I’ve been playing a lot of Borderlands 2 over the past few months and completed the whole regular campaign again in The Handsome Collection (named after evil protagonist Jack Handsome). I love the game and had a great time but didn’t think it was really worth a writeup alone, because it’s pretty much what you’d expect. The same game from 2013 but with retouched HD graphics at 60fps. A loot-based shooter with a post-apocalyptic setting, some dark humour and lots of bandits, gunfights, looting and exploring. It’s a very good game and a joy to replay, but many people have been there and done that. After getting The Handsome Collection however, it comes with all the DLC I had never played before. I was surprised and delighted to find this content was even more fun than the main game.
It can all be a bit overwhelming however, with dozens of places you can fast-travel to as soon as you find a fast-travel station in the first hour of the game. Having now played every single bit of content in this game, I thought I’d dissect the DLC a bit here and try and help anyone who doesn’t know where or why to start.
First, this is the most obvious thing but I recommend beating the Borderlands 2 story first. If you don’t care about story, you can jump into any DLC, but they have spoilers as they all take place with events of Borderlands 2 in mind. The second important thing is your level. There’s two problems this DLC can pose, you can be underleveled or overleveled depending on when you start it. They will be either level 15 or 30 at the lowest. The moment you start it, the levels become set. So for example if you start a new area at level 30, the enemies and quests will scale to that level. A common mistake is starting a DLC, bailing out, then coming back to it later. This will make everything too easy and you’ll be one-shotting everything as the DLC stays at level 30, while you disappeared and came back at level 50. Look at me now, losers!
The opposite can happen too and the DLC can be too hard if you play in a New Game+ difficulty without the appropriate level or gear. It really feels like some of the later missions in each DLC are designed for multiple players to tackle, so be careful going in solo at high levels. I kept things fresh by doing the last few campaigns with a brand new character in a different class. If you make different characters you can go into each DLC with the same normal difficulty.
I’m making it sound like there’s strict rules for playing this, but there really isn’t. Feel free to go in at level 5 and use up your entire supply of ammo on one enemy. Whatever your approach, the DLC is a fun time. They feature more detailed environments, better writing, new music, new characters and almost every twist on the gameplay you could think of. That’s the beauty of these, they take the established solid gameplay and put it into a new scenario that is free from the “rules” of the main game’s lore. Using the same gear, levels and seamlessly traveling from the DLC locations back to the main game is another reason it’s so awesome. These take self-contained stories and compliment the main game in the best way imaginable. I’m now gonna go through each of the 4 big DLC campaigns and explain why they’re unique.
Captain Scarlett and her Pirate’s Booty (recommended level 15-30)
This was the first DLC I played and I was blown away by the landscape. After so much time in the decrepit wasteland this Oasis town looks very inviting.
Ah, maybe I can sit down with a nice drink here? Oops, turns out it’s still full of psychos… but brand new ones! This DLC features brand new personalities that almost make this feel like a self-contained new game. These people are kinda detached from reality and clinging onto a dried up oasis. Everything has a new coat of paint, including loot boxes, enemies and all the characters and locations. This is a completely self-contained story where you must find the compass pieces to get the ultimate treasure for Scarlett. You even get a new vehicle with the sandship that feels amazing to drive. The quest design is quite different, with “message in a bottle” quests that involve precise platforming up palm trees and searching the map for the X. I enjoyed this because you couldn’t simply rely on the minimap, you had to look around and appreciate all the different textures and designs in the world, there’s some interesting stuff hiding around. This is a great place to start your DLC journey and something you could probably play without spoiling much from the main game.
Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep (recommended level 30-35)
This was the second one I played and once again takes a completely different twist. This is an entirely new adventure as Tina tells a story and you play this “make believe” world in Pandora. The storytale narrative allows crazy objects to warp right in front of you as story details are fed to your dreamworld. The environment around you is at the mercy of a 13 year old girls imagination. It’s absolutely insane to witness, and allows for some graphical effects and impressive transformations that would have no reason to exist in the main game.
This is a fantastic world with brand new enemies too including skeletons, walking trees and fairies. It creates this Zelda / Fable-esque feeling that is very contrary to the depressing reality of Borderlands itself. It’s a very refreshing adventure and a nice tale told with the optimism of a child, with far more creative writing than the main game. This also has very melodic music which I have never heard in Borderlands before. This could have been its own game and still stand strong on its own. I’m also impressed by how big this is, with a large amount of areas that are all vastly different to each other. It changes from a waterside village, to spooky woods to a Castlevania / Dark Souls parody castle, with all different types of creatures in each area.
The castle is one of the most well designed, largest FPS areas I’ve ever explored. It’s so big with so many different doors, stories and traps to the point where the mini-map feels useless. This is true exploration. I had that ominous exploratory feeling that I don’t get too often in this type of game, it felt more like Metroid for this area. Probably intentional with the Castlevania influence on some of the visuals. There’s very impressive design everywhere in this, and I’d say this is the very best one of the lot. If you just play one of the DLC campaigns make sure it’s this one.
