It seems oddly fitting, given the ramshackle charms of Gearbox's trailer-park masterpiece, that DLC clearly built around a Halloween theme should creep up on us as we lurch towards Christmas. But if you're expecting an endearing, rough and ready rush-job, Doctor Ned has a lovely surprise in store.
The narrative may hinge, rather smartly, on a joke about lazy palette swaps, and some of the new monsters are clearly reskins, but the game's story is involving and - more importantly - genuinely funny, and the art design is amongst the very best the development team has yet turned out. This is DLC as it should be done, then: a self-contained episodic experience that enhances the main event but wisely chooses to keep itself separate. Like Borderlands itself, it's a proper treat.
Accessing Doctor Ned's island couldn't be easier, with a fast-travel option available from any vehicle-spawning spot in Pandora, even if you haven't unlocked the fast-travel network itself yet. Like a ballistically-inclined funfair ride, there's a level-10 minimum entry requirement, but that appears to be the only real limitation outside of the surprisingly large 1GB download.
It's a delightfully non-broken handling of new content (hello Fallout 3), and the auto-levelling of the island's monsters to match its players seems pretty smart. Wading in with my level-20 Siren - she was level 22 by the end of it all: get me, eh? - saw most of the monsters spawning at around the 15 or 16 mark, ideal for succumbing to a single shotgun critical hit - get them in the head and their brains pop out, rather charmingly, for easy collection - and more than high enough to provide a challenge when the game throws hordes of the undead at you all at once.
The episode takes place in the sinister town of Jakob's Cove, where the mysterious Doctor Ned - "who is totally not Doctor Zed from the last story at all" - has accidentally unleashed a full-on zombie apocalypse on the local populace. From the moment you first emerge into this creepy midnight landscape, riddled with tombstones and grinning jack o'lanterns (how Christmassy!) a nippy little narrative joyride awaits.
While you can race through the main quest chain in around an hour and a half, I urge you not to: Borderlands is essentially a very bloodthirsty form of window-shopping, and it's best when you take your time. There's lots of enemies to blow apart, lots of loot to subsequently pick through, and all of that's even before you take into account a decent range of oddball side-quests from Jakob's Cove's own bounty board. On top of that, the handful of new areas are large and intricate, and there's plenty of lovely crates to waste time searching for as you go about your zombie-pummelling business.
Doctor Ned's island is also very beautiful. From the first time you warp in, with a moody lagoon spread below you and bright lights glowing in the distant stilt houses perched over the water, the rickety moonlit ambience conjures up strong memories of The Secret of Monkey Island, and there are creepy visual delights sprinkled throughout, including the rotting arms of a towering windmill, a derelict hospital stood at the top of a scrubby hill, wedged nicely in front of a huge cinematic moon, and - Ned's own gaff - a rambling mansion slung between the branches of a giant tree.
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