The following essay contains spoilers for Borderlands 2 and its expansions.
Here’s a thought exercise for you: if humanity successfully achieves the technological advancements necessary to travel to and inhabit other planets, will we find life on any of them? If we do, will that life be intelligent, able of communication with us? And regardless of the answer to that question, would we go ahead and enact the same acts of colonial oppression that have defined exploration of our own planet, all the while implementing the same destructive institutions of racism, classism, and hatred that feed into real-world political disarray?
Alternatively, a more optimistic Option B: would such achievements be characteristic only of an advanced society, the kind where egalitarianism thrives and we live peacefully with our fellow humans in a world of puppies, rainbows, and Starship Troopers-style communal showers?
Hint: it’s probably not Option B.
The Borderlands series first emerged in 2009, a top-tier title from the otherwise mid-tier Gearbox Software. A slick fusion of first-person shooter and Diablo-esque role-playing game, the game was marked by its emphasis on co-op gameplay and its striking cell-shaded art style. For these reasons, the series has become a tremendous success and one of the most iconic shooters in the modern video game canon. It’s a success that is largely deserved: the world of Borderlands is a vividly realized portrait of an outer space madhouse. Its primary setting, the faraway planet of Pandora, is Mad Max through the lens of absurdist humor, populated by a frenetic cast of zany sociopaths from numerous walks of life. Borderlands 2, by far the most successful game in the series to date, is particularly standout. Its environments are sharp, colorful, and varied, from arctic tundras to volcanic outposts, and its script is punctuated by morbid wit, notably in the form of its antagonist, the megalomaniac Donald Trump/Patrick Bateman hybrid Handsome Jack.
Beyond its sprawling main campaign, Borderlands 2 is host to some of the most creative and diverse expansions put forth in a video game. Want to take a break from the core story to go on a swashbuckling pirate adventure? Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate’s Booty has you covered. A Valentine’s Day themed expansion based on Romeo and Juliet? Load up Mad Moxxi and the Wedding Day Massacre. Feeling like a stroll through a meta fantasy world where the protagonists take a break to play a tabletop role-playing game? There’s the hilarious and surprisingly touching Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dungeon Keep. Through a commitment to the explosive variety and lunacy of these expansions, Gearbox manages to make a hundred-plus hour game feel constantly new and engaging.
And then there’s Sir Hammerlock’s Big Game Hunt.