Farewell, Handsome Jack!

Today was the day I finished playing Borderlands 2.

Well, let me clarify. It’s the day I finished the main story and reached the New Game Plus mode. It’s a point I’ve reached after playing on and off since before Christmas, and according to Steam’s inbuilt counter, I’ve spent just over 100 hours reaching this point.

That’s four-and-a-bit days straight.

I suppose this isn’t a metric that’s surprising. I’ve a bit of a thing for open-world games, where there’s lots of things to see, lots of side-missions to do. And boy, does Borderlands 2‘s setting of Pandora offer you a lot of those. Basically, you play a Vault Hunter – a treasure-seeker, generally speaking, in one of a couple of classes. My character (a kind of prim cat’s-eye glasses-wearing odd-job with some suspect tribal tattoos and a penchant for fisticuffs) was a psychic, though I could’ve easily have chosen a cyber-assassin, chunky dude or any other number of stereotypes. The story begins after a crash, where the player is found in the snow and taken under the wing of an obnoxious robot. It leads to a confrontation – after a lot of levelling up – with Handsome Jack, who’s a bit of an arsehat.

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HEY LADIES. 

I was concerned that I’d miss out on a bunch of backstory having not played the first game, but there’s really not that much to catch up on. You’re a treasure-hunter, Jack’s the baddie, and you work on your stats (as per usual for role-playing games) in an open-world with a graphic novel look and a pretty tongue-in-cheek sense of humour. There’s a main story to follow, but you can dick around endlessly in side missions, should you so choose.

The side-mission thing is funny. Unlike Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, say, I didn’t feel compelled to complete all the optional missions on my BL2 playthrough. This is a bit of a breakthrough for me, as I am a bit of a stickler for completing things. I freely admit this is slightly the preserve of obsessive-compulsive desires – I really, really enjoy seeing objective maps cleared off and checking boxes. But normally, I’d grind fuck out of the game and get through things, in search of completion. Here, though, I’ve just surrendered: I am unlikely to go back soon in search of the 37 achievements I don’t have, or of the 15-odd levels I have to go until I hit Level 50, the game’s current ceiling.

Completion is a funny thing. Mary Hamilton gave a good talk on the idea – on what games owe us, and on the idea that we’re beholden to completion or else feel we haven’t done things properly, at least some of us with more obsessive personalities, anyway – and it’s worth a look. Here’s the write-up and here’s the talk itself.

I generally am driven to completion with games, even though it’s often frustrating. I didn’t feel like that with this game, though, possibly because its whole mechanic is like a side mission. Wherever you go, you find yourself killing things, opening boxes to find loot, and then digging about to see if any of the weapons left on the floor are better than yours. This is deeply, deeply grindy gameplay but I found it was done here with such humour and a desire to keep the player entertained that I didn’t mind.

(Also, this has been a good example of a sanity break for me. I’d found, of late, I was fairly unable to concentrate on lots of stuff, and a mate recommended I give this a shot. It’s a simple mechanic that doesn’t require too much thinking, and is easily, mindlessly done. There’s lots of little details, but it’s possible to run on autopilot for a while, which is a Good Thing on occasion.)

I finally decided – after blowing through a laundry list of side missions (except car racing ones because fuck that timed-event noise) – to finish the game today because I was beginning to get a bit sick of things. The story is fine, and it all does resolve, but the problem is that between occasional glitches and general world fatigue, there’s certain parts of the endgame that sees overpowered enemies thrown in in lieu of challenge. At least, it’s the part of the game where I felt actively annoyed that there were elements of “we’ll block your way with this supercharged constructor bad guy which takes ages to kill because reasons” being thrust upon me, when the experience had been mostly amenable otherwise.

It’s possible I’ll go back and play through a bunch more of this game in a while. Not just now. I’m not certain what to play next, though Way of the Samurai 3 has just come to Steam and I’m a bit excited, though daunted at the idea of leaping into another open-world time sink. But I certainly enjoyed my time on Pandora with BL2 and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it if you’re after some dumb fun. It’s very well made – occasional glitches aside – and kept my interest (and sanity) for a relatively hefty chunk of time. For something I picked up for five bucks in a sale, that’s a pretty good investment.

(At the end of all that, have a song that you can change the words to. Both Aunty Jack and the world of Pandora are intensely silly, so it seems fitting.)

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