I’ve played what could politely be referred to as an “obscene” amount of Borderlands 2 since I first got sent it for review. According to Steam, I’ve put in 152 hours so far. That’s more time than I put into most games before moving on to the next thing. I only played Diablo III for about 40 hours before I got sick of the grind, and only made it to 149 hours in Skyrim after a year, three different playthroughs, and some DLC all combined. What is it then about Borderlands 2 that is keeping me playing long after I’ve hit level cap with two characters?
It’s not going to have an appeal to everyone, but Gearbox have capitalised on a few traits commonly found in MMOs designed to keep people playing after reaching level cap and “completing” all the questing content in the game. I’m speaking, of course, of repeatable bosses and the gear grind. Those words are anathema to some people, and it’s understandable why they don’t like the idea of doing something over and over again for the eventual promise of incremental reward, but to me there is an all but irresistible draw for two reasons.
For one, I’m a completionist. I like to explore everything, open every chest and unlock every door, so if you tell me that once you finish your second playthrough and reach level cap that some bosses in the world have a small chance to drop level 50 unique items, I’ll be there to collect them all.
Once I have those items, the other part of the game begins.
Years ago when I used to be a regular on the RPG convention circuit, occasionally I would partake in what was known as a “Roulette”. These games were essentially RPG gladiatorial combat. Each of the players is given the rules, usually D&D slightly modified so that every piece of equipment, spell and stat point has a points value. Players are then given a set amount of points to put together the most powerful character they can conceive, and the characters are then pitted against each other to see which is the most powerful.
A lot of that time the power comes from cleverly exploiting the rules. One year a player worked out that the Polymorph Other spell could be the deadliest in the game – all you needed was a bag of mice. Throw a mouse at the enemy, Polymorph it into a massive creature like a whale and roll a ton of dice for the ensuing falling object damage.
When I’ve “finished” a game, I like to do that. I don’t exploit or play with the rules when they still matter, but once I’m done with a narrative I take a lot of pleasure from gaming the system, finding ways to use the rules to do things that were not necessarily intended. I haven’t managed to solo Terramorphous yet, as I don’t want to use any terrain based cheats — but these repeatable bosses afford me the opportunity to keep playing with the rules to see what I can do with some overpowered gear and just the right skill trees. I might bang on about narrative and character all the time, but sometimes a pile of loot and some big red numbers can be just as satisfying.