Earlier in the series I paid lip service to the notion that “the story doesn’t matter”. Hey, it’s just a comedy game, right? This isn’t Mass Effect. We’re not here for the story so it’s okay if it doesn’t work. But now that I’ve made my case against the story, let me do a face-heel turn:
Story matters more than most people think it does.
It’s true that not every game needs to be Planescape: Torment. I’m not expecting Witcher 3 levels of storytelling from Bulletstorm. Death Road to Canada doesn’t need to tell a story like the Last of Us.
A story doesn’t need to be big, complex, profound, clever, poignant, hilarious, long, incisive, or surprising. But if a writer tries to make a story do those things then it’s worth looking to see if they succeeded. Even if you don’t care about the story in terms of learning what happens next, the story provides the context and tone through which we experience the gameworld. Having a “good” story doesn’t mean having one that’s long, complex, deeply emotional, or philosophically profound. A good story just needs to achieve its goals and remain true to its characters.
Diablo II didn’t have a lot of story. In terms of story-to-gameplay ratio, the player spent many hours clicking on monsters for every minute they spent watching those cutscenes. But even though the vignettes were short and far between, they still accomplished the basic goal of telling you why you were going to these places and clicking on these monsters. They made it clear that this world was dark and desperate, and that even though your character seemed pretty powerful they were still very small in the face of such overwhelming forces. That setup and mood is still there in the back of your mind, even when you’re grinding for rare drops and skipping cutscenes. The Diablo II story accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do, and doesn’t get in the way beyond that.
It’s true that there are lots of fun games with terrible stories. But that doesn’t mean the story doesn’t matter. It means the game would have been even better if the story had delivered on whatever it was trying to do.
Borderlands is a strange series. It’s a trilogy where the audience perception of what the series “should” be comes entirely from the second game. The first one was a grimdark adventure that was retrofitted to be action comedy at the last minute, which made it a bit of a patchwork. The third one added a lot of major gameplay improvements but also took itself too seriously and mangled its own lore trying to tell an un-funny story that was ill-suited to the series. We’ve got three different games in three different styles and we’ve all sort of decided that the second one is the “true” Borderlands experience because it’s the one with the memorable jokes.
Is Gearbox even capable of making another “true” Borderlands game? Anthony Burch left Gearbox in January of 2015, and he was responsible for the humor and tone that has come to define the series. (He shared writing credit with two other people on the Pre-Sequel, which probably explains why the third game felt so different from the second.)
Like I said at the end of my Mass Effect series: Writers are not interchangeable. When you change writers, you’re going to end up with a different game with a different feel.
I don’t really blame Gearbox in this case. (Or developer 2K Australia.) Burch left on his own. I’m not bringing this up to dump on the developers, but to point out how important the position of lead writer is.
I began writing this series back in March of 2017. At the time I hoped that we’d get a bit of Borderlands 3 news at some point in the year. Maybe a teaser trailer. Maybe some gameplay at E3. I wanted to end this series with a look forward and maybe comment on where the franchise was headed next. But here we are ten months later and there’s still no real news.
Back in February we got a tech demo where Gearbox showed off the rendering technology they’re working on for Borderlands 3. It was an interesting showcase of rending tricks, but it’s really difficult to judge how far along Borderlands 3 is by the contents of that presentation. They could be in the early stages, or they could be getting close to the final push. The only thing we have to go on is that according to rumors from internet randos, 2K Games has announced a “major flagship title” in fiscal 2019. Fiscal 2019 actually runs from April 2018 to March 2019, so maybe we’ll see Borderlands 3 sometime in that window. However, I have to imagine that if it does appear it’ll be closer to the end of that window to the beginning. If they were aiming for April then we’d be well into the marketing push by now.
Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford talked about Borderlands 3 in an interview last yearI saw it myself, but I can’t find it now. If anyone has a link please share in the comments. I swear I didn’t hallucinate this! and explained that the game is taking a long time because they feel the game should be “really big”. To me, this is not encouraging. I remember when Rocksteady decided they wanted to make Batman: Arkham Knight into a really “big” experience. They wound up with an overproduced mess, a game lacking in both focus and fun. The world was stretched out to Ubisoft scale, giving us a sprawling world of repetitive tasks that dragged the player away from the core gameplay elements that had come to make the series such a success.
Based on what little we know, Borderlands 3 could easily be headed in that same direction. Note the similarities in how the two series have developed:
- Launch with a surprise hit. (Borderlands / Arkham Asylum.)
- Follow that up with a second game that goes on the greater success. (Borderlands 2 / Arkham City.)
- The series is handed off to another studio for an awkward prequel that doesn’t quite fit in terms of tone, character, and story. (Borderlands Pre-Sequel / Arkham Origins.)
- The studio loses the head writer that gave the series its voice. (Gearbox lost lead writer Anthony Burch and Rocksteady lost longtime Batman writer Paul Dini.)
- The fourth game is designed to be bigger and more epic than the previous titles.
It’s not an exact parallel, but the similarities are there.
While I doubt anyone at Borderlands is eager for my input (and it’s too late for that anyway) I’m going to share my wishlist of features for Borderlands 3:
- Get rid of slag damage. (I really should have covered this much earlier in the series, but it slipped my mind. Sorry.) Slag is an elemental attack in Borderlands 2 that makes foes more vulnerable to other damage. So you zap someone with a slag gun, then weapon-switch to some other gun to inflict damage. This constant weapons switching – basically switching twice for every foe – is not fun. The end-game foes are already horrendous bullet sponges and making you constantly switch weapons does not make those protracted battles more fun. Pre-Sequel replaced slag damage with ice weapons, and it was a huge improvement.
- I’d really love for the next game to keep the enhanced mobility of Pre-Sequel: Double-jumps and ground-slams. Giving everyone jump boots or jetpacks would fit perfectly with the tone of the series.
