My first experience with the survival horror genre, much like a lot of people, was with the original Resident Evil on PlayStation. Ever since then, I've been hooked to horror games. Even if I've never played a particular title, I've at least read up about it. But when I first played Resident Evil, I was terrible at it. Even today, my naturally instinct in almost every game is to kill everything, because that's what videogames do, right? They condition us to kill everything? Anyway, I never beat the old school RE games when I was a kid, because I would quickly run out of ammo and I was too much of a man to run away from enemies. Thank you for fixing that problem, Resident Evil 6. Just kidding, I still hate you.
With my interest in horror games, I recently watched a playthrough of Outlast. I don't have a PC, so I can't play the game myself until I eventually pick up a PS4, but even then I'm not sure if I want to play it. Why? I'll be honest, even though I love horror games, the act of playing them stresses me out, and the fact that it's a game that relies on you hiding effectively and not being able to attack only stresses me out more. While watching the playthrough, I found that Outlast actually reminded me of one of my favorite horror games, The Suffering. It was mostly the environments that caused me to make the comparison (Outlast takes place in a grungy asylum, The Suffering in a grungy prison), and it brought back some good memories.
Pictured: good memories
Back in 2005, I worked at a Blockbuster Video, and in between trying to explain to old people why we no longer carried movies on VHS and catching every other customer trying to steal, I had the perk of playing games for free. We didn't have a great selection, but I did discover a few hidden gems during my time there, and The Suffering was one of them. It had already been out for about a year when I played it, which was also the time in my life where I was watching Ghost Hunters a lot, because I used to have bad taste in television. Coincidentally, the prison in The Suffering, Carnate Island Penitentiary, was inspired by Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, which was featured on an episode of Ghost Hunters, and there's even a mini-documentary about Eastern State in the The Suffering's special features.
The player controls Torque, a man convicted of allegedly murdering his wife and two sons, but due to his blackouts, doesn't remember anything about what happened. Only a few minutes into the opening cutscene, an earthquake hits and the prison is overrun with monsters, which are referred to as "malefactors." Due to the prison's shady history and the violence that took place there over the years, the malefactors all represent a different form of execution used at the prison. For example, the Slayer enemy (pictured above) represents the inmates that were executed by decapitation, and the Marksman malefactor represents death by firing squad.
One of the things that made The Suffering stand out from other survival horror titles is what, for lack of a better term, I'm just going to call "Beast Mode," because that's essentially what it is, although the official name is "Insanity Mode." Throughout the game, Torque's mental stability and inner rage are mentioned quite often, and Torque can actually transform into a manifestation of his rage. If I remember correctly, it's never fully disclosed if Torque is actually transforming, or if it's just rage-induced adrenaline that causes him to be practically impervious to damage.
The Suffering was released pre-Resident Evil 4, so it was one of first, if not the first, survival horror game that was more suited to the fighter than the runner. You always had enough ammo to get you through a fight, and the addition of Beast Mode made most battles a breeze.
Throughout the game, Torque encounters the spirit of Dr. Killjoy (winner in the Most Un-Subtle Villain Name category), who was the psychiatrist and doctor of the penitentiary, and was the one who administered a lot of the torture on the island. The Suffering's wiki says that Dr. Killjoy has a strong resemblance to horror icon Vincent Price, but in my opinion he looked a lot more like Dr. Vannacutt from the 1999 version of House of Haunted Hill, which, coincidentally, was a remake of a Vincent Price film. Dr. Killjoy appears through the use of projectors scattered about the facility, and makes comments about Torque's mental state.
The game had three endings, and the endings were dependent on where you stood in the morality system at the end of the game. Now, the morality system wasn't as deep as something like Mass Effect, most decisions basically came down to "Kill this guy" or "Don't kill this guy," but overall I felt it was implemented pretty well. You weren't told "Hey, this is a morality choice." When I played it, I wound up getting the neutral ending, which resulted in Torque knocking out the guard who arrived to rescue him by boat, and escape the island.
