Why Borderlands?

I’ve asked myself this question before. What is it about this franchise that keeps bringing me back and engaged enough to pursue things like 100% completion? It’s certainly not the only series I’ve set out with the intent to do this, but the only one where I’ve succeeded. In small bursts over many years, but no other games have managed to quite hold on that far. Ironically I have a third 100% other than BL1/2, and that’s Tales from the Borderlands. You only have to finish it, though, so it hardly counts compared to the 500ish combined hours I’ve spent on the other two.

I actually went and looked, and my three highest non-100% titles (highest to lowest) are Warframe (79%), Secret of Mana (78%), and Dragon Quest Builders 2 (77%). I made a decent effort on the last two, but wasn’t really into the grind at the time. Warframe is there as a sheer testament to the 777.6 hours of playtime I have, not as an actual legitimate attempt for achievements.

I mean, I obviously have a thing for that sort of fast-paced shooter, that much as obvious. It’s obviously not the story of Borderlands, which as a rule is pretty mediocre. My favorite story in the main series, the one I think has a genuinely interesting narrative, is The Pre Sequel. Effectively allowing you to play past and future villains in order to show Jack’s journey from decent corporate officer to maniacal overlord.

I think that’s part of the key to success for the games, the characters. There are a lot of little bits of dialogue and small story moments that are well executed and memorable. Despite the somewhat juvenile nature of the games’ humor, they manage to remain rather inclusive and subvert a variety of expectations. That’s what makes Jack’s story in TPS so engaging. BL2’s Handsome Jack is an absurd and memorable antagonist. If he wasn’t such a well executed villain I wouldn’t care about how he ended up that way.

I’ve played plenty of games with a good story and engaging characters and still don’t come back to them for over the top completion though. While I like the setting and the art style, to a point, it certainly isn’t enough to make it stand out. Most of what I’m coming up with is gameplay related. The more RPG elements certainly help, but the most engaging elements for me are the gear system and the difficulty.

Something I’ve done in nearly every title are the so-called “allegiance runs.” This is where you intentionally restrict which manufacturer you can use. I didn’t really pay that much attention to it until I tried those runs, but the different manufacturers are very distinct in feel and performance. I’ve played other games like Mass Effect where there are different manufacturers as well, but nothing ever felt as meaningful and distinct as Borderlands. It adds its own layer of replayability. There’s also a decent number of unique pieces of gear and gear combinations on top of that.

The difficulty curve of the games is also interesting to me. At a basic level, it’s just a shooter that’s easy to learn. Nearly every title has developed a sort of tiered system of repeated playthroughs, each one placing more emphasis on damage type matchups and sometimes excessive use of broken mechanics. Things typically get pretty spicy by the third playthrough. Enough so that I’ve never really dabbled in anything like BL2’s OP levels, which are ten additional difficulty ranks beyond the third playthrough.

It can be a challenge, though, which I appreciate even when it’s frustrating. I’m still trying to decide how I feel about Wonderland’s lack of the tiered system. On the one hand, repeating the main story over and over is a bit tiresome. On the other, it felt like it was lacking something essential. I effectively did the same thing and just ran different class combinations through the story back to back anyway.

I find that Borderlands also has the advantage of being a largely single player experience. It’s something I can boot up and do whatever I want in without needing to worry about group content. Sure, there are the raid bosses, but quite frankly I’ve managed to solo all of them. With exploits and/or specific builds, of course. We’re not going to talk about how long it took to get a handle on Crawmerax. The point is, though, that outside of a few achievements it’s easily picked up, paused, and/or put down.

I don’t really think it’s any one of these things more than the other, but all of them together. It’s still difficult to really describe, but I suppose there’s a reason why the whole franchise has done well for itself. Maybe it just managed to settle into a sweet spot for me in particular.

Y’all take care, and remember that technically all the weapons in the games are powered by explosions. Except maybe the lasers.


Hey, it’s Blaugust time! The goal is to simply promote and stimulate the blogging community by encouraging people of all skill levels and backgrounds to post. The official post can be found here and it’s never too late to start.

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