Set on the wastelands of the distant planet Pandora, Borderlands 2 follows the tale of six Vault Hunters and their struggle against Handsome Jack. Developed by Gearbox Software and released in September of 2012, the game received a 5.4/10 rating on IGN. It also received 10/10 in Steam user reviews and 90% on Metacritic.
The game shows clear evidence of following many design lenses, and I believe it to be a good game. I shall explore the opening sequence of the game from the perspective of someone who has never played it before, and the lenses will crop up frequently even just in these first fifteen minutes of gameplay.
Welcome to Pandora, Kiddos.
I enter the first level of the game. My friendly robotic companion claptrap (a CL4P-TP steward bot) has found me in the midst of a blizzard, and immediately refers to me as a “Vault Hunter”. I’m not sure what to think of that just yet, but he seems thrilled and clearly wants me to save him from this cold ice field.
He hands me a heads up display (HUD) and useful information begins to appear on the screen. A health bar, currently deathly low; a mini-map, a level bar and some ammo information. After this, we begin walking. A girl appears before me as an image on the HUD, and claims to be there to help. She quickly disappears again.
This ties in well to lens 4. I’m already very curious about where I am, what I’m doing here, why the robot found me, and who this girl is. The game is clearly trying to grab my curiosity quickly by having lots of things happen without explaining them right away.
I follow claptrap to what appears to be his home. After exploring a little I’ve found some health packs in various containers as well as a small amount of money. A small table in the centre is surrounded on three sides by broken claptrap units. Evidently some gambling has taken place as evidenced by the stacks of money on the table, which I promptly steal. I chuckle slightly at the realization of how long claptrap must’ve been stuck here to get this lonely.
Lens 5, Endogenous Value, shows up in this way all over the world in containers. Exploration of the world is constantly being rewarded with the satisfying sounds of a crate opening and yielding money, ammo or weapons. In an expected way, the harder it is to reach a container the better the contents.
Claptrap assigns me my first mission of collecting a gun out of the case to the side. Thus introducing the lens 6 mechanic of being given missions by characters and completing them in order to receive lens 5 rewards, notably experience points and weapons.
Lenses 2 and 6 suddenly appear in the form of a massive animalistic creature bursting through the ceiling, tearing out claptraps eye and running off with it. The lens 2 surprise here is the act itself, and the lens 6 problem to solve is clearly claptraps lack of an eye. This also leads to many lens 3 jokes being made along the lines of claptrap bumping into walls and falling off of cliffs.
Lens 7: Elemental Triad
Aesthetics are clearly something that have been carefully considered in this game. The comic book style is present throughout and is appealing to look at. The story isn’t as deep as some, but the game is clearly driven by it.
The story is loosely set around Handsome Jack, the villain, wanting to eradicate bandits and villainy from pandora to create a safe haven. Vault Hunters are seen as powerful people in pursuit of weapons and skills, but Handsome Jack sees them as bandits. His character is complicated enough that many see him as the true good guy.
You can learn about the backstories of most of the main characters in the game through the collection of “Echo Logs” or voice recordings. Many of the side missions add dimensions to otherwise simple side characters.
The mechanic of randomised loot is a strong one in the game. The entire game could be seen as a simple quest for better and shinier weapons. Legendary and Pearlescent items are exceedingly rare yet often excessively powerful. Almost all the mechanics in this game are derived from the fact that it is a first person shooter game with role playing game elements.
The game has almost no basis in advances in technology, the game could’ve been created, albeit with worse graphics, years before it was. And indeed Borderlands 1 shares many of the technical aspects of the game, perhaps unsurprisingly.
The game clearly shows good evidence of following the lenses that were brought up in this discussion. I think the design of the game creates an enjoyable experience that rewards you almost every moment that you’re playing, be it through humorous dialogue, shiny new weapons or tough yet manageable bosses.