It's not the most terrifying game in the world, but the lack of light throughout the prison, the abundant amount of enemies, and the depressing characters all made for a very enjoyable experience. It plays like a typical third-person shooter, with the option to switch to first-person on the fly. You can carry up to 10 bottles of painkillers, which act the health in the game, and can be used at will whenever you need a health boost.
There was a sequel, The Suffering: Ties That Bind, released the following year. It takes place immediately after the original in Torque's hometown of Baltimore, and Torque is tortured throughout the game by crime lord Blackmore. It's revealed that Blackmore was actually the one responsible for killing Torque's family, but you later discover that Blackmore is one of Torque's alternate personalities, so the story can basically be summed up by saying "It wasn't Torque who killed his family, just kidding, it totally was."
I remember this game being much more difficult than the original with the addition of super malefactors, which were nothing more than malefactors encased in metal, causing you to use either more ammunition, or your more powerful weapons. They also brought in a secret government agency who were armed to the teeth, and you could no longer stock up on painkillers, instead having to find them scattered about the city and used immediately. There's a woman named Jordan who works for the agency and has "dedicated her life to studying the malefactors," which, now that I think about it, doesn't make sense considering that the malefactors were manifestations of the violence of Carnate Island, and they didn't come into existence until earlier that night.
All the endings pertain to what happens with Blackmore and what actually happened on the night Torque killed his family. In the good ending, Torque clears Blackmore from his mind and Carmen (Torque's wife) forgives him. The neutral ending reveals that Torque accidentally killed his wife, which caused his oldest son to kill his brother and then commit suicide, then both Blackmore and Torque realize they can't get rid of each other and say "deal with it." The evil ending has Torque murdering his entire family, with Blackmore taking control of Torque's mind, which doesn't sound nearly as horrifying as the neutral ending.
Ties That Bind was a decent game, but it could have been better, and I feel it tarnished the original. The story is pretty convoluted, has lots of unnecessary characters, and contradicts itself in a few spots. For instance, they show Torque as someone who worked for Blackmore, but later, it turns out that Torque is Blackmore, and the good ending reveals that Blackmore's goons killed Torque's family, which means that it was actually Torque's goons who killed his family. It really doesn't add up.
Blackmore was played by Michael Clarke Duncan. R.I.P.
I'd really like to see a third game in the series, but I'm not sure who has the license at the moment, as it was a Midway series. Unfortunately, with the way that games sell these days, it probably wouldn't be in the best interest of the license-holder to make a third title, as The Suffering doesn't have the name recognition or fanbase of a Resident Evil or Dead Space. I thought The Suffering was one of the better survival horror games of the previous generation, and if you never got around to playing it, give it a go, but don't bother with Ties That Bind, the story is much better if you just pretend the series begins and ends with the original.
Perhaps I'm speaking only for myself, but sometimes I'll play a game that I have no interest in. The reason is simple: everyone said it was AWESOME! Sometimes I'm surprised about how I feel once I start playing said 'AWESOME' game. The examples I'll use are Sleeping Dogs and Saints Row the Third, both of which I played for the first time within the last few months. If you place the two side-by-side and asked me which one I expected to enjoy and which one I thought I would hate, the results would have been completely different than how it actually played out.
A gritty, open-world, undercover cop story set in Hong Kong, which was originally a sequel in a series of previous generation games that I didn't like? SNORE! An open-world game where you play a leader of a gang in the middle of their Beatlemania, with over-the-top humor, the ability to perform wrestling moves on pedestrians, and features Hulk Hogan, Rob Van Dam, and Burt Reynolds as voice actors? Are you kidding me? Grind it into a liquid and stick it in my veins!
However, Sleeping Dogs went on to be my favorite open-world game of this generation (partly due to the fact that I got to listen to Machine Head and Fear Factory while wastin' fools), and I stopped playing Saints Row after about 6 hours. I really tried to love it, it just didn't resonate with me. Due to the high praise SR3 received from pretty much every gaming outlet on the planet, I felt like I must have been doing something wrong. I continued to play long after I realized I didn't like it, because by all accounts, it's amazing, and eventually I'm going to get to that point where it clicks. It has good controls, it's got the type of humor that I love, fun characters, and so on, so what gives?
