Saturday, January 30, 2016

Borderlands 2 - Tiny Tina's Assault On Dragon Keep

This DLC. Seriously, you guys, this is the shit. I may be biased because tabletop roleplaying games are my other big hobby, but I loved almost every part of Tiny Tina's Assault On Dragon Keep (except the damned Dukes of Orc). More than just a series of Dungeons and Dragons references, it's as pure a celebration of gaming and nerd culture as you're ever likely to see.

The whole thing is jammed full of clever little jokes about both the absurdity and the joy of gaming, and the ultimate resolution to story was surprisingly affecting. My favorite part was how Tina's narration and the nitpicking of the original Borderlands vault hunters would suddenly shift the reality of the virtual world, turning sunny skies cloudy, changing the name of the forest, and just generally take advantage of the malleable reality of games to make jokes and keep me on my toes. Also, Mr Torgue was there.

As a way of saying goodbye to Borderlands 2, this DLC works pretty well. It was a blast seeing the fantasy versions of the various residents of Pandora (and to finally see Butt Stallion in the flesh), although I wish that Hammerlock, Tannis, and Scooter had been able to join the party. After playing this and Torgue's DLC back-to-back, I kind of wish for a notional Borderlands 3 to be all-DLC, but, of course, without a baseline reality, would something as experimental as Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep even make any sense?

Now that I've gotten through all the major plot stuff, I think it's time to say goodbye to Borderlands 2. There's still plenty I could do - pursue sidequests, grind levels, farm legendary treasures, challenge raid bosses, attempt Ultimate Vault Hunter mode, and then do it all again with the five other characters - but I've already played the game for 47 hours, and all the other optional activities could easily take hundreds more.

It's for the above reasons that Borderlands 2 is on the short list for my "desert island" game. Granted, it gets repetitive after awhile, but it's the sort of repetitive where it doesn't really need to be different because the core activity is so solid that excessive variation would be a distraction. There's just something so compelling about blasting monsters and gathering loot that I'm not sure novelty is really all that necessary. Certainly, I've gotten so into Borderlands 2 that I've been known to skip meals in my distraction, most recently earlier today (whether this property would be a boon or a danger on a desert island is difficult to say). So, it's likely that I'd only really get bored with Borderlands 2 at around the same time as I started to tire of food.

That makes walking away from the game kind of a strange experience. It doesn't really occupy the sort of mental space that can classify it as being "done." That feels like a category error to me, like asking if it is "fragrant." If anything, it makes more sense to categorize my life in terms of Borderlands 2. It can generally be divided into two periods: "playing Borderlands 2" and "not currently playing Borderlands 2."

I wonder how long this feeling will last. When I first got Borderlands 2, for the Xbox 360, it dominated my life for months. I wound up with level 50 Salvador and Gaige, and then I played the DLCs when they came out, and beat normal mode with Maia and Axton, and got about halfway through with Zer0.  And I never finished. There was never a point where I sat down and said "you know what, I don't think I want to play this game any more." I just got distracted by the new, shiny thing and moved on.

Yet there was a time before I got Borderlands 2. It didn't even exist, and I had no particular awareness of its absence. It didn't feel like I was missing anything back then. For it to come out of nowhere and weigh so heavily on my worldview is actually quite extraordinary. It's exactly the way I feel about Super Mario World or Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri. Even when there is a long period where I don't play those games at all (and my SMW gap is almost entirely due to the annoyance of setting up my old SNES), they're still part of me. They inform my life, not on any deep philosophical level, granted, but in my aesthetic preferences, how I approach and come to grips with new artistic experience. At least subconsciously, every single game I play (and possibly other, similar media, like movies) are going to be judged against the standard set by Borderlands 2.

Maybe the real question is "what's next?" What incredible thing lies in my future that I don't even suspect is waiting for me, that I can't even suspect, because it will so thoroughly challenge my sense of what's possible that it will open up whole new vistas of thought. Of course, all three of the keystone games I mentioned earlier were sequels (of which, I'd played the originals), so none of them really came out of nowhere, but there's something about seeing an interesting idea get transformed from something good (maybe even great) into something sublime that makes it stick in my head.

Hell, it's entirely possible that I've already played the prototype for my next great obsession . . . or that it's one of my remaining 95 games. I guess I'll have to keep going to find out.

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