- The grinder was introduced in the Pre-Sequel and was a huge step towards balancing the economy.
- No more Handsome Jack. Yes, he was funny, and yes you could totally bring him back with clones or robots or doppelganger. In fact, there’s precedent for all three in the existing Borderlands timeline. But he’s been at the center of two games now. The joke is over. Move on.
- In Pre-Sequel, Col. Zarpedon and the final vault guardian were both pretty solid boss fights. They had interesting mechanics and forced the player to stay mobile rather than playing peek-a-boo behind one bit of cover. Borderlands 2 had quite a few bosses that were just damage sponges, and those guys get old fast.
- I know Anthony Burch is gone, but I hope the new writer is able to imbue Borderlands game with a similar blend of snark, playfulness, and self-aware humor. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Don’t get too caught up in the lore. Don’t feel the need to make constant callbacks to the same few ideas and characters. Take us new places, tell us new stories, and tell new jokes.
- Like Pre-Sequel, I’d appreciate it if the hub city (assuming there is a hub city) will be compact and convenient so players don’t need to do a lot of hiking when in town.
I’m sure every fan has their own wishlist of features, and I’ll bet very few of them have something like, “MAKE THE GAME REALLY HUGE AND EPIC!!!” We don’t need big, we need good, and those two are often in opposition. I’d rather they give us quality content rather than quantity. Obviously there’s no way to know if Borderlands 3 is destined to be a frustrating misfire like Arkham KnightYes, I know Arkham Knight has its fans. I’m not one of them., but I do worry.
It’s a shame we have to end this series on speculation rather than news, but that’s how things look to me right now in January of 2018. Here’s hoping Borderlands 3 doesn’t suffer from the increase in scale and manages to deliver the giggle-worthy skinner box of murder we’ve come to love.
Thanks for reading.
 I saw it myself, but I can’t find it now. If anyone has a link please share in the comments. I swear I didn’t hallucinate this!
 Yes, I know Arkham Knight has its fans. I’m not one of them.
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114 thoughts on “Borderlands Part 25: Wrapping Up”
Three games with Jack actually, let’s not forget Tales from the Borderlands. Everyone does and it’s a damn shame. It’s amazing and nails the humor and atmosphere of the series, and offers us the final outing of Jack and his final, satisfying defeat.
After Borderlands 2 and pre-sequel people might feel like they want more Jack, but after Tales one’s have had their fill and will be entirely satisfied.
There’s another comparison with the Arkham series, and how it abused Joker’s status as main villain.
I was thinking that as well.
I’m wondering if I could possibly extend that metaphor by talking about Batman: The Telltale Series and how they’re doing their own (awesome) thing with their own Joker, but it becomes a bit of a stretch at that point.
Tales from the Borderlands is the only game I’ve played from this series….and I’ve discovered it’s not for me. I basically just got to the end of the first chapter and decided I was done with it. However, despite not really caring much for the backdrop, I always find these reviews to be an interesting read, regardless of whether I like the game or not.
Well, Tales is an entirely different genre from the rest of the Borderlands games. It’s really not enough to judge the rest. And if you don’t care much for the backdrop, it’s much, much easier to ignore than it is on a game like Tales, where storytelling is what matters most.
Tales is probably one of my favorites from the Telltale catalogue. I like The Wolf among Us more because of the genre and style, although, weirdly, deep down I believe Tales to be better on most counts. But I don’t think Tales really works for people with zero exposure to Borderlands. A big chunk of the fun is experiencing Pandora from the point of view of a non-combatant,someone who isn’t a gunslinging badass.
I just didn’t care for the Black and Gray morality, although I fully understand a lot of people enjoying that. Also, the plot is deliberately stringing you along in a “what else can go wrong?!?” deliberate motif meant to be self-deprecating, but wasn’t my cup of tea.
Maybe if I had played it at a different time, but I didn’t have the patience for a bunch of scoundrels trying to screw each over for a payout that keeps not happening. I didn’t care about what happened next and stopped playing.
Others have said similar things, but let me be explicit: the description you give of the tone from Tales does NOT match the tone of the main games. I haven’t played Tales, but BL & BL2 have a very different tone than you describe, and the plot is definitely not the self-conscious “what else can go wrong” tone. The morality is standard shooter morality, where killing things isn’t bad, but is otherwise not a BlackAndGrey world. The villains are evil; the player is the hero, and aside from the fact that you’re a murder machine you are not otherwise forced into a grey path.
You may still not like BL/BL2/BLPS, but do not use Tales to judge how much you’d like them. They’re a completely different animal.
Well, unless you play as Brick, or Mordecai. Or Axton. Or Maya. Or Zero, Salvador, Krieg, or Gage.
The closest to a hero PC in the first two games is Roland – and he’s a mercenary.
But they are supposed to be lovable scoundrels. In all seriousness, the characters have to grow on you, but once they do, they can get pretty complex and engaging. But maybe I’m just a sucker for that sort of stuff. I mean, Tales of Berseria is rapidly becoming my favorite game of 2017 and 2018, and that game lives and dies by its lovable rogues.
I’m picking up what you’re putting down.
Like, ok, we’ve got this kerazy mixed up world where even the good guys are assholes and nothing happens without a hillbilly or a midget exploding and that’s great way to tell a few pulpy, ‘sploitation style jokes. But don’t then do a record scratch and expect me to care when one of my asshole allies dies because of nakama power or whatever. Bleh to that.
I personally have not played Tales from the Borderlands but from gameplay and screenshots I have seen of it it is absolutely nothing like the FPS meets RPG. If you play on Xbox One and have access to the game pass download the first Borderlands – its free if you have game pass. Not sure if PlayStation does the same though.
It’s an adventure game like walking dead.
