[Disclosure: Anthony Burch, the writer of Borderlands 2, was previously employed at Destructoid. As always, no relationships, personal or professional, were factored into the review.]
Borderlands 2 has had quite the long tail of content for a noncompetitive first-person shooter. Since its release a bit over a year ago, it has seen two additional characters, four story DLC packs, two level cap increases, widespread release of previously retailer-exclusive content, dozens of new cosmetic customization options, and most recently, the series of holiday-themed Headhunter missions.
Like T.K. Baha's Bloody Harvest and The Horrible Hunger of the Ravenous Wattle Gobbler, How Marcus Saved Mercenary Day takes place in a single new area and consists of only a couple of missions. Where Bloody Harvest was centered around Halloween and Wattle Gobbler focused on Thanksgiving, Mercenary Day features a Christmas theme. With it comes a very Borderlands take on snowmen, carols, and the spirit of the season.
Borderlands 2 Headerhunter 3: How Marcus Saved Mercenary Day (Mac, PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [reviewed])
Developer: Gearbox Software
Publisher: 2K Games
Released: December 17, 2013
Mercenary Day starts out promisingly, with Marcus summoning the Vault Hunters to help him find out what happened with a missing shipment of weapons. He ushers players through a magical wardrobe that transports them from his desert storefront to the snowy town of Gingerton, where the inhabitants are found to be completely frozen in ice.
In A Christmas Carol fashion, Marcus is depicted as a Scrooge-like businessman, ruthless in his endeavor to make money in weapon sales. Naturally, this sets him up to learn about the true spirit of the season and perhaps even change his ways. By its conclusion, this does occur, but in a disjointed, nonsensical way. Due to the short length of the Headhunter packs, Mercenary Day sees Marcus go from wanting to investigate a missing shipment, to wanting to steal the shipment and being foiled by bad timing, to gifting the Vault Hunters with an impressive loot stash, without any real explanation in the story arc. Though it begins and ends exactly where one would expect, the middle part showing growth and understanding is strangely absent.
This is perhaps partly due to the fact that Marcus is not a top tier Borderlands character as far as his personality is concerned. Though he is a staple of the series, providing the ride into Fyrestone for the original four Vault Hunters, and supplying narration to most of the story introductions, his back story is not particularly interesting and his motives are largely one-dimensional. All that said, Mercenary Day's story is more fleshed out than Bloody Harvest's "go kill this guy because reasons," though it doesn't feature writing on the same level that Wattle Gobbler had.
Gameplay-wise, players should know exactly what to expect before ever stepping foot in Gingerton. Bullymongs have been reskinned to be yetis and the same old bandits have been reskinned to be snow bandits. One new common enemy type is introduced: Frost Nippers are animated snowmen that act a bit like psycho bandits, but have thankfully large hitboxes and explode with a satisfying poof when defeated.
These enemies lead up to the final confrontation against the Tinder Snowflake, the giant snowman who orchestrated the theft of Marcus's weapon shipment. As an opponent, Snowflake is one of the more fun characters to fight. He has several different attacks, including one that smartly drops regular Frost Nippers nearby with which industrious Vault Hunters can earn Second Winds and stay alive. Though Tinder Snowflake's difficulty isn't near the level of Borderlands 2's raid bosses, it is high enough to make for a tense fight. And of course, when he is defeated, players are rewarded with his head to wear.
After completing the main mission and collecting spoils, players meet Smaller-Than-Average Timothy, who provides the second and final mission. Timothy's writing and voice work is enough to elicit a smirk here and there, but nothing here is worth much more than that. One of the more bizarre pieces is a psycho singing a bandit version of "Carol of the Bells." It might be a bit funny, but it is more strange than anything else.
Speaking of "Carol of the Bells" (also known as: the only Christmas song I can stand), the soundtrack in Mercenary Day is worth noting. It mimics the instrumental style of that classic piece, injecting the sounds of the season into Pandora without being obnoxious. Though there are only a couple of tracks, chosen depending on the level of action at the time, this soundtrack is one I would listen to outside of the game.
All in all, How Marcus Saved Mercenary Day is an okay addition to Borderlands 2, but it is far from necessary. Like the other Headhunter packs, it features a small amount of content for a relatively small amount of money. With less entertaining writing than Wattle Gobbler and fewer cool Easter eggs to find than Bloody Harvest, it may be the least valuable of the three in terms of entertainment per dollar. That said, it is not an awful piece of content, it just could have been greater with a bit more care put into it.
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