Borderlands is a franchise that is known for many things. Gameplay-wise, Borderlands‘ claim to fame is its overabundance of weaponry, the likes of which are used by both heroes and villains. It is known for its crass and sometimes outdated humor which pulls from internet memes and pop culture references. But most of all, Borderlands is known for its wide cast of characters, all of whom come from different walks of life.
What Borderlands isn’t well-known for is its depiction of serious topics. Prior to Borderlands 2, themes such as death and depression were written off using throwaway lines for comedic relief, even if they occasionally missed the mark. While the franchise didn’t shy away from them, its handling of heavy subjects was less than ideal. This all changed with the death of Roland.
A Fallen Former Vault Hunter
Roland was part of Borderlands‘ original cast of playable characters. A former Crimson Lance soldier, Roland traded the military life for that of a Vault Hunter. Armed with his trusty Scorpio Turret, he would aid his comrades Lilith, Mordecai, and Brick on their search for the ever-elusive Vault on the desolate planet Pandora. Roland eventually hangs up Vault Hunting and takes the mantle as the leader of the Crimson Raiders, a gang comprised of former Crimson Lance soldiers and adventurers dedicated to fighting Handsome Jack.
Along with a new set of Vault Hunters, which players can control, Roland and his allies do everything in their power to prevent Jack from opening a second Pandoran Vault. They disrupt his operations, kill some of his highest-ranking minions, and even take down one of his Hyperion crafts: The BNK3R. The BNK3R also happens to be protecting Jack’s daughter, the Siren Angel. Just as Roland and the players are about to free Angel from Jack’s prison, Jack appears behind them and kills Roland in cold blood.
Death In The Proper Sense
Unlike most deaths in the Borderlands franchise, Roland’s death isn’t executed humorously. The scene is devoid of music and filled with grief. Lilith, Roland’s friend and former girlfriend, cries over his dead body and attempts to attack Jack, who counters by affixing an inhibitor collar on her. Afterward, Brick, Mordecai, and the other characters all express sorrow over their friend’s death and can be seen coping with it in different ways. Tiny Tina deserves special mention, as her DLC, Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep, is a tabletop RPG adventure that follows how she comes to terms with Roland’s death.
Growing Up And Moving On
Some would argue that the death of Bloodwing, Mordecai’s pet bird, was the beginning of the franchise’s growth, but Bloodwing wasn’t that important to anyone other than Mordecai. Roland’s death in Borderlands 2 was more shocking because players were able to control him in the last game and grew to love his character. It showed that the franchise isn’t afraid to tackle heavy topics in a serious manner, even if it means killing off some of its beloved characters.
Borderlands grew bolder after Roland’s death. It began to talk about sensitive topics such as gender identity, depression, and the fear of rejection among other things. While not all of them were addressed with the same serious tone, they were at least given proper emphasis. An example can be found in Mr. Torgue’s comments on gender equality, wherein he states that, “Nothing is more badass than treating a woman with respect.” While it can sound a bit heavy-handed, the way the line is spoken with such gusto shows that the game has something to say on the topic.
Some players to this day still hate that Roland was killed off, but the fact that they have feelings about his death shows that it was meaningful. It shows that the character was compelling and that their death meant something to the fans. Roland’s death forced his friends to grow and step up to the challenges following his demise. It isn’t always easy but just like real life, change breeds character.
Borderlands 2 is available now on PC, PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Switch, Xbox 360, and Xbox One.