I know I’ve said this probably a half-dozen times right now, but it’s a REAL shame Tales wasn’t included in this synopsis. The story was SO well done (and, from what I understand, cannon) and it gives me hope that another writer would be able to tap into the good Borderlands flavor of comedy.
I think Anthony Burch had a hand in writing Tales. Granted it’s from Telltale, but it came out in 2014 before he left. In any case, I think it nails the story and tone from Borderlands 2 and I thought it was a bunch of fun too.
His site says he cinsulted on the overall story arc and wrote for a couple of episodes. I wouldn’t overstate his input, but the influence is there.
Man…all great points if you don’t mind me saying!I agree with all of your EXCELLENT points,and Shamus,AS far as TOO MUCH TOO FAR,AGREED!How old did it get going back and forth for turning in a very small request(mission)Only to travel SO FAR,that U get bored,instead of curious cuz of distance and what was in between! And I HOPE they don’t OVERHYPE OR OVERDO Borderlands 3!
Please, please, PLEASE do a long analysis of Arkham Knight like the one you did for Arkham City or Borderlands. I know it’s asking too much of you to replay a game you’re not a fan of, but there’s a lot about the game that no one is talking about, and this series of yours is perfect for it.
For now you’ll just have to content yourself with [11:22] reasons why the Batmobile in Arkham Knight sucks
So . . . what do we have to look forward to next week?
I believe that next up are the new Wolfenstein games which means I should really get started on playing them. Finally picked it up during the Steam Winter Sale.
I’m really not holding my breath on Borderlands 3 – I feel like there’s about a 90% chance that Gearbox tries to get in on that sweet sweet Destiny/Warframe/Anthem/Division MMO money and we end up with a similar thing.
I’ve been expecting them to move in that direction since Borderlands 2, and it seems to be the Hot New Gaming Trend and has made a lot of companies a lot of money, so I’d honestly be surprised if they didn’t go that route. Which would be fine, if I trusted Gearbox to not get greedy on microtransactions and create a game that was closer to Warframe than Destiny 2.
Agreed 110%. The factors are all in place for BL3 to be a mess.
2K is awful publisher, contributed to the Microtransaction Death Spiral (TM) with NBA2K18, and its CEO has gone on record saying he wants all of their games going forward to print money like GTA Online does.
Gearbox has an insanely dodgy record that’s only gotten worse post-BL2. Even if you let them off the hook for Duke Nukem Forever, you still have Colonial Marines. Business-wise they’ve proven themselves to be staggeringly out of touch with how they handled Bulletstorm, We Happy Few, and to a lesser extent Duke3D 20th Anniversary.
I can’t imagine that the gigantic delay between 2 and 3 is simply because 3 will be bigger in scale. I firmly believe it’s because it not only has to be bigger but it also has to support hundreds of active players. The final scene of the Pre-Sequel is of the Mysterious Alien Dude warning that there’s a war coming and that they’ll need “every Vault Hunter they can get” which reads as a perfect lead-in to an MMO-style Borderlands 3 where a large army of vault hunters will freely intermingle. The ending of 2 had also set up a whole galaxy full of vaults to hunt. Storywise the pieces are in place.
I don’t hate MMO shooters on principle, but in this case I have zero trust in either of the companies involved to not screw it up royally. Maybe I’m wrong and the long dev cycle means Gearbox is being careful with its baby, but…
Portal is the perfect example. Without GLaDOS it would have merely been a fun puzzle game. It’s hard to imagine that it would have had such massive impact.
So true. The atmosphere, contextualization, and motivation provided by a well told framing story is difficult to overstate.
It forever confounds me that Diablo II is considered a game where “the story didn’t matter.”
We’ve seen innumerable Diablo clones with a laser focus on the same loot pinata mechanics and action RPG brawling, that reproduce the precise conditions that made Diablo so seemingly addictive way back when it released. None of them have even approached the same prominence; all of them I’ve tried and lost interest in after the second act. By assuming all they needed was a loose justification for the player to hack and slash, they overlook something vital; they undervalue the real importance of “the story.”
The story in Diablo II wasn’t just “good enough” – it was a laboriously crafted complement to a consistent gothic atmosphere that pervaded the game, from its menus to its sound design. Its job wasn’t just to tell you why you were exploding skeletons with fireballs, but to shape how you felt about the world you were exploring. In a game about venturing ever deeper into darkness, it was a story told by a doomed old man about the corruption of the last game’s hero and world all around him, as he begged for forgiveness from an archangel, only to
discover in the end that he was expiating to a demon.
It was brief, straightforward, broad, and unobtrusive – but the last thing it was was inconsequential. Blizzard spent a lot of time, money, and care creating it, and that passion was the glue that held everything together. The story was the reason I played Diablo long enough to settle in, the reason I remember it so fondly, and the reason I still go back from time to time.
I really think this is one of the main reasons ARPGs fairly niche these days. Most of the them are so laser focused on the mechanical gameplay cycles that they really only appeal to people that love the gameplay enough to live without everything else. I loved DII and Titan Quest growing up, but most other ARPGs have failed to hold my attention these days. Part of that is probably just the effect of my tastes changing as I get older, but I also think the lack of compelling storytelling a relatively monotonous gameplay saps most of the fun for me.
I’d recommnd giving Grim Dawn a shot then.
It’s probably the best mix of story and gameplay for these games since Diablo II + LoD, even if it does kinda of take the environmental beats for the first two locations from Diablo II.
I monkeyed around with Grim Dawn during early access a few times (I backed the KS) and enjoyed it, but I just haven’t made the time to play the full release. It’s somewhere there near the top of my pile-o-shame.
I really didn’t like Grim Dawn. Turns out that all the bosses are three levels ahead of you. I tried to level grind to get past that, but they autoscale. Yes, boss fights are meant to be hard. But something about thatreally frustrated me.
