Gaming Like A Sir: Buy Borderlands 2 — An Article Not Secretly Paid For By Gearbox
Seriously, I paid for my own copy of Borderlands 2 and Gearbox had nothing to do with the complimentary Porsche it came in.
Now normally I start these things with a story. And today is no different. I’m a man of the people.
Imagine a cherub-cheeked farm-boy. Imagine he has three freckles on each cheek and big storm-blue eyes. His teeth are a little too big for his little mouth and the one sticks out a little bit. He’s a happy little boy and he loves his friends and his family. He is also lonely, he wants to explore the world and have adventure. His little brother is good for some adventure but sometimes he gets overtired or grumpy and the farm boy has to take him home. It is fun though, the farm boy teaches his brother how to make a sling and throw stones and they spend hours together flinging rocks at cans and trees. Other times the farm boy’s neighbours visit and teach him things. Often the things he learns help him and make him stronger. Other time the things upset him and make him aware of the harshness around him. These things also make him stronger. Things go like this for a while and it is good.
Then one day his farm is attacked by evil demons. Monstrous, slavering creatures fresh from the deepest vats of the most twisted scientists in hell. One creature could kill ten men and hundreds attack the farm. Only the little farm boy, his ailing mother, and his little simpering brother are there. They hide in a bedroom but the abominations snuffle at the door and pant at the window. The farm boy can hear them scratching on the wooden door and snarling against the window panes. He looks around and finds only a lighter, a can of inflammable solvent, and his mother’s gun. The thing is old and rusty and only three of the bullets are usable. The little boy loads them into the gun and cocks it just as the first creature slams its body into the door.
The wood creaks, the house thrums and a little dust is dislodged from the walls and ceiling. Again another hit and the door cracks. The farm boy looks down at the gun, the solvent and the lighter. The beast at the window shatters the glass and scrabbles against the burglars bars. The screws are rustier than the gun and already one corner is loosening. The farm boy sprays the inflammable solvent onto the creatures face and a noxious cloud of chemicals clings to the thing’s fur and skin. When the boy flicks on the lighter, the air itself ignites and sets the beast ablaze.
Outside, the sound of bandit screams mix with gunfire. Shouting men and shrieking beasts fill the air. The burning monster sets the grass and buildings alight. Some of the bandits get scorched and it brings a smile to the little boy’s face even as the room begins to burn. His family move into the middle of the room, trying to escape the heat and billowing smoke. Then one abomination breaks through the door and tumbles into the acrid, burning room. Disorientated for a moment by the overpowering smell of fire, the beast re-assesses quickly and leaps at the farm boy, silhouetted against the blaze of his family home and horror of death beyond.
You think you know what happens now? You think you have some idea of the story of the little farm boy who’s forced to become a man. Even as you read this, skimming for signs that I’ve started finishing my story, you start to wonder and hope for one outcome or another. Maybe you like the boy’s brother and mother, maybe you sympathise with the starving monsters who only want a meal to survive, maybe you pity the handicapped bandits and their desperate struggle to live in a world of corporations and harsh monsters. Perhaps you’ve even grown fond of the little cherub-esque boy with the stormy eyes.
You know desperately what you want, and if I ever gave it to you, you’d hate me for ruining the mystery. In the harsh light of explanation, the mists of magic are often burned away. But it is a risk worth taking, just in case you get it right.
Welcome to the world of sequels, a land of entitlement and horror. A place filled with inflated expectation and warped measures of progress. A difficult place to be sure, but with determination, faith and a little luck, it is definitely the best place for loot.
A sequel is a magical opportunity. The foundations are laid and the audience is primed. The engine is warm, the hinges are greased and we’re cooking with gas. It is time to deliver. This is why the best experiences must come from sequels. Maybe they’re not as expertly paced or perhaps they lack some of the unique soul of their predecessors — but they are undeniably more polished and simply grander. In scope, feel, and execution.
Borderlands 2 is one such magnificent beast. It has done what no game since Arkham City has done, exceeded my expectations. How did it do this? By understanding story structure and expectations. How do you go big and bold while keeping some kind of restraint and tension? How do you explain while still keeping the mystery protected?
By giving us what we want, in a way we didn’t expect.
The beast leaps for the young boy’s face and he sprays solvent, drenching the animal. He fumbles with the lighter but the piece of junk doesn’t so much as spark. Realising his fate, the boy lifts the gun to his face. As the creature’s jaws snap onto the boy’s neck, he fires the rusty gun into his mouth.
The gun backfires and ignites the beast who screams in pain, never snapping his jaws down. The creature bursts through the window, tearing the bars from the hinges.
There is silence outside, except for the shrieking, immolated creature, there is nothing. The desperate wails of the monster seem to echo ominously. Slowly, with deft assurance, the farm boy peaks out of the window.
And gets sniped. Headshot.
The boy’s family are silent. The mother has been dead for fifteen years.
His little brother is shocked and stares at the corpse of his tormentor.
He runs outside into the arms of his father, who has searched for him across the wasteland. His feral monsters tracking the crazy farm boy with endless determination. Many were killed but the father doesn’t care, he has his boy back.
On their ride home, they are attacked by a rival gang. The gang knows that they are weakened and the young boy’s father is outmatched. The young boy takes out his sling and hurls a rock just like the farm boy taught him. He gets a little lucky and hits the gang-leader on the temple, cracking his skull and killing him instantly. The others scatter at the loss of their invincible leader.
The father holds the boy while he cries.
He cries until he falls asleep.
It has been a long time since I have enjoyed a world and a story as thoroughly as Borderlands 2. It is a privilege to play the game, and I’m going to go play more now.