Borderlands Part 2: Borderlands is Dope[amine]

By Shamus Posted Thursday Jul 20, 2017

Filed under: Borderlands 119 comments

Before talking about this madhouse of a game where you melt the faces off of psycho killers with shotguns that shoot acid and lightning, let’s talk about a bunch of dry technical stuff about what makes this game tick.

The Loot Loop

I'm going to use screenshots from Borderlands 2, because the interface is much easier to follow.
I'm going to use screenshots from Borderlands 2, because the interface is much easier to follow.

In Borderlands you kill dudes with firearmsAnd sometimes with melee attacks, grenades, and special abilities. But mostly firearms. Every firearm has a number of properties associated with it: Fire rate, damage output, accuracy, magazine capacity, reload speed, recoil. Then there are other properties that only apply in special situations: Elemental damage, bonus melee damage, extra critical damage, ammo regeneration, and scope zoom strength. These numbers are rolled randomly, but are based on the level and rarity of the item.

The loot in Borderlands is divided into several tiers of increasing rarity:

  1. White: The game calls this grade “common”, but “trash” is a more accurate term. Fill your inventory up with this junk and sell it off. The stats on these guns are garbage. You start the game with a white weapon, but you’ll upgrade at some point in the first hour and then you’ll never hold a white item again. You find this stuff constantly.
  2. Green: The game calls this grade “uncommon”, but that’s just not true. “Unimpressive” would be a more fitting descriptor. You find this stuff on a regular basis. You might rely on this stuff in the early game, but by the mid point a lot of your gear should be…
  3. Blue: (Rare) Generally a cut above green weapons. You’ll find a blue every few minutes. They’re not all great, but seeing that glowing blue sparkle on the ground usually feels pretty good.
  4. Purple: (Exotic) Now we’re talking. Danged hard to find, but usually purple stuff has very impressive stats. You might find purples about once or twice an hour.
  5. Orange: (Legendary) Very rare, but designed to have exceptional stats. Depending on your level, you might play for a few game sessions without ever seeing a single orange.
  6. Cyan: (Pearlescent) Ultra rare. Only available if you’ve got the right DLC. And even then they only drop if you’re fighting rare bosses at high levels.

Also, there’s a layer of complexity over all of this that every weapon is from one of several in-game companies, and each company has their own touches they put on weapons. (And some companies are objectively better than others.) I’ve never studied this much myself, but the wiki can tell you all about it if you’re curious. Generally if I want to know how a weapon performs, I just shoot a bunch of people with it.

The supposedly trashy white weapon outperforms an exotic purple in terms of damage AND accuracy AND fire rate.
The supposedly trashy white weapon outperforms an exotic purple in terms of damage AND accuracy AND fire rate.

Since the individual item stats are somewhat varied, the tiers aren’t completely rigid. The screenshot above shows a pretty extreme example of how complex it is to evaluate the quality of a weapon. Here’s a white (trash) weapon that seems to outperform a purple (exotic) of the same level. On the surface, the white does 50% more damage. However, the purple holds more than three times as many bullets, while the white gun will need to be reloaded constantly. If we’re just talking about two players shooting static targets side-by-side, then the player with the white weapon will do well for the first few shots because of the extra damage, but then purple will outpace them over time because white spends so much time reloading.

However, in practice this isn’t how guns are used. Players tend to reload at opportune moments when seeking targets or recovering from damage. If you can drop foes in one or two well-placed shots and reload between fights, then the white might actually be more useful. But if you happen to be fighting a damage sponge or something that’s hard to hit then the white will be awful, since you’ll need to reload while still trading fire. In practice the purple might also excel in unlisted properties like recoil, and that burst fire mode might be really good.

The point is that the relative performance of two weapons is incredibly situational. It’s shaped by the level of the foeThe game gets overall more damage sponge-ish as you gain levels., the level delta between the player and their adversaryFoes just a few levels above you are very spongy, and foes just a few levels below you are tissue paper., the enemy typeSome foes have lots of armor, tons of hit points, small critical hit zones, or animations that make them hard to hit., your character classFoes that juke around are less troublesome if you’ve got a special power to lock them in place. Or a turret / pet with auto-aim., and individual playstyleLow accuracy weapons aren’t a problem if you tend to fight at close range..

One final explanation for the performance discrepancy between the white and purple above is that the game seems to greatly over-value elemental damage in general, and it REALLY over-estimates the value of slagSlag is an elemental damage type, like fire. Except, slag makes foes take extra damage from non-slag weapons. Which means you need to do a lot of weapon-switching to use slag properly. Not worth the effort at low levels when foes die in a couple of hits anyway. damage. This is particularly true in the early parts of the game when slag is basically useless.

Elemental damage goes REALLY well with shotguns, since every individual pellet has a chance to cause the elemental damage to kick in.
Elemental damage goes REALLY well with shotguns, since every individual pellet has a chance to cause the elemental damage to kick in.

If the weapon stats happen to have a lot of synergy, a weapon might really excel more than its color might suggest. Meanwhile, a couple of stats with conflicting properties might render a weapon useless. You might find a blue shotgun that has both a large magazine capacity and a rapid fire rate, making it better than the average purple. Or you might find a sniper rifle with an extra-powerful scope and garbage accuracy, making it basically useless. Sometimes you might be able to make use of an oddball weapon in unexpected way. For example, maybe that sniper rifle with terrible accuracy but ridiculous damage and rate of fire will turn out to be useful when fired from the hip like an assault rifle.

The point is that appraising the quality of weapons is a big part of the game. If you find it tedious then this game will drive you crazy. On the other hand if you enjoy looking for treasure, thinking about weapon performance, and switching up your play style to make the best use of your gear, then the procedurally generated weapons of Borderlands can keep you amused for a long, long time.

And speaking of looking for treasure…

The Dope Drip

Oh yeah! I got a critical. That feels so good. Well, for ME anyway.
Oh yeah! I got a critical. That feels so good. Well, for ME anyway.

I know it’s really obnoxious when people smugly reduce powerful human experiences down to simple brain chemistry. Like “Love is just hormones” or perhaps “You enjoy this thing because it triggers the release of endorphins in the brain”. Saying stuff like this is annoying because it’s dismissive and reductionist, and also because it’s hard to argue against without sounding like a complete sap.

But if you’ll allow me to be dismissive and reductionist for a minute, I want to talk about dopamine and the way it makes videogames fun. I predict some people will roll their eyes at this, “Ugh. Everyone knows this stuff Shamus. Stop trying to sound smart by reposting shit from Wikipedia and acting like you’re Bill Nye.” But the fact is that not everyone knows this stuff, and sometimes it’s useful to make sure the groundwork exists before you try and build on it.

Let’s get this out of the way: Dopamine feels good. Your brain releases it when you do something “good”. Catch the ball, solve the puzzle, or impress that attractive person, and your brain will give you a little dose of dopamine. It’s the brain’s way of saying, “Whatever you did to make this Good Thing happen, remember it so you can do it again in the future.” It’s one of the reasons mastering a videogame feels so good. Taking successful action keeps the dope coming.

There’s More than One Way to Skinner Box

Don't feel bad. It turns out this rat was a total asshole.
Don't feel bad. It turns out this rat was a total asshole.

