If there is something Borderlands has consistently sold itself on, it’s the insane amount of weapons in their games. Practically everything you kill or open drops a weapon of some kind. Not only does the game offer a lot of guns quantitatively with respect to drops and loot chests, it also has a creative variety of weapon types. And the guns aren’t just plentiful, they look great. Sub-machine guns have sleek looking clips that spin as you shoot, pistols can come with unique and helpful sights, and sniper rifles look futuristic and ruthless. The franchise deserves high and consistent praise for their wealth of creativity, innovation, and dynamic levels of use with their weapon system. However, like other RPG’s, it struggles with the end game, as the field of useful and effective weapons narrows significantly.
The Weapon Pyramid
To give us a mental picture of what I’m talking about, imagine a pyramid of weapons that is very broad at the base and very narrow at the top. As you level up and advance in the game and roll it over into extra playthroughs the landscape of useful and effective weapons starts to shrink a bit. To a certain extent this is understandable, as players who reach the end of the game start farming and looking for the best class of weapons. It also makes sense because the enemies, bosses, and missions become more challenging, so you naturally get more picky about what weapons you carry, hoping to maximize damage output and efficiency. The unfortunate side effect of this is that the vibrant and dynamic weapon system gets flattened out for those who spend the most time with the game. This became abundantly clear to me when I made my post and video about solving the bullet sponge problem in Borderlands 3, as I put forward the argument that just increasing the health of enemies in the extra playthroughs can make the game a little exhausting. A good number of people in the Borderlands facebook group where I posted my blog dismissed any bullet sponge problem because you just needed the right guns and right build to deal with the super stout enemies. Think about that line of reasoning: There is no bullet sponge problem so long as you have specific gear and a specific build. That type of thinking proves both the bullet sponge problem as well as the narrow end game weapon pyramid. All of the available choices in your skill trees and weapons become incredibly predictable. I noticed this problem even more when I was streaming the game and countless people came into the chat and asked why I wasn’t using a particular shield or gun because that’s the expectation.
Flip the pyramid on it’s head
A ground level change that could help is to make some levels of the gear unobtainable until you get into the higher levels or extra playthroughs. They could also bring back some form of proficiency rankings like they had in Borderlands 1, but instead of just increasing stats, the rankings would allow you to start buying and finding better gear. So let’s say, for the sake of argument, levels 1-20 you’re seeing only white and green gear. This would allow the game designers to broaden the efficiency and quality of the white and green gear as more of it would get used for a longer period of time. Once you pass level 20 you could have blue weapons start showing up. Now, if someone has been using mostly pistols and sub-machine guns for their first 20 levels, they might find a blue shotgun that has great stats but requires a proficiency level they haven’t reached yet. This motivates more diverse weapon usage which would line up well with the wealth of badass achievements and it would create a need for more player thoughtfulness if you want to use a variety of weapons later in the game. Again, this would enable the weapons system to have a broader range of effective weapons in a given class because from levels 20-30 the best weapons you could find are blue. I think more players would stop and strategize about stats and the type of weapon they are using to maximize their weapon proficiency but also because if you increase the number of blue drops you are inevitably giving players more options. This would still create the mentality and reality that once you hit a certain level you just stop using anything white or green, but if their appearance is lessened in relation to the increase in blue drops, it would become less “pick up all the crap and sell it,” and more, “pick through the loot and see what better blues you got”.
My second idea that I’ve already kind of hinted at, is that all along the way of leveling up, the number of useful guns doesn’t decrease, but increases. So by the time you get to your higher levels and final playthroughs, there are tons of purples, pinks, and e-techs. Players would feel like looting and finding gear was still just as exciting as when they started the game, instead of quickly combing over piles of white, green, and blue, looking for that one purple drop that isn’t useful to their current build or better than what they have. Someone might say, “This would create a constant revolving door of weapon usage, as you constantly switch your gear.” My response would be, have you played the game? The entire time you level up, you are always on the look out for better gear at your level as the enemies and missions get harder in relation to you advancing in the game. This would take the mechanic of looting and equipping better gear and make it more of a continuous and thought out decision, instead of a flattened predictable shade of purple and legendary in the end game.
What about legendaries?
Obviously the end game is the most populated with legendary weapons because that is the main activity for players who have hit the level cap or have finished the main story for the third time. I will have a future post about how I think they should rethink drop rates for legendaries as well as the skins and heads from bosses, but for now I will say this: More quantity and variety in the legendaries would be in line with what I’ve already outlined above, and if done properly could still have the rarity and “farmable” feel from Borderlands 2. Since Gearbox has been tweaking the drop rates it’s been a lot more exciting to fight bosses and farm areas for legendaries, instead of feeling so defeated by the drop rates that you just resort to duping or give up finding them entirely. I’ll make this point again when I talk about changing the way legendaries work, but I think Gearbox works against their own aim with the abysmal drop rates of legendaries. The whole mentality is to have them be incredibly rare in the game world, but they drop so infrequently that it incentivizes duping which over saturates the game with what is supposed to be the rarest gear. So rather than having exciting versions of legendaries in your inventory that you found in an amazing boss fight or from a random drop, you end up farming a boss for 10 hours, get sick of never finding anything and you have your buddy dupe the weapon, hooray! No matter how you shake it, the game could use an injection of innovation in the weapons system so all the hard development work and creativity in the weapons is better represented in the end of the game.
What do you think? Do you have better ideas for the weapons? Let me know below!
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