Old Guy with a PS3, Year 3: The Never-Ending “Borderlands 2”

Face McShooty!

In Borderlands 2, some missions are harder and more meaningful than others. The showdown with Face McShooty is not one of them.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover two years ago:

As a kid, I frequented video arcades regularly. As a parent, my son and I spent a good decade playing games together on his various systems. When he graduated and moved away to college, he took all his systems with him, leaving me with only my old Nintendo that won’t play cartridges unless you keep the Game Genie firmly inserted, and an Atari Plug-‘n’-Play Controller I got for Christmas a few years ago that interested me for about two weeks. On Black Friday 2014, I decided I wanted back in the 21st century gaming mode and picked up a used PS3.

Naturally I started off a generation behind the rest of the civilized world, but I didn’t care. After fifteen months without, holding a controller felt abnormal and rusty for the first few weeks. Once I got used to it again and figured out how to disable the “Digital Clear Motion Plus” feature on my TV, I could shake the dust off my trigger fingers, choose the games I wanted to play, sprint or meander through them at whatever pace I saw fit, and try some different universes beyond Final Fantasy and our other longtime mainstays. The following is a rundown of my first year’s worth of solo PS3 adventures…

…which brings us to our third annual round-up of how I spent my retro-gaming time this year. In previous entries I would list all the games I played that year in the order I played them and with my trophy percentages included, whether impressive or embarrassing.

This year, it’s a short list, he understated:

* Shadow of the Colossus (12%): 12/7/2016 – 1/12/2017. I already covered this one in my 2016 summary, but five hours of my SotC experience fell inside 2017, so let’s reprise for 2017 posterity:

I’d been wanting to play this game for years and was excited at the prospect of diving into its PS3 upgrade. This, more than any real personal crises, was the most aggravating object of any kind to cross my path and ruin my days in 2016. I like the idea of a visually arresting game that’s just sixteen boss battles in a row, even if every boss battle takes 30-60 minutes, but the control paradigm frustrated me to no end on multiple fronts, the responsiveness of my hero to my commands was buggy and inconsistent and infuriating, his realistically programmed horse reminded me how terrible I am at actual horse-riding, and I finally had to surrender and walk away when the required strategy for the ninth Colossus required simultaneous camera movements I couldn’t master and relied too much on the aforementioned horse. I haven’t been this ticked off about quitting a game since Final Fantasy II left me trapped in a dungeon of no escape. The short version of this paragraph: GRRRRRRRRRRR.

That brings us to the rest of 2017:

* Borderlands 2 (59% and counting): 1/18/2017 – present. I waxed rhapsodic about the first one in 2015…

I dig the even mix of quests and side quests, as well as the weapons system that allows for literally millions of possible armament combinations, requiring players to do some comparison shopping and decide which attributes and extras make the best possible guns. It’s like a cross between Soldier of Fortune and Consumer Reports. I have no idea how many more jobs are left to do (I’ve just finished Uncle Earl’s first few dumb errands), but I can’t see myself playing through this four different times as each of the four main characters. Life’s not nearly dull enough for me to indulge that many replays. Maybe if I run out of all other PS3 games someday.

…which, if all the unplayed PS3 games still on my shelf take half as long as Borderlands 2 has, should last me well into retirement. The adventures continued into 2016 like so:

I was still working on this when 2015 ended, and spent one-third of 2016 finishing up and exploring all the nooks and crannies, scavenging for all the weapons I could find just for the sake of comparison shopping. Because when a game gives you literally over three million possible weapons at your disposal throughout its known universe, you can never be satisfied with the arsenal already at your fingertips because you’ll always have that one unsettling, haunting thought: what if the next batch of loot has a gun that’s even better?

That being said, two of the DLC missions drove me nuts: “Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot” taught me that plotless arena battles get really boring after, oh, the seventh consecutive battle without a break (let alone the mandatory 25 in a row, which wasn’t happening); and “The Secret Armory of General Knoxx” too accurately illustrated the realistic feel of a miles-long battleground, in which the missions and side quests just so happened to alternate between the two farthest antipodes again and again, back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth until it felt like “Road Trip: The Game — North Dakota Edition”.

And then there was Borderlands 2. It’s like the first one, but lots more of it. The premise is identical: intergalactic treasure hunters of questionable moral upbringings seek money and prizes, but have to multitask with stopping the oppression and tyranny of even worse evildoers — in this case, a smarmy guy named Handsome Jack who thinks he’s all that and who’ll cheerfully grease the wheels of his engines of destruction with the blood of everyone else in the universe. In a nice bit of continuity, the player characters from the first game return but as NPCs, along with several familiar faces, not all of whom escape the new storyline unscathed. It’s not too emotionally engaging, but it tries harder in that regard than I would’ve anticipated.

It’s still basic FPS format. It’s still supplied with literally millions of possible weapons to be found or won that all differ in stats, strengths, weaknesses, elemental damage add-ons, and so on. Each one also comes from the product line of one among several weapons manufacturers with their own logos and design specialties. At a convention last year I bought a T-shirt sporting one of them — Jakobs, whose guns inflict greater damage but require separate trigger pulls for each individual shot, no capacity for holding it down and unleashing easy rapid-fire destruction. Frankly, I’ve come to loathe their products and wish I’d chosen a different T-shirt.

Anyway: same game, but more of it. Tons of pop culture references everywhere (I cheered when I located the two baddies who were blatant homages to Bioshock), sharp if occasionally bawdy wit, and plenty of bombastic sci-fi wartime sound effects in testosterone overdrive, pleasing to anyone who thinks Michael Bay flicks need more explosions.