B. F. Skinner was a psychologist, behaviorist, and social philosopher, and he did not like that people informally named the Skinner Box after him. In his own work he called it the “Operant conditioning chamber”.

Imagine if I want to prove that “We Built This City” is a terrible song. I’ve visited Aperture Science enough times to know how to science, so I stick a test subject in a soundproof room and play the song for them until they vomit. Having proven my point, I call it the “Corporate Music Exposure Chamber” in my academic paper. After that I retire in fame and riches, as so many scientists do. Then a bunch of people come along, read my work, re-name the chamber a “Shamus Box”, and begin building millions of the stupid things and climbing into them on purpose. This was probably not the legacy I was hoping for.

But Operant Conditioning Chamber is long and boring and “Skinner Box” is fun and pithy, and if the English language has proven anything it’s that convenience will win out over accuracy every time. So “Skinner Box” it is. Sorry Professor. To be fair, your assertion that “free will is an illusion” is exactly the kind of reductionist argument that really annoys people, which probably didn’t do you any favors.

There are a lot of different experiments you can do with a Skinner Box, mostly revolving around rewards or punishments delivered to your lab rat. But the one we’re interested in is where you link an action to an irregular reward. Say you put a lab rat in a box and you give them a button they can push. The button delivers food. If the subject gets food every time they push the button, then the button will not be particularly interesting to them and they will only press it when hungry. But if the button delivers irregular rewards – if you only get food perhaps 1 in 20 presses or so – then the test subject will press it even when they’re not interested in the food.

While not a big deal, this is a REALLY rare event. Finding eridium (magic purple crystals) in these boxes is pretty unusual, so finding two next to each other is probably akin to rolling a natural 20 twice in a row.
While not a big deal, this is a REALLY rare event. Finding eridium (magic purple crystals) in these boxes is pretty unusual, so finding two next to each other is probably akin to rolling a natural 20 twice in a row.

What’s going on here (at least, according to the dumbed-down pop-science version of this story) is that the random reward triggers the release of dopamine in the brain. “Hey! Pay attention! A very Good Thing just happened. Try to figure out how you made it happen so you can make it happen again in the future.” This means that pushing the button and getting food feels good to the test subject, which means they will want to keep trying to make it happen. They’re not motivated by the food. They’re motivated by the dopamine hit.

This is all well and good when the Good Thing is pouncing on a mouse (if you’re a cat) or finding a trash can full of delicious garbage (if you’re a raccoon) or finding a hidden Lambda stash (if you’re Gordon Freeman). You’re being taught to remember the motions, sensory patterns, timing, and clues that made this moment possible. You’ll keep getting those lovely doses of dopamine until you master the task.

But if the event is truly random, then the brain will keep rewarding you forever because there’s nothing to master. The brain will keep looking for a pattern that doesn’t exist. This is the key trick at work in slot machines. And indeed, this behavioral loop is at the core of gambling addiction. At the heart of it, gambling addicts are like self-dosing dopamine junkiesThat’s actually a scary thought to me. I’ve never known anyone with a gambling problem, but it strikes me as being kind of scary that a gambling addict is weak to a drug that they make for themselves. It’s like an alcoholic that always has a drink they can’t put down..

We all are, if you believe Skinner.

Like I said, it’s obnoxious and reductionist to distill the experience of playing a videogame down to seeking a steady drip of dopamine for yourself, and I think Borderlands has a lot more to offer the player than a Skinner Box, but this is part of the gameplay loop and I think it’s worth talking about.

The Loot Lottery

In the world of Borderlands 2 the REAL currency that slot machines consume is not money, but time. Money is plentiful but the slots are boring and you probably have more fun things you could be doing.
In the world of Borderlands 2 the REAL currency that slot machines consume is not money, but time. Money is plentiful but the slots are boring and you probably have more fun things you could be doing.

Humans are smarter than mice, and so something as simple and shallow as the button-box of the original experiment probably won’t work on us. If you want to build a button box for a human being then you need to add a bunch of sensory stimulus to tickle the pattern-searching parts of the brain.

For example: The classic slot machine is basically a button-box with a few extra psychological distractions bolted on. With slots, there’s a build-up of sound, light, and tactile feedback that’s carefully engineered to make the experience as stimulating as possible. The player pulls the lever and gets the welcoming sensory input as the game begins. Then the spinners are slowly revealed. Sure, the machine could just reveal all three at once. In fact, it could simply reveal the whole thing instantly as soon as you drop your coin in. But the slow reveal has the effect of building anticipation while also creating activity for the pattern-searching parts of the brain to monitor.

Note that with both slots and scratch-off tickets, the player is never a complete loser until all of the pieces are revealed. Even if the first two are duds, the third can still lead to a desirable outcome, so there’s never a reason to walk away. It keeps you engaged and looking for patterns.

After the resolution, the game might give some minor payout that can feel like a “win”, even if the prize is less than the cost of the game. If the game resolved as soon as you dropped your money in, then shoving in $2 and getting $1 in return would feel like a loss. But the length of the game lets you mentally let go of the $2 before you get the $1 payout. You were down two dollars while the game was in play, so the final result is that you feel better off instead of worse. This means that you might get a little dopamine. Even though you lost, you got a dose that felt like a win, which can help string the unwary player along.

I WON! My prize is a crap weapon I can schlep to the vendor to sell for money which will let me buy another spin. So I didn't ACTUALLY win. I kinda broke even, minus all the time this will waste.
I WON! My prize is a crap weapon I can schlep to the vendor to sell for money which will let me buy another spin. So I didn't ACTUALLY win. I kinda broke even, minus all the time this will waste.

More importantly, if there is a huge space of outcomes then the player can be left with the impression that they “nearly” won.

“Hey, I got two of a kind! Man, if only that last slot had matched, I’d be rich! I was so close!”

Of course, there are astronomically more configurations of matching-two than matching-three, but the feedback loop creates this sense of near misses, which invites the player to keep trying. On some instinctive level it makes you feel that there must be a pattern to find. Even if someone explains to the player that the machine is truly random and there’s no pattern at work, the brain will keep looking anyway. The different slot patterns and spinning shapes will still produce activity that you’ll want to watch, and you’ll still get a blast of dopamine when the machine pays out, because this whole cycle of analysis and reward is taking place somewhere down in the twisty instinctive bits of the mind.

The Button is Murder

I have no idea who I just killed, but I hope he dropped something cool.
I have no idea who I just killed, but I hope he dropped something cool.

The Skinner Box portion of Borderlands is like a slot machine, except instead of spending money to pull a lever you just shoot psycho killers in the head. Every guy you blast is like taking another spin. (Will I get anything?) Every drop is like seeing that first slot wheel line up in a favorable position. (Did I win something good?) And checking out each drop is like seeing the game resolve itself. (Dang. I didn’t hit the jackpot. But I came close! The next one could REALLY be a winner!)

Obviously the Skinner Box doesn’t work on everyone. Some people find the constant trickle of guns and loot to be an annoying distraction from the shooting. Instead of getting excited about the opportunity for new treasure, they’re annoyed that they have to stop what they’re doing and read some numbers to figure out if they should switch to this new gun.

