by Kristin Bezio
It’s been a long time since I played the first Borderlands, but I liked it. In fact, when one of our regular team disappeared into the ether and another one decided he’d rather play it with his brother, I made my husband finish the game with me. And when he quit in disgust at the disappointment that was the Vault, I played through every single side quest remaining by myself. That’s how much I liked it.
Since the player-with-his-brother has already played Borderlands 2, the AWOL player probably won’t ever play it, and the husband wants nothing to do with it (other than buying it for me), I’m going to play it all by myself. And you get to follow along!
So I am one of four Vault Hunters on the alien planet of Pandora.
The opening cinematic shows the four companions barreling through the Pandoran landscape on a crazy futuristic train, until the man who hired them mocks them for thinking they’re heroes, and blows up the train. There’s some cool examples of the kinds of combat they can do – especially Zero – so that when you’re asked to choose which one you’re going to play, you have a sense of what you’re getting yourself into.
I can choose between the Commando (the good-looking male hero), the Gunzerker (think Heavy from Team Fortress 2 with crazy facial hair), the Assassin (its name is Zero and I’m not entirely certain it is either human or organic), and the Siren (think some sort of psionic hot chick). I really debated this one. I like sniping. A lot. But I also like psionic powers. And elemental weapons (guns that set things on fire!). A lot. I also generally don’t like playing female characters, but this one has blue hair, and I’m a fan of blue hair.
There was agonizing.
I went with the Siren. I named her Serqet (her default name is Maya), and chose the “head” option that I earned for having played the first game (aviator goggles and short boyish hair). I have been promised a sniper rifle as a reward for collecting the fur of these weird four-armed monster beasts, though, and I plan to use it.
I wake up in the snow (not a desert, okay) to the chirping of the trademark robot from the series, a CL4P-TP, or “Claptrap.” Claptrap does not shut up. Ever. I mean EVER. If I wander away from him, a HUD pops up so that he can keep talking to me. He calls me “minion.” He takes me to his snowcave where I can begin the essential core of Borderlands gameplay – looting boxes.
I am not in the least surprised that looting takes up most of my time, at least thus far. There are little ice piles that can be looted. Little boxes. Big boxes. Barrels. I half expect Claptrap to yell “Loot all the things!” at some point. But that’s fine. I don’t mind looting, even though I’ve managed to completely fill my inventory of ammo and health in the first five minutes.
One of the giant fisty monster things jumps through a convenient hole in the ceiling (Claptrap is a robot and probably doesn’t care how cold it is, after all, although the half dozen frozen human-sicles in his house might have minded), grabs Claptrap, and rips out his electronic eye. First quest. Find the damn eye.
This means following the robot around while it bumps into and falls off of things. This is the intro mission, so I get to meet the various sizes of four-armed snow monsters (which are called Bullymongs) and kill them. Eventually, we find the big one and kill it, then find Sir Hammerlock (and kill a bunch of thugs) to put Claptrap’s eye back in.
At this point, the game becomes much more like Borderlands, which is to say that I am choosing from a variety of missions presented to me by Claptrap and Sir Hammerlock. Go kill the Bullymongs over here. Go fetch this thing. Go do that thing. I’ve mostly remained in the same area, killing thugs and Bullymongs and looting all the things.
I did several other smaller missions, then proceeded with the next main mission, going to Flynt’s really cool dragon ship in the sky to reclaim Claptrap’s “ship” (more like a large lifeboat) so that we could sail to Sanctuary.
The gameplay isn’t complex; shoot some things, loot some boxes. I did get a good sniper rifle from Sir Hammerlock, though, and I love sniping. Love it. One of the reasons I chose the Siren over the Assassin (sniper class) is because I knew I could get a sniper rifle anyway – I just hope that I can find one that also sets things on fire.
At any rate, after following/chasing/rescuing Claptrap (robot in distress?) from Flynt’s goons, then climbing up to the top of the Dragon ship, it was time to kill Flynt. For that, I was less thrilled about having a sniper rifle. Especially when the floor under me opened up and set me on fire.
So one of the mechanics in Borderlands is that if you get knocked down (“killed”), you have a few seconds to kill something in order to revive yourself. This is easy enough when you have a pistol or shotgun, but rather difficult with a sniper rifle, since you can’t zoom in and get a headshot. So… I died. After spending a lot time picking at Flynt, I did finally kill him from a corner where I couldn’t get set on fire, but it was very time consuming. I feel like I needed a better weapon, or possibly a rocket launcher (or maybe three teammates, but I’m doing this solo).
Flynt dead, Claptrap and I went and got on his “ship” to head to Sanctuary.
Now for the most part, Borderlands does okay with gender, for a videogame. Sure, Maya has a clingy outfit, but at least she’s wearing cargo pants and her shirt has a high neck. Of the playable characters, one is female, one is a minority, and one isn’t even human (much less gendered). Sir Hammerlock has a prosthetic (robotic) arm and leg. I haven’t met anyone else yet – at least no one friendly – but I’m sure there will be more in Sanctuary.
But then Claptrap starts talking about being welcomed back to Sanctuary… and the first thing he lists is “ladies.” For a split second, I thought it was okay because the second thing on the list is “dudes,” but then he explains that the dudes have to be “uggos” so that the “ladies” will let him “hump their legs.” Really, Gearbox?
Sure, in the grand scheme of sexism, a blathering misogynist robot isn’t that bad, but there are so many other – non-sexist – things that a weird idiotic robot could have said. Since the rest of the game is so de-sexualized, Claptrap’s remarks are disconcerting and jarring, and, quite frankly, off-putting. It’s not going to make me stop playing… permanently. But it was the end of the night.