Friday, January 18, 2019

Borderlands 2's Downloadable Content

A few years back, I purchased and played Borderlands 1, and found it to be...okay. Certainly not the wildly hilarious and epic adventure that the people recommending it to me promised, but enjoyable enough, mostly. I guess. The DLC scene for Borderlands 1, however, was fairly bad, and certainly overpriced by its original rates.

Well, I’ve now played Borderlands 2 from start to finish, and I have to admit, I find it a substantial improvement on its predecessor. The comical tone that the first game struggled to get right has finally been correctly hit here, the characters involved are more numerous and far better (even the returning NPCs who were highly uninteresting in the first game, can now extract a chuckle or 2 from me), and the story, as well as the villain, is so much better this time around. So, then, the question is: did the Downloadable Content for Borderlands 2 improve, as well?

Let’s find out.



Mechromancer and Psycho Packs: These each add a new playable protagonist to the game, those being Gaige and Krieg. It doesn’t really make a huge difference, honestly, given that the protagonist of Borderlands 2 doesn’t really have a whole lot of personalized interaction with the story--their flavor dialogue is unique, of course, but generally expresses the same ideas, and only rarely actually relates to the events of the game’s plot and characters.

On the other hand, of the 6 protagonists introduced in Borderlands 2, Gaige and Krieg are the only ones who are especially interesting or memorable. Yeah, Axton, Maya, Salvador, and Zer0 all tow the line just fine in a plot that neither expects nor requires much of them to be functional, but Gaige and Krieg are just leagues above them in terms of personality and amusing quips.

On the other other hand, though, each of these add-ons costs $10 if you haven’t gotten the Game of the Year edition, and that...is way, way too much. Like I said, this game ultimately doesn’t really require a lot of personal, spoken interaction from its protagonist in order to do what it needs to; you only really get specific characterization for Borderlands 2’s Vault Hunter in some of the DLCs below, rather than seeing much in the game proper. So even though Gaige and Kreig are my favorite characters of Borderlands 2’s protagonists--indeed, the only ones I honestly even especially give a crap about--I would have to say that, if you don’t have a version of the game with automatic access to them, then $10 isn’t worth it. At least, not in terms of narrative content. How much you value alternative methods of gameplay, which both character provides, may influence whether or not either of these characters feels worth it for you.

Anyway, enough of the character add-ons. Let’s get to the meat of the game’s DLC: the campaigns and quests.


Captain Scarlett and her Pirate’s Booty: To start us off, we get...this. Sigh.

Okay, so, this DLC has some good characteristics. Well...it has 1. Captain Scarlett herself is engaging and mildly funny, and I wound up really liking her, personally. As a villain, she’s certainly no Handsome Jack, and as a companionable commentator, she doesn’t really measure up to several of the main game’s cast, but still, Scarlett keeps you amused well enough, to the extent that her role allows.

Aside from Captain Scarlett herself, however, this is just a pretty dull miniature adventure. The plot pretty much just sucks: you go to a new area of Pandora to find a pirate treasure, and Captain Scarlett helps you do so, then betrays you. That’s pretty much it. The plot throws no curveballs save elongating some tasks with extra, small quests within them, and the motivation and ideas are just not compelling. I mean, honestly, it’s practically no different from the main plot of Borderlands 1: go to a desolate place, search for a special treasure, deal with the stuff keeping you from it, get betrayed. It wasn’t interesting then, it’s not interesting now. And just like in Borderlands 1, most of the supporting cast feels forced and 1-dimensional. Besides Scarlett--and I want to clarify that while she’s very likeable, she ain’t an amazing character herself--all you get in this DLC are boring characters like Shade, whose 1 joke is stretched so far that it would have gotten old quickly even if it were funny to begin with, that old guy whose obsession with Scarlett is not nearly as entertaining as the writers clearly believed it to be, and some robot that wants to censor stuff, whose ironic humor is weak at best. There’s just no substance here. Nothing’s awful, but almost nothing is good, either.

Captain Scarlett and her Pirate’s Booty was sold for $8 initially, which makes it less costly than the Borderlands 1 DLC packages that I decried, and I appreciate that to an extent. Nonetheless, still not worth it. By virtue of Scarlett, I guess this add-on might be worth, I dunno...$2? $3? But certainly not anywhere close to $8.


Mr. Torgue’s Campaign of Carnage: Sigh. Again. I don’t know whether this is a step up or down from the first DLC.

