Six Things We'd Love to See in Borderlands 2
I loved Borderlands like the son I’ve never had.
Well, I tried to love it. Unfortunately, like my hypothetical son, Borderlands had some major problems: it wet the bed every other week, it couldn’t eat cereal without throwing the bowl against the wall yelling, I am a golden god!, and it was so dreadful at its schoolwork that we had to put him in a special class.
Wait, no, that was the son. Borderlands had its own set of spectacular problems. Fortunately, unlike my proverbial son, there will be a Borderlands 2, and there will be a chance for Gearbox to fix all the problems that cropped up in the first title!
If only I could reimagine my son, though. Cletus, get off the bus!
1. Better Online Capabilities
I don’t know how the online worked for Borderlands on the consoles, but let me give you the PC gamer’s view of Borderlands multiplayer. The first time I booted up Borderlands, I wanted to play four players with two of my college buddies and one of their friends. It was Diablo with guns! It was going to be awesome!
Then we realized it went through Gamespy.
The last game I remember that used Gamespy was Command and Conquer: Generals. That was a BILLION years ago. A billion. Dinosaurs were still alive in movies then. That first day we managed to play exactly zero minutes of Borderlands together, despite spending three hours figuring it out. And it never got better. It. Never. Got. Better. Well, it got a little better. I could actually play it now, but I’d have to put up with a ridiculously antiquated multiplayer service to do it, and there would still be major problems.
So, Gearbox, please: if you change one thing, don’t use Gamespy. I know you guys have had tussles with Steam in the past, but use Steamworks. Or use something else. Something legitimately stable. If you release Borderlands again using a decent online multiplayer component, I would pay fifty dollars for it. Well….
2. More replay value
I’ve played Diablo 2, conservatively, twenty times. I could play it another twenty, too. I’ve played Torchlight more than I should have, too.
I’ve played Borderlands once. I don’t know if I could play it again.
Borderlands has a very simple problem in terms of replayability: all the characters are, basically, the same. They all have guns, and they use those guns to kill 95% of all enemies. Sure, they each have one additional move. The Siren can teleport. The soldier can build defenses. Et cetera. But none of these are game changers. None of the leveling paths feel any different from the others, and none of the powers feels new enough to really, truly, be different in practice.
So when I say Borderlands 2 needs more replay value, this is what I mean: I mean it needs a leveling system. It needs more individual moves per character, and it needs more class-restricted weapons, so that it feels like I can replay the game and not have the exact same experience. I want the novelty I’d get if I started playing Diablo 2 as a Druid and started focusing on elemental, a class I’ve not played for years. I want each character to feel like a new way to play the game.
Actually, let’s build on that point. There were four classes in Borderlands, and three of them sucked. No offense to Brick, Roland, or the ridiculously birded Mordecai, but they all offered the same gaming experience. They found enemies, circle strafed, and shot them a lot. Sure, Brick could take more hits, Roland had a turret that let him circle strafe differently, and Mordecai could instantly kill anything, but they fought the same. Only Lilith, the Siren, had variety, in that she could teleport around the field. She fought differently from everyone else.
Better replay value would come easiest from giving us better character classes to play, and giving them deeper, more interesting ways to interact with the world. With guns.
3. More incidental story
Something Borderlands doesn’t get enough credit for is its story. Not its big, macguffin filled main plot, but rather its incidental plot. Patricia Tannis (http://nightmaremode.net/2010/06/character-focus-mays-feature-788/) sums it up perfectly: rather than focus exclusively on narrative, characters like Tannis give the player ways to access the world. Really, all the secondary characters were good and filled with unexplained personality which served to make us feel like the world of Pandora was alive.
So what I’m asking for is not a change but rather a logical continuation of something that worked in the first game: lots of character in the characters. Make sure the quest givers have names and faces we remember like Ms. Tannis. I feel like Gearbox know how to create quality characters who can be humorous without being caricatures, but then I remember Duke Nukem Forever*.
On the plus side, between when this article was written and this article was published, the (http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2011/08/06/first-fragments-of-Borderlands-2-revealed/) dreaded Game Informer drip feed of news has revealed that yes, Borderlands will have more dynamic NPCs. Will they be the Patricia Tannis type or the kooky but ultimately empty type, though? That’s the more meaningful question.