The button-box only works if you consider the reward to be a Good Thing. If slot machines paid in sawdust, then nobody would care to play them, even if they were free. You wouldn’t get a dose of sweet, sweet dopamine for winning a handful of sawdust, and so there’s nothing to entice the brain to keep looking for patterns that aren’t there. And to some people, the constant sprinkle of guns is like getting handful after handful of sawdust. This particular Skinner Box doesn’t work for them.

But if it does work on you, then it really works, and it can sustain your interest in the game even if the other parts falter.



[1] And sometimes with melee attacks, grenades, and special abilities. But mostly firearms

[2] The game gets overall more damage sponge-ish as you gain levels.

[3] Foes just a few levels above you are very spongy, and foes just a few levels below you are tissue paper.

[4] Some foes have lots of armor, tons of hit points, small critical hit zones, or animations that make them hard to hit.

[5] Foes that juke around are less troublesome if you’ve got a special power to lock them in place. Or a turret / pet with auto-aim.

[6] Low accuracy weapons aren’t a problem if you tend to fight at close range.

[7] Slag is an elemental damage type, like fire. Except, slag makes foes take extra damage from non-slag weapons. Which means you need to do a lot of weapon-switching to use slag properly. Not worth the effort at low levels when foes die in a couple of hits anyway.

[8] That’s actually a scary thought to me. I’ve never known anyone with a gambling problem, but it strikes me as being kind of scary that a gambling addict is weak to a drug that they make for themselves. It’s like an alcoholic that always has a drink they can’t put down.

From The Archives:

119 thoughts on “Borderlands Part 2: Borderlands is Dope[amine]

  1. kunedog says:

    On Post page front there all.

    1. Baron Tanks says:

      Came here to say the same.


    2. Echo Tango says:

      So…why is the page-break not automated? ^^;

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        Because every time any of us come to this page, we’re wondering “is there a new post?” (pattern matching)
        Then, if we see one (dopamine hit) we wonder, “Did Shamus forget the ‘more’ tag this time?” (pattern matching) and scroll down.
        Ooh! He did (dopamine hit)! Has anyone else noticed yet? Better go straight to the comments and look. (pattern matching)
        Hmm… no, no, nope! Jackpot! I get to be the first one to remind him about it, and my input will change the look of the site! (dopamine hit)

        1. Worthstream says:

          The famous Skinner Blog.

  2. boz says:

    This is the reason why I dislike Diablo series, World of Warcraft and Borderlands in general. Once you see the carnival trick it becomes insanely irritating and on WoWs case borderline immoral(you pay for your time in game, game tells you to bring 10 bear asses but bears may or may not drop their asses when you kill them thus increasing your time in game and creating the skinner box effect).

    1. BlueHorus says:

      Absolutely. Something similar is what killed DA:Inquisition for me.

      I was interested in the story, and wanted to feed those starving peasents, but after about five minutes I realised I was running through the wilderness, hoping the game would make a meat-dropping animal appear in my line of sight so I could kill it. I even think the animals had a 100% drop rate on the meat – but still, waiting on the game to randomly give me what I want while wading through a sea of what I didn’t really killed the game for me.

      The idea of paying regularly for a game to waste my time with illogical loot-drop shenanigans has kept me away from pretty much every MMO ever.

      Still, if someone made a ‘Just the story, no RNG-related bullshit’ mod of DA:I, I bet I’d really like it.

      1. Geebs says:

        DA:I doesn’t really get better, story wise. I played as far as the timey wimey bit and it was a load of crappy, unexciting build-up that still somehow managed to be a let-down when it resolved. The generally terrible voice acting doesn’t help, either.

        If anything, walking around beating up random mobs was the best part of that game.

        1. BlueHorus says:

          DA:I doesn't really get better, story wise.

          That’s a shame. I was interested in what I did see. And I like the DA lore. But it felt like I’d spend at least an hour of slog in between five minutes of anything I cared about.

          Makes the fact that I swallowed my dislike of EA Games in order to buy DA:I just that little bit more bitter. Ah well.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Can you cheat trough it like origins?

            1. BlueHorus says:

              Maybe? Depends on the cheat.

              Don’t suppose there’s a ‘reduce all enemies by at least 1/2 and stop them respawning ever’ cheat?

              Or a ‘sod this gathering lark, just give me infinite herbs/ore/crafting materials’?
              Can’t believe how much time I spent picking god-damned elfroot.

            2. Taellosse says:

              To my knowledge, you can’t exactly “cheat” with the vanilla game, but if you’re on PC, there are a fair number of mods that can make things like resource gathering for crafting or even minor side quests into a non-issue.

    2. Paul Spooner says:

      Yeah, it’s basically just re-skinned gambling. Which isn’t really a problem, unless gambling itself is immoral, but let’s not go there.

    3. Daemian Lucifer says:

      In defense of diablo(1 and 2 at least),the loot was not the core of it.The combat with varied enemies was.The weapons and other items were just tools to overcome the enemies.Sure,the random loot was nice when you got something really good,but the whole game was not built around that.Thats why I love the diablo series and was not grabbed by any of the clones.

      1. Syal says:

        Also at lower levels a failure to receive the right loot will still move you closer to the next level-up, so it’s not a total loss until you hit max level.

      2. Lanthanide says:

        The loot definitely is what kept people playing Diablo 2 for years and years and years. People wouldn’t spend 8 hours straight doing “pindle runs” (which literally take less than 1 minute each) because they enjoyed the combat.

        Diablo 1 didn’t last as long since it didn’t have such a long tail.

    4. poiumty says:

      Honestly World of Warcraft doesn’t rely on RNG quite as much as other MMOs, or especially Korean MMOs. Which is probably a bad thing for some people.

      Sure the bears won’t ALWAYS drop a pelt but you have it on good experience that collecting the stupid things won’t last more than 10 minutes in a worst case scenario, and you already know the reward you’re gonna get, and this silly starter quest will lead to a thickening plot and a deeper quest chain that will climax with a big, difficult group quest in the area’s dungeon. Maybe. You could go check but you’re doing the quest for the exp anyway so eh.

      Even at the endgame, in pvp you’re steadily accumulating points (with little to no RNG involved) that you can trade in for guarranteed gear, and the PvE endgame is only RNG when you don’t raid a lot or are looking for some very specific, rare random boss drops.

      1. boz says:

        Ever since 2004 people have been trying to “explain” either how it’s for my own good that assless bears do exist or that mechanic which was clearly designed to waste my time only wastes x amount of my time so it’s ok.

        I get that people enjoyed “playing” it. People have found new friendships or their significant others through it. And I get some people who made that game part of their id so they take criticism as an affront to their personality. Neither of those change what I see when I look at that game. That game was designed to exploit people. You may not feel like that, good for you.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          You dont get it,the walk back through respawned enemies towards the boss is there intentionally so that you can spend that time to calm down before attempting to beat it again.

          1. Droid says:

            Everyone can learn this. You just don’t try hard enough.

          2. poiumty says:

            I get it man, Dark Souls is too hard for you. Chill out, not everyone can be good at video games. Sometimes you have people who are just really bad, I’m sure you know since you’re so salty that you had to invade a completely different discussion just so you can cry more salty little tears.