On the good side, there’s Mr. Torgue. He’s funny, and his humor is long-lived enough to sustain the entirety of this little adventure. Plus, it’s kind of neat to meet him at all, as 1 of the major corporate figures of the Borderlands universe, and, so far, the only 1 that doesn’t totally suck. And at least this time around, you’ve got a few familiar faces along for the ride in Mad Moxxi and Tiny Tina, which is a good sight better than the new and unfunny characters of the last add-on.

On the bad side...the plot sucks, again, with no more depth or purpose than Captain Scarlett’s Pirate Booty’s story had. In fact, it’s a bit worse, because the payoff of Mr. Torgue’s Campaign of Carnage is that after completing it, you get the riches of a Vault, and...they’re not impressive. It’s basically just an explosion of loot and money. Which is nice and all, but this is a Vault! Its wonders are meant to be unexpected and amazing, challenging and leaping beyond the ken of mortal men. Seeing the storied focus of the Borderlands universe reduced to a normal boss payoff is underwhelming, and even a bit damaging to the lore of the games. Additionally, the villain for this adventure, Piston, is very boring and unimaginative,* and the secondary bad guys are no better. Lastly, while I appreciate the use of Moxxi and Tina, I have to say, surprisingly little is really done with them. Mad Moxxi’s just there to perform her plot role and has little else to contribute, and you could honestly just cut Tiny Tina out of the DLC entirely, and it would have no noticeable effect. Which is very strange, because you’d think an add-on story about an explosion-loving madman running a tournament would be a perfect environment for Moxxi and Tina’s characters to thrive in!

So in the end? Not worth the original $10 asking price. Not even close.


Sir Hammerlock’s Big Game Hunt: Sigh x3.

Okay, so...I guess this is a step up? Professor Nakayama is a little more amusing than Captain Scarlett was as a villain and a hell of a lot better than Piston, and there is, I guess, something a little closer to an actual plot, this time around, unlike the previous 2 DLCs. Also, Nakayama is not forced to shoulder the entirety of the entertainment burden the way Scarlett was, and in the way that Torgue turned out to be, in that this DLC also unexpectedly involves Claptrap, who is always good for a chuckle or 2.

But ultimately, Sir Hammerlock’s Big Game Hunt still feels like a complete waste of time. It may be stronger than “Find a Treasure” and “Win a Tournament”, but the plot is nonetheless weak, listless, and predictable. There’s a single twist right at the end, and that’s really just a joke that plays on your expectations of video game conventions, good for a tiny laugh and nothing more. And with such an unremarkable story to work with, the characters and villain in this DLC can’t really do much to liven things up. In the end, this DLC, much like the last couple, doesn’t feel like a new side story to Borderlands 2 so much as it does just an excuse to extend your playtime. $10 for this? What a ripoff.


Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep: Finally! Now this is what I’m talking about!

Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep is great. Just a solid, hard score of Great from me. 2 thumbs up, absolutely. The premise for this DLC is a lot of fun and a creative new approach to Borderlands. The story to it is good, and on a meta-level, it’s very good. It’s engaging and fun throughout, inviting back almost all the major characters of Borderlands 2’s main campaign and using them to their strengths--not to mention, it also brings in Mr. Torgue again, which is a nice bonus, because as disappointing as the previous DLC packages have been, he was definitely a diamond in their rough. It’s funny, with plenty of sidequests that poke fun at the fantasy genre and RPGs, and make fun references (without going too overboard with them, thankfully) to various aspects of geekdom, including even an interesting little look at how longtime geeks feel about this decade’s trend toward nerdy culture becoming more mainstream and finding more socially popular kinds of people experimenting with it. This DLC even has your Vault Hunter say a few lines now and then specific to her/him! It’s a small thing, but it’s something I wish had been done more in the regular game.

Lastly and most noteworthy, Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep is a great use and exploration of the major characters of Borderlands 2. In being a retrospective of the game’s own events, this DLC provides great character development for Tiny Tina, and some decent development for Lilith, Brick, and Mordecai, and it does so with skill both overt and subtle--the scene at the end, as the Handsome Sorcerer is defeated, is a great, well-written piece of obvious character development for Tina and the others, but there’s a lot of dialogue throughout the campaign that subtly reflects the DLC’s purpose and the characters’ development, too. I really love some of the dialogue that the Sorcerer’s Daughter screams while you’re fighting her, very quietly insightful about what this whole DLC’s really about.

Honestly, there is nothing about this DLC not to love. It’s fun, it captures the best aspects of Borderlands 2 perfectly, it’s refreshing, it deepens the characters and lore, it’s silly but also moving...this is 1 of the best RPG add-ons I’ve come across, without question. I don’t even care what the asking price originally was for Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep: it was worth it. This is the perfect final note to this game.

What a damn shame it wasn’t actually the last Borderlands 2 DLC.