I like Grim Dawn, but the level-scaling enemies is a problem. Main bosses might be three levels, which isn’t too bad, but the special bosses are auto-scaled to five or six levels above you, making them permanent damage sponges that can nearly insta-kill you. And they show up on the Bounty boards like it’s no big deal.
Also no game with this kind of loose movement control has any business using so many damage floors and fixed location attacks. Like doing ballet with a forklift.
Yeah, it took me a while to adapt to those controls, (it probably helps that I used the demolitionist so I generally didn’t have to worry about precision) but I’ll admit to liking the fact that the super-bosses were so above me. It made finally beating them feel like an accomplishment, rather than just grinding out level after level and defeating them through just out levelling them.
I’m a big fan of outleveling challenges in RPGs. My character is killing dozens of enemies every second, fighting gods and whatnot; he should be able to do a few more pushups and stand toe to toe with anyhing, at least on the lower difficulties.
I might like the scaling better if it was tied to Reputation; you can out-level bosses until you kill seventeen truckloads of them, and then if you want to fight them you have to do it legitimately. And if they weren’t part of sidequests; most of them aren’t, but the Lord Executioner is the toughest fight I’ve seen (rather, haven’t seen, because the preliminary gauntlet killed me super hard) and it’s part of the Outsider questline.
The original Diablo is probably an even better example. Extremely little narrative, but a triumph of mood-setting. Walking into that church was tense.
Path of Exile has a decent enough story, but it isn’t always presented well enough to get the player on board. You have to pay a lot of attention and put a lot of different pieces together to know what’s going on. It lacks that perfect delivery that made Diablo’s story so gripping, despite being so simple.
Of all the Diablo-alikes I’ve played, PoE probably came the closest to getting it right. It lost me slower and less decisively than the others; I ultimately drifted away around the mid-part of the third act. Torchlight 2 on the other hand, I left at the start of the second act, practically embittered.
I think a part of it was that PoE lacked the same breadth of characters in towns, and character to its story quests.
Like my point about the main plot, it’s not that Diablo was overflowing with plot-important NPC’s you loved, or had a tapestry of Witcher-like sidequests. It just hired good writers to write unique characters with thematic dialogue, and cast good voice actors. Each act only had what, six quests?
…to be fair, I might just be justifying why I got tired of using the gigantic PoE “skill atlas” :P
Also, good point about the original Diablo. I still remember that church and the first level under it to this day – and also the withered trees dotting the landscape up where that little extortionist Wirt would shake you down to see his stock.
Amusingly, my first gameplay experience was a Chinese hacker joining my game, handing me a full set of incredible hacked loot, and disappearing without a word.
For what its worth, Diablo II is the only game I have ever played where I never, ever skipped the cutscenes, no matter how many times I played.
Tell me, Marius, how was it not your fault?
Thats not quite true.Oh sure,they copied over that you hit stuff,you loot stuff,you sell stuff and you buy stuff.But every diablo clone Ive tried lacks the polish of diablo.Even the ones that invested heavily into the story,like titan quest.Hitting stuff in diablo 2 was just so much more satisfying than in any wannabe clone.
My biggest wish for Borderlands 3 is a UI designed for PC. The inventory in Borderlands 2 and the Pre-Sequel was horrible to use without a gamepad. Also: bigger inventory. As in, a lot bigger.
re: the inventory, the devs have said that the tiny inventory was an intentional design decision to force players not to horde weapons. They were quite adamant they were not going to back down (and they quickly cracked down on single-player bug exploits to work around the problem).
Slag is fine, but it should be relegated primarily to character abilities, grenades, and alternate fire modes, where it could fill its role as a supporting element without being a needless hassle.
Actually, after the new DOOM, I’m a bit surprised that alternate fire modes haven’t become more of a thing. Seems like an area where an FPS could really juice up its gunplay.
For my Borderlands wishlist:
I want the early game to be tightened up. None of this “no abilities until an hour in” BS.
I want solo players to be less punished in boss fights. If the game is going to have an emphasis on story, I’m probably going to want to play it solo at least some of the time. Boss fights that aren’t well-balanced for single players and which heal the boss to full if the player dies are not fun at all. I’d say “this isn’t Dark Souls,” but Dark Souls isn’t as punishing in this regard.
I was thinking just this – slag sounds like it would be a pretty good addition if it came out of a second barrel or a grenade launcher, so you could take advantage of it without having to switch weapons all the time. I’m actually kinda surprised that’s not how it was implemented in the first place.
I dunno, that’s just adding a MOAR DAMAGE button, as far as I’m concerned. I generally dislike debuffs, but especially in a shooter. I don’t think it’s a very good fit. Elemental weaknesses work way better with shooters and action.
As I see it, Slag is included as a way to ensure that your favorite elemental gun can always be effective, and to make sure that the RNG doesn’t leave you high and dry on having an element you need to deal with enemies who have specific weaknesses and vulnerabilities.
One thing to think of is how it works with the Siren’s Phase Lock. You can upgrade that ability to apply Slag to enemies it hits, and this in turn boosts the damage of the entire team, which is the kind of support skill that’s really fun to throw into the mix of a co-op game. Making it a gun element rather than a Siren-only debuff opens the doors to letting other players in on the fun, but the implementation in Borderlands 2 is a little off.
They did.Back in 99,when unreal tournament gave every weapon an alternate fire.And then they decided to replace it for the sights button with the rise of spunkgargleweewees.Just another thing in the long list of things ruined by that genre.
First shooter I remember playing with alt fire modes was Dark Forces. So, that would have been in ’94 or ’95. Also the Marathon series by Bungie had alt fire, and I think the first time I ever saw dual wielding in an FPS.
That said, the original Unreal was really good. UT was a solid game, but I missed the weird tone of Unreal’s world.
Mine was Resistance: Fall of Man, so I guess I’m still young.
