With each new downloadable content drop from Gearbox Software for Borderlands 2, it becomes increasingly clear that the dev team wants to evolve the endgame. High-level, co-op-focused Seraph Guardian bosses have been the standard since they were introduced in the first DLC pack, but Sir Hammerlock’s Big Game Hunt – the third of four announced story-expanding DLC packs – is the first to actually depend on players having reached the latest stages of the vanilla adventure across Pandora. You can visit the new Hunter’s Grotto location as soon as the pack is installed, but the story that unfolds from there is designed as a sort of epilogue to Handsome Jack’s defeat.
Big Game Hunt starts out, as the title suggests, with a hunting trip that the Vault Hunters set out on with Sir Hammerlock. The journey takes you to the Pandoran continent of Aegrus, an exotic land that Gearbox claims was inspired by King Kong‘s Skull Island. The dark and gloomy environments offer a refreshing change of pace compared to the bright and colorful Borderlands 2 locations that we’ve visited so far. Aegrus is a vast stretch of land, characterized by fog-shrouded skies, imposing cliff faces, and an extensive network of caves and caverns that offer shelter to a diverse mix of indigenous life.
Aegrus is a hostile environment, throwing up a variety of challenges familiar and unfamiliar. Guns tend to be the focus of things in Borderlands, for understandable reasons, but Big Game Hunt takes the commendable step of offering an assortment of new beasties and humanoids to point your arsenal at. The most common of these new enemies are the Aegran savages. Like Bandits, they come in multiple flavors, ranged and melee, regular and Badass (and Super Badass and Ultimate Badass, ‘natch). The savage that you’ll immediately learn to fear the most, however, is the Witch Doctor.
Witch Doctors double as both an offensive powerhouse and a support role. They too, come in different flavors. Paralyzing Witch Doctors are able to slow the movement of nearby Vault Hunters to a crawl. Shock Witch Doctors hit you with lightning. You get the idea. All of them also possess some additional skills, including the ability to summon more savages to the battlefield, to heal themselves and other allies, and to level up the abilities of any savages on the field. You run into these guys frequently in Big Game Hunt, often more than one at a time, and they always throw up a challenge.
This speaks to the larger focus of the new DLC: offering players who have hit Borderlands 2‘s endgame a stiff challenge outside of the walled-off Seraph Guardian arenas. Enemy spawns in Aegrus are often close enough to one another that you can easily find yourself fighting an unmanageable horde of baddies. Between the savages, the scorpion-like Scaylions, the stalker-meets-bear Boroks, the spider-like Drifters (back from the original Borderlands!), and the assorted familiar creatures from the vanilla game, there’s a whole lot of hideous death waiting to be found, especially after you factor in the new Seraph Guardian (Voracidous the Invincible) and the towering hidden Drifter boss, Decidous the Invincible.
Giving a sense of purpose to this renewed focus on challenging play is a whole new selection of quests. The five-mission central storyline is shorter in length than the two previous DLC stories, though each task you’re given takes more time to complete than your average Borderlands quest. It’s all worth it too, thanks to a memorable (and hilarious!) final boss encounter and an extremely generous treasure room. Most of the sidequests are built around the idea of hunting rare animals, and while many offer cool twists on what could have easily been rote “go here, kill this” exercises, they also suffer from the same lousy checkpointing that plagues the entire game. With few visual indicators pointing out where some animal track or another is, it’s often frustrating to get some of these quests started.
Big Game Hunt also adds a new vehicle in the form of a Fan-Boat, which features a few optional secondary turrets, including the new, short-range flamethrower. The new vehicle isn’t terribly useful in the grand scheme. You’ll invariably end up using it far less than you did the Sand Skiff in the first Captain Scarlett DLC. This is mostly due to the fact that many Aegran locations aren’t actually vehicle-friendly. There’s also the issue of the environment being so deadly that you’ll frequently find yourself stumbling away from the ruins of your freshly destroyed Fan-Boat.
Generally speaking, Gearbox continues to struggle with inserting new mobility options into Borderlands 2 DLC. In Torgue’s Campaign of Carnage, the misstep was introducing a new vehicle – a motorcycle – that players couldn’t actually ride in the drive-friendly environments. In Big Game Hunt it’s an issue of space, much as it was in Captain Scarlett. It’s fun to drive a new vehicle, but between these add-on rides being restricted to DLC locations and the limited amount of road space there is to explore, the Fan-Boat (and its Sand Skiff predecessor) just doesn’t feel like it adds much to the experience. It’s a minor misstep, and one that you get the sense is an aspect of a larger work-in-progress.
The Borderlands 2 DLC released so far has been solid, if unexceptional, but content like the Seraphs and the upcoming level cap bump suggests that Gearbox is working with the long game in mind. Not every idea works in Big Game Hunt, but it embraces the same sense of experimentation that the previous content offerings did. As the balance shifts more in the direction of the endgame with this third DLC, you can start to get a sense of how the developer hopes to turn your 100 hours of investment into 1,000 hours. Just like the rest of the DLC released so far, this one is 100-percent for the fans. If you want more Borderlands 2, you can get it right here with Sir Hammerlock’s Big Game Hunt.
(This DLC was reviewed on the Xbox 360 via a copy provided by the publisher)