T.K. Baha’s Bloody Harvest: I have no idea why this exists.

Okay, fine, that’s not accurate. I know darn well that this DLC exists because capitalism is a bloated, horrific nightmare that’s allowed to grow to its nonexistent heart’s content in the video game industry. Some executive at Gearbox Software decided that he’d rather use twenties than tissues as his cum rags, and so this, and every add-on below, was hastily slapped together.

What I meant was, I have no idea why, from a perspective of actually giving a shit about artistic integrity of storytelling, this exists. It’s a boring, roundabout “Go Here, Kill X” quest with a Halloween theme that involves a minor character who got killed off about 5 minutes into Borderlands 1. There’s no point to this, there’s not much in the way of humor, and frankly, a halfhearted coat of Halloween paint doesn’t actually add anything to the Borderlands 2 experience.

But worse than the fact that this is at best an appetizer of an adventure devoid of any good qualities, is that it’s all that, after Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep. As I said, TTAoDK is, as a DLC, basically the perfect final note for Borderlands 2 to end upon, a closing to a solid game that manages to be pleasingly fresh, comically signature, and meaningfully retrospective to Borderlands 2. So while T.K. Baha’s Bloody Harvest would be a throwaway bit of drudgery under normal circumstances, the fact that it comes after what is clearly and perfectly the end of Borderlands 2’s events just all the more brightly highlights how utterly superfluous and unwelcome this DLC is, how obvious a careless cash-grab that proves its creators value avariciously scamming their benefactors out of more money more than they value the dignity of their art.

This is overpriced at $3, it was overpriced at the $1 sale price I paid for it, and you will miss absolutely goddamn nothing by avoiding it. This is basically the third season to Borderlands 2’s Rurouni Kenshin.


The Horrible Hunger of the Ravenous Wattle Gobbler: This is...well...it’s just as unnecessary as the last little DLC, but I guess this one’s got enough going for it that it’s not completely worthless. It’s a mildly amusing little Thanksgiving-themed sidequest, which, honestly, you wouldn’t think would work better than the Halloween theme of the last DLC, but somehow it does. I mean, it’s not hilarious, but Mister Torgue, its central figure, is always good for a chuckle or 2, and while they feel like a stretch, I am, ultimately, a sucker for Hunger Games references, and they do strangely sort of fit. But what makes The Horrible Hunger of the Ravenous Wattle Gobbler decent is the fact that it actually has a little bit of story to its events, and that it advances the Borderlands lore, even if only a little bit. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this tiny nugget of an adventure is worth the $3 asking price, but if you can get The Horrible Hunger of the Ravenous Wattle Gobbler on sale (I got it for only $1, myself), then it’s enjoyable enough to be worth picking up.


How Marcus Saved Mercenary Day: There’s a couple halfway decent jokes here, but overall, this Christmas-themed DLC has just about nothing to offer. The overall quest is dull, there’s not really any sense of purpose to it, and the new character is a really overdone Christmas personality caricature. Most of all, the personality holding the whole DLC together is Marcus. With how frequently Marcus is involved in Borderlands 2’s events, I get the feeling that the writers have grossly overestimated how much players care about this guy--he’s not funny, he’s not interesting, he’s not likable. T.K. Baha wasn’t a strong enough or important enough figure that he should have had his own DLC, but at least that guy is friendly. Marcus just has nothing about him that makes an audience give half a shit about him, and having him as the narrative mainstay of this adventure is a point against it. Save your money, even the paltry $3 this would cost, and avoid How Marcus Saved Mercenary Day.


Mad Moxxi and the Wedding Day Massacre: I guess this one’s alright. This little wedding-themed DLC sees a conclusion to the feud between the Hodunks and Zafords, so it does, I guess, actually advance the lore somewhat...although I’m not sure whether anyone actually cares about that subplot enough to warrant a DLC focus. Mad Moxxi’s the main narrative figure in this adventure, and she’s able to carry it fairly well and keep it interesting--which, I guess, makes this her best moment in Borderlands to this point. Ellie’s there, too, a little, and she’s as middle-of-the-road okay as ever. Still, there’s some content here that reaches higher than average, at least, like the happy couple’s bickering, which is funny, the amusingly unexpected (yet somehow obvious) use of Shakespeare right at the end, and, most importantly, quite a few lines of monologue and dialogue spoken by your Vault Hunter. The protagonists of this game get precious little in the way of development within the game itself (especially poor Gaige and Krieg), so these lines are quite welcome, especially since a few of them actually develop the characters while they crack wise.**

I don’t know whether a few decent laughs and some snippets of rare character dialogue are really worth the full $3, but I reckon that Mad Moxxi and the Wedding Day Massacre is at least worth getting on sale, as I did.