My personal preference is for games that have exactly enough story and no more. That’s probably because I usually prefer systems- or mechanics-driven games. All I really want from a game’s story is for it to provide a little context or motivation for my actions and then to get out of my way. I’m pleased, of course, when the story is well-told, but I’d rather have a bland story that doesn’t over-stay its welcome than a rich, detailed one that makes me sit through a bunch of cutscenes or makes me click through a bunch of text. Portal, as many people have said before, is just about perfect. (Portal 2 is less so, but I’m not entirely sure whether that’s because the game has too much story or the game is just too long.) Crypt of the Necrodancer is another good example. So is Good Robot, for that matter.
The place where I run into trouble is in RPGs, from which I generally want more story than I would otherwise tolerate. I especially love mechanically rich RPGs with branching stories and multiple quest resolutions. In the first few playthroughs, I usually like the story. In the next few, I can usually tolerate it. But there eventually comes a point where I start to resent it. If I’m on, oh, let’s say my sixth run through Shadowrun: Dragonfall I have almost certainly seen all there is to see story-wise and I’m playing because I want to experiment with a new character class. At this point, the story is just something I have to click my way through to get to the stuff I really care about. The thing that drives me nuts about Dragonfall is that in order to get access to my party members’ loyalty missions–the game doesn’t call them that but I can’t think of a better term–I have to click my way through not just one but an entire game-spanning series of conversations for each character. I understand why Harebrained Schemes designed the game that way. It makes perfect sense. It was even pretty interesting the first couple of times. But what I wouldn’t give for a “Skip Story” button somewhere in the UI.
Does Dragonfall support mods? (I forget). If so then you can probably find one that lets you skip the conversations. I can’t imagine that you are the only person to play it through multiple times.
Dragonball comes with an editor so I’m pretty sure it’s possible to modify the original campaign in that way, but I don’t know if anybody’s done it. What I should do, I suppose, is just go download some player-created modules.
Those games ‘support’ mods – but its a cumbersome system and if you want more than one mode installed at the same time you have to manually extract the mods, merge them yourself, sort out conflicts, and then repackage them into a new mod.
If all you want is one mod package then it works fine.
I mean … why play a story-based RPG then? Why not an X-COM game? Something like Hard West, perhaps? It’s not like Shadowrun’s turn-based combat is all that great on its own. That game is very much about the stories it tells, I think.
There are two things that I can get from some RPGs that I often can’t get from a strategy/tactics game like XCOM (of which I have played so, so much). The first is, as I said above, branching narrative. I like the sense that the game-world is reacting to what I do. In the absence of branching narrative, I will settle for multiple quest resolutions, the more and the less-conventional the better. The point, I suppose, is that I really like games where there isn’t only one right way to do things. The second is that I really enjoy trying out different character builds and especially looking for odd-but-effective combinations of abilities. XCOM, alas, doesn’t have a lot of scope for that. XCOM 2 or Hard West might–I wouldn’t know–but the last strategy/tactics game I played that really let me scratch this particular itch was Final Fantasy Tactics Advance.
One of these days, when the stars align, I am in the market for a new game, and there’s a really good sale, I will buy the Divinity: Original Sin games. I’ve heard good things.
Second point is a pretty good one. I’d also add that usually in a strategy/tactics game once you start customizing stuff then you usually have to optimise nearly everything from enemy positioning to even xp gains. And usually you have to do that for multiple characters. They are more complex and somehow less so than standard RPGs like Kotor or Fallout where you only have to play one character (perhaps with 2 other squad-mates) and bother with only their abilities and equipments but usually possess more options for those.
Hard west does offer those things.To me,its a far superior game than either of the xcoms.
Right. Off to read reviews of Hard West then.
Speaking of narrative driven games with deep mechanical systems…
I recently got into the Disgaea series and had this kind of odd arc of loving it and then hating how it squandered its potential. The short version is that there are a ton of different possible characters and classes and ways to improve them and mix active and passive abilities, but the level scaling is such that it’s challenging to find a place where you can actually have interesting fights.
I started with Disgaea 5 since I got a switch and a friend who also enjoyed XCOM recommended the series, and as I played through the story I became increasingly enamored with the number of options available to me and how viable they seemed to be. You can freely create additional characters from among something like two dozen classes, each with their own abilities and stats and key passives, and I figured that I’d get through the main game and then play around in the post-game once I had access to all the different classes.
And then I beat the game and got to the post-game and realized I had a bit of a problem. You see, Disgaea is one of those JRPGs that lets you go to absurd levels – all the way up to Level 1000 in fact – and has ways to compound stats to the point where you can get any character up to something like 20,000,000 stat points in each category. Unfortunately, this means that far from increasing the replayability for me, it utterly crushes it. When you can often either deal anywhere from .001x to 10,000 the damage of your opponent or deal 1/10th as much damage depending on the level of the mission compared to your level, the role of strategy is completely removed.
Anyways, the point of this incredibly tangential ramble is: While you search for Divinity, I will await the day that we get a game that is simply Disgaea but with the stats normalized (or at least flattened to be closer to an XCOM power scale where you cap out at 2-3x the damage of your starting gear)
That sounds very much like my experience with the first Disgaea. I beat the game four times (with the same characters) only to find that I was still under-levelled for most of the optional challenges and that it would it would take take who knows how many more tens of hours to unlock the last character class. I quit and haven’t played a Disgaea game since. I really did love it the first few times through, though.
Disgaea 2 is out on Steam now, with a Linux version and everything. I’ve been tempted. If it ever drops to $10 or so I may be in real trouble.
Disgaea 2 has a lot of mechanical improvements over 1, but it’s even grindier. They are not games to try to 100%, just stop when the number-go-up part of the brain has been satisfied.
