Borderlands, like many other RPGs, has a wide variety and significant number of side missions. One of the things I have always liked about the side missions, especially in Borderlands 2, is that they are tied to specific characters, story elements, and often offer unique mission item rewards. A problem with this system, however, is that on your first and second playthrough the missions don’t scale properly. You end up feeling torn between playing all the side missions at your level and then being over-leveled for the main missions or skipping the side missions and quickly finding yourself under-leveled and outmatched on story missions. Either way you approach it, it isn’t that exciting embarking on missions that are multiple levels beneath you to get mission items that are too weak so you just sell them. So what can be done?
Don’t waste my time
The reason missions that aren’t at your level are a problem is that you end up feeling like your time is being wasted. Side missions just become a mechanical exercise where you check off a box rather than feeling like a transaction of time and energy is rewarded with xp and usable items. One of the reasons I enjoy the third playthrough the most is because every enemy, mission, and reward is at your level. So I never feel like I’m slogging through pointless missions with a revolving door of items that I will just get rid of. And I can also wait to do missions with unique items until I’m at the level max so I get them exactly how I want.
Another problem with the side missions not scaling to your level is that you need them in order to level properly. This leads to feeling somewhat trapped in futility as you must complete side missions purely for the xp and nothing else. In a game that strives to have replayablilty and depth you want to avoid anything that might feel forced or exhausting. I think Borderlands pulls off massive appeal and replayability, but the community tends to “power level” and fly through the first two playthroughs, turning a brilliant game into a mechanical operation where they just want to get to the end game instead of marinating and slowly enjoying the early game experiences. The trick here is doing it in a way that incentivizes slower engagement without creating exploit paths.
Match it and cap it
Similar to the way that you enter the third and final playthrough with missions scaling to your level all the way until the level cap of 72, the first and second plays through the game could do the same thing. So you would cap the first playthrough at 30 and make all missions and enemies scale with you all the way to the playthrough’s level cap of 30. This would make every mission and reward item meaningful and matched to the player’s progress instead of feeling fruitless. One potential problem is what to do with the person who skips all the side missions. Won’t they be grossly under-leveled at the end of the first playthrough? The answer is yes, but then they would have the option of going back through, doing all the side missions and scooping up loot at their level, and heading into the next playthrough with adequate weapons and gear. And honestly, this mechanic wouldn’t change things all that much from how it is now. If you attempted to play through Borderlands 2 without doing side missions you’d quickly find yourself too low level and weak to complete any boss fights or enemy dense areas. If this idea were applied to Borderlands 2 it would look like this:
PT1 – Scales to a cap of 30
PT2 – Scales to a cap of 50
PT3 – Scales to a cap of 72
Scaling each playthrough would prevent running back through the game on the first playthrough for max level gear against enemies with lower damage buffs. Either way you shake it side missions are necessary, but having them scale with the player would make them more impactful and rewarding. If Gearbox wants to extend player engagement this would be an easy to to incentivize less power leveling or speed running and just slowing down to enjoy the massive worlds and content they create.
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