How Borderlands 2 Lied To Me

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 8.442% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

So I’ve been playing a fair amount of Borderlands 2, and last night I finally thumped my head against the glass ceiling; level 50, babies.  As high as one can go.
It’s been fun, because Borderlands 2 is not, shall we say, a challenging game.  There’s some mild elements of dexterity involved, but basically it’s an auto-gunner; the game actually has an option to aim your gun for you, homing in on the closest enemy if you get within range.  (Which I use, because the X-Box controller sucks for fine reticule targeting.  I miss my mouse.)  There’s no penalty for dying except they scrape a bit of cash off your account.  It’s nothing like, say, the moderate complexity of Half-Life.
Mostly, Borderlands 2 is about optimizing your build.
It’s a spreadsheet game.  How good a gun can you get?  (As some wag noted, in Borderlands 2, you aren’t a character, you are your gun.)  What skill tree can you max out to support this fabulous gun?  Can you team up with a friend to get better weapon drops?  And from there, it’s all about maximizing damage per second and taking advantages of cooldown times. Occasionally you have to find cover, but if you feel like it you can just walk in guns a-blazing until someone drops you, then respawn and go back.
And that’s oddly relaxing, because I don’t have to work really hard to get ahead in this game, I just have to go here and shoot something and go there and fetch something, and it’s enough activity to keep the game-brain ticking without actually frustrating me.  I can just get into the groove for a few hours.
It wasn’t until the expansions came out, bringing with them special multiplayer-only “raid bosses,” that I realized what Borderlands 2 had done to me:
This was a MMORPG.
A single-player MMORPG.
Once I realized that, it all became clear: the obsession with equipment, the hunt for better drops, even the dudes hanging around with exclamation points over their head.  I’d never played a MMORPG because, well, a game with no end point is a one-way ticket to unemployment for addicted old me.  But here I was, several months of my life into this game, and they’d snuck a MMORPG in under the radar.
And just as predicted, it sucked out several months of my life.  These things are predicated on the Diablo model of advancement; I know Yahtzee hates the “drop and stop” method of playing, but it’s a way of constantly littering your path with just enough rewards to keep you hungry.  It may be another two hours until you level up, but is that gun better?  What about that shield?  Hey, it’s orange, it must be great!  And so you keep yanking that slot machine trigger, firing at things in the hopes of getting the massively great gun.
As it is, I’ll probably quit until they raise the level cap.  The Pirate expansion was quite good, but the Torgue expansion is drier, and as it is the Siren build I have stops dead one level before I get Blight Phoenix, the one skill I was working towards.  So unless they make it level 60, and let me have my gouts of acid, flame, and slag, then I’m not interested.
But I find it fascinating, the way that they basically ripped off much of what made World of Warcraft work and just quietly turned it into a first-person shooter.  Well done, Borderlands.  Well done.

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