As-I-Play Borderlands 2: Oops (Part Two)

So the theme of this post is about me making mistakes.

First mistake – not remembering (like a total n00b) to check what the buttons on my controller do every time I level up. Turns out, I have a fun power that I didn’t realize I had and that I’ve probably been able to use for quite some time. As a Siren, I get what amount to psionic powers (and I’ve just realized I totally missed out on an opportunity to name my Siren Moira after the lost XCOM soldier who sacrificed herself to create a black hole…). One of them I figured out early on: I have a supercharged melee punch that electrocutes people and bullymongs when I hit them.

As it happens, I also have the ability to trap an enemy in a stasis bubble for something like 15 seconds. This would have been very useful to know. (Left button on the 360 controller, in case you’re playing along.) So upon accidentally hitting it while roaming aimlessly through the wintry countryside smashing green glowing ice blobs and shooting bullymongs, I was a little annoyed at myself for not finding it sooner… but also, honestly, a little annoyed at the game for not telling me when I acquired it.

While generally speaking I hate tutorials, I also like to know when I have new options in my virtual life, and would appreciate the game telling me things – like “oh, hey, you can jump!” and “oh, hey, you can create a forcefield to hold your enemy in stasis for a little bit so you can shoot them!”

I really like putting them in a stasis bubble and headshotting them with the sniper rifle. Also very useful when I encounter the Badass Psycho, who otherwise would have murdered me in about two seconds flat.

On to my second mistake – getting stuck.

I was first really introduced to FPS games by my (then future) husband with Thief. Sure, way back in the day I played Doom and Duke Nukem, but I was so terrible (and also didn’t play them at home, but, rather, at Network Underground, and therefore infrequently) that I don’t really count that as my true introduction to FPS gaming. In Thief, you can – and my husband did – play as a complete sneak, keeping to the shadows and blackjacking everyone into unconsciousness rather than killing people, and you can also climb everything. I like climbing things. I’m not always that great at it, but if it looks like I should be able to climb it, I will go out of my way to do so.

This often simply means I end up hopping up and down like an idiot against a blocking volume somewhere or falling to my death, although it has its payoff moments, such as in Skyrim, where you can bunnyhop your way up a vertical cliff… only to turn around and discover that Farcas is stuck halfway up the cliff and your dog has fallen to its death… but that’s another story.

At any rate, Borderlands 2 allows for a good deal of exploration, but it isn’t really designed for someone raised on Thief. So in an attempt to get on top of a set of large pipes after I got my first car (yay vehicle!), I managed to get stuck between an iceberg, a metal transport crate, and a grate. And I mean STUCK. Game-stopping stuck. Give my husband (who spent more than a year as a professional game-tester and is therefore very good at getting himself into and out of weird spaces in videogames) the controller for a half hour and watch him waste all my ammo and grenades trying to blow himself out. Still end up stuck.

This is what the industry calls a progression blocker. It’s when something happens – usually the player’s fault – that inhibits the player from making forward progress in the game, either because they’ve managed to lose or destroy an object they need to continue or because they’ve gotten (like me) thoroughly stuck. These are the things that should not ever make it into final games, because they frustrate players more than anything else.

Exit game. Reload and end up back where I’d started because I hadn’t passed a save point. Le sigh.

It’s one thing if you die or if you screw up a mission and have to replay it because you weren’t good enough or you made a poor choice. It’s another thing entirely if you have to lose progress because the game itself won’t let you proceed. Sure, you could argue that I was doing something stupid by hopping around on snowbanks, but I shouldn’t be able to stop myself from doing anything in the process. If I fall off, fine. But getting stuck? Not cool.

Get back to that same spot again, and debate whether or not to try one more time. Decide against it and move on.

And now I have a car. I have a lot of associations with vehicles in games, most of them negative. I have distinct memories from Halo: Reach of playing co-op with my usual group and having a certain person who shall remain nameless run me over. Repeatedly. Sometimes while trying to let me get in the car. This also happened in Borderlands and Halo: ODST and Gears… You get the idea.

I, to quote Rainman, am an excellent driver.

I just can’t shoot anything from inside a moving vehicle. This means that my standard tactic – here, as in Mass Effect, although these cars are infinitely better than the Mako, which was designed by demons in the sixth level of Hell – is to drive up to something and either run it over (if it’s small enough) or to pull up behind some cover and then proceed to shoot it to death with my sniper rifle. Sometimes this works great (as with bullymongs). Sometimes it means I spend a VERY LONG time picking something’s health down from afar. But that’s how I roll.

So I do this for a while, driving through the wasteland of Pandora and stopping periodically to shoot bullymongs and raks (flying pterodactyl things) and to open boxes. ALL THE BOXES. At some point I got bored enough with that to actually bother to follow my map’s directions to Sanctuary (which I constantly read in a Quasimodo voice). I get there, I kill the bandits outside the gate, and then Roland – “childe Roland to the dark tower came” – tells me to go find someone before he’ll let me in.

Yay! Fetch mission! (Not yay, in case you missed that.)

Now I know that games need missions, and that fetch missions are pretty standard, but I’m starting to think that maybe game designers rely a little too heavily on them. I’ve already fetched Claptrap’s eye (and thank GOD he’s not talking to me or being in my way right now), fetched some bullymong fur, fetched an ECHO recording, fetched a component to hack the car machine, and now I have to go fetch a dude. That’s a lot of fetching. I feel a bit like a blue-haired golden retriever.

Having hit one too many fetch missions for the time being, I’m going to put off going to find this next one until next time.

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Comments (3)

Aw, c’mon! How can you not like Claptrap? The only reason he sounds like that is because he was programmed to. He’s actually quite depressed. 😀

If you look under “Options” and select “Controller” it will give you a controller map showing what each buttons does (and you can customize the buttons to some extent.) Also, the game did tell you when you got your Phaselock power: you had to actively assign your very first skill point to it – the big one that’s above all the other skill trees.

That may well be true – but I’ve come to expect that games will provide “training” on new things; either an opportunity to immediately use a power, or a pop-up that explains it when it’s been activated. At this level, games are expected to provide that information in-game rather than requiring us to dig into a menu and memorize buttons before they actually work.

This isn’t to say that I didn’t miss those components – I did. But I do think it’s poor or lazy (or last-minute, which I admit is probably the most likely scenario) design to not make those things more obvious to the average player (who is generally even less aware than I am).

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