There’s no Diecast todaySorry., so instead I’m going to do a follow-up to yesterday’s post where I complained that the guns in Borderlands 3 felt weak and ineffectual and the foes were all super-absorbent damage sponges. I had a lot of other gripes with the game, but that was the main one. The responses were very mixed. Some people agreed, some people reported the opposite. Both groups seem to be people who are familiar with the series and I’m sure everyone is giving an honest report of their own experience.
This means we’re probably missing some context. Something about this game is causing different people to report different experiences, and I’m curious to see if we can drill down and figure this out. Please do read the original post if you haven’t already.
So now let’s ask the question…
What’s Causing This?
Some people – my son and I in particular – have found the weapons to be pathetic and un-fun. Other people say it feels more or less like the last game. I’m going to assume the game is the same on all platforms, since it would be insane to mess with such fundamental mechanics on a per-platform basisBut for the record: I’m playing on the PC.. So something is causing this difference of perception. I don’t have any answers, but I have a smattering of theories. I’m going to list them all here and then we can compare notes.
1) Maybe we’re remembering the last game wrong?
In Borderlands 2, you can complete in-game goals to unlock badass ranks. Kill 10 skags. Then kill 100 skags. Then 1,000. And so on. These ranks enable you to buy small bonuses like 0.5% more gun damage or 0.1% more health or whatever. These bonuses apply globally to all characters. I described the entire badass system in this post if you want all the messy details. The point is that when I last played Borderlands 2, I’d earned enough badass ranks that I had a bonus of 8% to 11% to almost everything. If you’re doing 9% more damage and shooting 9% faster and shooting 9% more accurately , and reloading your gun 9% faster, and experiencing 9% less recoil, and inflicting elemental damage 9% more often, and doing 9% more elemental damage, then you’re way more than just “9% stronger”. BL3 doesn’t have badass ranksIt has a new system that only kicks in when you best the game., which might help explain why I remember BL2 guns having so much more punch. Maybe BL3 feels exactly like launch-day BL2, but I’ve grown accustomed to playing with tons of badass bonuses in place and so the new game feels wrong.
Also, the hazy memory might go the other direction. Maybe some people have been playing BL2 in Ultimate Vault Hunter modeThe third and final difficulty tier. for years, and so when they play Borderlands 3 and it takes ten shots to kill a common mook, they think, “Yup. This is totally normal.”
2) Maybe the game mode Matters?
When you start a new game, you’re presented with the choice of playing with “Cooperation” or “Coopertition”. The first mode is new in BL3. In that mode, there’s a lot of level-scaling going on. If you’re level 5 and you join the game of your level 20 buddy, then you’ll see foes and loot at your level and they will see foes and loot at theirs. You’re shooting the same mooks, but you’re seeing different things.
Coopertition is just classic Borderlands. If you’re 5 and you join a level 10 friend, then the level of your foes and loot will depend on where you go.
For all of my characters, I chose the classic experience. Level-scaling freaks me out. I like to know I’m up against a fixed challenge, and that the game isn’t invisibly adjusting things in the background to make sure I have the “proper experience”. If I sneak out of the tutorial zone at the start of the game and hike to Mt. Evil, then I expect to get one-shotted by a monster 50 levels above me. If I’m at the endgame and I return to the newbie zone to pick up a few collectibles I missed, then I want to effortlessly brush those level 1 mooks out of my way. If that’s not the experience you want me to have, then don’t put a leveling system in your game. Like I said in my Dead Island review, if all foes level up with me, then leveling up becomes a bad thingObviously there are exceptions. In Dark Souls, YOU level up, but nobody else does. Right now I’m specifically talking about games where players, foes, and weapons all have levels.. I get stronger, my foes get stronger, and my weapons… don’t. Gaining more levels just means you need to retire your weapons faster, which means getting an XP reward for sidequests is effectively a punishment.
I don’t know if this is how Cooperation mode works. I just saw the promises of auto-leveling and went the other way. By necessity, the modes need to use different logic when calulating things. Maybe one mode is better balanced than the other?
3) Maybe we can’t trust the claims the game makes about weapon power?
Actually, this one isn’t a “maybe”. This actually seems to be the case.
In BL2, items are classified by tiers of increasing rarity: White, Green, Blue, Purple, Orange. Generally, rarer is better. Now, there’s a bit of slop to these. Sometimes you’ll find a blue that happens to out-perform a purple. The game gives bonuses to guns based on those rarity tiers, but the system is so complicated that there’s no way for the computer to really understand how good a gun will be without resorting to brute-force simulation. For example, there’s a bonus for a gun that enables you to fire “as fast as you can pull the trigger”. If you’re using a sniper rifle with a large mag, that bonus is massive. If you’re talking about a double-barrel shotgun that needs to be reloaded after every shot, then that bonus does nothing at all.
Still, in BL2 it was totally reasonable to use color as a first-pass discard filter so you don’t need to experiment with each and every gun you find. I generally only bother with weapons at or above the rarity I’m using. If my gun is blue tier, then I’m going to dump greens and whites without looking at them.
In BL3, this doesn’t seem to be a safe assumption. The tiers are all much closer together in power and there’s a lot more noise in their individual performance numbers, so it’s totally possible to have a green out-perform a same-level orange.
