Borderlands 2 needs to learn to shut up
Borderlands has always been a bit disorienting for me. My first time playing it I was saddled with a crew ten levels higher than me. They would rush from one quest to the next while I'd sit and read huge blocks of text about our mission. Was this a story worth following? Why was it presented through big text blocks? How could I get my friends to slow down for three seconds? I had no idea what was going on and the level disparity meant I couldn't kill anything either. After that experience I didn't return to the game for a full year.
Endless praise can be pretty powerful, though, and when the game of the year edition dropped with a huge pile of DLC, I felt it was time to finally return to the borderlands. This time I took the journey with one other friend, someone I could trust to play at my pace and level up along with me. I was usually handling the quests and I quickly learned that the flavor text was mostly a waste of time. Still, I was surprised by how much of the game's forgettable but funny plot was lost on my co-op buddy. One of us would turn in a quest while the other player wandered around, completely oblivious to the rewards they were receiving and the dialogue the quest-givers were spouting. This was something Borderlands 2 would need to fix, because despite these issues I'd become a huge fan of the game.
It turns out that Gearbox has addressed how quests are handled in a big way, but it seems they've gone almost entirely in the opposite direction. Borderlands 2 removes the massive text blocks, replacing them with tons of fully-voiced, hilariously well-written dialogue that every player in the game is guaranteed to hear. If you're close to the quest-giver, they'll just talk to you, if you're far away their voice plays over your intercom. Sounds ideal, right? But after hours with a full group of four players, from a storytelling perspective at least, Borderlands 2 is a huge mess.
The problems are no more apparent than when you arrive in a town that offers several quests and NPCs to speak with. Does Gearbox really expect a group of four to all stick together and follow the leader while they discover quests and dialogue in a linear fashion? If so they'd probably be surprised to see what actually happens: imagine four chimpanzees let loose in a room full of big red buttons and tripwires and you have a pretty good idea.
Everyone wants to help move the plot along and be a part of the adventure, and bless their hearts they really do have good intentions. Those good intentions get twisted, though, resulting in two, sometimes three NPCs all talking over each other. This isn't just a little bit of cross-chat either. Borderlands 2 has a ton of dialogue, and two characters may be talking over each other for quite a long time. Combine that with three chatty friends and after several hours of playing and being assaulted by five or six voices at once, I had little-to-no idea what Borderlands 2 was actually about. I just wanted it to shut up for a little bit.
What's worse is that the writing is actually quite sharp, substantially better than the first game's already witty dialogue. Sometimes you'll just miss it entirely, as dialogue is interrupted mid-clip by unexpected cutscenes when another player wanders too far into a new area. You can't seriously expect players to keep curiosity in check, and they absolutely shouldn't have to concern themselves with crossing invisible thresholds and disrupting the story. The moment the players have to edit their own playstyle to conform to bad scripting is the moment that a game has fundamentally failed.
Even with two players I'd still run into issues, and I imagine if I was really resourceful I could recreate these scenarios all by myself. When I think of how much I'd like to play Borderlands 2, possibly doing it all over again in Playthrough 2 or a new character, I'm already dreading the mess of dialogue I'll get when I'm running through the game even faster.
How could Gearbox fix such a thing? Well, a quick band-aid would be to block players from initiating new dialogue when other dialogue is already playing. A simple "Please Wait" message where the activate button usually is would be a solid, if not ideal fix. In the future, thinking ahead to DLC and a potential Borderlands 3, Gearbox simply needs to pace out the dialogue better. There's simply too much of it, despite how fun it is to listen to. Even without the game talking over itself, there can be several minutes of wall-to-wall talking from various NPCs. Brevity is the soul of wit, and all that jazz.
In the meantime I don't really know what can be done. You either learn to live with it, play by yourself, or roll with some very patient friends. It's still a lot of fun, it's still Borderlands, but it could be even better.