I finished the main storyline months ago, but I have the “Game of the Year Edition”, which included numerous downloadable extras, including four additional, higher-level missions that give the character new excuses to keep on shooting and keep questing for more, bigger, badder murder implements good for mowing down thousands of fictional constructs, all of whom are either monsters or supremely evil guys and are therefore justifiable to butcher by the dozen. I’ve just started the last of the four DLC events, “Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep”, in which Our Antihero is magically transported into a big fat homage to Dungeons & Dragons and other tabletop RPGs, complete with medieval setting, fantasy creatures, and fancy dice. As an old-school TSR fan from way back when, so far I’m tickled. Once that’s completed, I will have officially exhausted the “Game of the Year Edition” to its fullest extent as far as I’m concerned, by which I mean, as with the original Borderlands, I have zero interest in playing through this overlong fun mess three more times just to try out the other player characters. That’s not happening.

On the other hand, I’m annoyed and mildly intrigued that, after the “Game of the Year Edition” was released in 2013, Gearbox Software cranked out five more DLC missions, collectively labeled the “Headhunter Packs”, for fans who really, really, really just can’t get enough of the world of Pandora and its embarrassment of arsenal riches. In April 2014 someone in the company finally said, “ENOUGH! The content stopped there and the Borderlands 2 milieu was declared a closed loop. Instead they moved on to Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!, a separate game I might check out some other year. I’m still undecided on whether or not to pursue the Headhunter Packs, priced at three bucks each in the PlayStation Store, which I can’t believe is still active for us behind-the-curve PS3 users. And they’re still making new downloadable games for it! I checked tonight and learned some new poker game was just added to the PS Store earlier this month. I don’t care, but it’s more customer service than old Wii users are probably getting right about now.

By this point you may be staring me with eyes wide, worried about my mental state, and wondering exactly how much time I’ve invested in a single video game. Much to my surprise, for the first time since I bought the PS3, the helpful folks at Sony decided to email me my game-playing stats for 2017, which include the following figures, only a couple of which are alarming:

* 213 total gameplay hours in all, compared to 218 for “the average PlayStation gamer”
* 5 of those hours spent on Shadow of the Colossus
* the other 208 hours spent on Borderlands 2
* 30 of those hours were in November, the month that saw me “making the most progress”
* 40 trophies earned, compared to 126 trophies in 2016 among six games
* 6 of those earned in June, probably when I began digressing from the main storyline and backtracking to work on the game’s several zillion side quests and “challenges”, which are like itty-bitty mini-goals you can complete, for which you receive tiny stat boosts as rewards
* Of those trophies, 32 were bronze, 5 were silver, 3 were gold, none of whose metallic composition mattered to me in the slightest

To put it in perspective, that’s probably still less time than what I spent on Words with Friends, and definitely less than I spent either writing on MCC or lurking on Twitter. Believe it or not, I keep my gaming to a strict schedule, three weekly sessions of two hours each. At 52 weeks per year, if I were consistent about it, that would tally up to a potential 312 gaming hours per year. Sometimes on Friday nights I might run a little long, depending on whether or not I need to use my wireless headphones so Anne can sleep soundly without my World War B fusillades in the background. But my wireless headphones are old and only hold a charge for about 110 minutes, which makes it easier to maintain my time-slot boundaries. If it’s really late, I can’t keep playing after the headphones die unless I’m cool with virtual deafness and silent explosions, or unless I care to risk Anne’s wrath. Trust me, if she doesn’t attain her eight-hour goal, the consequences are…oh, let’s say “dire”.

By this point you may have stopped reading and left me to my own devices because you truly had no idea how much you just don’t get me. I understand, honestly. But a few curious souls may have one question remaining: “WHY?” Why in the world is it taking so long? As my son asked me the other day point-blank, “Why aren’t you bored yet?”

Exactly three reasons:

1. The repetitive nature of the side quests and challenges require players to navigate some levels two or three times to find, acquire, or otherwise finish the full list of possible tasks. Sometimes after an overlong day of adulting at work, repetitive fun tasks in an unreal environment make a keen mental palate cleanser.

2. Borderlands 2 was designed with an emphasis on multiplayer online campaigns. Optimally I should be playing through this with three buddies in other states and countries, combining forces to plow through the enemies all the faster and sharing in the loot. Their marketing intent is useless against me. I never mingle with other players because: (a) all those horror stories you hear about the broken, lost souls out there in game-land; and (b) how many strangers can possibly still be playing Borderlands 2 this many years after the fact? Playing sans teammates means every mission takes a lot longer than it should. But growing up in the ’80s at the local video arcade taught me to endure and sometimes relish repetitive grinds.

3. As previously summarized on MCC, Anne and I had a phenomenally busy 2017, with tons of conventions, special events, family needs, and — in an issue I’ve been reluctant to discuss here on MCC — needs for more sleep. Like, tons more sleep. I’m finding lately that 5-6 hours isn’t quite sustaining me through my 40s as it did in the two prior decades. All these factors combined to push video games to the back burner rather often, well behind my other responsibilities and hobbies, and with no makeup sessions attempted. I’m not now, nor will I ever be, a capital-G Gamer first. I’ve done the best I can with the time allotted.

…so, uh, yeah. That’s my 2017 in video games, unvaried as it was, but enjoyable to me, which I’m pretty sure is the point of such activities in general.

Hopefully for next year’s gaming entry I’ll have moved on to a second game, maybe even more than one. I already know what’s next. Sometime last winter my son lent me his copy of Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, which I had planned to play after I finished Borderlands 2. And I still plan to. Someday.

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