In this week’s “Fixing Gaming”, we begin to meticulously TEAR APART a hit game series. Starting off with the firstborn, we’ll hack off the limbs of Borderlands and see what needs to be done to save it!
I could be Bored-erlands: Fixing Gaming
(And yes, I know that joke’s old.)
Borderlands, Sandbox RPG
Ah, I remember when this game hit the shelf. It was something vaguely retro, yet on a whole new level. It looked like they took Mad Max, put it in space, and gave every single person a fucking annoying shrill scream. Needless to say, I couldn’t wait for it. Being a Mad Max fan, I’d decided to make my character feel vaguely out of place in the apocalyptic hellhole that was Pandora (not the one from every other Sci-Fi movie). He’d be the simple everyman who was forced to take up arms against the entire team of the Vancouver Canucks when they shattered through his papier-mâché house. I ran to the store, picked up the game, popped it into my 360 and was placed on the world’s most obnoxious bus.
Now, I’m all for obscure ‘Rock’ songs to blast into the mainstream, but I feel as though it was misplaced. I’m watching this cutscene of people doing fuck-all, and there’s this pumped up music playing the whole way through. It’s as though Gearbox forgot to add the action to the epic intro. But, I digress.
I get off the bus, choosing to play Roland (one because of Zevon’s ‘Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner’ and two because he looked as “everyman” as you could choose from). No character customization other than choosing three colors definitely didn’t help me personify my character, who up to this point has said jack-shit about himself. At least the vaguely racist-sounding racist told me little about who I am, and the world’s most annoying character explained to me how video games work.
In a game that boasts having over a million-bajillion guns, why do you always start out with the shit ones? I don’t want amazing guns, as I’m just starting out, but these dudes (and dudette) seem to have made their guns out of the tin cans and vomit laying around everywhere. I most certainly couldn’t hit a damn thing with them. Note to firearm manufacturers: even if you’re selling a gun for two dollars and a roll of toilet paper, you should at least add some kind of ‘sight’ to the gun. But at least you’ll get new guns fairly quickly, right?
I got fifteen pistols that looked exactly the same, along with the worst shotgun in the world and a sniper rifle that I couldn’t use until level five. Anyway, I go to the first town, all the while trying everything I can to destroy this ‘endearing robot’ yelling in my ear, when I think the game may start to pick up. Unfortunately, I get sent on several MMO quests. What’s an ‘MMO Quest’, you may ask?
Yeah, the main problem with this game is pacing. At no time do I feel a massive urge to follow the story. Speaking of which:
You’re a vault-hunter, searching for a massive treasure or something on the planet. That’s about it on story, now go out and kill tiny people. Seriously, this game’s story would have come out better if they got a drunk Dungeon Master to come up with it ten seconds before the game came out. I forgot what my goal was so much that when the sparkly blue spirit lady reminded me every ten minutes, I feel like the developers had accidently left the placeholder text in where they were going to make her say important stuff. I was reminded three distinct times how I just needed to trust her and how she’ll contact me soon, and each time I was like: “Hey, you already told me this, idiot! Don’t you have some other green-clothed dolt to bother incessantly?”
I guess this can be excused a little bit, however, by the sheer quality of the side missions… by which I mean the sheer ease in which I paid NO ATTENTION to the side missions. Every time I approached someone, they went through their little ten word spiel about why they’re an interesting character, and the script would start appearing in my head:
Dr. Zed: Y’know, they stopped letting me cut on-
“I get it, you have no license, whaddaya need?”
Dr. Zed: -people when I lost my license…
“Okay, bye, I’ll just assume you need me to go kill some bandits or kill some wildlife or both.”
Dr. Zed: …but you just step right in here whenever you need healing!
Overall, the gameplay loop is passable. With the worst designed menus ever, however, I found myself debating whether or not to loot in a “Shoot n’ Loot” game. Seriously, I’d wonder about selling stuff because that meant I’d have to use the shitty menu system.
The gunplay is alright, but nothing feels very reactive. When I shoot a dude with a shield, he acts like he doesn’t care, but if I land a critical, he just screams and flops on the floor. When in combat, I feel like I’m in a poorly-directed reproduction of Mad Max, wherein tiny children are yelling “Bang Bang Bang” at one another and it takes a moment for them to realize they’re supposed to start dying.
The skill system could use some work, too. If I have a skill tree system in a video game, I want to immediately feel why each tree is inherently different from one another. Yet this game has a hard time doing so because there are few active bonuses in each tree. Instead, I’m stuck with rather mediocre passive bonuses that don’t feel all that powerful.
Finally, the biggest problem and biggest strength of Borderlands is the boss fighting. Against the Vancouver Canucks, it’s just fighting a slightly more beefed up version of your typical enemy. But when you’re engaging in the beasts, it feels like you’re actually fighting a fierce opponent. The coolest fights in the game are when you’re fighting stuff like Mothrakk, the Rakk Hive, Skagzilla, and The Destroyer, and they really hold up the rest of the game. Unfortunately, though, these bosses are few and far between, and you’re usually fighting the Canucks or the ‘United Crimson Marines’.
How to Fix Borderlands
- Add fighting, and make it feel as though the music fits the scene. Also, try to spend less time on making a cool intro and more time trying to make the game itself cool.
- Give us more options for our characters and allow us to make our own backstories (within reason).
- Give us more characters that don’t seem like a coin-flip between ‘backwoods assholes’ and ‘backwoods assholes with racist accents’.
- Maybe switch out the ‘cool title card that goes with each character/enemy’ thing. It got old about five minutes in.
- Don’t teach us how HUDs work. We know how HUDs work, and jumping/ducking/shooting
- Don’t stick us with an annoying robot for fifteen minutes.
- Don’t do fetch quests, or kill quests. If we want to fetch/kill something, we don’t need a quest, we’ll just go and do it.
- Fewer side quests, or more main quests
- Flesh out the story you came up with.
- Stop trying to force this narrator onto us.
- Give us incentive to pay attention to the story, i.e. why do we care about any of this?
- Give NPCs more than three lines of dialogue, so we don’t hear T.K. talk about shitting… again.
- Make the menus feel more intuitive.
- Make the gunplay feel visceral and exciting, like you’re actually fighting dudes.
- Increase enemy variety, and increase bosses that are the Pandora beasts.
- Lastly, make guns feel accurate. Seriously, guys, I feel like we’d have shot through to the other side of Pandora with the number of bullets that have hit the dirt instead of the target.
I want to love this game, I really do. I did love it for my first half-playthrough. Then I realized that I was checking things off a list instead of enjoying the environment. There were too many times where I decided not to go to certain places because I knew it would be boring to fight enemies there, and the quests didn’t help that feeling. A quest should make you feel like you’re on an important mission, with a grand challenge and awesome reward. It shouldn’t make you feel like a glorified button-presser. Ultimately, this game started off okay, and with a few fixes, it could be incredible. I wonder what the sequel did to fix things?