Borderlands 2: When Writing and Gameplay Are Dependant On Each Other

I wasn’t planning on writing anything for Borderlands 2 but I figured I should probably say something since it stole 90+ hours from me. With this in mind, I still had quite a bit of difficulty in deciding what I wanted to write about. After all, Borderlands 2 doesn’t tell a particularly deep story and there is very little character growth. The fact that i had to play a single player run just so i could see the story speaks volumes, everyone I’ve played with skips most of the quest dialogue so they can get back to the “shoot, loot, level” mechanics. I almost wrote about these very mechanics but there just isn’t enough to talk about since Borderlands 1 had pretty much perfected the gameplay already. Sure the weapons were tweaked(launchers actually are useful as group damage now) and elemental weapons work a million times better. (Just a side note, for those who aren’t aware and are curious. Search for tech pools and elemental multiplier for Borderlands 1. Elemental weapons were oddly designed and used hidden stats. The streamlined “% to proc” and “DMG/sec” mechanics in BL2 are a lot clearer to the player and make more sense from a modern RPG perspective). But as a whole the formula for BL2 isn’t that much different from BL1. So I began to focus on my favorite aspect of Borderlands: the writing, and specifically Handsome Jack. This led me to realize something I had already known but never acknowledged.

Gearbox is a master of creating worlds and lore.

This is the small piece, the seemingly irrelevant cog, that propels Borderlands from being a simple mash up of loot grind RPG and FPS to being a game that stands on its own laurels. Attention is poured into every aspect of Pandora. The characters have histories that usually overlap with others. The environments are scattered with details that fit all within the narrative. Even the enemies are a by products of the events that happened on Pandora. ECHO Comms are located throughout Pandora that give background info to everything from insignificant support characters to major events and even the playable characters themselves. Yes, Gearbox also does fantastic humor within their game as well, not to mention the inclusion of a ridiculous amount of pop culture references, but it doesn’t compare to the quality of the lore. Pandora is a place that has been lived in. Bandits, large corporations, maniacs, wild beasts, psychopaths, megalomaniacs, leaders, sirens, assassins, testosterone fueled madmen, insane doctors. Everyone on Pandora has transformed it with their actions, small or large, and Gearbox has captured and conveyed every change, documented it in a quick bit of dialogue or a hidden ECHO.

To that end I must say that most characters feel real. Outside of the playable characters, who are empty shells, characters have emotions, flaws, relationships, and histories. The voice acting is also top notch which is one of the key pieces to making the characters who they are. Because of the work put into the characters I was drawn to both sadness and anger throughout the story.

The death of blood wing and the capturing of Lilith were two emotional portions of the game for me. It could be that my very first encounter with Borderlands 1 was with Lilith and my most recent play through(played a week before I started BL2) was with Mordecai. Whatever the reason though, I wanted Jack dead because of these two moments. Before either of these events accused I felt nothing towards him. I actually liked his sarcasm and thought his character to be beautifully written. I only wanted to kill him because that is what the game was leading me towards. The death of Blood wing was a turning point though.

Killing Jack wasn’t an objective anymore, it was a vendetta. Very few games pull me in like this and I attribute it directly to the fantastic writing and believable characters. The more I played and saw the more I wanted to learn. What is this place? Why do these people do what they do? What happened after the Vault was last opened? Gearbox answered all of the questions while keeping a very strong sense of canon. The only crime is that many people skip over it in search of that next better piece of loot.

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