4. More Guns, Better Guns
Borderlands had a lot of guns. That was its schtick. The problem was, most of those guns were useless to the point where they could never be anything but vendor fodder.
What I’m looking for is twofold. First, I loved the imagined competition between various factions of gun makers, who competed for your hard earned money. I’d love for each gun maker to be ever more distinct, so that the choices you made in terms of firearms mattered even more than it did.
Second, I want better guns. Borderlands had a complicated random generation system that served to give us a decent variety of firearms experiences, but the true problem was the variety of base guns. If there was ever a game that could have taken a page from Ratchet and Clank and made a ton of really weird gun templates that could work in its wacky universe, it was Borderlands. Instead, we got very basic guns that occasionally shot fire or rockets. Which was nice, but we could have had so many more ludicrous guns. We could have had mine shotguns. We could have fired big horrible tornadoes. Flamethrowers. Ice throwers. Rockets that produced angry, malicious ferrets. There were so many possibilities, and all we got were the occasional rocket gun.
We need more, in short. More crazy guns.
5. Less Busywork
These last two points compile my major complaint about Borderlands: too much of it felt procedural and not in a good way. Good procedural generation keeps things fresh by preventing you from memorizing the layouts of places. Diablo 2 did this. Borderlands made you feel like you were doing generic quests too often for the money and experience in a stagnant world. While the gunplay ended up high quality, it felt like most of the quests were pretty mediocre. Sure, there were stunners in there, but most of the time I felt like I was doing a quest that had been slapped together in a spreadsheet without a lot of thought.
So give us more thoughtful quests. Make sure we remember the things we do in the game, not just for the quality of the character giving the quest to us but because the quest itself is interesting and fresh. Keep the plot tight, and keep the sidequests tight. Make more of them like the Tannis quest line, where we were doing something that contributed to the story of the world as well as providing us with a narrative. Give us reasons to do things besides money we’d never spend on anything.
Ham-fisted into this point will be bosses, because the bosses in Borderlands often felt like busywork, especially in single player. Most of them sucked. Really sucked. They were enemies with tons of health that you were forced to circle strafe around or, in the case of the obnoxious vehicle boss at the end of act two, they were enemies you had to flail around at and hope you did enough damage before they brutally murdered you. They sucked, and I’d love to see them improve.
6. Better navigation
One thing I completely forgot about about Borderlands before being reminded by my many and valued fellow writers was how absolutely terrible the navigation was in Borderlands. The lack of minimap was criminal. The mapping itself, which gave you big blue shapes and said, Do something with this! was about as bad. Really, for a game where you had to go lots of places, Borderlands managed to make it as hard as possible to travel around.
The inclusion of a mini map would clutter the HUD a little bit, but it would keep us from having to pause every minute to see where we’re going, something that completely breaks the flow of the game. It’s a simple solution to a very simple problem, but it’s something that would make Borderlands a hell of a lot more fun to play.
I have to admit, as someone pretty staunchly anti-sequel, I’m excited for another Borderlands. It’s the kind of game I want there to be more of: Borderlands is an interesting genre combination, and it was a game where major improvements could be pretty easily made. So I’m excited to see where they go with it, and what kinds of changes they could offer. Hopefully the new game fulfills the promise of the old.
*Okay, Gearbox partisans, don’t close that browser immediately. Don’t! Down boy! Gearbox have made some really good games over the years, and I know they’re not 100% responsible for Duke Nukem Forever. They’re, at most, 20% responsible for the first tripe A game this generation not to be able to pay enough money to get reviews above 80. But they’re the ones who put their names on the box. They said, This is funny, and this is vital, and we will release this! Okay, maybe they said, This will make us a carton of money! and released it for that. A good artist realizes that the work he created was utter shit and drowns it in the river, because if he releases it will destroy his reputation. That’s Duke Nukem Forever to Gearbox, but with another degree of separation. We know they didn’t make all the mistakes in the game, but they said those mistakes were worth playing. And for that we can make fun of them.