Mr. Torgue’s Campaign of Carnage (recommended level 15-30)
HAVE YOU EVER WANTED TO BE YELLED AT IN CAPS FOR AN ENTIRE CAMPAIGN? Yeah, this is incredibly over-the-top and overbearing but also very unique and fun if you can tolerate it. It has a pretty badass “Streets of Rage” punk vibe that makes the enemies feel more interesting than lowly bandits. Everyone’s itchin’ for a fight and bringing their worst baditude.
It also has unique challenges like racing with checkpoints. You have to get pretty creative to pass the hardest race in the time limit as I ended up finishing it with 1 second left on the clock. Sometimes bandits would come and chase you and you have to adapt. I enjoyed this for offering a different type of challenge, even if it was just one quest repeated over and over I spent a good amount of time on it.
This also has a spectacular end boss which I won’t spoil. The thing I hated most is this campaign had a lot of air combat which is probably the worst kind of combat in this game, especially in the console versions where aiming is more difficult. The buzzards constantly respawn for way too long, and it’s just a bit glitchy too as one got stuck in the roof and I had to reset the game. This campaign has more combat than the others overall, but the actual fights match the intensity and stupidly of the dialogue. A mixed experience but I’m still happy I played it for the end boss.
Sir Hammerlock’s Big Game Hunt (recommended level 30-35)
This is a weird one, and the last one I played through. It starts at the top of a waterfall and sees you descend into a wide open era, completely exposed. You can go to lots of different areas right from the start and it has that feeling of vulnerable Breath of the Wild open air. It’s quite scary as you are surrounded by some pretty strong enemies without much cover. It takes on a hunting theme as you track down Sir Hammerlock in his lodge. It’s probably the only civil place in the entire area as the rest is occupied by tribal natives and a crazy scientist. Giant spiders walk on stilts and spores with a lot of HP float in the air. The enemies all have pretty unique attacks. Witch-doctors perform magic rituals with mini-tornadoes and surreal fire effects. One can also drain your health and restore its own health with a laser that makes a pretty intense sound. This has a real legit survival horror atmosphere, compared to the meme Halloween stuff in the Headhunter DLC.
The quest design runs with the hunter theme by making you trap monsters and lure them into cages. You track enemies with scents and visual cues that only show up at night. This is the first time I’ve even noticed Borderlands had a day/night cycle, it can be a bit awkward since the game doesn’t show the time anywhere and these environments are dark even in the day. As long as you wait 20ish minutes you’ll be fine though. It’s not a real-time day luckily.
Something this DLC did best I think was the sound design. There are some very pronounced echoes when you’re going through certain caves and buildings, and distant evil howling laughter haunts you everywhere you go. This is probably the least exciting of the 4 in terms of gameplay, but has the most interesting atmosphere. I’m glad all these major DLC packs feel different, as it kept my interest enough to play every single one.
Fight for Sanctuary (recommended level 40-50)
What, a 5th one? Yup, this is one I’d consider major. It was given away for free in the lead-up to Borderlands 3 but it is far from throwaway content. The story is a major draw and there’s just as many new environments and quests as the 4 paid DLCs had. This is DLC released 6 years after the main game came out, and really shows their dedication to this series. It also shows that you never really run out of things to do in Borderlands. Time to do some weeding.
This has new enemies, new lore and very nice detail in the environments, I’d say the best yet for Borderlands 2 when it comes to graphics and presentation. It doesn’t match the creative heights of Dragon Keep but the story is more relevant to the main events and nice for different reasons. If I had one complaint about this though, it’s the difficulty is insane with a lot of bullet sponge enemies in the later part.
This one room took me like half an hour to get through and you can see all my used turrets looking sad. This is when I was the same level as the enemies at 50. I guess they all expected us to have OP gear and perfect characters by now so they made this quite brutal for solo players. It gets much harder to level up at this point too so it’s not easy to grind. You just need to get a bit creative with your gameplay. The story is very nice though and acts as a prelude to Borderlands 3.
But there’s more?
Yup, the headhunter series of DLC has its own unique environments and quests, just on a smaller scale and a bit more gimmicky. It’s worth playing all of these honestly, they are cool and it’s more great gameplay. The quality of this game never really drops and the writing is great even in these small sidequests. There’s also some pretty unique bosses and nice cosmetic changes to the usual barrels and crates. These are great to do anytime during the main game or between the major DLC quests. Another thing you can pursue is the New Game+ playthroughs. Once you hit level 50 in a normal playthrough, it pretty much stalls you from leveling up further unless you transfer to True Vault Hunter Mode difficulty. This will get you up to level 60, then there’s Ultimate Vault Hunter. It never really ends unless you want it to, to be quite honest. After experiencing all the stories and seeing every environment, I’m ready to move on though. Now… to try Pre-Sequel or jump into Borderlands 3? What about the Borderlands 1 remake?
Does it ever end?
No. It keeps going until the year 28XX when Borderlands is actually real life. May as well prepare yourself now. Happy looting.