Feedback from the comments and from Issac confirm this. This is certainly a contributing factor to my woes. Once I had a pool of purples and oranges, I ignored most of the other stuff. I like questing for guns, but I don’t enjoy spending a quarter of an hour going through my haul and experimenting with each and every weapon. I enjoyed the old system where I could filter out low-tier guns.
Borderlands 3 even adds a Destiny-style “power” value to guns that’s supposed to rate its overall strength. This feature is evidently meaningless. I really thought – perhaps foolishly – that I could trust this number and use it to select the most powerful guns without needing to do manual unit testing on them. But after reading other people talk about guns that kill people in “2 or 3 hits” as opposed to “1 or 2 magazines”, I experimented a bit with the supposedly “weaker” weapons and discovered how badly the game had been lying to me. In particular, I discovered that Jacobs guns are really powerful. With a decent Jacobs revolver or shotgun, the game nearly feels like BL2. My blue level 8 Jacobs pistol easily outperforms oranges at level 10.
This is crazy. This goes against the entire premise of the game. If oranges aren’t special, then why are they rare? If this power number doesn’t tell me anything, then why does the game display it? If the trash loot I find is just as powerful as the stuff I can get from killing bosses, then why would I go out of my way to kill bossesI mean, obviously you kill bosses because they’re part of the story, but grinding boss fights for epic drops was a big part of the endgame in Borderlands 2.?
Some weapons will have a huge wind-up time. Like, a shotgun where you have to hold down the trigger for two full seconds, and if you let off too soon it’ll fizzle and give you nothing. That’s a very bad feature to have in a hectic fight against up-close enemies, which is when you’d use something like this. But the power numbers don’t seem to take stuff like this into account. I realize it would be really hard to make this number useful. I’m not mad they failed, I’m mad they left the broken feature in the game where it could lie to me about the value of the stuff I was looking at!
4) Maybe it’s just certain weapons, characters, or playstyles that are unbalanced?
I’ve played Zane the longest, and it really was a miserable slog. I saw his skill tree had all these bonuses to movement speed, and I had this crazy idea I could run around at frantic speed, killing stuff like the Doom marineAlso, somewhat randomly, the game gave me more than one epic class mod for that particular skill tree, which perhaps encouraged me to stick with it for longer than made sense.. In reality, I ended up running around very quickly and doing almost no damage to people.
I’ve played a few hours as FL4K. I’ve never been one for pet classes, but it’s got some great skills for boosting damage output and that makes it much less of a chore to play. Now I’m playing as AmaraA Siren – she smashes people with space-magic. but I haven’t spent enough time to make a proper comparison with the others.
5) Maybe I’m just dealing with a mid-game slump?
I really started having problems sometime around Lectra City. That, and the Skywell-27 installation were a miserable slog. I’d felt underpowered for most of the game, but this is where it really started to feel like I was shooting Styrofoam bullets at people. After a few hours of that cruel grind, I was longing for the fun empowerment of Borderlands 2.
And since I brought it up, allow me to say a few words about the crime against fun that is the Skywell-27 installation:
This place is an hour-long linear murder dungeon against the same few enemies, with no fast travel and no shops, that’s packed wall-to-wall with groups of badasses with support / healing units that turn every mook fight into an ordeal. Just like the designers don’t have any way to know how powerful your guns might be, they don’t seem to have any way to judge how hardRead: TIME CONSUMING. a fight might be. The final boss was a joke pushover compared to several of the mook fights that preceded him.
The important thing about Skywell-27 is that if you want to unload your gear, buy some bullets, or exit the game, then the entire place will reset and you’ll have to do it ALL again. I’m leveling new characters, but I don’t know if I have the willpower to endure that horrendous garbage a second time.
So What’s Your Experience?
I know a lot of you are giving the game a miss. Between the Epic exclusivity and the 2K Games thuggish behavior, and the various PR problems surrounding Gearbox head honcho Randy Pitchford, some people have lost interest in the game.
But for those of you that are playing, I’m curious to hear your take. Some people said the foes felt “too weak”. What do you mean by that? Do you mean you were one-shotting everyone, or do you mean, “This game is too easy! Mooks go down after just fifty or sixty measly shots to the face. Borderlands 3 ought to be balanced like a REAL looter-shooter, like Anthem!”
And if you were dispatching foes easily, then what’s your strategy? My strategy of “shooting people in the head many times with orange guns” hasn’t been working out, so I’m wondering what you’re doing differently.
And just in general I’m curious: What characters are you playing? What’s your go-to weapon? What’s your favorite special ability?
 But for the record: I’m playing on the PC.
 It has a new system that only kicks in when you best the game.
 The third and final difficulty tier.
 Obviously there are exceptions. In Dark Souls, YOU level up, but nobody else does. Right now I’m specifically talking about games where players, foes, and weapons all have levels.
 I mean, obviously you kill bosses because they’re part of the story, but grinding boss fights for epic drops was a big part of the endgame in Borderlands 2.
 Also, somewhat randomly, the game gave me more than one epic class mod for that particular skill tree, which perhaps encouraged me to stick with it for longer than made sense.
 A Siren – she smashes people with space-magic.
 Read: TIME CONSUMING.
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