I’ll preface this by saying that I don’t find Mayhem unplayable in its current state, and I think the devs are heading in the right direction by promising to fix things like weapon balance and action skill damage (although I’ll believe it when I see it). But even with those changes, the game isn’t going to reach its potential until the devs stop using increased enemy health as the primary mechanism to create a challenge.
At least in my mind, an FPS should be designed to put the player in the middle of a hectic battle with enough enemies to put the player at risk. But for the player to progress, these encounters can’t last forever. The player gradually thins out the herd, and enters a sort of clean-up phase where the danger has subsided and they’re just mopping up the remnants. The devs also have to mix in some smaller-scale engagements so that the bigger battles feel special.
The problem that devs face in a looter-shooter is this: The loot system rewards players with increased power, which allows them to cut down enemies faster and reduces the time spent in the challenging phase of a fight. The Borderlands 3 devs have tried to solve this problem in the most direct way possible. They increase enemy health with Mayhem level, which does help to make the bigger battles last longer. But the increase in enemy health also increases the length of the boring clean-up phase and makes the smaller-scale engagements more tedious.
Games like Doom (2016) use a different approach that works a lot better. In Doom, the game spawns more enemies as the first wave is cut down. The fights stay frantic longer, and the player is in danger until the reinforcements run out and the fight draws to a rapid end. This mechanic also makes battles more dynamic, since the devs can spawn in new types of enemies to replace the mobs that the player has killed.
Borderlands 3 has the capacity to spawn new enemies on death, since that’s exactly what Cartel enemies used to do. What Borderlands 3 doesn’t have is anything that ties respawns to Mayhem level. I’d love to see the devs tone down enemy health scaling, but allow enemies to spawn more and more reinforcements on death as the Mayhem level rises. The increased number of enemies would result in increased ammo and loot drops, rewarding players for playing at higher mayhem levels and reducing the risk of running out of ammo shooting health-spongy enemies. The devs could randomize the types of enemies that spawn, making enemy hordes more diverse and taking advantage of underutilized enemy types like beasts and robots. Or they could allow players to choose the type of reinforcement through modifiers (e.g., modifier that spawns COV on enemy death).
Just a thought.