As-I-Play Borderlands 2: Launch in 3…2…1… (Part Four)

First, one more non-plot quest to grind some XP and level up before I go report to Scooter.

So I head out to kill some bullymongs for Sir Hammerlock, which he attempts to rename several times over the course of the mission while asking me to kill them with grenades, then by shooting their rocks, and then just killing them. The last name – “bonerfarts” – is rather juvenile, and fortunately the designers aren’t going to keep them, and go back to bullymongs. The fun part is that as I go through the mission, the tags on the creatures change to reflect whatever name Sir Hammerlock is using at the time. Amusing, and worth a few XP, but that’s about it.

Back in Sanctuary, Scooter – who told me I was “like a unicorn” – tells me that it’s time to implement plan B. And by “B” he means “turn Sanctuary into a flying city.” Ooooookay.

Insert fuel cells, Scooter starts the engine… and fail. No surprise there. I guess I have to go to my house (I have a house?) to receive a convenient message from Roland.

Here, Siren! Here, girl! Fetch!

I get to go pick up a key to Roland’s Command Center. Yup. “Command Center.”

Roland’s Command Center is a base of operations for me – he has left a recording that tells me I can use his safe to store things (anything I want to keep but not carry around), and there are lots of things to loot for ammo, etc. In the safe is a message from “Firehawk” saying that Roland has to come to Frostburn Canyon or “people will die.”

Scooter and my AI friend (she’s been periodically interjecting in a very Cortana-esque voice all through the game) tell me that I have to go save him because “While you’re the only one who can stop Jack” – aw, gee, I’m Special! Like a unicorn! – “Roland’s the man with the plan.”

Okay. Go fetch Roland. Kill Firehawk. Got it.

But first, let me attend to the little yellow exclamation points on my map.

First up, Claptrap. He tells me he has a “super secret stash” that he’ll let me use if I complete a massive list of idiotic things (like collecting 100,000+ brown rocks). When I turn around, though, the quest list simply says “find stash.” And since right behind me there’s a pile of trash with a lit-up sign over it saying “Claptrap’s super secret stash,” that doesn’t take long. A cute way to gain XP and money, but the stash isn’t useful to me at all (it’s a place to store things where all my characters can use them – interesting for future playthroughs, since I’d be able to load it with super-awesome weapons, but not useful to me now).

Next, Zed. And that was rather icky. I performed “surgery.” And ripped an eridium shard out of the Hyperion spy (who did threaten to eat Zed’s babies). So Zed sends me to Tannis to get the shard refined.

Now a note that’s only really relevant to me – my “head” (the face I chose for my Siren) is Tannis’s, so it’s like talking to myself. Kinda weird. Especially since Zed remarked that she has a PhD. She also just propositioned me… okay. That’s cool. Give her the shard, and back to Zed, who has a “perfectly legal and not shady job” for me.

I have to go find out what’s causing bullet holes but isn’t a bullet and is owned by one Dr. Mercy. Fun times.

Turns out the answer is – energy weapons! And now I get one. Yay! Zed asks me to test it – for medical research purposes, so I get to shoot bandits with it. So I do that for a while, interspersed with killing skags and fixing a pump.

Then I take on a mail-person mission that at first seems TOTALLY impossible, since I have to deliver five packages in a minute and a half through a large area filled with bandits. Turns out, these bandits don’t respawn. Step one: kill bandits. Step two: leave car at the door to the delivery area, run on foot back to the mission board (and vehicle transport area). Step three: pick up packages. Step four: teleport to my car, jump out immediately, and deliver packages through an abandoned area. Step five: PROFIT! (really).

And now go back to Zed, who very kindly lets me keep an energy gun. New toy!

And no, I still haven’t done that pesky plot mission. But since I now appear to be out of non-plot missions, I guess that’s next up.

Off I go to Frostburn Canyon. On the way I encounter a new breed of enemy – the pyro. Now I’ve been planning to diversify my elemental weapons, and I have a cool one in my inventory, but it’s level 13, and I’m only level 12. So… picking off fire-resistant dudes with fire weapons isn’t fun. I eventually ran at them so that my radioactive shield would damage them. Not the best tactic in the world, but it worked.

Eventually I get both a regular sniper rifle and a small collection of electric weapons so that this becomes less tedious. That’s about the only thing in this mission that’s not tedious. By the halfway point, I’ve gotten lost once, and killed a small civilization’s-worth of nomads, pyro nomads, goliaths, psychos, flaming psychos, badass flaming psychos… and listened to a crazy man blather on and on about the Firehawk, who is apparently some sort of quasi-immortal religious figure.

Like a phoenix, if the bird statues that are dotting the camps are any indication. I’m also starting to suspect that there’s more to this mission than there has been to any of the other go-find-and-kill-a-boss missions. For one thing, there’s a lot more set-up going in to this one. A lot more audio logs left lying about. A lot of emphasis on the fact that the gangs are trying to kill the Firehawk – which is a bit unusual for the bosses, since mostly it’s just the gangs trying to kill me on behalf of a boss.

Also, I’m several hours into the Firehawk mission and only just found point four of seven. If nothing else the sheer level of time and effort that I’ve put into this mission is an indication that this is a Major Plot Quest, not just something to keep me occupied for an extra hour or two to stretch out “gameplay” time.

Kill me. No, not literally. Cuz then I’d have to replay the last two hours of this particular point, which is a lot of spider-bug things.

To be fair to the game, a lot of the spaces I’m moving through are interesting spaces. They have three dimensions – forward, backward, up, down. You loop around the map, over, under, and through. They’re interesting to move through, even when you’re on a path (sort of). That’s one of the things I like about Borderlands games.

But I’m having the same issue with Borderlands 2 that I started to have with Borderlands and Skyrim. I’m just not feeling it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m having fun. But I’m having fun in the “Oh, I’ll play some Borderlands” kind of way, not the “Oh, god, I have to play now – no one talk to me for the next four hours” kind of way. I’m enjoying it, but I’m not invested in it.

I like the world, I like the concept, but between the fetching and the hitting of checkpoints on a path, the missions are getting rather rote. The enemies are all the same – with varying amounts of hit points and weird one-liners. The creatures are all variations on the same theme, whether they’re spider things or bullymongs or what have you. Some ranged onces, some little ones, some normal ones, and some big ones.

And then there’s the narrative. Borderlands has a narrative, it has characters, but what it doesn’t have is pathos. I just can’t bring myself to become invested in any of the people, not even (perhaps especially) myself. The narrative framework is there, but everyone and everything is a caricature, the kind that makes you go “Oh, you’re that archetype,” not the kind that’s droll or ironic or clever.

Maybe I’ve been spoiled by too much BioWare, but I’m a narrative kind of girl, and I just can’t get really attached to a game without some narrative dimension. And Borderlands 2 – at least at this point – just doesn’t have it.

What it does have is lots of things to smash and lots of things to shoot and lots of things to open. And you know what? Sometimes that’s a good way to spend a Friday night.

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