Aint’ No Rest: A Borderlands Retrospective

Today is the day, my friends. The day where we all return to that mythical planet, Pandora, and take back what is rightfully—nah, we’re just gonna loot the place. Yes, today is the release date of Borderlands 2 and I, like many others, wait patiently to get my hands on these new classes. However, since I decided not to do an in-store pick-up, I have to wait and sit consumed in my hatred for all of you until it arrives (just kidding: my brother has a copy and I’m going to be bumming off of him). But, let’s take a look back at what made the first game so captivating, so memorable.

One of the biggest selling points of the first Borderlands was the variety of weaponry. Of course, everyone has their favorite type—mine was repeater pistols—but what takes this system even further was the distinct differences between the in-game manufacturers. Vladof, Maliwan, Jakobs, Dahl, Atlas, Hyperion, Torgue, Tediore, S&S, even Eridian: somehow we all came to the conclusion silently that one of these companies was better than the other. And sometimes, just seeing the logo of a certain company was enough to tell us that the gun was only good for selling. For myself, I horded mostly Hyperions for their sexy, sexy accuracy and kept a nice store of Maliwans for when I wanted to tear enemies apart. S&S guns along with Torgue got sold immediately. Though perhaps unintended, this was one of the aspects that made the replay value on this game so great. Looking for different, better guns through each play-through is definitely something that keeps players coming back for more. Although after talking with my fellow vault hunters, there seems to be a strange trend in drop-rate. Namely that classes get the opposite of what they would stereotypically need. My friend who plays Mordecai, the sniper, always ends up finding SMGs whereas I, who play as Lilith the siren, always find sniper rifles. The stories seem to be widely the same across the board. It’s a good way to build up some money, but seriously annoying when you open three weapon crates in a row only to find things that you would never use.

I’m getting ahead of myself, however. What is the most memorable, of course, is its distinct gritty cel-shaded style. Previously associated with the word “kiddy”, no one could deny that there was something genius in making this game somewhat comic-ish is style. And there was nothing childish about this design choice. It helped to set this game apart from the other shooters of the era (Mass Effect was touted as a shooter RPG too, in case you forgot) which was especially necessary when one’s working in a somewhat apocalyptic setting and all your competitor’s color pallets for their games have been shifted to the sepia filter. Despite planet Pandora relying almost entirely on brown and shades of brown, there’s something very vivid and cutting about the scenery. I don’t find myself fading out when I’m just driving across somewhere like the Salt Flats because there’s nothing to look at. Truth be told, there is nothing to look at, but yet something draws me in.

Speaking of driving, wow that car was a crock of shit. Fun shit, but shit all the same. It’s a pain in the butt to turn and forget about making it go off any ramps with a sense of precision. This car is undoubtedly the glitchiest thing in Borderlands and I like to think that I hold the title for finding how to glitch it up the most. My friends get a tone of fear in their voice when I drive because I always find a way to get it stuck on even the smallest rock. And when I say stuck, I mean I can’t even punch it out of position. Have you ever had to walk the entire length of The Ridgeway? …Well, neither have I since it’s impossible, but my party and I have had to walk a pretty far way! Despite all this, bless Gearbox for adding in three new cars with the ‘General Knoxx’ DLC. I’m hoping that they keep them in for Borderlands 2 since they only really got to shine in one area previously. And if Scooter’s not there, I’m going to flip a table. Get you one.

One thing that you may have noticed about me after all this time is that I really like characters and character development. A lot. Borderlands is no exception, but I would be lying if I said there was anything like that in Borderlands. Sure, the characters have character, but it’s nothing really beyond that. In fact, lead Borderlands artist, Jeramy Cooke, has been quoted as agreeing that the entire background of the main characters in the first game is that they “get off the bus…and then they start shooting things.”[link] Which, if you watch the introduction, is a complete lie, but the fact remains that they never go into their backgrounds or their motivations via game. Nor do they really do it for the secondary characters as well. Yet, I still love these characters. I love the insane Doctor Tannis. I love Doctor Zed (and his evil brother Ned). My heart still breaks for TK. Somehow they managed to make me care about quest givers based solely on a couple lines of dialogue that you can’t even respond to, and I think that speaks volumes about the writing on this game. It’s humorous, quirky, macabre at points, and it never gets too serious. That’s the most important part: although it’s a shoot ‘em up with serious undertones, the game never takes itself seriously. I mean, when the first boss’ name is 9Toes and the subscript says “also, he has three balls” you get a sense for the kind of writing you’re getting yourself into.

This writing is also what makes the DLC. If you saw my recent review on ‘Leviathan’ you should know that everything Bioware does wrong Gearbox does right. They don’t try to shove too much information down your throat, but they do expand the universe. They give you small things that you can explore yourself and even give you a chance to miss some things and find it on another playthrough. And every DLC they release feels so different from each other. Like zombies? Then play ‘The Zombie Island of Doctor Ned’. Want to have your soul shattered? Play ‘The Secret Armory of General Knoxx’.

To dote more on the characters, though, I have to applaud Gearbox for having such a diverse range of characters. Especially female characters. To explain, let’s look at the main thee really fast: Tannis, Steele, and Helena Pierce. As I mentioned earlier, Patricia Tannis is an archaeologist-scientist-inventor-whatever she needs to be that helps the vault hunter get to the later stages of the game. She wants the player to be able to find the answer to her 200 year old mystery and if they die along the way, well… oh well. She’s flippant about others and completely absorbed in her own goals, but seriously starved for human contact so much that she dated her tape recorder (it didn’t work out). On the other hand entirely is Pierce, the mayor of New Haven: one of the only towns on Pandora that isn’t completely run-over by bandits probably due in no small part to her. In fact, she doesn’t even let the vault hunter in on any leads until they help her town and even then I get the feeling she only does so they get the hell out of Dodge. Who wants a shady, gun toting nobody making your town home base? And Steele? She’s a combination of both of them. As a Commandant of the Atlas Corporation (yes, the gun manufacturer), her goals are to get you off planet and barring that, kill you (guess which one she chooses).

I can’t do them much justice in a paragraph, but it’s nice to see such a variety of strong, independent women especially when every townsperson is a dude. And every enemy is a dude or a mythological creature that’s shooting lasers at you. What I’m saying is that beyond a couple secondary characters, there isn’t a lot of variety. I’m hoping in Borderlands 2 they fix this. I want to see some killer bandit chicks. I want to see female gang leaders. I want to see despondent ladies at the bar in towns along with the men. Let’s just hope that if they do this, they don’t take the Mass Effect school of making female enemies: putting enemies in tight suits and making them dance around doesn’t exactly make me feel gender equality in my bogeys.

With your mind now full of Pandora past, dear readers, go forth! Reap the harvest that Hyperion doesn’t wish you to have! Enjoy the benefits of wielding two guns at once! …Enjoy that which I cannot play until later tonight. Or you can stay here and reminisce with me: what did you enjoy about the first in this series? What annoyed you? What do you hope changes?

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About Tsunderin

Greetings and salutations! Feel free to just call me Rin—we’re all friends here, or nemeses who just haven’t gotten to know each other well enough. I’m a video game lover from the womb to the tomb, and Bioware enthusiast until the day they stop making games with amazing characters that I cry over. And while I don’t partake as often as I used to, don’t be surprised to find me poking around an anime or manga every once in a while either. A personal interest for me is characterization in media and how women in particular have been portrayed, are being portrayed, and will be portrayed in the future. I’m not going to mince words about my opinion either.