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So the General Knoxx expansion to Borderlands has a boss creature, just as you might expect. Crawmerax, a really, really big version of the Pandoran craw worm, a burrowing lobster-like horror, is the ultimate challenge and the ultimate loot source in all the game and its add-on content. I stumbled on its lair early, but the game wouldn’t let me in until I’d completed the main quest line. Fair enough.

Once I had, I was offered a mission to kill Crawmeraxx. Ominously, it was titled “You. Will. Die.” Better gamers might take that as a challenge; I simply accepted it as fact. But hey, what’s a game for if not playing the content? So I loaded my guns, stocked up on healing packs, and took the long, scary elevator ride to its lair. As the elevator’s safety cage clanked away, I got a brief look at a giant lobster. It flexed its mighty chest and went BOOOOOOOM! and I went wheeeeee through the air…although it wasn’t so much whee! as arrrgh! because that explosion also cost me my entire shield bar and half my health. A bad sign for what is supposed to be a lengthy fight. Clearly you don’t want to stand too close to the beast.

Undaunted, I popped out a syringe of healing juice as the ground rose to meet me, intending to live long enough at least to look around the battlefield. And was dismayed to see the ground rushing past my eyes—Crawmerax’s mighty explosion had blown me entirely off the cliff where he lives, and I plummeted to my death without seeing squat. Obviously, you can’t afford to stand too far away from the beast, either.

Oh, well. I did notice, in that eight-second showdown, that Crawmerax had a four- or five-level advantage on me. Figuring that grinding is the better part of valor, I set Crawmerax aside and took advantage of the peculiar second playthrough mechanism of Borderlands to level up, intending to return better skilled and better armed for a rematch. When I did, Crawmerax promptly blasted me, and his lobstery minions devoured my semi-conscious body. Again, not a good sign.

So I took my maxed-out character back to the first playthrough, a sleazy sort of move to fight an underpowered Crawmerax, if only to last long enough to understand how the fight is supposed to go. No soap. The developers, it turns out, simply peg Crawmerax to your level plus four, and it’s good luck, pal! regardless of which playthrough you’re on. I took the elevator ride, skidded sideways to avoid the smaller mobs, and again Crawmerax went BOOOOOOOM! and again I went ulgk! and died. Well, not quite—in Borderlands, you can live on with a “second wind” if you kill someone while you’re dying. If I could just…aim…for one of the (*cough*) smaller guys, I might… Yes!

I took down one of the merely large lobster-things and leapt up, ready to use that second wind to land at least one bullet on Crawmerax. And Crawmerax, who had been industriously stabbing my dying body just for the show of it, was apparently mid-stab as I got my second wind, because I hadn’t pressed a single button when his pointy pincer went through my ribcage. Again I went ulgk! and died. For good this time.

It was time for some online help. I try to avoid walkthroughs, but there was no other way for me to experience this big fight. I was simply dying to quickly to learn how not to. Chalk this up as a loss: I couldn’t whip Crawmerax without cheating. Okay, that bit of honesty to myself out of the way, I went to the wiki to learn the sekret death-strike mad skillz.

There must be one, because I’ve read one conversation in which players talk about killing Crawmerax thirty times or more. (They weren’t bragging, either. The discussion wasn’t about Crawmerax at all, but about the rate of ultra-rare treasure drops, and the participants were simply comparing statistics as matter-of-factly as possible: “I got three ultra-rares in thirty kills,” or “I got no ultra-rares even after forty kills. Am I just unlucky?” Killing Crawmerax isn’t a badge of pride for them, simply another game event.) But what the secret death-strike technique might be, I have no idea. The Borderlands wiki is full of info about Crawmerax, including a detailed description of his many devastating attacks. Conspicuously absent, however, is advice on how to prevent those devastating attacks from killing you.

I’m too clumsy to be much good at video games, I admit. But I’m a clever fellow, and remain confident I could work it out, given a chance. But damned if I can manage to live long enough even to learn what killed me. Obviously it’s possible, since somebody has done it. That somebody isn’t me, though, and is likely never to be me. Apparently, the game is set so that strategy isn’t enough even to get you into the door. If you can’t instantly react to any of four super-killer Crawmerax attacks, somehow anticipating what the effect will be without ever seeing it happen, the designers apparently figure you don’t deserve to see that part of the content.

Hard to argue against that attitude. There’s pride to be had in elite accomplishments, and they can’t be called elite if anyone can do them. Pretty frustrating, though, for the rest of us unwashed masses to know we won’t see the content we bought.

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