New Game+: Borderlands 2 and the loot problem

October 12, 2012

We have a bit of a loot problem.

It’s hard to admit it, I know, but if you think about how often games implement a loot system and how frequently players take to hoarding piles of the stuff, you’ll realize it’s true. I’m definitely one of those people. It is easy for us to become obsessed with collecting things in games, not just loot-driven games, so it’s clear why loot is so prominent in some of the year’s biggest releases. This is not the loot problem I am referring to though. This problem stems from games that give you too much and, as a result, potentially ruin an otherwise-good experience.

I’ve been playing a lot of Borderlands 2 lately, a game I enjoy thanks to its ridiculous nature, RPG elements and focus on co-op. If there is one thing I have begun to really dislike about it, it’s the loot. Borderlands 2 (or Borderlands in general) is such a loot-focused game that, if you choose to ignore it, you may be missing out on some of the best weapons, equipment, or money to spend on said weapons or equipment.

If you’re like me, you’ll find it hard to ignore the masses of shiny objects that are scattered across the game’s many environments after a lengthy and sometimes difficult battle. It’s only fitting to collect your rewards after such a triumphant victory, but there are times when I just stop and see how all of this loot is somehow limiting my enjoyment of what I truly love about Borderlands 2: the actual gameplay mechanics.

It’s quite simple: I believe too much of a good thing can ruin an experience, and in loot-based games such as Borderlands 2, it’s not difficult to see yourself so focused on collecting endless amounts of worthless treasures. Many will say that the main hook for games like these is the loot. Players want to be continually rewarded; they need a constant reminder that what they are doing is good and that they should continue to do it. Never mind the fact that the piece of armor they picked up is absolutely worthless; it’s the thought that counts.

I’m not a dog that needs a pat on the head and a treat every time I defeat an enemy. It’s nice that killing that Badass enemy in Borderlands leads to an explosion of different guns, ammo, and money, but it’s completely unnecessary. I would love to keep going, continuing the fight, but I feel almost pulled by the developer to at least look at the shiny new guns that dropped on the ground just to see what I already knew before I even killed the enemy: they’re kind of worthless. So I shrug, pick up the loot anyway and automatically mark them to be sold. It’s a tactic that absolutely works, but one I find myself growing tired of.

Because of this, my Borderlands 2 experience has almost been watered down. I knew what I was getting into; the original game was the same way, but it was such a different combination of new and familiar mechanics and gameplay styles that I couldn’t help but love it. While some may disagree that Borderlands was a unique experience, it was truly unlike anything that I had played before and, because of that, the loot seemed like a necessary evil.

Coming back to a very similar experience, I find myself growing tired of it more quickly as a result. This does have to do with Borderlands 2 being “just another Borderlands,” but the loot problem is still a major factor. I am constantly pulled away from what I come to the series for simply because of that small chance that what is dropped on the ground might actually be something useful for a change, even if the chance is slim.

Simply put, it’s a tedious process that I find myself enjoying less the more I play. As I said, I love being rewarded, but sometimes enough is too much. The small improvements, such as picking up any stray ammo or money on the ground just by running over them, are nice, but there will always be ten or more different chests and other objects to open just to find one small stash of ammo or a measly amount of money. This isn’t rewarding and it isn’t providing players with a reason to continue to play. It only makes me roll my eyes and move on to the next encounter, almost hoping that the enemies don’t drop large amounts of loot. When you get to the point where you don’t want enemies to drop loot, it’s kind of bad.

And yet people still love it. They can’t get enough loot, and for them, games like Diablo III and Torchlight II are almost like a drug. And if loot is our drug of choice, Diablo III’s auction house is our opium den. This allows players to buy and sell rare loot they find on their journey using in-game gold or real money. This is a smart idea on the part of Blizzard; they know their audience and they know that this, as a result, will make them even more money. And for people who love loot, this is another way for them to get more without having to work for it.

In a lot of ways, this is a brilliant tactic. It allows players to buy equipment they want and could use for a lot of their game time, making the actual act of picking up loot in-game pointless. Because of this, players can potentially worry less about what’s on the ground and more on the rest of the game. On the other hand, this only worsens the problem, allowing people to get access to the stuff they want when they want it and giving them reason to come back for more. It turns the process of being rewarded into something that relies on instant gratification, which, in turn, could weaken the overall experience.

We don’t need loot, yet we continue to want it. It’s a strange phenomenon that will always baffle me. Borderlands 2 is a fantastic action game with plenty of great RPG elements and brilliant co-op. On the other hand, it’s the equivalent of a point-and-click adventure game without anything that makes those games memorable. Kill an enemy, fish around their corpse for one minute, examine the different items, and move on. You don’t know why you are picking up those worthless things, and unlike in adventure games, you’ll never have the answer.