I just finished Divinity: Original Sin 2. It’s okay. My game bugged in a nasty way after I’d already restarted twice (maybe? it’s hard to tell, but I did find forum threads where other people had the same problem). The combat is mercilessly unbalanced, though. Of course, if you enjoy laughing gleefully when you discover a tasty bit of cheese, you may enjoy it. But on the other hand, it makes it hard to play what you “want” to play. I’ve played quite a few of Larian’s offerings, and their games are always kind of . . . weird. Still, worth a try, I think.
It has a full free respec option built in, so if you get tired of your character build, you can try a completely different one on the same playthrough, pretty much.
Also, if you don’t mind MMO’s and like trying different builds, I definitely recommend Dungeons and Dragons Online, although it’s more of an “action RPG” than a “true RPG”. It’s not turn-based, it’s a lot twitchier even than, say, WoW. It’s the only MMO I’ve played (although that’s FAR from a comprehensive list) that doesn’t have WoW-style combat, which is good, because I DETEST WoW-style combat.
Yeah, the point with XCOM (both the originals, and the Firaxis Reboots) is getting the player to create their own stories within the toolbox. It’s like an RPG in the crudest sense, because you are going through various events that put together a story for the characters involved, but it’s, for lack of a better term, procedural.
How, in 2017/2018, is it still acceptable to call your game Bord-three-rlands? I really though society had progressed beyond this blight of a naming convention.
Really, Mr. Fade2Gray?
SHHHH! Pay no attention to that. Usernames chosen by a teenager nearly two decades ago are exempt from consideration in this rant.
I feel like the above comment is a great example of a well thought-out, understated story.
Upon further review, I’ve developed an impregnable justification for my seemingly hypocritical ranting. My teenage self chose to substitute a word with a letter, which I’d point out was a very cool thing to do at the time. Gear Box and their ilk are substituting letters with numbers, which has never been cool.
One can be read fluidly, and the other cannot.
I rest my case.
Cool story br0.
(Haha! I replaced a letter with a number that’s pronounced the same way. That earns me some brownie points, right?)
How do you pronounce brzero? Is this some Polish thing?
I’ve been pronouncing it “in the middle of winter”, as that’s the implication I’m getting. Cool story in the middle of winter indeed.
Maybe they stole the concept from Eidos’ marketing department.
Making them, you know… Thi4ves.
Technically worse than Fant4stic, but not as deeply distasteful to me somehow
That’s because the E in Thieves is kinda sorta silent, I think. Doesn’t hurt the brain as much when you try to read it.
It does for me – because I see it as ThiAves.
And they can keep doing it: Borderl4nds, Borderland5, Bor6erlands (I guess?), Border7ands, 8orderlands… somehow the more of these I write the worse they look…
I get the impression that people see words differently than others. Some see it as some letters plus the number and easily make the substitution. Others are like me and see the word as an entire thing. And I inevitably try and pronounce it with the number, rather than making the substitution. Can’t help it. It frustrates my mind to no end to see an unpronounceable word, yet still try and pronounce it. it’s an evil marketing thing to make me think of the name, I’d think.
I see it as a word with a number on top of it,but even despite that I am annoyed by this whenever I see it.A logo that passes through or between the letters Im fine with,but this “number instead of letter lol so hip and youthful” trend just irritates me.
The end of Borderlands 2 promised vault hunting throughout the galaxy. It can’t NOT be bigger in scale. My assumption is that it will do the Destiny/Battlefield thing of having a well polished single-player campaign where you get an extended version of the basic “story”: fight off local fauna to get a key, fight off human competitors to get to vault, fight vault guardian. Then you take your loot (and the competitors’ ship) into the big galaxy to hunt other vaults online in multiplayer. The only questions are
1) how repetitive will the vault instances be,
2) will the vault hunting be PvP or PvE,
and 3) what story beats and bonuses (more character slots, bigger ship vaults) will they save for the DLC?
I’m depressed now because you’re probably right… Borderlands 3 via Destiny mechanics will likely be a thing.
On the bright side, it could route via Eve Online mechanics instead!
Weaponized spreadsheets I mean.
Considering how hard Battleborn bombed maybe they could do one more small scale game to make a bunch of money and maybe try some things for the MMO later down the line. Mind you if they go that way they can’t half ass their efforts to begin with because I don’t think they would survive the consequences of a bad game.
The worry is that they may see a Destiny-esque game as a safer overall bet. With a regular single player game (or even co-op game) you’re counting pretty much entirely on raw sale numbers – Even with DLC, you’ve got a pretty hard cap on how much money you can get from a single customer, and it’s usually somewhere around $80-$100.
But once you’re in a persistent online world? Now you can add lootboxes and endless cosmetics, which means you can potentially get hundreds or even thousands from (to use the rightfully much-maligned industry term) whales. And with a game like Borderlands where you’ve got a guaranteed core existing fanbase, you can probably safely count on having a number of whales already hooked.
And Borderlands is already safer than a lot of other games might be – Since it’s based on small co-op teams, you don’t have the Battleborn or Lawbreakers problem of needing a big player base to ensure games fire quickly with reasonably fair matchmaking. Plus its core gameplay is already only a step away from lootboxes anyways, so they won’t feel as out of place as they did in Battlefront II or CoD:WW2.
I’m not saying the numbers actually work out to make the Destiny route a safer bet (the development costs are no doubt much higher), but I could see an exec making the call even if they don’t since the dream of chasing the Current Hot Thing has a funny way of making game executives talk themselves into bad decisions.
I wonder if the hold-up is like I mentioned about HL3 and TES6. What new game mechanic do you introduce? What new kind of guns and vault hunter abilities? I can only come up with one, short-range teleportation. But I don’t know if that’s feasible or not. Could even be game breaking. Players teleporting to the chests not bothering to kill the baddies first. Getting into spots where they can shoot out but the enemies can’t hit them in return.
