Welcome to another exercise in the futility of defining an MMO. It’s one thing in the MMO ‘sphere that we just cannot seem to stop doing. My whole job is based on the power of words (the difference between “a” and “the” can destroy companies), and that just makes this whole conundrum worse. Anyway, forewarned and caveated ye’ be.
Borderlands could be an MMO. I am sure Gearbox is cringing right now, but the game came so close. Borderlands came to the MMO meeting. Sat down, drank coffee. Listened to Habbo Hotel cry. Ignored World of Warcraft. Laughed at Darkfall’s jokes, and generally had a good time. But, when it came for Borderlands to step up to the microphone and say “My name is Borderlands, and I am an MMO.” It ran out of the conference room instead leaving all its good notes on MMOs and many on RPGs behind.
Gearbox Software make FPS games. They make good and great FPS games. I’ve been a fan of theirs ever since Half Life: Opposing Force. Yet, there is no excuse for this. They chose to dabble in the dark arts of RPGs and will be held accountable. My bottom line in case you tl;dr redline on me is that Gearbox tried to create their FPS-RPG-[MMO] mashup like an American baseball fan trying to recreate cricket from watching just a few bowls. (I’ve tried to understand cricket; I’ve tried so hard.)
The biggest problem Borderlands has is persistence. I think that on some level an MMO needs persistence. I am still undecided on the amount, but some is more than the bare minimum of a local single-player save game. During co-op Borderlands’ persistence goes in to an unintuitive mode. Players join a host player’s world. Yay, some persistence achieved. Two steps forward, I say.
However, the joining players might as well be entering an in-game virtual construct. There is no affect on the joining players’ own shard. Sure, experience and guns are brought back, but completing things for the host is immaterial to the interloping players. Three steps back. This sort of host shard gameplay falls flat on its face. It feels like the story department and the co-op department avoided some big issues, and the overlord just tried to keep things simple. In the end, what was created was some really messy phasing that never quite gains a solid stride.
The situation gets worse, in my opinion, because the character’s persistence is saved locally. There are save game editors already out there, and what’s worse is that a cheating player that joins another player’s game (or hosts one) can actually affect the non-cheating players. I really don’t understand why they didn’t follow Diablo II’s exact formula. I mean I do, but it really comes off as being cheap and destroys, again in my opinion, any chance of an actual MMO-esque community being created.
I have other small RPG issues (no shared storage) and this-was-a-port-to-PC issues (press Enter to start game), which I can overlook because at the end of the day I am having fun. It just drives me crazy that when I can finally play co-op (which took awhile, shame on you Gearbox) we have to figure out which shard to play in, whether one player has played too far ahead, what quests to redo, etc. when all I want to do is shoot things dead.
This post makes Borderlands sound a lot worse than it is, but I am looking at the game through an MMO-player’s lens. I am used to certain things which create commonality, collaboration, and community, which Borderlands came so close to getting. It could have been arguably a 4-player-at-a-time MMO, but clearly it is not. For a lighter review, I have already given my thoughts, and I am happy with my purchase. I just feel like a decently good game could have become a timeless one with a little more MMO-mindedness.
ah, you mean you can’t very well take less