Borderlands is a series that’s absolutely driven by the desire to collect loot. When the original Borderlands was released back in 2009, I heard it referred to frequently as “the Diablo 2 of shooters”. It’s fitting then, that Borderlands 2 has a limited edition that comes with a replica loot chest.
All of the guns and other loot in the Borderlands series are randomly generated, and while the story is great, finding a legendary rocket launcher is really the reason to play. Collecting more and better guns is as good a driving force as any to play a game, right? But managing all that loot can be a challenge, and for a game that’s as loot-driven as Borderlands 2 is, Gearbox could have dealing with all of those sweet, sweet guns a little bit easier.
I need a bigger backpack
The game’s inventory system is referred to as your “backpack”, and as always, there’s a limited number of space. Thankfully, it’s not a grid/space/Tetris based system like Diablo is, but instead a more standard-issue one slot per item situation. The problem is it starts with a mere 12 slots.
In many games, the first couple of hours inventory isn’t really a concern – the player has lots of space to try out different combinations of weapons and armor and whatnot. In Borderlands 2, those 12 slots are filled up almost immediately, and the player is immediately tasked with trying to make reasonable decisions about what to keep and what to sell. Upgrades to your backpack size are possible a few hours into the game, although they use a non-standard currency that makes it not insignificant to get more space.
Okay, so the player has to make some decisions about what items to use and what to sell, this is common dilemma in games. What’s the big deal, right?
Making good comparisons
Here’s the problem – it’s difficult to make a good comparison because there are so many factors going into it. Something that Diablo 3 did right was offer a vastly simplified DPS rating for each weapon. Sure you can (and should) delve into the details of the weapon’s stats, but it also offered one big number that at a quick glance told you which dagger was superior (just like NuVal nutritional scores, right?). Borderlands 2 doesn’t offer that, and you’re left trying to balance out many complicated factors including raw damage, fire rate, elemental damage, not to mention accuracy and clip size and all kinds of other stuff.
A common strategy that I like to use is to just use whichever item will sell for more. While this can get you into trouble in real life, usually price is a reasonable guide to quality. But with how the rarity system works, this doesn’t help any either. My level 2 Commando happened to find a legendary pistol right when the game started. Up to level 15, it’s still worth the most of any item I’ve found, and clearly isn’t worth using.
So that means even rarity doesn’t tell you a lot about the item’s usefulness (it’s a good indicator of how much it can be sold for though, so that’s something). Sure an item might be super-rare, but it’s entirely possible that it won’t work as well as a common item.
The game does provide an easy visual to tell if a stat is better than your currently equipped weapon, and there is a screen dedicated to comparing weapons – so at least you can get the stats for two weapons on the screen at the same time. That screen is a little frustrating to me usability-wise, but that’s another topic for another day.
It’s like a mini-mall
In the original Borderlands, as players used certain weapon types, they would get better and better at using them – so faster reload time, more damage, more accuracy, that sort of thing. That meant that gamers would usually pick one or two classes of weapons and stick with them, because that just makes sense. As a result, any time a weapon that you weren’t proficient at showed up, you could immediately dump it (or just not pick it up).
Borderlands 2, however, did away with that system. While there are some skills that might make you better at one weapon type or another, overall there’s little reason why you couldn’t use anything you wanted, from a shotgun to a pistol to a rocket launcher. And that makes it even harder to decide what weapons to keep.
Since new guns drop at a near constant rate, this means that the player is forced to often make difficult decisions about what gear they want to use.
One feature added in Borderlands 2 to help the loot problem is the concept of marking an item as “favorite” or “trash”. Marking items as favorites puts a little star on them, making it easier to spot in your inventory. For the trash side, while selling items you have the option to sell all your trash in bulk. So that means you can decide “on the go” which items you’re going to sell the next time you’re in a shop. It would be even better if you could mark an item as trash right when you pick it up, but hey, it’s better than nothing.
To recap, I’ve got three suggested improvements to the loot system in Borderlands 2 that are worth considering:
- Offering a combined “DPS” stat would make life a lot easier for determining which gun is superior. Of course, there are lots of variations that would need further investigation, but that’s fine, at least give players a starting point.
- Make it possible to mark an item as trash when picking it up – I pick up a ton of items that are just destined for selling, so this would make the process a lot faster.
- Have a bigger inventory to start the game. Although I’m a little worried that this might just make the problem worse, 12 seems pretty tiny to start.
While this isn’t the world’s worst problem, it’s certainly annoying. Worst case scenario, you accidentally sell a weapon that’s marginally better than what you have now, right? But if the point of the game is to collect awesome equipment, and dealing with said equipment is a pain, isn’t that a problem?
I used ever ounce of Eridium I got to purchase all the Backpack upgrades one after another. The loot problem was bothering me so much that I neglected expanding my ammo capacity in order to solve that headache.
I think loot is what makes Borderlands fun but I was thinking for the next round, make enemies drop cash and ammo but make guns a bit more rare. Maybe guns are only in bigger chests? Because honestly, yeah, right now, every two feet there’s a new gun and 5 minutes of comparison. Penny Arcade pokes fun of this: http://penny-arcade.com/comic/2012/09/21
A preview of my character holding the new-found weapon is critical because everyone knows that killing power is incidental; style points are where it’s at. In all seriousness the abundance of loot burnt me out in the first game. Mass Effect 2 was my ideal take on inventory.
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