Not to say that Sleeping Dogs wasn't without humor.
I started trying to rationalize why I didn't enjoy it, analying my own psyche hoping to stumble across an answer. Then I had a revelation: I didn't enjoy it because.....because I just freaking didn't. Why did I need a reason? Why did I need an excuse?
Perhaps part of it was because of the Internet's tendency to fly off the handle when you don't love something the same way they do. "You don't love this thing that I love? Where's my torch and pitchfork?!?" I don't say that in an uptight, snooty way, because I'm totally guilty of the same thing. I love the Metal Gear series, and I understand that it's not for everyone, but if someone tells me that they don't enjoy Metal Gear Solid 4, I'll write a freaking dissertation stating all the reasons I'm right and they're wrong. It's the same with music and movies.
Get your pitchforks ready...
I'll compare my experience with Saints Row to what happened to me with the movie The Big Lebowski and the metal band, Mastodon. I didn't see The Big Lebowski until about two years ago, and don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it and thought it was very funny, but after 10 years of people saying it's the best movie ever, it didn't quite live up to expectations. I kid you not, as I was watching it, I received a message on Xbox Live that said "Best movie ever." Moving on, as a lifelong heavy metal fan, everyone always tells me how great Mastodon is, and I've tried on several occasions to like them. Every time they release a new album, I'll listen to it, and then an hour later I'll be sitting there thinking "Well, that sucked."
When something is built up as one of the best in its medium, we inflate our expectations to the point that there's no way it can possibly live up to them. Part of this may be because I tend to wait on playing big titles until after they've dropped in price (thank you PlayStation Plus), and if I had played Saints Row upon release, my thoughts may have been completely different.
I will, however, never get sick of this.
Of course, as someone who desires to one day turn writing into a paying gig, giving a game a bad score and writing "I just didn't like it" wouldn't fly, but sometimes I feel like there's no legitimate reason other than that. Like I said, by all accounts it should have been one of my favorite games of all-time, but for reasons unknown even to me at this time, it wasn't my cup of tea.
But I think the lesson I learned from this was that it's alright to not like something that's universally loved, and I don't need to force myself to continue playing a game once I've come to the conclusion that it's just not for me.
I wouldn't say that I'm a Nintendo fanboy, but I'll be the first to admit that I am 100% a fanboy of the company's top mascot, the portly plumber, Mario. There's just something about that short, mustachioed man that always makes me happy, reminding me of sitting three feet away from a giant tube television and staring in awe when you grab that vegetable out of the ground only to discover that it's actually a rocket ship that flies you to the next level. Those memories will never die, and I still get excited for most Mario games even if all they are is just a rehash of the previous game with new levels. Super Mario Galaxy was the sole reason I bought a Wii in the first place, but for whatever reason, Mario has lost his luster for me. I certainly didn't have the same feelings towards New Super Mario Bros. U as I did for Galaxy, which is why I sit here Wii U-less.
Although, I may have to break down soon...
There's that old saying that goes "Don't fix what isn't broken," and that's how I felt about Mario games up until about a year ago. When I played New Super Mario Bros. 2 on 3DS, despite the fact that a lot of outlets gave it middling reviews, I really enjoyed it. I had my doubts about the coin collecting gimmick, but actually found it to be pretty cool. But even though I really liked it, it's the first Mario game that I've had absolutely no desire to play a second time, and my indifference to New SMB U got me to thinking that maybe Nintendo needs to fix something with the Mushroom Kingdom's go-to-guy.
One day last week, I had a 'eureka!' moment. I was thinking about the kind of Mario game I would like to play, and the answer was so simple that I'm amazed that Nintendo hasn't thought of it yet. Simply put, take the Mario series, and emulate another classic Nintendo franchise: Metroid. To be more precise (and I'm going to use this word even though I hate it), make a 2-D Mario game in the style of a Metroidvania. Before you cry "That'll never work," hear me out on this one.
