Breaking the Borderlands

“Honey, I have a shotgun for you.”

I sent this message, and then I dropped the shotgun in question on the floor of the cave and awaited a reaction.

My 19-year-old daughter and I were wandering through the Zaford’s stash cave during the Clan War mission of Borderlands 2, so it’s totally okay for me to be giving my teenager a shotgun by throwing it on the floor of a cave. Video game shotguns can take a lot of abuse.

The color-code on this shotgun was orange, which meant it was from among the very rarest and most powerful class of items. When you see an orange item, you jump on it, so of course Kiki snatched it up, pulled up her inventory screen, and then messaged me back.

“Oh, Daddy. I love it.”

KikiGotAShotgun“Kiki” is my daughter’s online nickname, and by happy coincidence this particular weapon had flavor text associated with it : “Kiki got a shotgun.” When the player reloads the weapon, she will throw it, but instead of tumbling away and exploding like some other magical Borderlands video-game guns, this one will point itself at the nearest enemy and fly towards it, firing as it goes. The flavor text encourages you to imagine what it would look like if a witch on a broom had a shotgun. Oh, and when it flies away a new copy of the gun materializes in your hands, beamed there from your storage deck because video game science fiction is a lot like magic.

But that’s not really the salient point.

See, ultra-rare items show up in chests or loot drops with such tiny frequency that the average player might not see one at all during 20 hours of play. Most players spend dozens of hours grinding their characters up to high levels, and then gang-raiding boss monsters over and over in hopes of an orange drop. And even then, unless they’re doing this during the level-capped “Ultimate Vault Hunter” playthrough, the item is going to be several levels lower than they are. A low-level rare item doesn’t do much good against high-level enemies.

It is unusual, then, for someone to hand another player an ultra-rare item that is leveled perfectly for their character.

I’ve done it dozens of times, because I’m a filthy cheater.

See, from one perspective, the Borderlands games are all about finding new weapons, shields, grenades, and artifacts so your character can face higher-level enemies as you move through the game. Play runs like this: navigate through the level until there’s a fight, have the fight, then stop for five minutes and compare the loot drops to the things already in your inventory. In single player mode this is kind of fun for a while, but in multiplayer mode it quickly gets boring.

From my perspective, the Borderlands games are about teaming up with my kids to kill things in an imaginary world of endless violence, experimenting with play styles and team strategies while laughing at the things our characters say as they interact. Stopping every five minutes for loot comparison crimps the mirth. So I got my hands on an editing tool for our save files, and solved the problem.

The editor has a button that will bring all the items in my inventory up to my level, which means the super-cool stuff I found back during my level 10 slog is still super-cool when I’m level 35. It will let me duplicate items (I did not give Kiki my only copy of that shotgun), and I can even create items in my inventory—items that would exist legally in the game, but which I’ve not yet come across.

Better still, the editor will let me clone elements from one character’s save file and build a brand new character at whatever level or game stage I want, so that I can, for instance, jump online with my daughter and join her level 25 quest without grinding for eight hours to create a level 25 character first.

The Borderlands games do not have a difficulty setting. If they’re too difficult, you are expected to practice more, or grind for hours in order to find more effective weapons, and usually the player must do both. There are hard-core players who have done exactly this, and who have hundreds of hours of hard-fought game play invested in a single character who has lots of cool tools.

And I expect that some of those players resent the fact that people like me exist. I have a dozen different characters, and they ALL have cool tools, and while I also have over a hundred hours logged in the game, I certainly haven’t “earned” the collection of rare and ultra-rare items these characters field.

So what? When my daughter said “oh Daddy. I love this!” I felt like I had TOTALLY earned that moment. I also earned the four hours she and I and my youngest son got to spend together one Saturday, engaged in a quest that would have been eight levels too high for her, except I leveled a copy of her character and inventory from 25 to 32.

Kiki is coming home from school in a couple of weeks, and I suspect there will be lots of Borderlands mayhem spread across the screens in my house. There will be laughing and shrieking and cheering, and maybe we’ll pause for some loot comparison when something cool drops out of a boss piñata,  but whatever happens I’m looking forward to it, and I’ll have the editing tool handy in order to make sure that we all get to play the game we love.

(Dear “Rick’s Games Stuff”: thank you for creating Gibbed’s Borderlands 2 Save Editor, because family time beats the loot-laden snot out of frustration.)