At the very least, downloadable content gives us all something to argue about. We game in interesting times, it’s just a shame that the subject of interest is whether or not we’re being hoodwinked by increasingly volatile publishers who appear desperate to monetise us after a sale.
There’s no doubt that an awful lot of downloadable content, and many of the methods publishers use to deliver that content, can be construed as cynical. The days when downloadable content was composed of post-development polish applied to sections of the game that weren’t up to scratch for release are well and truly behind us.
Now almost every game has planned DLC expansions, and preorders come with a raft of questionable, often superfluous bonuses. We’re offered Xbox and PlayStation avatars, double-XP boosts, and horse armour; new map packs that divide the playerbase; and all-too-brief quest-lines that appear, distressingly, to have been snipped from the boxed experience. All of which is ready for purchase on release day. Gamers are right to be sceptical.
The first downloadable add-on for Borderlands 2, Captain Scarlett and her Pirate’s Booty, is a categorical example of downloadable content done right. Yes, Gearbox developed this downloadable content in concert with the primary development of Borderlands 2. But it offers more content than the campaigns of many singleplayer games alone.
It’s a sprawling, self-contained experience set in an entirely new area, featuring a wholly new cast non-player characters, and introducing a range of new enemy skins and forms of attack that will require players to unlearn many of the strategies they formulated in the main game.
The Vault Hunters arrive in Oasis, what used to be a seaside resort town that has now dried out due to climate changes on Pandora. Now, dust devils sweep down the main thoroughfare, boardwalks creek and jetties jut out into the barren sand. The Hunters are here in search of a legendary cache of weapons set down by an old pirate. Oasis’ final living occupant, Shade, is a desperately lonely character closely modelled on Ralph Steadman’s portraits of Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Soon, the Hunters will explore the waste, and team up with the eponymous Captain Scarlett, a leader known for backstabbing everyone she’s ever worked with – a fact she unreservedly communicates to her new partners.
While the desert beyond Oasis is strongly reminiscent of other areas players will be familiar with from Borderlands 2, the DLC demonstrates admirable variety, from lush, underground caverns to Hyperion facilities, and even the innards of a monstrous sandworm.
Many enemies have been reskinned in keeping with the pirate theme, and most have been armed with new weapons and new attacking moves and patterns that will require players to rethink the methods they’ve committed to memory in Borderlands 2. New types of Goliaths wield anchors and harpoons, and psycho pirates have a melee attack that drains life – something they’ll use before scurrying back to cover.
Altogether, it’s a very welcome mix-up that breathes even more life into Borderlands 2. It’s impeccably timed, as well. The Mechromancer, a downloadable player character with skill trees designed to accommodate both extremely new, and extremely veteran players, is also now available. Gaige’s special ability is summoning a robot. One skill tree is designed to appeal to all player types, and focuses on forms of elemental damage. Another, called Best Friends Forever, is designed to give players unskilled in first-person shooters a leg-up. For example, and ability called Close Enough means any shots that miss their intended target have a 50 percent chance to ricochet and hit for 50 percent less damage.
The final skill tree, Ordered Chaos, is very much intended for highly experienced players who are interested in theorycrafting. They’ll have to manage two resources, Anarchy and Discord. Anarchy stacks up to 150 times. Every stack increases gun damage by 1.75 percent and decreases accuracy by 1.75 percent. Prematurely reloading removes all Anarchy stacks. Discord grants bonus accuracy, fire-rate, and health regeneration whenever players prematurely reload. Additional abilities boost these effects but add new modifiers.
Captain Scarlett and her Pirate’s Booty is what downloadable content ought to be: expansive and apart. It’s instantly recognisable, but it experiments with many of the gameplay mechanics players are familiar with. It introduces carefully conceived and thoroughly realised new non-player characters, and provides an encapsulated encounter that any fan of Borderlands 2 would do very well to consider.