The Mario universe would be a perfect fit for a Metroid-style map. In an average 2-D Mario game, you have: a regular Mushroom Kingdom area, a desert world, a water world, an ice world, a sky world, a fire world, and I'll throw in the underground levels and ghost houses as well. I'll use the Symphony of the Night map as an example.
Here is half of the Symphony of the Night map. Now, with the power of Microsoft Paint (and very little artistic skill), I'll give you a basic example of how this could work for Mario.
The different areas in Mario can be used in a way very similar to Symphony. In Symphony, every area was different but still felt like it belonged in Dracula's castle. Just as in Mario, all the worlds are disparate but still feel like they belong in the same game.
Here's a general key:
GREEN-Basic Mushroom Kingdom. GRAY - Underground levels similar to Level 1-2 in the original Super Mario Bros. RED - Fire world. PURPLE - Small castle which leads to the Sky World a la Super Mario Bros. 3, World 5. BLUE - Sky world. PINK - Bowser's secret lair or something similar
For those unfamiliar with Symphony of the Night, the red blocks represent areas to save your game, and the orange/yellow areas are warp zones. It would be very easy to just stick Toad into the red areas to record progress, and warp pipes in the orange/yellow ones. While Symphony's castle becomes very vertical once the inverted castle in unlocked, you could switch that and make this map very horizontal, and have the Mushroom Kingdom gradually turn into a desert, or make a shoreline that leads to a sea.
They could throw in characters like Birdo, Kamek, and Wart for boss battles, and when you look at the beastiary for any Castlevania game, it's safe to say that there would be more than enough room to include the entire pantheon of Mario enemies, everything from your standard goombas and koopas to obscure enemies like Torpedo Ted and my personal favorite, Blargg.
If you don't like Blargg, then we can't be friends.
Instead of temporary power-ups, have the power-ups be permanent and something that can be switched on the fly. In Metroid, you discover new abilities and use those to unlock new areas, and you can do that here too. You found an area completely blocked off by ice? Just go down to the Fire World, unlock the Fire Flower and use that to melt the ice. An area blocked by rock? Good thing you have that Hammer Bros. suit. Mario could level up, use skill points to upgrade suits, and discover or buy new attire to increase certain stats like in the Mario & Luigi games. Also, considering Nintendo's affinity for secret areas, especially in Mario titles, I don't see how this idea would be anything less than awesome.
Is this the answer to the Wii U's problems? No. Will it be a system seller? Maybe. It would certainly sell at least one, because I would show up at midnight on release day. I'm not saying that it's the Wii U's savior, but it would certainly give Mario a much needed shot in the arm. The Wii U gamepad could be used for the map, inventory, etc. It would even work as a 3DS title. Either way, this is a Mario game that I would love to play. So, Nintendo, please feel free to use this idea (Copyrighted Dustin Thomas, 2013).
Maybe this idea is terrible, but I would love to hear feedback and opinions from my fellow DToiders, and as always, thanks for reading.
Given the particular audience reading this, I think it's safe to say that a lot of us use gaming as more than just a way to pass the time. Some of us use it at times when life is overwhelming. Such is the case with me right now. Let me give a quick synopsis of what happened to me this week.
In July of last year, I started a new job, and it was easily the best job that I've ever had. In March, I was promoted. With the promotion, I was moved to a different department, received a 20% pay increase, and went from working third shift, Friday to Tuesday, to working a 9-5, Monday through Friday. Needless to say, I was stoked. Fast-forward to this past Monday, and I was called into my new boss' office. Sitting there was my boss, the boss from my old department, and the VP of the company. I made assumptions about what was happening before I even sat down. My assumptions were correct: my department was being phased out, and I had the option to go back to my old position or quit. I would go back to my old pay rate, and I would go back to working third shift. The worst part, however, was that I had to make a decision by the end of the day, because after 5pm, my current position no longer existed. I was given zero warning, zero time to prepare, and had a huge decision to make.
Most people are probably thinking "The good news is that you still have a job." Well, actually, I don't. I took the latter option and left the company. It's not a pride thing, it was more the fact that going back to my old position would have made it impossible for me to do the things that are most important to me. Wrestling? Done. Seeing my wife? No more. And what good is a youth pastor that never sees his youth group? Luckily, my wife makes enough money to support us for the time being. So, after a lot of prayers and soul-searching, I feel I made the right decision.