              1. poiumty says:

                I agree with that video. The game isn’t hard at all.

                You just need to git gud bro. Git gud.

        2. BlueHorus says:

          So much this. It’s the illogic of it that gets me.

          The game tells you to gather 10 kobold heads.
          20 dead kobolds later, you have 6 kobold heads.

          Maybe there is a ‘good’ reason for this, in game design terms. I’ve yet to hear one. But the game is still, brazenly, wasting your time by what feels like cheating – and in an MMO, that’s time you’re paying for.

          It’s the same problem as an impassable, indestructible wooden fence. Yes, I know the game world has to have limits and borders. But couldn’t you find a better way to show them?

          1. Taellosse says:

            I can almost understand the logic of lower-than-100% drop rates for body parts, depending on the body part. I mean, sometimes when you’re slaughtering things in a frenzy of explosive fireballs, or chopping your foes to pieces with massive bladed weapons, or whatever, you do too much damage to that precious troglodyte gizzard. But they really, REALLY overdo the reduced drop rates, far beyond what that kind of thing could justify, and it’s clearly just so you waste more time, whether you’re actively paying for that time or not.

      2. Urthman says:

        My iron video game rule is “Never do something for a reward that isn’t fun if you don’t get a reward.” I refuse to clobber 20 Owl Bears to get a nifty magic hat unless clobbering Owl Bears is intrinsically enjoyable.

        1. Francis-Olivier says:

          I’m more of a “if it’s not anoying” than “if it actually fun” kinda guy. Ultimately I think I’m ok wasting time as long as I don’t feel like I’m wasting time or it doesn’t take an effort.

  3. Droid says:

    “Humans are smarter than mice”[citation needed].

    1. Grudgeal says:

      You’ll have to define “smarter”. I’m pretty sure I got the average mouse beat in, say, visual pattern recognition, but if you dropped both of us in an alley in a strange city the mouse would likely survive longer than I would.

      1. djw says:

        I’m not sure about that. Feral cats must be pretty eager to jump on newbie city mice.

        Also, on shear lifespan alone you’ll probably beat the mouse by many, many years.

        1. methermeneus says:

          If experience equaled intelligence, my job would be a whole heck of a lot easier. A best fit line might show correlation, but it’s not an automatic guarantee.

      2. Geebs says:

        Mice are not, as is commonly assumed on Earth, small white squeaking animals who spend a lot of time being experimented on.
        In fact, they are the protrusions into our dimension of hyper-intellegent pan-dimensional beings.

        The whole business with the cheese and the squeaking is just a front.

        1. MichaelGC says:

          I’m getting a small dopamine hit from this reference. 🐭🧀

      3. Steve C says:

        I believe you are wildly overestimating the dangers of a random city while wildly overestimating the life expectancy of a random mouse.

  4. forty-bot says:

    Some people find the constant trickle of guns and loot to be an annoying distraction from the shooting. Instead of getting excited about the opportunity for new treasure, they're annoyed that they have to stop what they're doing and read some numbers to figure out if they should switch to this new gun.

    This is me. I’d much rather just remove everything below blues and purples from the game. I don’t want to deal with the hassle of carting weapons around, or searching through shlep for that one grenade I need.

    1. DanMan says:

      I played north of 300 hours of Borderlands 2. I beat the game and all the DLC with every character. I was absolutely hooked on the game.

      Somewhere around the 100 hour mark, it just became exactly not fun. Then I discovered a cheat program that allowed me to change the drop rate of different weapons. That’s what made me spend another 200 hours in Borderlands 2. Interestingly enough, the white drops are also tied to ammo drops. So if you just blindly turn off white drops, you’ll never get more ammo.

      This kind of game is exactly what tickles my dopamine drip, but when the reward I want becomes something with such a miniscule chance of happening, I loose interest quickly. I think it’s the reason that actual slot machines never interested me in the slightest.

    2. Zekiel says:

      Yeah, me too. Playing something like Pillars of Eternity or Baldur’s Gate I *loved* finding magical items, comparing them to what I’ve already got and working out what works best. But with Diablo or Borderlands I realised (after too long playing) that I found it annoying and felt it was wasting my time. It was just irritating

      I think the problem (for my taste) was twofold – firstly that there was much more loot dropping (and therefore more comparing to be done) and secondly that you only had one character to outfit (instead of 5 or 6 in a party) so a higher proportion of the loot you did find would go unused.

      1. Scampi says:

        Actually, I never had “only one character” to equip in Diablo II.
        Usually I had the currently played character to equip as well as his mercenary, keep in mind my other characters who were possibly currently waiting for an item of specific type to craft something out of it or use a runeword on a socketed item, several friends, who had similar lists waiting and were trading useful items with each other and usually kept each other informed on our needs, so there was a lot in Diablo II that would be useful at a given moment.
        Even if an item was not itself useful, we would examine them for their affix value on the specific equipment skin (omg-a holy Holy Armour! It’s not especially useful, but it’s worth a fortune!) for sale (deciding on this “in the field” so we would not waste time picking up low value crap), so we might later waste the collected surplus money our characters were not able to carry away on the gambling vendors to have a chance at some useful rare, set or unique items.
        I think there was a lot more variation of possibilities in DII than any of its “descendants” and way more to actually know, also actual processes one could optimize when searching for specific loot (killing the right bosses carrying the best possible amount of magic find-items to find a specific unique item or a good amount of rares etc.). It was, of course, still a skinner box, but one where a lot of strategic optimization was possible for an informed player.

    3. Echo Tango says:

      This is basically how I feel too – the large volumes of “boring” loot make the whole world of Borderlands, Diablo, etc all feel very cheap. Instead of knowing I’m in a world where magical wands (or cool guns) are rare, I know I’m in a world filled with mundane magical items (or guns), where sometimes there’s some that aren’t completely terrible.

      For a stark contrast, consider the weapons in Prince Of Persia: Sands Of Time. There, you only found a handful of swords, and they were all noticable upgrades to you starting sword. There, every weapon found feels good, but the loot-trash games make every weapon feel like a waste of time. :S

    4. Christopher says:

      If you find it tedious then this game will drive you crazy.

      Yep. Spoiler warning here, but if the loot race feels bad for you, hardly any of the jokes land and you find the cel-shading to be worse than Wind Waker or Okami, then Borderlands isn’t gonna do a whole lot for you.

  5. GloatingSwine says:

    These systems are actually loads harder to balance than you might initially think from the simple description.

    Too high a ratio of loot to useful loot and the second part of the process (looking through the loot for the good stuff) becomes less rewarding and the percieved value of loot overall goes down (the problem Diablo 3 and Borderlands 2 had on launch).

    Too little loot overall and people feel like the system is stingy and don’t get invested in doing the action that makes loot happen.

    There’s a really hard to find sweet spot where you give enough loot out with enough of it being valuable to make the player enjoy getting it without making them grossly overpowered because they keep getting good stuff. Diablo 3 solved its problem by reducing the quantity of loot, increasing the power and applicability of loot, and putting in a very wide difficulty scale so that when players start to feel overpowered they can turn up the difficulty and coincidentally get bigger rewards because of higher multipliers when they do.