Also, slag damage is good if you’re gunzerking. Slag weapon in one hand, regular in the other. Alternately, used with grenades. Slag grenade, regular weapon.
Does TES6 need new mechanics? It’s not like that’s what expected from TES. We could always do with punchier combat and better NPC pathfinding and stuff, maybe dismemberment, but that’s extraneous stuff mostly. TES is all about the world and the quests, and if that’s good, you might as well just reuse Skyrim’s engine and people will gobble it up.
I would buy Skyrim 2 right now if I could. But picture previews, reviews, online discussion if all they implemented was some bug fixes, a new game world, a little more story. They’d get pilloried. Everyone would accuse them of rehashing the same game that’s already been ported to every system under the sun. It wouldn’t be a good look. We live in a world where sequels are supposed to do something unique and fresh.
This. When Shadowrun:Hong-Kong most people knew what they were buying but I’ve seen the obligatory vocal minority whine about the lack of major new features (including several very loud voices going on about “it’s a 3rd game, when is it going to be real time?”), and we’re talking about a somewhat niche game, not an AAA GOTY bait.
Real time? Really? That’s bizarre. And also the last thing I want from Shadowrun.
I can think of many skills for vault hunters they could implement. Artillery strikes, contagion, mobility increase, base building, hacking, proper mind control, proper flight, an even harder focus on pets and I’m sure there’s more. Also if they are indeed going the MMO route they can even bring back old vault hunters just for filler as long as they have a decent selection of new powers.
As for new mechanics if they are feeling particularly ballsy they can try to get real stealth in the game. They can also add new weapon types like flamethrowers or make some particularly interesting play arena. Really I don’t think Borderlands is that starved for idea but the question is whether or not they can pull them off right.
Those are some good ideas. Now I think of it, I’d like some slightly better melee too. Just hold down the button to attack like your regular gun, not press it every time.
No stealth, please. Let’s keep stealth out of at least one big franchise. I have nothing against stealth in general, but unless the game is built for stealth from the ground up, stealth is just slow and boring. And the way level and enemy design works, you can either have good stealth or a good shooter. Wolfenstein The New Order kinda managed both, but that’s a very tricky formula which they proceeded to screw up in the New Colossus.
You can have stealth in a high speed shooter.Check out spy in tf2.
I feel like it is fundamentally different when you are using stealth against players compared to using it against AI. Players know other players are human and can’t (easily) cheat, but players assume the AI is cheating until (and sometimes even after) proven ‘fair’.
In TF2 if somebody randomly shotguns you in the face with no warning despite you being disguised you can just write it off as either them prudently doing spy checks or you giving some tell you didn’t notice. If you’re playing Bord3rlands and a Bruiser suddenly shotguns you in the face with no warning, you’re gonna feel like the game just decided to fuck you for no reason.
That’s why most stealth game have a alertness indicator so that you can guess how close the enemy is to spotting you.
Hitman is a game that did the disguise thing against the ai.So it can be done that way as well.But I picked spy because they can also employ cloaks,which is the third way to implement stealth in a game.Stealth is so much more than just brooding in the dark.
Typo alert: “The the third one added”. First paragraph after the heading “Wrapping Up.”
Great post, as always.
I recently got Arkham Knight on Steam for $13 with all DLC. It was worth it. It is usually hard to hold off on the “New Game” but it works out a lot better for me when I do that. The game comes in fully patched with expansions included..and that happens a lot.
I don’t know if the game works well now even patched. I know they patched it once and that didn’t fix everything but I don’t know if it’s been patched again afterwards.
As I understand, it’s a crapshoot. Some people can run it fine, others can’t. I’ve heard implications that people with lower-end machines can run it better than people with multi-thousand dollar rigs, but even that doesn’t seem to be a sure bet. Not sure what the actual pattern is, if there is one.
For me it ran fine; maybe not perfect 60 the whole way through but smooth without much frame dropping.
I did a similar thing and it ran decent enough. I enjoyed the game well enough (except for the tank parts which is unfortunately 20-30% of gameplay), a lot of the mechanics are still fun to play. Seeing Knight in a vacuum without the previous games, I actually enjoyed the Joker as a dark reflection and thought it was well done. Going through the game leisurely and only checking the things I wanted to made for an enjoyable rump. Not as lovingly crafted and polished as the previous games, but enjoyable in its own right. I do think it's a game with a world that doesn't sustain the amount of (filler) content that is in there. If I still had my completionist streak in me I think I would hate this game, as after 10-15 hours I've had more than my fill and can't stomach more.
Even they seemingly got bored of filling out the game. A fair few Riddler trophies are plopped inside a random burnt-out building. And the ultimate reward for 100% is definitely not worth it.
Knight has its contrived moments, but I do think the writing is, mechanically-speaking, the strongest of the bunch. I just ended up not personally enjoying the story they were telling.
I ended up liking the Batmobile overall, but by the end of the game I did find myself disappointed that so much time was spent on it instead of the several other brand new, much more awesome mechanics they introduced.
So I’m going to say I did not hate (most of) the batmobile gameplay, what did annoy me was just how hard the game was trying to sell the damn car. It’s almost like we’re back to the era where kids shows were created with near-sole purpose of marketing toys: the camera really loves the car, it’s constantly trying to show how sleek and shiny (or armoured and shiny, depending on the form) it is, every time it shows up there’s a little sequence in slow motion, that’s on top of a big number (or at least it felt like a big number) of dedicated slow motion scenes (mostly where it jumps out of something). I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the loading screens featured an actual ad to buy the amazing batmobile for 9.99$. Then there are the racing tracks, which I know some people have tried to justify as “Riddler trying to prove himself by beating Batman at his own game” but to me they still felt contrived (and Riddler overall outstayed his welcome, might have been my fault for 100%ing the game). On top of that pretty much everything about the batmobile emphasizes batman’s aspect as a brute as opposed to his “world’s greatest detective” side (which, I’m aware, is not that easy to translate into gameplay). The fact that I didn’t actually hate most of the batmobile gameplay is probably an indication that it was pretty solid in itself.