Why did I bother to tell you this story? Because ever since I made the decision, I've been boooooorrrrrrred, and like most of us who would be in a similar position, I've been using gaming as a way to cope. I've been getting some of my backlog taken care of in between job searches and household chores. I recently scratched Far Cry 3 off the list, and since Monday I've managed to finish Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D, and currently working my way through Saints Row The Third before starting Bioshock Infinite. I also have God of War: Ascension that I borrowed from a friend, Dead Rising 2 becoming free in the near future, X-Com thanks to Playstation Plus, and Link's Awakening DX was my Club Nintendo prize (I'm determined to finish a Zelda game before the end of the year). I've been trying to scale down the movie/television backlog as well, watching at least one movie I've been meaning to get to a day. Today was The Expendables 2, and I'm thinking I may finally go through and watch Twin Peaks.
The games (and movies) pile up faster than we can finish them. All the ones I just listed is just the beginning. What about all those PS2 games I never finished...or started, for that matter? The best advice I feel is to just take it one game at a time, not just with backlogs, but with life in general. In the span of minutes, your entire world can change, I learned that this week. You never know what king of shot life is going to take at you, and it's all about how you roll with the punches. There's no sense in being upset over it, it is what it is, and the best thing you can do is just accept it and move on. Life, much like games, can be overwhelming, but as long as you keep your head on straight, and don't let the negatives outweigh the positives, things will always turn out well in the end. When the going gets tough, make time for the things you love. Luckily for me, I have gaming, writing, my wife and family, my youth group and all the other amazing people at my church. I'm very blessed.
I got a bit philosophical there for a moment, and I've barely spoken about games this entire time, but I still feel like this was worth writing. Hopefully I didn't bring down the room, so to cheer everyone up, here's Scott Steiner being insane...
I've put off writing this blog for a while now for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, because it's a sad story. Secondly, because I feel like I've written this story in some capacity several times over the last few years. But I think I need to write this now because it's both tied to videogames and because it'll be therapeutic for me. I'm going to Tarantino things here for a bit, giving you the middle, then I'll back up, and then take it home.
In October, it will mark the 7-year anniversary of my best friend's passing. It's one of those things that seems like it was forever ago, but I still remember like it happened yesterday. His name was Cole Gray, and he had a respiratory disease called cystic fibrosis. People with CF aren't expected to live past the age of 30, Cole was 22 at the time. I had lost people that I loved before, but all when I was at a very young age. This was the first time where I realized just how hard it is to deal with the death of a loved one, and videogames were one of the ways I did it.
I had known Cole since I was in elementary school, as we both played in the same youth basketball league, but it wasn't until our sophomore year of high school that we became buds. We noticed that we had a lot of similar interests: sports, professional wrestling, The Simpsons, etc. But it was our love of video games that really bonded us. Cole was primarily a sports gamer, although he preferred the over-the-top titles like NFL Street and NBA Jam to their more sim-like brethren. Not to say that we didn't get plenty of hours of gaming together in the forms of Madden and NBA Live, because we definitely did. But the one series that really made us close was Mortal Kombat.
The first time I ever went to his house, he showed me a VHS tape that he had made (this was 2001, so DVD players weren't as prevalent), and on this tape he had put the Mortal Kombat film, followed by Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, followed by the animated Mortal Kombat: The Journey Begins, followed by manual recordings of every fatality in the series. He loved the series so much that he devoted an entire 8-hour VHS tape to it. I remember that tape playing in the background while we did other things on several occasions.
Yes, I'm doing the John Cena "Word Life" gesture in our prom picture. Shut up.
Over the course of our friendship, we would see the release of three Mortal Kombat games: Deadly Alliance, Deception, and Shaolin Monks. God only knows how much time we sunk into those games. We would spend hours playing each other, fighting the computer, unlocking items in the Krypt, and discovering new things in Deception's Konquest mode. There was little, if anything, in those games that we didn't see.
