In Borderlands you played as a true mercenary, someone with no home and no central base of operations. You were a traveler. As such, I loved the lack of any big storage container. The game forced you to keep only the things you could carry; everything else must either be sold or dropped. This worked well with the setting and even more so with gameplay, since the whole point of loot is that it gets replaced. But people complained and Gearbox added a storage vault in the game’a Moxxi’s Underdome DLC. The vault didn’t ruin anything, but it did undermine my role as a mercenary traveler.
You’re not the same kind of mercenary in Borderlands 2. You begin as another Vault Hunter, another traveler, and another outsider, but this identity is quickly replaced. Your first main objective is to get to the town of Sanctuary, and once you arrive, the game establishes this as your home base. It’s a place of safety that you can return to over and over again for equipment, missions, and storage.
I’m not a loner anymore; I’m part of a community. The story takes me back here over and over again as the Crimson Raiders plan and fight against Handsome Jack. There are always a ton of side quests to do. There’s also the occasional street quest in which you’re asked to solve a crime. These are fun puzzle quests, but more importantly, these additiona make Sanctuary feel alive, like a crossroads for all kinds of characters and a hub of suspicious activity.
My storage vault reflects this. I put guns in there not for safekeeping but out of a sense of sentimentality. There’s Roland’s gun, the gun I got from Moxxi, the guns from Captain Scarlett, and other weapons that I used so often that I grew attached to them. Even as I try to keep my backpack inventory under double digits, my storage collection grows.
That is, until I beat the game and entered True Vault Hunter mode.
I immediately started finding better guns, and they were better because of their level not because of their rarity. This meant I had to stop judging a gun based on its color, and I had to eventually replace a purple (rare) gun with a white (common) gun. The shock to my system forced me to reflect on my collection habits. Suddenly, the loot in my vault didn’t seem valuable anymore. Why was I saving it? None of my friends wanted these guns, they had the same guns or something similar (or something better since most of them are further into the game than me). There’s absolutely no practical value for these weapons.
Also, why was I even spending time in Sanctuary to begin with? A hub world really doesn’t belong in a shooter. Shooters are all about forward momentum. Once you beat a level it’s on to the next one with very little reason to ever go back. It’s rare that you find a shooter that encourages you to revisit locations, but here I am in a shooter, in a hub town, not shooting things.
It was like a switch had been flipped inside of me without my knowledge. It was only after several hours of complaining to myself about Sanctuary, my item vault, and all that damn dialogue that I realized what had happened. I had become the shooter player that my old RPG self had hated. It was a transformation I knew was coming when I started True Vault Hunter mode, but the ramifications of this shift in playstyle still caught me off guard.
It’s surprising to me how much the game itself seems to change when I change my approach to it, because I know in the back of my mind that the game itself hasn’t really changed. It’s the same as it’s always been, I’m just noticing different things this time out and so my entire opinion of Pandora has changed
This highlights a central challenge facing all developers. Players are so diverse it can be hard to predict what we’ll like, and based on my experience with Borderlands 2, what we like mainly depends on what we’re looking for in the first place. I like and hate different things about Borderlands 2 depending on whether I approach it as a shooter or as an RPG.
I don’t envy game designers. Players are so fickle.
I’ve since emptied my vault and sold off all the equipment and guns. Those weapons from the DLC that seemed so great at the time: Pathetic now. The guns from Moxxi and Roland: I’d forgotten their names. Sentimentality is pointless on Pandora, and now that my vault is empty, I’m going to make sure it stays that way.
And I’m going to stop complaining to myself about Sanctuary, my item vault, and all that damn dialogue. As a traveler that doesn’t want to get tied down anywhere, I don’t like it, but I’m sure someone out there probably appreciates it.