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Som Pourfarzaneh : Five Things We Want from a Borderlands MMO

Columns By Som Pourfarzaneh on January 23, 2015

Five Things We Want from a Borderlands MMO

I’ll admit it: Borderlands is one of my favorite single-player/multiplayer RPG series du jour.  There’s something about Gearbox’s tried and true formula of wacky humor, satisfying gameplay, and insane amounts of loot that gets me hooked and looking forward to whatever kinds of crazy DLC updates they have planned.  I’m also not the only one who’s thought that the series would lend itself well to an MMORPG setting, with some gameplay tweaks and world expansions to make space for thousands of other players.

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As it turns out, a Borderlands Online does exist, and it’s in China.  Our friends at Massively have been covering it a bit, with the important details surfacing so far that the MMO is slated for a 2015 launch with four classes and an instanced-style game world.  It’s also not planned for a U.S. release, which is weird?  But you’ve gotta think that some form of Borderlands Online for Western consumption has to be in the works.  So here are five things we’d like to see from it!

Solid Twitch Gameplay

It may go without saying, but a must-have for a Borderlands MMO is the responsive twitch FPS gameplay that makes each game in the series so satisfying to play.  In the single-player versions, the weapons feel appropriately varied, the combat is fast and furious, and the core experience is fun enough to support hours of continued gameplay.  The networking is also usually pretty solid, with minimal latency issues.

It’s possible that some compromise would have to be made for Borderlands to work in an MMO framework, such as the aforementioned use of instancing.  This adaptation makes sense, but I would hope that such a concession would allow for the the game to have the same satisfying gameplay that we’ve gotten used to.  A Borderlands MMO that chugs when other players are around or resorts to using dice rolls in lieu of twitch gameplay would probably not be very fun.

Crazy Loot Everywhere

I may sell 90% of the items that I pick up in a Borderlands game, but by golly, I still want it to explode off of the mobs I’m fighting in a shower of glorious lootery.  The modular nature of the weapons, shields, and other loot in the series makes the itemization interesting, even if most of the items turn out to be below your level, outside of your skill set, or otherwise not useful.  I like the idea that I can switch up my character build to suit a different playstyle if I pick up a particularly awesome weapon.  At the same time, it’s super fun to make a niche for your character and be continually on the lookout for a weapon with a better scope, or a different type of elemental damage, or even better, some bonkers tertiary effect that births squirrels when it crits.  Or something.

Creating a cogent and interesting loot system is no easy task in any MMORPG, and because the series does it so well, there’s quite a high bar set for itemization in a Borderlands MMO.  It would be very cool to have the same loot experience as in the single-player games, with the added bonus of buying and selling crazy weapons and grenade and class mods on the auction house.

Class Variety

Honestly, I really just want the assassin-style class that can pop into stealth and does a bunch of crit damage from the shadows.  In the original Borderlands, I played as Lilith; in Borderlands 2, I used Zer0; in Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, I’m playing as Athena and complaining that there’s no stealth class.  Yet even though I gravitate towards the same kind of class in each game (and most MMOs and RPGs besides), I still like the class variety that allows for a more balanced party when I play with other people.

There are obviously some defined roles that would be necessary to include in some form, such as the turret-wielding soldier, the sniping ranger type, and the buffing-utility-healing jack-or-jill-of-all-trades.  But it would be nice to have the same type of class evolution in the MMO that we’ve seen with each successive game in the series.  With at least three assassin classes.  Or four.

New and Old Characters

One of the things I look forward to in each new Borderlands game is running into NPCs from previous installments and meeting new characters.  Gearbox is very good at allowing their characters to be self-aware enough to break the fourth wall and pick up on real-life trends and memes, and their recurring NPCs are known for being caricatures of themselves from previous iterations.  Interestingly, the developers have even included the PC protagonists from earlier games as NPCs in later ones, which is a great way to introduce new classes while providing a different dimension of character development for the old ones.

Any Borderlands MMO would have to make some space for beloved characters of the series, while introducing new and ridiculous NPCs that fit in with the existing cast.  We’ll want to see Scooter, Marcus, Tiny Tina, Mr. Torgue et al., and hopefully in larger roles than just merchants and quest givers.  Providing for a central storyline where you can adventure alongside NPCs à la The Lord of the Rings Online could be promising, as could the opportunity to play as those characters in a special mode like Legends PvP in DC Universe Online.

A New Take on the Borderlands Universe

It’s fair to say that while the main campaign in the original Borderlands was fun and engaging, the series didn’t really hit its stride until the DLC packs started hitting digital shelves.  Beginning with The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned and culminating in Claptrap’s New Robot Revolution, the add-on content for Borderlands set the tongue-in-cheek tone for the series, with each installment bringing a new theme to the table.  Borderlands 2 refined the gameplay formula and humor from its predecessor, with the content packs again drawing upon popular tropes to great effect (Mr. Torgue’s monster truck rally-inspired Campaign of Carnage and Tiny Tina’s Dungeons & Dragons-themed Assault on Dragon Keep are probably two of my favorite pieces of DLC for any game so far).  The Pre-Sequel, although not yet receiving as much critical acclaim as the previous two games, takes everything into space and gives it a decidedly Aussie feel (thanks, 2K Australia!), which is a fun twist on what we’ve seen before.

A Borderlands MMO would almost have to push the envelope further and create a new dimension of the established universe that feels thematically in line with the series, but different enough to be captivating.  It’s all well and good to visit revamped or reimagined areas that we’ve already seen (done well in The Elder Scrolls Online), but an MMORPG would be an opportunity to explore completely new regions and stories that could expand the Borderlands fiction.  Plus, any expansions could focus on the same quality of diverse themes as the DLC packs, while adding MMO-specific gameplay features, such as new dungeons, PvP arenas, guild housing, and the like.

What would you like to see in a Borderlands MMO?

Som Pourfarzaneh / Som is a Staff Writer at MMORPG.com and a Lecturer in Media, Anthropology, and Religious Studies. He’s a former Community Manager for Neverwinter, the free-to-play Dungeons & Dragons MMORPG from Cryptic Studios and Perfect World Entertainment, and is unreasonably good at Maze Craze for the Atari 2600. You can exchange puns and chat (European) football with him on Twitter @sominator.