Cole had to do a lot of treatments, and his illness caused him a lot of pain, but the great thing about him is that unless you were one of his close friends or family, you never would have known. The guy was all smiles when he was around people, always the first to crack jokes, and had one of those very unique sense of humors. Although it pained me to see it, I was honored that he felt close enough to me to let his guard down once in a while.
In the summer of 2006, his illness became increasingly worse, and the next two months were all kind of a blur. It's hard to mentally accept it when you know your friend is near the end of his life, and I was in denial right up to the end. On October 4th, 2006, he was admitted into the hospital. I went to visit him, and he seemed as lively as ever, but everyone around him seemed very somber, and that caused my warning flags to go up. I knew something was wrong.
Two days later, at around 4 a.m., I received a call from his step-mother. Cole was on life support and wasn't going to recover, but they wanted to wait to take him off until myself and our close group of friends could get there to say goodbye. I don't know if you've ever had to call one of your best friends to tell them that your other best friend is dying, but it was by far the hardest phone call I've ever had to make. We arrived at the hospital, and when we walked into his room and saw him hooked up to a bunch of machines, I felt like I had been punched in the stomach, all of the air was sucked out of my body. I stood there, not even trying to hold back tears, said goodbye to my brother, and then went to the lobby while his family stayed with him until he was gone.
Cole had Mortal Kombat: Armageddon pre-ordered, and I couldn't put into words how excited he was for it. Even though I didn't think very highly of the game once I actually played it, I know he would have loved it. Every character from the series in one game? When he first heard that he nearly lost his mind. Unfortunately, he passed away only a few days before the game was released. His funeral actually coincided with the game's launch, and his fiance went to GameStop to pick up his copy when they opened. Cole was buried with Mortal Kombat: Armageddon in his casket, and I also decided to leave an action figure of Scorpion (his favorite character) in there with him as well.
We had a very tight-knit group of friends (4 of us total), and on the day of his passing, we got together and spent the evening playing Armageddon, stuffing our guts full of pizza, and downing a 12-pack of Pepsi, his drink of choice. It was bittersweet, but it was one of the best ways for us to honor our fallen brother and to cope with our loss, as we had spent several weekends together doing that exact same thing.
I remember when the announcement of the series reboot was made, I immediately thought of him. I never played it, not because it would have been too difficult for me, but because my interest in fighting games had waned over the years, but there's no doubt in my mind that he would have been there on day one, picking up the special edition, the arcade stick, the season pass, the strategy guide, the whole-nine-yards. I don't have much of an interest in the series anymore, but I feel like every gamer has that one game that's extra special to them that no one else will understand the reasoning for. For me, Mortal Kombat is one of those games.
I've written extensively about why the Borderlands series holds a dear place in my heart. It's safe to say that both the original and the sequel are my two favorite games to come out of this generation of consoles, especially when looked at from the amount of time that I've sunk into them. When it comes to vast, open-world games, I'm normally not the type to explore every nook and cranny, but when I'm on Pandora, I want to see everything. One thing the series is known for is it's plethora of downloadable content after the initial release. The main games are both incredible, but the eight (thus far) downloadable add-ons range anywhere from "That was awesome!" to "I spent money on that?" Luckily, there are more of the former than that latter, and I wanted to rank them personally from my least to most favorite, because everyone loves rankings!
No. 8: Mad Moxxi's Underdome Riot
It should come as no surprise to anyone why this is the worst addition to the series. While it does add 12 hours of gameplay--assuming you can play for 4 hours at a stretch, three different times--it's nothing more than an overly-long arena battle that wears out its welcome the first time you fail a wave and are sent back to the previous one. You don't gain experience, you fight 50 waves of increasingly tougher enemies, and you never leave the small area you're dumped into. There's also no way to save between waves, so you either finish it or you start over. Unless you have a minimum of three people playing, you more or less have no chance of completing all 50 waves, and if you're only playing for achievements/trophies, just do what I did and cheat the system, although you should be warned that it's very monotonous, and that time could be spent playing something worthwhile.