    1. SPCTRE says:

      Too little loot overall and people feel like the system is stingy and don't get invested in doing the action that makes loot happen.

      Destiny had that exact problem at launch, leading to the infamous Loot Cave.

      1. GloatingSwine says:

        Yeah, that’s another element that Diablo 3 also had. The thing that gave the best chances at loot was orthogonal to the intended game behaviour. In Destiny it was shooting into a cave (and then cheesing Nightfall bosses by finding that bit of the map they couldn’t shoot you in), in Diablo 3 it was smashing jars.

        At least in Blands the containers that have good loot are either slightly hidden (rewarding exploration) or behind a boss.

  6. MichaelG says:

    So you are saying the same thing as this guy:

  7. Joshua says:

    Long-time LOTRO player here, and you have a bizarre system in place for all of the trash loot. Almost all of the good weapons/armor/jewelry are going to be locked behind doing some instance/raid/etc. wall, and after the early game you will almost never find gear from a random drop that’s better than what you have. So, you have a constant inflow of trash loot that’s a waste of time to even look at. It’s occurred to me in the past that it was someone’s job to create all of the names, descriptions, stats, etc. for these items players will simply be in a hurry to vendor.

    I assume a number of other modern MMOs are the same.

    1. =David says:

      “It's occurred to me in the past that it was someone's job to create all of the names, descriptions, stats, etc. for these items players will simply be in a hurry to vendor.”

      In Borderlands, the guns are all procedurally-generated. So they really just built a bunch of parts that the game sticks together in random (not really) ways.

      1. Mintskittle says:

        I wanna say most items in MMOs in the white to blue range are procedurally generated, and the stats also determine the name, with certain keywords linked to specific stats, so you end up with health boosting items being something like “X of the whale” or intelligence boosters being “X of the owl.”

  8. CruelCow says:

    Sadly, a big part of what makes it so hard to compare weapons is the bad interface.

    When you’re comparing guns of different categories the game does not help you in any way. Any reasonable SMG will have a higher fire rate and magazine size yet less damage than any reasonable sniper rifle. To even begin to compare them, you need to multiply damage by fire rate. Then you need to do that again with the elemental damage, multiply it with the proc chance and add those numbers together. Finally your character almost certainly has some modifiers (+5% damage with assault rifles, +10% chance of fire damage) that are pretty well hidden. All of that to just get the raw DPS.

    I really feel the game should display the raw DPS (and maybe even the effective DPS?), so that the player can make the interesting decision:

    Do I care more about the range of the sniper or the extra damage of the shotgun?
    Do I care more about ‘thrown like a grenade on reload’ or the better scope?

    Yeah I know, “try it out” is part of the game, but it is not uncommon to come out of a fight with multiple new guns that look reasonable at first glance and switching guns is a pain.

    1. Bubble181 says:

      At least Diablo 3 gives a ….Fairly honest comparison of DPS nowadays. Factors in most specials and skills.

      1. Fade2Gray says:

        I think part of the challenge in acurately predicting average DPS is that player skill plays a larger roll in Borderlands than Diablo. Not that player skill isn’t a factor in ARPGs, but I think there is a lot more room for player skill to have an impact in an FPS than in a game were the player’s primary interaction is clicking on things with a mouse pointer and tapping hotkeys.

    2. Mikey says:

      I really don’t see this as a problem though, since I’m never comparing SMGs or sniper rifles against anything except other weapons of the same type.

      All three games give you up to four weapon slots for switching on the fly, so I’ve always got a slot for a general purpose gun (Pistol/SMG/Assault rifle, depending on the character/build), a sniper rifle, a shotgun and a rocket launcher, all in their own dedicated slots.

  9. Grudgeal says:

    Imagine if I want to prove that “We Built This City” is a terrible song. I've visited Aperture Science enough times to know how to science, so I stick a test subject in a soundproof room and play the song for them until they vomit.

    What, no control group?

    1. =David says:

      Cave Johnson would tell you that control groups are for sissies.

    2. djw says:

      The control group gets “White Rabbit”

  10. Darren says:

    Slag damage is incredibly good if you are playing a build that adds elemental damage regardless of equipment. The Siren’s damage output is bonkers if you can set it up right.

    The chief problem is that slag guns pale in comparison to skills that add slag damage.

    1. djw says:

      Seems like a slag gun is better for a support character in multi-player, since every other person gets double damage then. (This is pure theory, since I only played solo).

  11. Shoeboxjeddy says:

    Borderlands is a game at war with itself. What do I mean: it is constantly dropping loot for you to peruse. And even if you’re comparing a fire pistol gun to an electric pistol gun, there’s STILL a lot of things to consider. But it’s also a co-op game. Every time you stop to think about your loot (perhaps because your inventory is overfull and you need to sell or drop or stop picking things up), your team either has to stop playing (not fun for them) or leave you behind (not fun for you). So every time I play it, it’s either telling people to HURRY UP IT’S BEEN 20 MINUTES ALREADY or WAIT UP, I WANT TO SEE THE BOSS BEFORE YOU KILL IT!

    I feel like Destiny strikes a much better balance. You’re not constantly opening toilets and crates to find literal trash loot. You might get one or two meaningful drops a mission. Looking over these and deciding is usually faster too. So while there IS room to build several complex loadouts, there isn’t pressure to make an Excel spreadsheet of plusses and minuses during a firefight. Oh and Destiny also has more consistent gunplay since none of the guns are unusably bad, while MANY of the Borderlands guns are, for funsies.

    1. Dreadjaws says:

      The difference being that Borderlands can perfectly be played single player, and even offline.

      1. I’d chalk that up to Shamus describing “depending on what you enjoy”. For a lot of people, even if you can play the story missions solo, you still need to be online and you still can only do certain content. Okay, so… Strikes? Challenge of Elders? Court of Oryx? They have ways to group up with randoms, and I’ve mostly found the community to be very good at trying to get strikes and challenges done rather than trolling. In fact, the only trolls I ran into were during patrols. But the intended experience of the designer is clearly for you to get friends together and play.

        For me, though, that’s perfect. I sit down and connect with some friends online once a week and we get our Destiny on. We don’t really max out our light levels, but all that end-game grind is more an excuse for us to keep playing rather than the draw.

        Regardless, I still remember when Destiny first released and people compared it to Borderlands. When they kept comparing to Borderlands loot drops I was worried, because the nature of loot drops in Destiny means I don’t have to keep checking back every five minutes. Before Borderlands? Too Human. I remember Too Human dropping loot constantly as well. Not nearly so often, but it basically meant I had to check if I had any new gear after a fight in case I got something better.

        I’d say Too Human was still better, as you could convert loot to cash immediately from the menu. The real problem was the menu took eight million years to load (on top of other issues).

      2. Erik says:

        This. Although I was introduced to BL playing coop with a few acquaintances, I’ve played it almost exclusively solo and it’s generally been a lot of fun.

