Spoiler-Talk: Borderlands 2's death and dark humor
by Steve Watts, shacknews.com, Feb 6, 2013 12:15PM PST
In Spoiler-Talk, we take a no-holds-barred look at some of the biggest games and discuss what the future holds for these franchises. Expect many, many spoilers.
The original Borderlands had a lot of things going for it, but plot wasn't one of them. Its sequel was almost universally praised for upping the ante in this respect, creating a richer world with clever writing. The dark humor was punctuated by real emotional stakes. We've already talked to lead writer Anthony Burch about how he used death to make the plot carry more weight. A look back at the game's story shows it had a pretty high body count that escalated, as if daring itself to go further with each one.
Bloodwing gets bloodied
It's a classic rule of blockbuster writing. You can kill the villain, the sidekick, even the hero if the story calls for it -- but you don't kill the family dog. Borderlands 2 promptly broke that rule when Mordecai's bird Bloodwing was captured and turned into a deadly beast by Handsome Jack, forcing you to kill it. Mordecai fortunately he saved his anger for Jack himself, and those who loved Bloodwing in the first game had the first gut-punch of an important character death. And yet, we still had plenty yet to come.
The Angel revealed (and subsequently killed)
Angel's betrayal was unsurprising, but her reasons became more complex as we learned about her sordid past. She was more than just an AI construct or figment of your imagination. She was a living person, a Siren, and Handsome Jack's daughter. The chief villain had taken his own child and locked her away from the rest of the world, using her Siren powers to his own ends.
Her actual appearance was far different from the impression that had been projected into the Vault Hunters' minds, creating an unsettling moment of revelation. When she finally met the Vault Hunters face-to-face, she wanted to make amends for causing so much trouble the only way she could: by requesting you kill her. It was the only way to assure Jack could no longer abuse her power. Amid the anguished screams of her father, the Vault Hunters killed the narrative device that had been guiding them through the last two games, and Jack turned from a darkly humorous bad guy to a father out for revenge.
Roland feels Jack's wrath
If Angel's death didn’t pack enough punch, the one that followed almost immediately after certainly did. Roland was the de facto leader of the first generation of Vault Hunters, and the new bunch by extension. That means we probably should have seen his death coming, but it still came as a surprise to those who played as the Soldier class in the first game. When attempting to retrieve the Vault Key after Angel died, Jack shot Roland dead. He was buried and mourned by the remaining Vault Hunters.
One of the earliest reveals was so subtle you might have missed it, but it carries potential for the future of the franchise. Before you arrived, Handsome Jack was searching for a Siren, and killed anyone dumb enough to bring him cheap imitations. He made an offhanded remark that only six of them can exist in the universe at once. The game doesn’t give justification for this number, but it doesn't question it either. So far we know of three, each with different powers: Lillith, Maya, and Angel. As far as we know, Sirens are exclusively female.
Anthony Burch told us that Sirens are the Borderlands version of "magic," which gives them tools to use in the future. But it also raises questions. When Angel died, was another Siren born somewhere in the universe? What about the other three Sirens? Why can only six exist at a time? The game hasn't committed to exploring these ideas, but if Burch and his crew ever feel inclined to explore more mystical aspects of the Borderlands universe, the book has been left open.
The Other Vaults
A game like Borderlands has to leave room for a sequel, and Borderlands 2 ended on a tease so large it could facilitate several more. Several hundred more. Lillith's attempts to destroy the Vault Key at the end of the game inadvertently opened a map of the galaxy. And since the goal of every Borderlands game is to obtain loot, wouldn't you know that the map showed the location of hundreds of other vaults. The game ended on a cheeky "here we go again" note, implying that the next Borderlands might not take place on Pandora at all.
Surely, everything rests on him now.