No. 7: Sir Hammerlock's Big Game Hunt
After the successful run of expansions in the original Borderlands, it was inevitable that the sequel would follow suit. With the exception of the previous entry, all of the add-on content for Borderlands felt significant. They felt like true expansions on the universe, and they felt complete. It felt like they took their time, fleshing out every detail and making sure it worked the way they wanted it to before releasing it. But because the "Season Pass" is such a moneymaker for certain games, the expansions sometimes feel rushed, which is the case with most DLC for Borderlands 2. Assault on Dragon Keep aside, all the downloadable content is extremely short, and Sir Hammerlock's Big Game Hunt is the worst of the bunch, only taking about 3-4 hours to finish (and that encompasses every mission, not just main story quests).
It doesn't help that Sir Hammerlock is one of the more boring characters in the series, aside from his "Bonerfart" tangents, he adds little value. It's almost like he was created as a way of saying "We made a Teddy Roosevelt character because the Internet loves Teddy Roosevelt." You spend the majority of missions killing animal-based enemies, which is disappointing for me personally, as I find a lot of humor from the eccentricities of the human baddies. The monsters here feel a bit uninspired, looking as if they were ripped straight out of a C-horror film.
No. 6: Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate's Booty
I know that thus far, I've had nothing good to say about Borderlands DLC, but this is where things start to get better. A total of 75% of content released post-launch for both games is worth checking out and adds at least a few hours of gameplay, so the investment is worth it if you're a fan of the series. Captain Scarlett isn't amazing, but it's a nice little excursion away from the main game. DLC for Borderlands 2 was released much more quickly after launch compared to the original, and that worried me. Because it was released less than a month after the initial game launch, I was scared that this DLC would be unpolished, and while I did come across some minor annoyances--like getting stuck on flat ground--it turned out to be a pretty solid package. The town of Oasis was darkly humorous, and it had some pretty good characters, like C3n50r807 (the "Censorbot"), Herbert the Hermit, my wife's personal favorite Shade, and of course, Captain Scarlett herself. Scarlett's constant reminding of how you should work together until she ultimately betrays you was a nice touch, and using the Rakk Hive as her giant pet was a neat throwback to the original Borderlands.
It's far from being the best DLC campaign, but not bad either. It's not going to set your heart ablaze, but won't crush it either. You'll come across some bugs, but nothing game-breaking. Definitely worth a playthrough.
No. 5: Mr. Torgue's Campaign of Carnage
Mr. Torgue is "Macho Man" Randy Savage, there's no way to deny that. Given my professional wrestling background, most would assume that fact alone would shoot this add-on straight to the #1 spot on the list. Borderlands has so many great characters, but there are some that are a cut above the rest--Claptrap, General Knoxx, Crazy Earl--and Mr. Torgue definitely lands in that upper echelon of characters. But the reason Mr. Torgue's Campaign of Carnage doesn't crack the top half of this list is because outside of Mr. Torgue himself, there's nothing spectacular about this campaign. It's a couple arena battles, a few time-limited skirmishes, a handful of boss fights, and that's it. The environments don't stand out, with the exception of the area called The Beatdown (which us suburban white folk would refer to as "the bad part of town"). Every other area looks like something you had already seen in the main game.
If all you wanted was more Borderlands, then this is right up your alley. That's not a knock on it by any means, but at this point I've come to expect the add-ons to be where Gearbox goes off-the-wall, and this didn't feel like that. That being said, it's still fun and still worth a playthrough or two if for nothing else than to hear Mr. Torgue's insane ramblings.
No. 4: The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned
I, like most gamers, have grown a bit weary of zombie games. I remember when I first heard the title, I was a bit disappointed because it seemed like a cheap direction to go in. It was the first DLC to ever be released for the series, so I was just expecting new missions and new areas to coincide with the main game, which would have been more than sufficient. I didn't expect to love Zombie Island nearly as much as I did. Knowing zombies couldn't be the only enemies in the game, Gearbox included their versions of the classic horror villains: Were-skags, Tankensteins, Pumpkinheads, killer birds, and the titular Dr. Ned as the game's obligatory mad scientist.
