An Open Letter To Gearbox Software

Dear Gearbox,

I loved the idea of Borderlands. A colorful adventure through an alien planet, fighting strange creatures while leveling up and getting better gear and loot, it seemed like the best of all possible worlds; the fun and immersion of an FPS combined with the strategy and addictive nature of an RPG.

And I bought the game new, something I rarely did at the time. I had enough faith in everything I’d heard about the game to assume that I’d get my money’s worth from it – and this was not a wager I’d make lightly, $60 was, and is, a lot of money to me.

And it was worth my money. For all the MMO-style grinding that put me off, the gunplay was fun, the setting imaginative, the writing tight and funny, and the co-operative gameplay sealed the deal. I wished it had four-player splitscreen, but my friends all had computers, and we wound up buying the game again on PC during a Steam sale so we could play it over LAN together.

So when Borderlands 2 was announced, I was understandably excited. More co-op fun, more guns, more great characters, more humor, it seemed like a win all the way around. Pretty much every gamer I know pre-ordered a copy, and we were counting down the days until release.

And on release day, I couldn’t wait to get home from my job and start playing. And for the first five hours, I was hooked. I was like a kid again, sitting on my couch with a bag of snacks on one side and a big bottle of soda on the other, staying up way too late, staring at the TV screen with wide eyes.

The gameplay was better, the quests were more interesting, the characters were even more quirky, the villain is AWESOME, and there’s more variety in the enemies and lands you encounter. The weapons and shields have new and strange powers (I’m a particular fan of Tediore guns for turning into free grenades when you reload them), and the writing is some of the tightest and funniest I’ve ever seen in a video game.

And yet, while reviewer after reviewer gives the game high marks and call it a game-of-the-year contender, I find myself disagreeing. This game is like going to a family reunion — initially I was thrilled to see it, but the more time goes on, the more faults and problems I see, and eventually I hide in the corner, gorging myself on chips in the hope that I can make myself sick, and therefore have an excuse for leaving early, and I think this metaphor broke down somewhere.

The Second Wind system of self-revival is almost useless in single-player now, because with the exception of animals and Psychos, almost every enemy in the game will keep their distance from you, some of them running away as soon as they see you go down. And may the gaming gods help you if you happen to be taken down by an enemy that attacks you by committing suicide.

My biggest gripe has been with the game’s difficulty curve. Sometimes I can breeze through a quest without any particular trouble, and other times it’s like repeatedly slamming my face into a cheese grinder. I’ve already described my frustration with Angel and the moon beacon, so I won’t reiterate it, but without spoiling anything, I will say I’ve found other, equally frustrating moments further on.

And I’ve found there are two ways you can help yourself out in tricky spots – first, you can look for Michael Mamaril in Sanctuary. If you don’t already know, he was a fan of the original Borderlands who sadly passed away before Borderlands 2 could be released. His friend asked Gearbox if Claptrap could read his eulogy, and not only did they comply, but they made him a character in Borderlands 2. He appears every now and then in Sanctuary, and if you talk to him, he’ll give you an item, and it is always at least of blue rarity or higher.

Or there are the Golden Keys. There is a special chest in Sanctuary that will always have items of purple rarity or higher inside that are scaled to your character’s level. Which pretty much means they are exceptional items that are going to make the game easier for you. And I’ve already found them to be lifesavers – shortly after the frustration with Angel and the lunar beacon, I used a Golden Key, and I got a much better shotgun and assault rifle than I had, and the next three experience levels were much less frustrating. I was having fun again, the way I should have been in the first place.

And here we come to the problem. There are only three ways to get Golden Keys. Two are from pre-ordering the game, and for joining Gearbox’s Shift program, both of which can only be done once. The third way to get a Golden Key is by redeeming a code that is posted to Twitter seemingly at random by Gearbox employees. The worst part is that these codes are limited to a certain number of users, or for a certain time frame, which means that at best, only a small percentage of players are going to be able to redeem them – and at worst, only people paying an absurd amount of attention to Gearbox employees’ Twitter feeds are going to be able to redeem them.

Every single code I have tried has failed. “Sorry, this code has expired.” Every. Single. One.

So now I find myself in this situation where I’m getting repeatedly frustrated by the game, and in order to relieve THAT frustration, I’m trying to get a Golden Key, which is just causing MORE frustration. It’s meta-frustration.

And I started having bizarre thoughts about it all, like this was some massive ego trip for Randy Pitchford and crew. Like they were deigning to grant their kingly favor on those who had lined up at their Twitter feeds to gobble up every word, like pigs lined up at a trough. Or worse, that the game was actually holding back the good loot, and it was only available to those who would prostrate themselves at the feet of Gearbox.

I got really angry. I don’t have time to constantly be checking up on Gearbox tweets! Don’t they know gamers have lives? Family, friends, jobs, chores, and a million other things that take up our time? In my haste and phenomenal irritation, I fired off a couple of angry tweets at Randy Pitchford, complaining that these benefits should be for EVERYONE who signed up for Shift, and not just those willing to live in his hip pocket.

That’s when I decided to write this letter. I was mad as hell, and I wasn’t going to take this lying down. So I did my due research, and read over everything Randy had tweeted in the last week. And, naturally, as I should have known, they ARE trying to give keys away to everyone. These smaller giveaways are, in fact, simply to test their delivery system and ensure it could handle varying loads.

Well, don’t I just feel like a bucket of crap. I should have KNOWN they weren’t villains, their treatment of Michael Mamaril proves they’re stand-up folks.

So, I guess the point I’m trying painfully to get to is that I was wrong. I’m sorry that I doubted Gearbox’s intentions, and I’m even more sorry that I reacted so harshly without knowing the whole story. And I want to extend a personal apology to Randy Pitchford, who did not deserve the ire I spewed at him.

But here’s what I’m NOT sorry about – I’m not happy with Borderlands 2. I shouldn’t have to turn to Golden Keys to relieve the unending frustration of endless cheap deaths. I don’t know what they could do to fix this, considering the game randomly decides what loot you’ll get on the fly, so it’s entirely possible that I’m just having a RIDICULOUS amount of bad luck, which, considering my history with women, would not surprise me at all.

If I had a suggestion, it would be to allow the vending machines to have better items on offer – I haven’t bought anything besides ammo since I was level 10, and even then, it was mostly customization skins. And I check every time – they just never seem to have anything better than what I’m carrying. Again, could be tremendously bad fortune, but I don’t know.

I’m sorry, Gearbox, you are not EA, and I shouldn’t have assumed you were the bad guys. But while I felt the first game was worth every penny I spent on it, the way things stand, I cannot say the same for Borderlands 2.

Sincerely,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Some Idiot You’ve Never Heard Of