Quick question to those who played and beat Borderlands 1 – who was the main antagonist and what was the game’s story?
If your answer consisted of a blank face and a drawn out, “Uhhh….” then you are correct! The original Borderlands was a game with a distinct style, both graphically and thematically, and while it tried to have a crude sense of humor, many of the jokes we felt fell flat. It had its moments, but the game didn’t have much of a personality to speak of. Thankfully, Borderlands 2 has personality to spare, thanks in part to the wonderful writing and characters.
While the sequel’s story may still be rather simplistic at its core, the side quests and characters more than make up for it, and players will likely want to continue to keep hearing antagonist Handsome Jack’s taunts and rants, which are some of the funniest moments in the game. Before the game’s release, developer Gearbox wanted Handsome Jack to be similar to Portal’s GlaDOS, and while they may not necessarily have succeeded, they have created one of the most memorable villains in recent years.
Returning character and franchise mascot Claptrap is also one of the most entertaining characters in the game, finally realizing the humor and endearing annoying-ness that we believe Gearbox had hoped for in the first game. The foul-mouthed redneck Scooter also returns, as ridiculous and stereotypical as ever. The game’s many, many side missions give players more dialogue with these and other characters, which is where the game’s writing really shines. Sure, it’s at times crude and over the top in how crude it is, but by and large it succeeds.
Most games have to get by with simple smiles, maybe even a brief chuckle, but few make you laugh out loud. Borderlands 2 is a side-splitting laughfest (and other cliches) that keeps you enthralled and wanting more with more than just the allure of new and better guns. Sure, guns are fun, but it’s more fun to shoot bandits, bullymongs and robots while laughing yourself silly.
It’s more than just the writing, however. The game is rife with parody of pop culture and references to other games. A trip to a sewer at one point reveals four bandana-wearing mutants that eat pizza, an obvious reference to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and that’s just barely scratching the surface. Players can find a reference to fan-favorite Solaire from Dark Souls, a former Vault Hunter whining about taking a bullet to the knee, a hidden mine where players can fight Minecraft Creepers and unlock a Minecraft skin for their characters, countless character skins that reference popular shows, and even a double rainbow reference starring Handsome Jack!
Humor in games can be difficult to pin down. Writing in references and jokes that appeal to the masses is tough, but Gearbox has done a great job. The characters are teeming with personality, and it helps that the game takes its absurdness and runs with it. The DLC that followed the original Borderlands hinted at the ideas Gearbox had, and Borderlands 2 comes as the realization of that potential. We wait with white-hot anticipation for what great jokes and references Gearbox comes up with for the inevitable Borderlands 2 DLC.