The missions are basically what you would expect: go here, collect this, kill that guy, return. It's a working formula, so there was no need to change it. There were a couple references to the main game as a nice touch, like the undead T.K. Baha to receive missions from and the nightmarish version of Old Haven (now known as Dead Haven). I wish there was more to say about this one, but the title kind of says it all. If for whatever reason you never got around to playing it, you really should, as it's one of the more creative add-ons released for the series.
Tied No 2: The Secret Armory of General Knoxx
I debated on which of the next two entries I enjoyed more, but I really couldn't make up my mind, so I'm listing General Knoxx first because it was released first.
I only have one complaint about the General Knoxx DLC, and that's the fact that there is no fast-travel. This is the longest of the expansions for the original Borderlands, but that's artificial due to the fact that a lot of missions require you to drive from one end of the world to the other, and it takes forever. If you can get over the monotony of driving back and forth, it's a great piece of content. It's also the biggest of all the original DLC in terms of all the things they added. There are three new cars (although one is just a redesign from the original name), a new level of loot, an increased level cap, new loot chest designs, new enemy types, and it also added on to the story arc of the main game.
General Knoxx himself is one of my favorite characters in the entire series. He's a stereotypical military type who absolutely hates his job, and delivers some of the best dialogue the series has ever had. In fact, there's a lot of great dialogue all-around (the Crimson Lance discussion about ice cream being my personal favorite). Even though the length is padded out by the exclusion of fast-travel stations, the missions are fun and the new areas are interesting enough to make up for it.
Tied No. 2: Claptrap's New Robot Revolution
Let me start by saying that I've played through all the DLC for the original Borderlands three times each (Underdome Riot excluded), and I did not like Claptrap's New Robot Revolution the first time I played it. I liked it on the second playthrough, and loved it the third time. Well, maybe it's not so much that I didn't like it the first time, and more the fact that I loved General Knoxx so much that this felt like a step back.
CNRR picks up where General Knoxx left off and brings the story arc full-circle, quite literally. They must have learned something from General Knoxx, as most areas are now quickly and easily accessible from a central area. The enemies are basically Claptrap-bandit hybrids, as well as introducing new types of Claptraps to face off against. Overall, this was a pretty good way to officially bring Borderlands to a close. It gave you something new, as well as some throwbacks to the main game. The final mission has you facing off with Dr. Ned and General Knoxx one more time before reaching the ultimate showdown with the Mega Interplanetary Ninja Assassin Claptrap, which is exactly what it sounds like. CNRR doesn't feel as large or expansive as General Knoxx, but what it lacked in overall size it made up for with immense creativity.
No. 1: Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep
Perhaps Assault on Dragon Keep gets the top ranking because it's the most recent add-on and it's still fresh in my mind, but it shouldn't be overlooked just how creative it really is. Not to mention it was the only time that the series has caused me to feel genuine sadness, despite how annoying I found Tina to be in Borderlands 2 proper. Most of the notable characters from the main game make appearances, but everything else is completely new from a design perspective. New areas, new enemies, new loot chests, new everything. Also, there's a gun that shoots swords. I'll repeat that. There's a gun...that shoots...SWORDS! Actually, that gun isn't all that great, but on the other hand, it shoots swords. Sometimes you just have to take the good with the bad.
Anyway, the entire campaign is an homage to Dungeons & Dragons and other fantasy franchises, and it comes across wonderfully. There's references to all different types of nerd culture, one area in particular is pretty much ripped straight from The Elder Scrolls games. Tina narrates the entire campaign, but she's not nearly as annoying here as she was in the main game, although she definitely does have those moments. This expansion was released recently enough to where I don't want to go into too much detail and spoil anything (did I mention there's a gun that shoots swords?), but if more detail is what you want, then go read Chris Carter's review. Just take it from me, as someone who is not a fan of Dungeons & Dragons or anything similar to it, that if there was one piece of DLC you need for Borderlands 2, this is the one.
Of course, this list is entirely subjective. I'm sure some disagree about which one goes where or may not like certain points I've made, and that's fine. I just wanted an excuse to write about Borderlands again.