        Unless everyone playing already knows all the quests & has reasonably geared up, coop is actually fairly annoying to an RPG player since the experienced players grab the quests without reading and run straight to the goals, leaving the newbie going “WTF is going on here?” I speak from experience here. :)

        But if you’re from a FPS run-n-gun background, you don’t notice that as an annoyance, and the stuff the RPG players love (gear, quest stories) is what annoys you. That’s the downside of mixing the genres. The upside being that if you can get past the minor annoyances, both sides can have fun playing together, which is otherwise too rare.

  12. Ninety-Three says:

    your assertion the “free will is an illusion”


  13. J Greely says:

    Watching slot-machine players is educational. Not everyone gets caught in the loop, but the ones who do can get quite manic over the illusion of “near-misses” (there’s a reason the machines are very sturdy). The psychology is brilliant and viciously cynical.

    Silliest thing I’ve ever seen was a slot tournament: fifty people pushing the buttons as fast as they can on identical machines to see which RNG delivers the most hits.


    1. Kylroy says:

      Recently went to Vegas and was reminded that slots just don’t do anything for me. Had some fun sitting with my wife while she played some, but it just doesn’t engage me.

      Video poker, though? I can lose *hours* to that stuff. I know that optimal play is incredibly easy, and that once you clear that incredibly low bar for strategy it’s functionally identical to slots…but that minimal additional engagement is enough to lock me into the Skinner Box mentality. Given that the only video poker machines I saw were all – *all* – looking like they ran on Windows 98, it would appear that I’m in a minority too small to cater to with fancy graphics, audio, or video.

      1. Dev Null says:

        Actually, video poker machines are WAY more popular than slots in Australia, where they are an insanely huge market:

        I’ve always wondered whether there was some fundamental difference between Australians and Americans that made the different types of machines popular, but since I honestly don’t get the appeal of either, I’m probably the worst person to try to figure it out.

        1. Kylroy says:

          I wonder how tarted-up the machines are, though. Not that it would take much to exceed the VGA-and-MIDI machines I was playing, but I’d be surprised if they have anything like the giant HD screens and surround sound that dominate Vegas floors.

    2. BlueHorus says:

      Poker actually has skills involved: rules to be understood, people to be bluffed, etc.
      There’s something for your brain to do as well as get your hopes up repeatedly.

      but on topic…slot machine contest?! What the hell?
      My first instinct is to say no-one would do something so pointless, let alone call it a contest – but who am I kidding. Yes they would.

      I’ve gotta know details.
      Did they pay to enter the contest?
      Did they pay everytime they used the machines?
      What was the prize? (Please don’t say tokens for slot machines)

      1. evilmrhenry says:

        This is a guide to Slot Tournaments; it should explain how things work.

        (Now, let’s see how the spam blocker likes me posting a message, with a link, that’s about gambling…)

        1. BlueHorus says:

          Oh, okay. So it does make a sort of sense; you get more spins for your money. Pay $50 and press the button more than 50 times and you’re…saving money?

          Always good to get your money’s worth from a one-armed bandit…

  14. Dev Null says:

    The button-box only works if you consider the reward to be a Good Thing. If slot machines paid in sawdust, then nobody would care to play them, even if they were free.

    Once upon a time (while waiting for the band to set up) I wandered with a group of friends into the casino, or “pokies” section of an Australian club. We picked a machine, put in a coin, and cheered when more coins poured out the bottom. So we put in another coin, and cheered even more loudly when coins dropped out the bottom again. We were on a roll! We could not lose! No matter how many times we put a coin in that machine, a pleasing tinkle of coins dropped out the bottom!

    Eventually, the bouncer asked us to leave, and stop messing with their change machine. But before that we got some seriously dirty looks from the other players. Turns out, one of the other things that kills the fun of a Skinner Box is having it’s essential nature pointed out to you while you’re playing.

    1. Fade2Gray says:

      Even if this story is apocryphally, it’s hilarious to picture on so many levels.

    2. BlueHorus says:


    3. KarmaTheAlligator says:

      That made my day, thank you.

  15. Sleeping Dragon says:

    RE looking for patterns. By Eris I don’t think I’ve seen people go more crazy in this department (without being actually committed) than players in MMOs with random drops. “You need to enter the raid at the exact time when the sum total of the numbers in hours, minutes and seconds is equal to the sum total of the numbers from day, month and the last two digits of the year”, “You need to enter at the exact hour because that removes the minute variable but because the dungeon can drop 3 items (two of which are crap) the number of treasure chest keys you have needs to be divisible by 3”, “I don’t know if it’s relevant but the one time I got the artifact all my powers were on cooldown with the exact same time left when we dealt the finishing blow to the boss”. And when you try to tell these people something like “dude, it’s random, you’re noticing these correlations because your brain is kinda good at spotting patterns and if there aren’t any it’ll try to make something up” you get screamed at because “computers can’t really generate random numbers” (which on an extremely technical level is soooomewhat true but for practical purposes…).

    1. Droid says:

      I see your “MMO players are maximum superstitious” and raise you an extremely relevant xkcd comic.

    2. guy says:

      It should be noted that while there’s a ton of crazy superstition around, game random drops aren’t necessarily completely random. Aside from the limits of the RNG (though that’s rarely an issue in an MMO; usually you find a way to peek ahead rather than manipulate it) they sometimes set bizarre conditions on purpose.

    3. Dreadjaws says:

      It’s called “apophenia”. What’s funny is that they will notice the time their pattern seems to work while completely ignore all the times it doesn’t.

      But believe me, it’s not exclusive to MMOs, it’s there for pretty much every game. Ask any Pokemon player what better way to safely catch a Pokemon and chances are they’ll tell you to press certain buttons while the Pokeball is wiggling, even though it has literally no bearing in the results.

      1. Trix2000 says:

        Well, with the Pokemon thing, even knowing it is literally random doesn’t stop me from pressing a button on catch just because it feels better for some reason. :P

        I think that might be more of a physical response thing, though.

    4. The Rocketeer says:

      While every MMO has its own large share of lore like this, Final Fantasy XI might have been the king in its heyday for bug-eyed ritualistic speculation on a wealth of mechanics, especially crafting. It’d be faster to list what wasn’t believed to have some invisible but essential role in the success of crafting or the chance of crafting higher-quality items, and the fact that at least some of the rumors at least seemed to have some truth to them (the day of the week, the weather, the phase of the moon, and the direction your character is facing always featured prominently in crafting lore) did a lot to make otherwise ridiculous suggestions seem at least plausible.

      Square-Enix was also notoriously tight-lipped about how anything worked, and never volunteered information on even basic mechanics in anything but the most cryptic and contradictory terms. This is a way bigger topic, and one I’ve forgotten a lot about over the years, but S-E’s management of FFXI and its community often resembled some masterful large-scale social experiment on how to troll as many people as you can, as hard as you can, and get paid for the privilege. I deeply respected that, because frankly MMO players deserve it, and know they deserve it in their heart of hearts.

      1. Hal says:

        The problem, to me, is that they applied that in FFX as well. Sort of.

        The Omega Ruins, besides housing an optional super-boss, also had some super treasure in it. However, you weren't guaranteed to get it. The first time you entered the dungeon, the game used an RNG to determine how many of the treasure chests you could actually collect; always at least one, with “all” being very rare. (Once you looted the allocated number, the remainder disappeared.)

