Die Another Play: Borderlands 2 Review
Written by Jen Stayrook
This is Die Another Play, where every other week I play a new game and rate what it’s like to die in the virtual world.
I’ve been playing games for most of my life and because of this, I consider myself an experienced, albeit sometimes bad, gamer. More than that, I’m quite adept at killing my characters—the George R. R. Martin of gamers, if you will.
Today I’m rating Borderlands 2, the foul-mouthed FPS RPG LOL (I needed a third one) game from Gearbox Software, published by 2K Games. As you may have guessed from that little number, Borderlands 2 is, in fact, a sequel. Personally, I don’t think it’s necessary to have played the first Borderlands. Jump on in. Shoot shit. Have fun. The main story’s compelling (leaps and bounds better than its predecessor), but it’s the characters that keep you enthralled.
VERY BASIC PLOT OUTLINE FOR THOSE YET TO PLAY THE GAME:
Maybe it’s best if I let Handsome Jack explain:
Hey, kiddo. Jack here—president of Hyperion. Lemme explain how things work here: Vault Hunter shows up. Vault hunter looks for the new vault. Vault Hunter gets killed. By me. Seeing the problem here? You’re still alive. So, if you could just do me a favor and off yourself, that’d be great. Thanks, pumpkin.
Of course, Handsome Jack fails in his attempts to kill you throughout the game, presumably because he’d rather gift you the beauty of hearing his voice for a few more days.
I think that’s rather kind of him.
Sharing time! I’m a creature of habit, so there are two things that apply to me when it comes to most games: I loathe melee because it frightens me (see my scaredy-cat Dishonored review) and I’m not a fan of mage-like abilities. I’m squishy and don’t enjoy complicated mechanics, at least not when I have the option of wielding a gun. THEREFORE, when I play games like Borderlands 2, 90% of the time, I’m an Axton/Roland character. Let the turret take out the big dudes with scary faces, and I’ll pick off the Psychos before they slobber all over my bright orange camo.
This is my turret. There are many like it, but this one is mine.
Like its precursor, dying early on in Borderlands 2 blows like a prepubescent boy into an SNES cartridge of Super Mario Bros. 3. You have no money. Your guns are garbage and you may as well be shooting tobacco spit into a tin can. Pa-ting. Pa-ting. Ammo is sparse. Sometimes you’re even forced to use a—shudder—shotgun. How barbaric.
Luckily, Hyperion has gifted the player with New-U stations, which are able to reconstruct your body in the event of “accidental death or dismemberment.” For a fee, of course. Even so, once you grind past the first dozen sucky deaths, you start making money and are able to buy ammo, better guns and shields, and hopefully you’ll die les
Hyperion recommends channeling your post-death frustration into pre-death vengeful anger!
Unlike most games where it rage-sucks to watch your health tank to zero, Borderlands offers a second chance to save face in front of your friends. (Or, in my case, save face in front of my toddler because he must know that I am, and always will be, the best gamer he’s ever seen.) Should you lose your shield and health, you’re given one more chance to stay alive, IF you can make a kill in short amount of allotted time. Make a kill, get a second wind, and try not to die. Again.
As I hinted at above, Borderlands 2 improves upon the former game with the expansion of its characters. Pandora is a bleak planet with few cities. Wide open and littered with skags, psychos, and suicidal midgets, it isn’t exactly a beacon of hope. It should be depressing and sullen, but it isn’t. I found myself drawn to the unique personalities of Ellie, Roland, Lilith, and of course, Tiny Tina. I gave a shit about staying alive and saving Pandora because they were so gosh darn likeable. Even when the story takes a dark turn with a few unexpected deaths, the characters keep the game from being too dismal. It’s comical and hopeful in a sadistic, murderous kind of way.
TL;DR: Here’s a breakdown of how I rate the death in Borderlands 2*:
Importance of protagonist’s death: 3
Hat-tip to the writers for bringing back the four vault-hunters from the original, and then writing them as interesting NPCs, but let’s be honest: the current playable four characters (six, if you have the DLCs) are just gun-caddies. And that’s okay. You choose your character based on abilities. However, if Axton—if that’s even his real name—dies, I don’t care. I only care about the money spent to resurrect him. Since you do have to pay 7% of your hard-earned stolen money to be respawned, there is some repercussion to dying. Now if I could play as Handsome Jack, THEN we’d have some attachment. He is the goddamn hero of the story, after all.
Amount of death and gore in the game: 5
The Borderlands logo is a Psycho mimicking suicide with blood spatters behind his head. Despite the explicit logo—and the fact that you can grind all manner of beasts into roadkill while simultaneously mass-firing a rocket launcher—there isn’t much gore in the game. You’ll die. And you’ll kill bandits. Kill shots to the head spray blood, but thankfully, Gearbox isn’t insane with any of the death animations, which keeps the game more light-hearted. (With a few tweaks, it could easily be gruesome.)
Death frustration (or how likely I am to want to rage quit): 6
UGH. I just paid $2,400 to be digistructed but now I’ve spawned outside the boss area—WHERE THEY ARE STILL FIGHTING—and before I can launch my turret, I’m dead again because I don’t put skill points into useful shit like shield or health. Nooooooooooooooo. I put it into the turret. WITHOUT MY TURRET I AM NOTHING. Nothing but a meatbag with purple hair, riddled with bullet wounds.
Nevertheless, the game saves often enough, so that’s nice. Generous of Hyperion to reanimate my corpse, even though its president wants me dead.
Borderlands 2 is a witty, loveable game with high replay value. It taunts you with death so much throughout that when it happens it’s more of an oopsie than a OH, *#&!!! Yet, make no mistake, there are powerful deaths in-game. Borderlands 2 tows the line between “heartfelt death” and “for shits and giggles kills,” and manages to blend the two masterfully.
*Note: The process for calculating these ratings is far too complicated to explain without the help of Neil deGrasse Tyson. Trust me when I say it is incredibly scientific and not at all biased.
AS A BONUS, here are some of my favorite Handsome Jack quotes. I do it because I care about all of you.
“(munching on pretzels) So, how’s your day been, buddy? We haven’t really talked much since I left you for dead. Hey, you think you’ll freeze to death out there? Nah, probably not. The bandits’ll get you first. My day? It’s been pretty good. I just bought a pony made of diamonds, because I’m rich. So, you know. That’s cool. Kay, bye.”
“See, this is what I don’t get about you bad guys. You know the hero’s gonna win, but you never just die quickly– man, this one guy in New Haven, right? City’s burning, people dying, blah blah blah. This guy rushes me with a spoon. A fricking spoon. And I’m just laughing. So I scoop out his eyeballs with it, and his kids are all, “aghhhhh!,” and, ah…you had to be there. Anyway, the moral is: you’re a bitch.”
“Be honest with yourself, kid. Do you really think you can stop me? I am smarter than you. I don’t mean to condescend, that’s just a fact.“Condescend” is a word that means “talk down to.” You got that, kitten?”