I’ve been playing far more Borderlands in the last few weeks than I’ve done so in a long time. Before Borderlands 3 came out, the last time I played was when the free DLC with Commander Lilith came out, and I did so in a group of four. We completed the story pretty quickly. But when I went back to replay that DLC content on my own, I struggled to get through it and eventually gave up. Maybe it’s because I took an old character who had just finished the main Borderlands 2 story, instead of a nearly maxed character when I played in a group. Either way, I felt like… everything was a slog.
I’ve always felt this way while playing Borderlands. The Borderlands series is a blast to play if I have other people but if I am playing any of the games solo, I just can’t enjoy them as much as I would be enjoying them with friends.
This seems really strange because the Borderlands games are mostly the same, whether you have one player or four players. The main differences is that enemies are slightly tougher and slightly more numerous and the loot drops are better, depending on how many Vault Hunters are playing. Ironically though, playing with other people actually makes the game vastly easier. The AI from enemies can only do so much apart from upping the numbers, and even then, mainly for performance reasons, you can’t just flood a place with enemies to kill. Weirdly though, even when I’m playing a higher level character and have all the overpowered stuff, Borderlands feels like a chore.
Part of it could be how the game just plays. The main goal, aside from advancing the plot, is to become more powerful and find better loot, and to do that, most of the time you need to clear an area of bad guys or run through and avoid them. This is a much slower process when you are on your own, as literally everything in existence is trying to kill you the second it sees you. In coop play, other players are not only shooting enemies but also distracting them. Running past enemies is also easier. There is also the fact that you do a lot of running or driving from place to place (less so in Borderlands 3 with fast travel) and having someone around to talk do makes the dull parts of Borderlands more tolerable.
As for balance, I don’t know if the game is actually balanced around more or less players. In previous games, the only real way to balance things was to limit the number of guns that players can find but with cooperative mode, every player gets a large amount of guns and this males everything so much easier.
But the Borderlands games, at least when it comes to the main story, are built around there only really being one person. As far as the gameplay and the plot are concerned, there’s just one Vault Hunter and they’re an amazing badass who can murder everyone. In the case of story, extra players might as well not exist. Borderlands 3 did try to make the player characters more interactive but it still doesn’t really do anything to make additional players feel like they mean anything. Even in the tutorial, Lilith and Claptrap act as if second, third and fourth players aren’t even there.
So you end up with a weird… disconnect of sorts. Gameplay that is better with more players but immersion that is better with less players. It’s not exactly a bad thing, but it is kinda strange…