Sir Hammerlock vs. the Son of Crawmerax: This is the final DLC for Borderlands 2, and it’s...eh. Not bad, I guess. It, like everything after Tiny Tina’s DLC, is just a very short stint more akin to a sidequest than an actual adventure. The main quest for this add-on is rescuing Hammerlock from the son of the big monster from the first game, and it depends way too hard on the strength of your nostalgia for that final big, repeatable boss battle in Borderlands 1. For anyone but a diehard fan of the first game who grinded for hours against Crawmerax, the main affair of this DLC is nothing of interest.

With that said, a lot of the peripheral stuff in this DLC is pretty good. Hammerlock is so-so, as he always has been, but most of the narrative dialogue in this mini-adventure is done through Lilith, Mordecai, and Brick. I’ve become fond of their dynamic, and in addition to being funny, it also advances the lore a bit here and there for them. I’m also pleased with the fact that there are, again, unique lines of monologue for each Vault Hunter as you go through the quests in this DLC, providing decent little snippets of character development/reinforcement (Gaige, as usual, is the best). Lastly, the secondary quest to this DLC involves the Borderlands 2 main characters personally, which is a good way to get in a last little bit of character-building for them. And as I said before, that’s something they all desperately need more of.

I am, admittedly, a little miffed that this is the last DLC to the game. It’s fine enough as a finale to these miniature holiday-themed sidequest-styled add-ons, sure, but as I said above, Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep is the perfect DLC to serve as the epilogue to Borderlands 2, and while there have been some merits to some of these minor packs that came after, we could have done just fine without any of them. That said, however, on its own merit, Sir Hammerlock vs. the Son of Crawmerax isn’t all that bad for its side content, so I suppose it, like the Thanksgiving and Wedding Day DLCs, is worth it if you can get it on sale.



And with that, I close the book on my Borderlands 2 experience. What’s the verdict? Well, much like comparing Borderlands 1 and 2 as a whole, I find Borderlands 2’s DLCs to be a noticeable step up from the first game. Borderlands 1’s add-ons weren’t all bad, but none were actually worth what they cost, and most weren’t even worth the reduced 25% that I paid for them. Borderlands 2, at least, has 1 add-on that’s actually worth its price of admission, and we did get the recurring character of Mr. Torgue from these things, which is a bonus, even if his main DLC package wasn’t worth it. So Borderlands 2’s DLC landscape is a marked improvement over the first game.

But with that said, when not compared to its predecessor and just judged on its own, Borderlands 2 has a subpar DLC gallery. The majority of these things are just not worth the money, and frankly, even if they were free, a few of these things still wouldn’t even be worth the time. Most of the ones that aren’t just an outright mistake to play through still would only be worth buying for a significantly reduced sale price. Yes, there is Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep, and that DLC absolutely is great...but no matter how high quality it is, the fact remains that it is the only 1 out of 9 add-ons that actually hit its mark. That’s still better than some games I’ve played, sadly enough, but it’s not acceptable, especially when the high quality of that 1 DLC proves that they were capable of far better. I give Borderlands 2 a thumbs-up overall, but as a whole, its DLC scene doesn’t cut it.

I still miss The Witcher 3.









* Also, I have to say, it really annoys me that they use the same damn joke twice in a row with him. When Captain Scarlett is introduced, her title card amusingly tells you straight up that she is totally gonna betray you. It’s kind of funny that the game’s self-aware enough that it’s gonna spoil what it knows is an obvious plot twist anyway. But then in this DLC, soon after Piston is introduced, Mr. Torgue comments on how obvious it is that the guy is gonna betray you. Once is funny enough to let it slide, but twice? Twice in a row? Really, Borderlands 2?


** What in the world does Gaige see in Hammerlock?

2 comments:

  1. I got 2 pieces of DLC for this game: Mechromancer and Dragon's Keep. The first because the variant gameplay and character personality really filled out my checklist of peculiar wants, and the second because I'd already heard so much about it.

    Mechromancer is still my favorite style of FPS full stop, and Dragon's Keep was good enough that I happily fired the game up for another playthrough as a whacky mage wannabe with the DLC's spell-type grenade mods.

    I was gifted a GOTY edition with all the DLC at some point in the future, and didn't get too excited over the Torgue arena DLC, and never got around to playing the rest.


    What in the world does Gaige see in Hammerlock?

    He's a man of science with a prosthetic limb. Obviously.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ...Wow, that actually makes so much sense. I can't believe I never made the connection before! Good observation, my man.

      Delete