Borderlands DLC Showdown Spectacular!

Both Borderlands games do DLC right. But which game does it best?
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Borderlands 2 has been on our minds a lot recently, what with the recent announcement of a sixth playable character (Krieg the Psycho, May 14th) and the fourth and final DLC campaign (Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep, June 25th).  The news has prompted us to look back through the franchises’ many excellent downloadable offerings, and a question began to surface: is the DLC in Borderlands 2 as fun as the first game’s?  In the spirit of Pandora’s distinctive method of conflict resolution, we decided we’d pit the campaigns from the new game against their counterparts from the original in bloody combat and see how they stack up.  The prize?  The adoration of gamers everywhere…and our hard earned Microsoft Points.

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Round 1

The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned vs. Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate’s Booty 

Right out of the gate, ZombieIsland showed us Gearbox meant business about post-game support.  The first DLC expansion transported us to the Halloween-themed island of the dubiously credentialed Dr. Ned, and showcased Borderlands’ strengths: blasting hordes of mindless enemies and collecting epic loot.  ZombieIsland set a precedent that subsequent DLC would mimic, giving us a non-canonical side-story in unique new zones, letting developers get a little zany with settings and enemy designs.  Also, it’s tough to go wrong with zombie, werewolves, and Franken-monsters. 

Captain Scarlett punches above her weight, too, bringing us swashbuckling high adventure on the sandy seas.  The not-so-nautically-themed pack rocks pirates, sandworms, and the coolest looking loot chests in franchise history.  It also delivered an appropriate core conceit that gave the quest system fresh life, a take on the X marks the spot trope of hunting for buried treasure.  While we could’ve done without the whiny, stalkerish quest giver from the first location, the package is redeemed by the inclusion of one of the coolest adversaries in gaming: deadly hybrid pirate-ninjas.

And the winner is…: Zombie Island, by a nose.  While both campaigns gave us great, distinct settings and cool new enemies to shoot about the head/face, ZombieIsland felt a little more like a complete package, and had the advantage of being first.  It was a great departure from the core game and set the table for all the DLC to follow.


Round 2


Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot vs. Mr. Torgue’s Campaign of Carnage

Even Gearbox makes mistakes (*cough*, Aliens: Colonial Marines, *cough*), and Underdome Riot is sad proof.  After a fantastic start with ZombieIsland, Borderlands stumbled with its sophomore DLC, taking a solid arena combat premise and botching it badly in execution.  The idea of adding a wave-based survival mode to a game that’s at least half about gunning down hundreds of enemies isn’t a terrible idea; what is a terrible idea is then choking that idea by not allowing players to progress their characters and making the combat repetitive and punishingly difficult.  Underdome is a perfect example of an interesting concept falling apart because of some bizarre, inexplicable design decisions. 

Campaign of Carnage, on the other hand, adheres to the more traditional structure of the other DLC campaigns, adding a handful of new areas populated with new quests, enemies, and loot.  A new vault has been discovered, and corporate CEO/steroid monstrosity Mr. Torgue is holding a tournament to determine who gets the honor of cracking it open.  While Campaign of Carnage also features arena combat, it’s generally a lot more balanced and entertaining (and, most importantly, awards experience).  Carnage also expands on an idea introduced in Pirate’s Booty, adding a new kind of currency for players to hoard and spend on hot new loot.

And the winner is…  Campaign of Carnage, in a landslide.  Though it’s not our favorite DLC by a long shot, it is lucky enough to have been matched up against Underdome, which is far and away the worst of the lot. 


Round 3

The Secret Armory of General Knoxx vs.Sir Hammerlock’s Big Game Hunt 

Of Borderland’s DLC offerings, Secret Armory is probably our favorite.  It felt the most complete and robust, adding new vehicles and a fresh aesthetic to the standard wealth of new content.  It also innovated by including the series’ first level cap increase and first “raid boss”.  The mammoth beast, Crawmerax the Invincible, was hellishly difficult (without exploiting a glitch) but could be slain again and again for massive amounts of loot.  On top of the goodies that would fountain out of Cramerax’s twitching corpse, the eponymous armory was a huge warehouse overflowing with high quality munitions.  Never ones to turn up our noses at sweet new gear, Secret Armory offered it in such staggering quantity (and, with the addition of the new pearlescent tier of weapon rarity, quality) it was love at first drop.

Big Game Hunt, on the other hand, offers more of one of the franchise’s most charming characters, gentleman hunter and legend of the bush Sir Hammerlock.  The mechanically-augmented safari guide leads players to the “savage continent of Aegrus” to pit their talents against deadly beasts and murderous natives.    Of course, once the action starts, Hammerlock mostly stands around a hunting lodge delivering quips, more furniture than guide.  Still, any excuse to get more of the eloquent Brit in our lives is welcome, as is the opportunity to hunt down some of Pandora’s most lethal monsters, including two new raid bosses and a new hidden boss.

And the winner is… Secret Armory, hands down.  On top of innovating a number of new additions to the franchise and providing an embarrassment of loot, Secret Armory was challenging (but not punishing) and a tremendous amount of fun.


Round 4


Claptrap’s New Robot Revolution vs. Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep


Maybe there’s some vocal group somewhere that absolutely loves Borderlands’ robot mascot, Claptrap, and was clamoring for more of his high-pitched voice and “hilarious antics”.  We are not amongst that group.  For us, Claptrap has always been an annoyance, more reminiscent of Jar Jar Binks than C3P0.  Every time we heard him yammering about his bizarre proclivities or dancing prowess we longed to send him to the scrap yard, preferably by way of high explosives.  In a strange twist, his DLC pack was an answer to our prayers; though it provided an abundance of new ways for Claptrap to irritate us, it also gave us the opportunity to send hundreds of Claptraps to robot hell.  Viva la revolucion. 

The upcoming Assault on Dragon’s Keep is dripping with promise.  It casts the often legitimately hilarious psycho Tiny Tina (voiced by Ashley Burch, of Hey Ash, Whatcha Playing? fame) as game master in a Dungeons & Dragons-alike called Bunkers and Baddasses.  The players, the vault hunters from the original Borderlands, are subjected to what we can only assume will be one of the most twisted and ridiculous games of dungeon crawling adventure in history.  The meta-layer of the original vault hunters controlling their Borderlands 2 successors supplies some great opportunities for parody and fourth-wall cracking humor, two of the franchise’s specialties, and the table-top RPG hook is a great incentive.  Also, if there’s not at least one dragon, we’re going to be sorely disappointed.

And the winner is…  TBD.  Assault on Dragon’s Keep is definitely laden with potential, and Robot Revolution, while fun, wasn’t as strong as its predecessor.  We’ll find out who emerges victorious on June 25th.

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Alan Bradley
Getting played by video games since the '80s. Host of the Pictures Changing Podcast ( and notorious raconteur.