        This was a bizarre departure from the genre at the time, which is why it took people ages to realize that it was an RNG at all. People speculated about numerous conditions you had to fulfill, timing to music, order of opening chests, number of steps, Playstation system timer, and so forth. The amount of speculation was insane, and the measures people took to test this were likewise insane.

        1. GloatingSwine says:

          Also the one that had “Don’t open these specific chests, which are completely unmarked and unrelated to one another, or you can’t have the best weapon”.

    5. Steve C says:

      I’m going to strongly disagree with you. What you describe *should be* the case. The reality is different not because “computers can't really generate random numbers” but because humans program computer code and humans can screw up.

      Here is a specific example. That is a visual representation of the actual RNG from Warframe. Look at it closely and it looks like static (as it should). Now stand up and look the same image from across the room. There is a distinct repeating pattern to it (Hint look for 3 black “X” along the bottom). There should not be any kind of pattern to it at all.

      What does the pattern mean? For the most part it means nothing. It is still pretty close to being random. *Except* since it is a RNG there is a seed value involved. With the same seed it is possible for it to “roll” and hit the same outcome on the pattern again and again with zero chance of the desired outcome ever happening. It’s only random if that seed is reset. And it is not superstition if a player is forcing a reset of a seed value. Nor is it superstition when something happens repeatedly that has extremely low odds to happen once. It’s a bug in the code.

      I got an incredibly rare drop. Felt lucky. Got it again in the same game and thought wow! Super lucky! I got it a 3rd time and calculated the odds of that happening to be less than being dealt a poker hand of 4 of a kind being beaten by a straight flush. (Note that this specific event is tracked at casinos and often pays out an accumulating jackpot of $100k-$1M.) Then it happened a 5th time in the same game.

      There’s superstition regarding randomness and then there’s a stacked deck. Video games can easily be a stacked deck.

      1. SPCTRE says:

        Thank you for this, a fascinating read!

  16. Fade2Gray says:

    For about half of this article I was thinking “Wow. Didn’t Shamus JUST make all of these arguments in almost the exact same way?” Then I looked at the previous article and didn’t see any of what I remembered reading. Not going to lie, for a brief moment I thought I might have experienced some sort of precognitive dejavu. Then I remembered I had also recently read an article Shamus’ wrote several years ago about why he enjoyed the original Borderlands (around the time Gearbox announced the whole bajillions of guns thing for BL2).


    Though it might have been cooler if it actually did turn out I was a precog…

    1. Dev Null says:

      If you were a precog, you’d _totally_ know when the good guns were going to drop…

    2. Jarenth says:

      Yeah, I had the same experience. “I’m pretty sure I read these exact arguments before”.

      Turns out that I did! It’s just been a while.

      1. Fade2Gray says:

        Yep. That’s the one. It randomly showed up in the “From the Archives” section at the end of the last article, so they kind of melded together in my mind.

  17. Dreadjaws says:

    In preparation for this series, I’m currently replaying the games, starting with the first one. And man, I did forget how addictive I find the looting. The reason the random dropping works so well for me unlike, say, in an MMO, where you have to wait for the random drops in order to progress (where you can spend easily 2 minutes to 1 hour in the exact same mission, depending on your luck) is that here they’re not necessary. They’re merely a nice addition.

    I mean, there are several ways to get guns, and all the randomness does is give you a small push. It’s not like you have to wait for guns to randomly drop as the only way to ever get a better gun. You’re getting better guns constantly anyway, but this way you get to fool around with your playstyle, constantly trying new things with no downside.

  18. MichaelGC says:

    He’s definitely Prof. Skinner rather than Doc or Dr. I didn’t want to point this out ☝️ but it’s not like I have any choice.

  19. Cybron says:

    The exact same mechanisms drive “internet addiction” – if you’ve ever refreshed Reddit, 4chan, or whatever repeatedly looking for new content, your brain is rewarding you with a dopamine hit when you find it.

    1. Dev Null says:

      Or, y’know, Twentysided…

  20. Daemian Lucifer says:

    After playing witcher 3 I came to loathe the weapon tiers system.Because Im a compulsive completionist,I looted EVERYTHING in that game.Rather soon,I found some orange items.And the way witcher works is that every item has gem slots based on its rarity.The oranges give you three slots,on top of being pretty good on their own.And you can find plenty of powerful stuff to slot in,making the orange items so powerful that you can spend hours of combat never changing your gear.But the worst is that there are plenty of quests for unique items.These are tough to find(being unique)and expensive to craft.And they are strong.BUT,they start only with one slot,making them instantly weaker,until you can gain high enough level(and resources)in order to wear the improved variants that have more slots in them.

    1. Droid says:

      You mean the “witcher schools” gear? I dunno, I found most maps pretty early on in my first playthrough, long before my first orange item dropped. That’s where they turn out to be useful. And where the surprisingly well-balanced crafting shines.

  21. attackraccoon says:

    Random loot drops is why I bounced off of Darksiders 2 so early. I was very excited for it, since I enjoyed Darksiders 1 a bit. A more mobile main character and all the polished bells and whistles sounded perfect to me. But I just did not want to stop every few minutes and make sure all my best gear was equipped. I’m sure it gets better down the line, with good drops being rarer, but it just was not a system I was interested in engaging with in a Darksiders game.

    Conversely, I’ve enjoyed Borderlands 1 & 2, Destiny. I think I like the way Destiny works more, with the way you can work towards doing activities that have the potential to get you specific guns you might want. I think they both work well because of their multiplayer.

    Right now, my thing is Overwatch. I think the drop rate for good stuff is too low, because I’m not very excited to open loot boxes. It’s all cosmetic, anyway. But it must be working on someone, because I keep catching my wife buying crates every so often.

    1. Droid says:

      Now that you mention it, that also bugged me about Darksiders 2, and I also dropped it pretty early on, after having had a blast playing through Darksiders 1.

    2. Christopher says:

      Cosmetic stuff works much better on me than procedural weapons. It doesn’t matter if it’s five thousand guns if they’re all procedural interchangable crap. But the very first Dark Souls? It’s got 56 unique outfits consisting of pieces you can mix and match as you please, and an additional 11 headpieces of armor. I love that stuff. But I do think a part of it is that it’s not random where you get most of them. Some of it drops, but most is found in chests or on corpses, in whole sets.

      Overwatch’s other problem for me is that it’s first person. I’m not gonna see myself 90% of the time. Like Skyrim, it seems like such a waste to care about how you look when you can’t see yourself.

      1. Droid says:

        Fashion Souls best Souls!

  22. Philadelphus says:

    After that I retire in fame and riches, as so many scientists do.

    Bwahahahaha! Oh man, I needed that laugh. Thanks for that.

    *sigh* Now it’s off to the observatory for another 12-hour+ late-night shift at 11,000 feet in near-freezing conditions so I can make rent this month…

    1. Philadelphus says:

      I’m sorry, I’m letting my cynicism slip through again, aren’t I? I did enjoy the article.

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Thats because you chose a poor science.Its those rich biologists that rake in all the dough.

      1. Shamus says:


        Geology is where the money at.

        1. Syal says:

          It’s true. Geology is a gold mine.

