I’m going to preface this by saying I am not an authority on game balance or anything like that, just some schmuck who wanted to throw his two cents and a wall of text out here. As it currently stands, the endgame of Borderlands 3 (i.e Mayhem Mode) has a sizable divide in the community, with many players believing Mayhem Mode doesn’t actually benefit their gameplay experience and even hinders it (whether it is by forcing them into a playstyle they don’t like or completely nullfying their favorite build and effectively encouraging them to “reroll” the map until something favorable pops up), while others enjoy the forced “weights” it attaches to you. So I thought I’d lob out some ideas that can appeal to as many sides as possible.
There will likely never be a one-size fits-all difficulty that pleases everyone. Some people like their porridge soft and warm while cherubs serenade them with lullabies, while others prefer the taste of their own blood in their mouth as the porridge mercilessly beats their uvula like a pinata with steel nails and habanero peppers. So let them make their own bowl of difficulty porridge. Have some customizable sliders for several enemy stats in the game. Damage, health, shields, and armor for starters, from 0% (Vault Hunter/True Vault Hunter Mode standard level) to 1000% (which should be enough to satisfy 99% of masochists and busted builds looking for a challenge) with increasing loot rewards the harder you go up the difficulty, somewhat similar to the Super Smash Bros. series’ Intensity Slider. If it’s in Single Player mode (or all players agree to it, whether by a vote or some other method), additional sliders could be toggled such as enemy movement speed, attack frequency, special move frequency, or increased chance of enemies spawning with shields and/or armor. And for multiplayer, one difficulty does not have to be forced on all players (most people don’t eat out of the same bowl or plate at the dinner table.) Co-op level scaling is already a feature in the game, and these sliders could draw from that as an example. Let Little Jim dance a salsa on his foes while Big Rick relishes his challenge and increased loot (and perhaps include an option to “meet in the middle” if they’re both attacking the same foe and you don’t want the enemy to die too quickly/slowly.) Ideally, the matchmaking system will match you with players with similar difficulty slider settings.
Incentives for using different gear and builds
People want to use the stuff they like to use, that’s just basic common-sense. Use a carrot, not a stick. Instead of forcing penalties onto the player that might punish their preferred method of combat, reward players for breaking out of their comfort zone. Add a tracker into the game that tracks usage of gear types and skills used, and add incentives for using gear/skills you seldom use or have not used in a while. If you usually use Fl4k’s Fade Away as your action skill of choice and decide to give Gamma Burst a spin, have the game reward you with an increase in loot quality (with an option to weight the drops to benefit Gamma Burst such as radiation-boosting gear or pet-focused class mods), or perhaps a temporary increase in stats or an increase in Guardian Rank experience earned.
Putting “Mayhem” in Mayhem Modifiers
Mayhem Mode is supposed to serve as a way to spice the endgame up and keep you playing longer. As it currently stands, Mayhem Modifiers don’t really evoke the “Mayhem” aspect. The word “Mayhem” is associated with chaos and disorder, while Mayhem Mode is actually pretty predictable. It is reasonable to assume that the game will usually saddle you with some sort of demerit(s) based around either you doing less damage (occasionally more, but not as often) or the enemies dealing/taking more damage, and often stacking them together to make them irritating or unappealing. It never really breaks out of that mold. If you’re really going to spice things up, you’ve got to get creative. There are already examples of interesting modifiers in the Borderlands series, namely in Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. The mutator game modes and some of the mutator modifiers found in the “l33t Hax0rs” mission were fun and interesting, more so than “-x% stat, +y% stat” with a side of “shoot yourself in the face when trying to shoot enemies in a loot-and-shooter”. Adapt them and bring them over to Borderlands 3! Expand on them! Add shenanigans like ricocheting bullets for everyone, increased knockback, mess with what enemies spawn where and the amounts spawned (nothing spells surprise like a Tyrant suddenly coming out of a crapshack on Eden-6), make slides knock enemies around like bowling pins! Hell, make enemies violently explode into confetti and cakes with party blower sound effects when they’re killed! It doesn’t have to make that much sense in a series like Borderlands, it just needs to be entertaining.
If you’ve read this far, I’m not going to finish this by saying something like “with blah blah changes the world will be a better place and everyone is happy and it was beautiful and I cry everytime”. I just hope this can get some creative juices flowing and maybe get some people to think more deeply about what direction they’d like to see Borderlands 3’s endgame head towards.