design standards that permeated that whole era of games. They may have also been trying to take into account new players who had tons of time in other shooters, but nothing remotely like Borderlands.

      I also think a big difference between the two games’ tutorials, and why 2’s is smarter, is because while both games draw out their tutorials in various ways, but 2’s is far better paced. Around the time you’re shooting Bullymongs in 2, even fighting a boss! :O, you’d still be doddering around Fyrestone in 1, or probably in transit between Zed and TK Baha for the third time in a row. What also helps the pacing is that the tutorial actually lingers on far longer than it initially seems, as you don’t formally learn about grenade mods until you defeat Boom and Bewm. And then there’s Marcus’ tutorial on elemental weapons in Sanctuary. Bullymongs are also both a more active enemy type to fight while also having a larger, always-visible weak point and a larger overall hitbox compared to the Skags you chew on in the opening sequence of 1. And finally to further what Shamus was getting at, in 1 you’re given the vague goal to “earn the people’s trust (by doing random tasks)” in order to find the vault, somehow, whereas 2 sets up the narrative threads loud and clear, so there’s at least genuine momentum carrying the player through the tutorial even if the actual execution isn’t necessarily to taste.

      The big secret though is to go into the options menu and turn off hint pop-ups and suddenly you can fly through the tutorial with relative ease. Though that might not be enough if your intelligence is insulted by a mere item pick-up prompt…

  8. Mattias42 says:


    Gaige showed up in the Pre-Sequel, actually,

    An Easter-egg only in the main game, but she was one of the main radio voices in the Holodome DLC.

    Haven’t gotten that far myself, but there’s a clip of it on YouTube.

    Still, yeah, definitely hope Borderlands 3 use her more. DLC or not, she was simply delightful to play as in #2.

  9. Paul Spooner says:

    Typo patrol, unnecessary use of the word “shaped”

  10. Exasperation says:

    The relation between DLC content and canon is more complex than described here. Some of the BL1 DLCs do contribute directly to the BL2 main game (e.g. the sidequest about the canonical outcome of Underdome Riot), while others are referenced in the BL2 DLC (Dr. Ned is briefly mentioned in Bloody Harvest, along with a third brother named Ted).

    1. Mortuorum says:

      Athena from The Secret Armory of General Knoxx also features prominently in Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel and Tales from the Borderlands.

      1. IanTheM1 says:

        And Blake from Robo-Revolution is a background character in 2 and has a brief appearance in TPS’ own Claptrap DLC.

  11. Grimwear says:

    Reading this series made me go back and finish my Krieg playthrough and also reminded me of why I stopped playing the game. There are a couple annoyances I believe I touched on previously such as opening the map with “M” but then needing to tab to close it. Not being able to replay audio recordings which you coulddo in BL1 which creates a situation of play the recording then don’t move in case some main plot exposition pops up and overrides it. But the worst is that I’m a completionist and the first playthrough tops off at around level 35. I’ve done the base game and Tiny Tina dlc and I’m currently level 40. So now I still have to do 3 other dlc packages and get next to no exp for it making me not want to play but (this is my own problem) refusing to go to new game+ without finishing everything.

    As a quick aside one cool thing I noticed with the Tina Tiny ending they added Gaige and I believe Krieg silhouettes to the final cutscene so they’re “there”.

  12. default_ex says:

    I think it’s that mindset that a sequel must be somehow an improvement over the previous game that generates a lot of the problems we see with sequels. Each time they take what parts of the first entry were liked most. Overly emphasize them in the sequel while disregarding all the smaller flavor pieces surrounding them.

    It reminds me of the child’s reaction to baking sweets. The sweets are good because they are sweet. Sugar is sweet: so let’s add more sugar. In the process the sugar overpowers the more subtle flavors that define that particular sweet as what it is instead of a strangely shaped lump of sugar.

  13. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Heres the thing I dont get about a bunch of modern games,especially fps ones:
    Why are tutorials mandatory?What is so bad about having an optional TUTORIAL section in the main menu that you can access whenever you wish,brush up just on the things you need(I know how to move the camera and shoot,but show me again how this teleport gun works),and none of it if you want to just jump right in.Having a few brief prompts in the beginning of the game,fine I get that,and those are easy to ignore.But having mandatory quest gate waiting for you to show that you can move the mouse around and push buttons thats really annoying.

    1. poiumty says:

      Players will consider they are Gaming Gods who don’t need no tutorial, skip the tutorial, and sometimes never learn a minute detail that would have made their experience better. Players don’t always know what they want, they just know what they think they want.

      That said skipping the overly long tutorial is paramount in these kinds of games.

  14. poiumty says:

    Yeah, the tutorial is much more elaborate than the first game, but it’s overly long.

    In a skill-system-based game like this I like trying out character classes. You have no idea how much that tutorial impedes my replayability. When you wanna try out this awesome new class and you get bored of the game in the first 5 minutes, all the excitement goes out the window and you can’t really muster the patience to stick around for the next few dozens of hours.

    It really is a game killer for me. The first time it was nice and interesting, the other times it was horrible. BL1 put you more or less right into the action, even gave you a nice hidden loot crate SECONDS after you got off the wagon.

    That’s the game overall, really. It drags on too much with higher quality loot being too sparingly given compared to its predecessor.

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