    3. Galad says:

      On the flip side, you *are* working at 11k feet, doing astronomy, which is all sorts of awesome, and the only downsides are near-freezing conditions, and insufficient payment. I’m the other way around, and I’d love to switch with you, at least for a while.

  23. Syal says:

    …isn’t the burst weapon flat better? Triple the damage and divide the ammo by three, and it’s doing more damage with more ammo and a better reload speed (and slag, whatever that’s worth).

    1. Type_V says:

      Maybe. Except there’s a forced pause between burst firing in the game. And you can unload the entire Jakobs clip in 0.5s.

      But really, both of them suck. The Jakobs is trash and slag is useless at low levels combined with the -50% damage barrel mod to have slag at all.

    2. Shamus says:

      It’s burst fire when zoomed, though. That’s a pretty big disadvantage for a weapon designed for close / medium range.

      But yeah, burst fire is far better damage output.

    3. poiumty says:

      Yeah if all your enemies die in 2 headshots, the burst fire might be a hindrance since due to recoil you’re gonna have to shoot twice and that’s 6 bullets vs 2. Doing less damage also means it’s less ammo efficient (though revolver and pistol ammo pools are separate but let’s ignore that). Finally, if you have a skill like “last round in the chamber does double damage” you’ll get more out of it from the revolver.

      All these considerations are part of why I like these games, incidentally.

  24. Disc says:

    When leveling up, the thing that kind of ruins the Box is when you get a really good gun that works for you and you start to really like the gameplay with it, it’ll soon enough become obsolete because as you gain more levels, the less useful it becomes because of the constantly increasing damage sponginess and you keep wishing you’d get something of at least equal value if not a straight upgrade. And with the whole “bazillion guns” thing, you’re more likely to win the real lottery than to get to get that immaterial thing you lost back.

    Which may or may not be a game ruiner, but I find myself getting frustrated with systems like this often for very similar reasons, when the results I desire are something out of my control and more often than not the system is stacked against you. I can tolerate it to a point, but overall the less randomness, the happier I usually am. Borderlands isn’t the worst series with this thing and you can still adapt and make do with what you have, but it was something that definitely annoyed me with it.

    1. Philadelphus says:

      Yeah, I have a small problem with this with the loot system in Torchlight II, which sounds similar. I find some weapon that’s slightly better than the sea of vendor trash around it, and it has some collection of stats I feel like pushing (like, let’s say +X% pet damage output and +Y% gold found). Then as I level up I keep finding things that are technically better than it in other ways (better armor value, increased health or health regen, etc., etc.) but I don’t find anything that gives me those specific stats so I hang onto these by now sub-par pieces of equipment until I finally find something that is just indisputably better and forces me to switch, even if it doesn’t have those stats I want.

      I feel like what I want is more modularity to the system; instead of having weapons and armor being collections of stats that makes comparing them tedious, just have a certain number of upgrade slots and completely interchangeable upgrades that all do exactly one thing, allowing you to mix and match stats to your heart’s content and only upgrading one by one as you find upgrades that are better than your current ones.

      Then halfway through writing this I realize that I’ve basically just described a generic RPG skill system, only with randomly-acquired level-up points rather than fixed levels. Hmmm…

      1. Syal says:

        I’d be interested in a game where the weapons are in fixed locations and then upgrades drop randomly.

        For Torchlight you could always play enchantment roulette until you get duplicate enchantments on the better item, at the low cost of all of your gold and much of your self-esteem.

        1. Droid says:

          So nothing, then.

        2. Supah Ewok says:

          That’s basically how Dark Souls handles things: some weapons commonly drop from regular enemies, some either always or somewhat rarely drop from mini-bosses, and some are one of a kind and are found in the environment. No matter what though, only the base version of a weapon can be found. Any upgrades have to be crafted using money and an upgrade item, which is a random drop.

          1. The Rocketeer says:

            Not quite correct; all four Souls games tend to feature at least one weapon from each upgrade path to be found somewhere in the environment. In Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, especially, this could represent a great leap ahead from the base weapon, since several upgrade paths in those games could only be started from weapons already upgraded to some degree, or even upgraded through a previous special path, like the change from Divine to Occult. (Extremely useful for completionists looking to max upgrade paths for the associated achievements, significantly reducing the mountain of materials and associated grinding time needed to do so.) You can also find these well before finding the embers or materials needed to upgrade a weapon to that degree.

            In Dark Souls 2 and 3, weapons which are found merely reinforced to a certain level (+n) are very rare, but not unheard of; I believe they are found in expansion areas, or at least found more commonly there.

  25. evilmrhenry says:

    An hour after reading through the article, I finally realized the title did not contain the phrase “Dope[anime]”.

    1. Droid says:

      Hahah, so much this!

  26. MaxEd says:

    Loot loop works for me, but only for a short while. That’s why when I play games that contain it (mostly Diablo clones), I usually enjoy the first hour or two of the gameplay, and then slog through the rest of 40-hours borefest just because I hate to leave a game unfinished.

  27. poiumty says:

    I keep wondering what made Borderlands 1 so good for me while Borderlands 2 (and TPS) were sub-par in comparison.

    I enjoyed the hell out of B1. I completed it and all the DLCs, with all characters except Brick (not a good solo-er) on Playthrough 2 at max level, and I even did it twice with the Siren! I even soloed Crawmerax. It never seemed to get old. If I fire it up again right now, I’m sure I wouldn’t get bored easily.

    Borderlands 2 on the other hand, despite having the better story and just as interesting mechanics and guns, was Boredom City. Something about the loot acquisition was… really off, starting with the inability to buy good weapons at stores (very much unlike B1), the slow slog that is the early game (seriously felt 3 times longer), the removal of weapon proficiencies (using all weapons as I want means lowered replay incentive) and… I dunno. By all accounts this should’ve been the better game, but I got super bored of it. Barely managed to get through it and I was NOT having a good time and just racing to the end by the time I did finish.

    So far one of the weirdest experiences I’ve had with gaming in general.

    1. J F says:

      I had the same experience with Borderlands 2. All I can guess is that there is much more loot variety to equipment so the odds of finding something better than what you have is lower. Stores were a great place to find the occasional powerful item in the deal of the day in Borderlands 1 so it made it great to always check vending machines but were mostly worthless in Borderlands 2 so at level 45, where I decided to quit my main and try a new character as I was struggling to keep from being bored in the game, I was awash in nearly 1.5 mil. The only time I was really excited for the store was in the DLC as it meant I could finally upgrade some of my stuff from level 30-32 to level 35- I was constantly having to use loot that was several levels below my character and sometimes going entire chapters without finding a useful upgrade.

      While Borderlands 2 does a number of things better than the first game like the interface and some of the set pieces, I had a heck of a lot more fun in the first game. Borderlands 2 just feels like a slog in that most times you’re fighting the same opponents over and over with a story that just feels really stretched out and loot and leveling are also slower to come by (I have 150 hours in the first game with 2 maxed characters and almost 100 hours in the second game with one character at 45 and another at 20). I generally like these types of games (love the Torchlight series and even enjoyed Too Human) but Borderlands 2 (and Destiny) just doesn’t hold me. I want to try TPS but I’m concerned it’s going to follow 2 too much.

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