As for the writing, I can’t really get into it without spoilers, so whoever does not want those consider yourself warned, going to tag the whole paragraph just in case.
I have issues both with the Arkham Knight and with the Head Joker arcs. The way I would have handled the (near) ending would be to have Batman realise that all the related halucinations are his subconscious trying to bang him over the head with the clues that he’s been consciously ignoring on account of not trusting his own judgement. This would explain why he couldn’t (consciously) figure Arkham Knight out without physically unmasking him and the reveal could be used as the moment where Bruce realises that his mind is still his own and uses the new confidence and all of his faculties to turn the tables on the Head Joker. As it is the Arkham Knight arc is solved by punching stuff until the big reveal happens and then the Head Joker arc is resolved almost despite Batman rather than thanks to any cleverness on his part. That said I will give credit that the Head Joker himself breathed a lot of fresh air into the game, the fact that he could be a constantly present contrarian with a good justification both for why he doesn’t take action and why Batman can’t do anything about him really allowed the writers to let loose with his lines and while some of them are definitely misses overall I rate the character high. Also, I will admit that I liked the musical number.
“Borderlands 3 will be bigger” sounds suspiciously like they might be going open world with the next one. Not that that’s the only way to make a game bigger, but mostly because virtually everyone else has jumped on that bandwagon at this point.
Mind Borderlands always was a slightly (but not completly) open world game so just going ahead and makinig the full jump could work.
Reminds me of something that Graham Stark (of Loading Ready Run) said. Either during one of the Magic the Gathering streams or during the last Desert Bus some well known player and/or streamer of MtG was quoted as saying that he’d enjoy the game just as much without the fancy art, lore and all that. To which Graham responded “No. No he wouldn’t. He may think</i< he would… but he wouldn't".
And okay, there are probably some people for whom all that stuff really doesn't matter, but there's a reason why MtG has never been replaced by someone basically cloning the mechanics and using just white pieces of cardboard with some black print on them, despite this being definitely less costly. Similarly MMOs add all that lore and NPCs even if the quest is another one "gather 10 monkey butts" venture.
I think it's because we are ultimately creatures of stories. If we have a good or (especially) a bad day we string the events into a narrative, we seek or make up causes, motivations, backstories to everything because that's the way we've learned to understand reality. So if we get (or are able to create) a story for a set of actions it's much easier to make us follow through with them. This differs from game to game and from player to player, and there is definitely something to be said for testing yourself or overcoming challenges, but in many cases the story is the actual payoff to something tedious, repetitive and otherwise fairly pointless… and it works.
aaand I messed up the formatting… and there is no edit button… sad panda…
And that reason is that magic already exists.But if it didnt exist,and someone made a bare bones version of it,magic would never be able to replace it.And this is not just speculation,because chess exists and has never been replaced by a fancier version.Same with go.And a bunch of other old games.
People can definitely enjoy a game that has zero story.Our problem is with games that have SOME story,but not enough.
I absolutely agree there is both enjoyment to be found in a purely intellectual challenge as well as a market for that, I’m not saying a “narrative sudoku” would be a superior game/puzzle. That said I’d still argue that:
1) Those are some excellent strategy/tactical games but they have a certain “home turf” advantage due to historical context. We can only speculate if they’d be able to push through to the wider audience or gain such widespread cultural traction if they were never invented before today and suddenly sprung out on today’s market. That said those were so influential on our definition of the concept of “games” that I don’t think such speculation is fruitful as without them games would look very different.
2) Many of them are highly abstracted but still simulations of events that have high narrative potential, for example:
-Chess is a conflict between two monarchic powers;
-Go is a simulation of two armies vying for territory control;
I admit your argument still largely holds for these due to the sheer level of abstraction and there are other games like poker, blackjack or mahjong, where I can’t come up with such explanations that easily. Then again: home turf advantage, historical advantage, plus I haven’t researched the history of those so I’m not sure if we wouldn’t find they were originally abstractions of narratives as well.
3) With its anthropomorphised pieces chess is on the very borderline of having a narrative, which is a big part, next to its association with intellect and forethought, of why it works so well when introduced into narratives as a symbol.
4) On these examples it would seem that your argument could be supported thus: the natural tendency is towards abstracting strategic games, for example go is an expression of two armies fighting abstracted into a strategic puzzle played between two competing players and actually STRIPPED of narrative. But I would say that is only true to a certain level of complexity, above it most of us need a narrative, or a “narrative adjacent structure” to understand the game (or at least it helps a lot) and it really helps drawing out attention to a game.
I think this has actually derailed somewhat towards a fairly specific branch of games. The core of my argument would be that while it’s possible to argue that for MtG, or, to move away from card games, competitive Starcraft all the lore doesn’t matter as it is effectively maths (speed, range, strength etc. even the size of a unit which affects such things as blocking a path is effectively a matter of geometry) I’m going to argue it would not be so enjoyable to as many people if it was abstracted into geometric shapes moving over a multilayered board, despite the fact that the underlying mechanics would be exactly the same. What’s more my personal belief is that even if all the visuals were kept but no lore or backstory was provided it wouldn’t hold the same appeal either.
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You can enclose spoilers in <strike> tags like so:
<strike>Darth Vader is Luke's father!</strike>
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Can you imagine having Darth Vader as your <i>father</i>?
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I'm <b>very</b> glad Darth Vader isn't my father.
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I'm reading about <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darth_Vader">Darth Vader</a> on Wikipedia!
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Darth Vader said <blockquote>Luke, I am your father.</blockquote>