Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Borderlands 2 - Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate's Booty

The Captain Scarlett DLC has the most elemental video game plot imaginable - there is a treasure, and between you and the treasure are a whole bunch of things that need to die. Kill the things, find the treasure. Which is great, because ostensibly that's what the whole Borderlands series is about, but upon further reflection is kind of weird, because I have to ask myself - why did it take so long to get to this.

Like, for the first Borderlands game, it makes a certain sense. They thought the bait-and-switch plot would be more compelling than it turned out to be ("you're looking for a legendary treasure, but then it turned out the ancient Vault actually housed a deadly monster - GASP!"), and when they discovered it wasn't, they made the General Knox and Claptrap Revolution DLCs as a sort of apology to the fans.

But they must have gone into Borderlands 2 having learned from that experience. And, while the game doesn't make the mistake of promising you treasure and then not delivering, it also does not have a really great "ZOMG, look at all those treasure chests" moment (maybe when Lilith teleports you into Marcus' back room, but I'd argue that it doesn't count because there's no buildup to it, and it happens so soon after a tragic loss for the "good guys" that you don't really get the proper sense of triumph).

So it's weird that once again the "amoral quest for obscene wealth" portion of the game is relegated to a DLC. You'd think that once it became obvious that there was significant pleasure in the mere physical act of opening a horde of treasure chests that it would be something you'd want to include in the main game.

Which is to say Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate's Booty is a fine DLC when taken as a whole. It just gets tricky when you try to break it down to its constituent parts. Captain Scarlett herself is a fun character who might be a good addition to the Borderlands universe (her constant telegraphing of her inevitable betrayal is such a "Borderlands" thing to do), if only we had more time to get to know her. Unlike, say, Mad Moxxi, she doesn't get any great and memorable moments that ensure she'll come back again and again. Which is a shame, because the potential is definitely there.

If only the same could be said for Shade. It's really the presence of this obnoxious character that drags down the whole DLC. I get what they were going for. The sole survivor of a failed colony, delirious from dehydration and so deep in denial about the deaths of all of his friends that he pretends they're alive in some kind of macabre puppet show and then latches onto you with stalker-like intensity due to the sheer desperation of his loneliness sounds like it ought to be a fun comic conceit, but the execution . . .

I think it falls flat in two places. One, if you're going to have a character whose whole shtick is "he's annoying because his backstory is horrifying" then you really need to lay on the pathos, like, super thick. Have the facade break from time to time, and each time it seems like his story is as bleak as it can get, reveal something else that makes things worse. You're playing a tragedy for laughs, so you need to make the audience gape at the scope of your audacity. Really earn those necrophilia jokes.

The other problem with Shade is that he's not a sand pirate. By showing up as the first person you meet, he front-loads the pirate-themed DLC with a non-pirate-themed introduction. He'd have worked much better as a character if you'd already been working with Captain Scarlett for awhile, and she made you walk the sand-plank off her sand-ship and you wind up stranded on a sand-desert island where you're only hope of getting off and getting revenge on the sand-pirate who betrayed you is working with this delusional weirdo.

Just a thought anyway. Even with these flaws, I still enjoyed playing the DLC, and if it wasn't perfect, then at least I got to open a shit-load of treasure chests. That was cool.

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