How Gearbox Fucked Up Borderlands 2

OK, so the last time I blogged about Borderlands 2, it was about one of the chief designers saying something stupid and dismissive about women.

And now I’m about to blog about it negatively again. And I never did get around to writing up a huge “Why I love Borderlands” (the first game), which bothers me, because I love that game so much I have played it start-to-finish about half a dozen times.


Last night, Nate and I played through three missions, two optional and one required, and all three of them made me feel bad. Like, I went to bed depressed last night instead of excited.



I’d been starting to get wary and unhappy about Borderlands 2’s main villain — I think they’re going for “dude you love to hate” in an over-the-top-psychopath kind of way, but all they’re doing is making him so evil I kind of don’t want to deal with him ever, at all.

But then. The first optional mission we did was investigating why these huge crystal-covered turtle things (Crystalisks) were so aggressive. By this point in the game, we’d killed easily 20 of the things. What did we find out?

We found out that they were peaceful and nice until a Dahl company asshole decided that “mining” them was more important than their right to exist, and started hunting them and killing them for the crystals on ’em. So now they (understandably!) hate humans.

So basically, the game took me from “yeah, fuck those Crystalisks, they keep trying to blow me up! Also, when I kill them I get mad cash, yay” to “aw, man, that’s really sad! Aw shit, and the big blue one they’re talking about there was the boss we killed a few missions ago, and the gal is saying he’s nice… aw man.”

Game, do not make me feel bad for killing things you want me to kill. Not cool.

Killing for Shits ‘n Giggles

Then we had to go start a clan war between two groups we’d done missions for in the past, the Zafords and the Hodunks. Now, I already didn’t like the Hodunks because in the exposition we learned that they had been sketchy and messed up to some characters we like (Moxie and her daughter Ellie). The Zafords were pretty innocuous, really. Aggressive, sure, but you have to be to live on Pandora.

But Ellie hired us to basically get the clan conflict that had died down going again, to finish it once and for all. But not in a “this tension is bullshit, let’s get it over with” way. Noooo, this was a “fuck those assholes, let’s watch ’em kill each other, it’ll be hilarious!”

Which: not really. Especially since one of the things we had to do to get things riled up again was kill everyone who showed up at an annual wake for the son of the clan leader.

Lemme say that again: we had to kill everyone who showed up at an annual wake for the son of the clan leader. Mourners. People remembering a dead dude. Now, this dude was a dick (we meet him in the first game, and Scooter says he’s gonna kill him because of an interaction the dude had with Scooter’s mom), but he was still being mourned. That’s a very human thing.

These weren’t Psychos or Bandits, crazyass fuckers who will kill and skin you soon as look at you, these weren’t people doing bad shit, they were just people.

And we had to go back and forth destroying their shit and killing them to get them to kill each other.

Not cool.

The Last Straw

Then we did a mission where we were supposed to rescue Bloodwing, a tamed and trained combat bird belonging to one of the characters from the first game, Mordecai. Now, I love Mordecai and Bloodwing, and I’d been making snarky comments all game about how Bloodwing is suddenly a girl in this game (he was a boy in the previous one), but I still like Mordecai and his bird. Love them, even. I mostly played as Mordecai in the first game.

So we go to save Bloodwing, but (and I knew this was coming cos I saw Nate play this part in his solo campaign, but it was worse when I was playing) it turns out that Handsome Jack has been experimenting on her and turned her into this huge mutant horrible thing. So we wear her down until Mordecai can put a tranq in her, and then Jack, who’s been talking to us by radio and taunting us and being an asshole, explodes her collar and kills her.

So basically, he tortures her, forces US to torture her, and then kills her just when we think we’ve saved the poor thing.

What the fuck.

This is past “Kick the Dog” and into “kitten in the chippershredder” territory. Now, when that’s done right, it’s actually awesome in this “holy shit, did they do that?” way (e.g., The Brothers Grimm, where they LITERALLY have the baddy throw a kitten in a chippershredder) — but it doesn’t work when the kitten in question is a bird you have literally spent a couple hundred hours working with and caring about, and you have characters in game screaming and wailing in grief.

People on Twitter are posting with the hashtag #RIPBloodwing and mourning, so I know I’m not alone in being upset.

Killing Handsome Jack has gone from “haha, I will enjoy this” to “I’m not sure I want to keep playing the game in order to do it because it means I might have to deal with another encounter like this one.”

This mission may have killed the replayability of this game for me, and that is huge. I can’t avoid this mission, it’s part of the plot and the plot won’t progress without it. I’m not sure the awesomeness of the rest of the game is enough to make up for being forced to torture and then watch the death of an animal I care about.

WTF, Gearbox?

The whole thing makes me wonder about the dudes at Gearbox. There are a lot of little bits of nastiness in Borderlands 2 that weren’t there in the first one. The first one was fun and challenging, and didn’t make you feel bad about any of the fuckers you had to kill. This one includes things like a sniper rifle that can talk and guilt trips you about everyone you kill. It includes the tidbit that those crazed Bandits used to be scientists and explorers and family people with children. It includes all kinds of little things that you have to either shrug at like they’re no big deal or let them start piling up into a game-long guilt trip.

I play video games for fun, not to wreak vengence on assholes or whatever Gearbox thinks the plotline toward killing Handsome Jack is about. Like, we knew he was evil when we listened to an audio recording of him taunting and murdering a character from the previous game, we didn’t need the whole Bloodwing thing. That was too far.

I’m really disappointed. I have been excited for this game since I first heard about it, and now I’m not even sure I want to finish playing it once, let alone the half dozen times I played the first one. You fucked up, Gearbox. You took my favorite non-music video game of all time and you fucked it up.


ETA 10/24/12: If you commented on this and are wondering why I didn’t publish your comment, it’s probably because of one or more of the following:

  • You were being condescending (wow, Pandora’s a rough place? Thanks for letting me know, pal! Even after playing the entire first game and most of the second, I somehow missed that! /sarcasm)
  • Your spelling/grammar/punctuation were so bad I could barely understand what you were trying to say.
  • Your comment annoyed me, but not in a way that made me want to publish it and rebut it

I’ve talked about my comment policy before, but I don’t have a clear link to it anywhere, gotta figure out the best way to  do that.

In the meantime: I love comments! I will happily publish comments that don’t disqualify themselves with one or more of the above offenses.

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