It is pretty much a universally acknowledged right now that Borderlands 3’s endgame is in a pretty bad place. Some don’t like Mayhem modifiers (like me), some don’t like the ultra spongy enemies, some don’t like the loot/anointment system. But the one thing that every one kinda agrees on is that build, playstyle and gear diversity is really really bad. To take on the more difficult content in the game, everyone pretty much uses the same 10 or so guns, and even the same anointments. Build making becomes a stale uninspiring process, and class playstyles all seem to merge into “faceplant enemy with Monarch” or “shoot Backburner = results”. I propose 3 reasons for this - the first 2 aren’t actually very difficult to fix, but the last one really problematic.
1) Enemies have too much health
One big reason for this is of course the ridiculous health scaling at M10 which already constrains gear diversity. When enemies have too much health, the most important stat a class can have is damage, diminishing other ways of increasing diversity. This is the most commonly cited reason for why diversity is so trash now - but I think it actually isn’t the biggest issue.
2) Some weapons are way too powerful
With Mayhem 2.0 and the Cartel event came some of the most powerful weapons in the game - the Yellowcake, OPQ, Sandhawk, Backburner etc. Along with these came stuff like the Monarch, Reflux and Plaguebearer, which were unabashedly massive upgrades of their vanilla counterparts. These weapons were specifically tailored for M10 and hence too much better than everything else, which is why everyone used them. This is definitely a big issue - class specializations fall to the wayside when they cannot compensate for the power of the ‘new meta gear’. Why use a Stagecoach or Bangstick on Fl4k when a Monarch is so much more efficient even with 3-shot Fade?
But I would argue this is actually the easiest issue to fix - and may actually fix itself when DLC3 releases. I believe from now on GB will scale their guns for M10, which will naturally increase the diversity of viable gear. Furthermore, the presence of blatantly overpowered gear in Borderlands has never stopped build diversity - the Laser Disker, Norfleet and Interfacer had loads more DPS than anything else, but they were not always the mainstay of meta builds in BL2 and TPS.
Rather I believe the biggest problem is:
3) Class Design and the Anointment System
TPS wasn’t a great game - but the diversity in builds was unprecedented. When we looked at the endgame ‘meta’ builds of the 6 toons, they are all totally different and encourage drastically different playstyles. Nisha runs around toting 2 Luck Cannons and shoots the floor. Athena never reloads, but swaps weapons like a madman while firing shotguns at unthinkable fire rates. Claptrap reloads incessantly and faceplants enemies with a Ravager. BL2 had great build diversity as well. No one could use a Lyuda like Zer0 could, or an Orphan Maker like Sal or the Fibber like Gaige. Meanwhile, in the Guardian Takedown, Fl4k, Amara and Zane are incessantly ending their action skills and faceplanting people with a Monarch. When Scourge arrives, they flip out their Backburners and shoot in his general direction.
Good class design means that when a build is made to exploit the class synergies, these synergies rather than mere base weapon stats, drive the class identity. Just look at Nisha or Athena - there’s no universe where a Luck Cannon or Company Man is stronger than the Disker, but somehow the massive synergies created by their class skills make using a Company Man on Athena far more rewarding than the Disker.
This is because in BL1, BL2 and TPS, the balance of power in the game was vested in class-specific things. In BL1, skilltrees were stale as hell, so Class Mods really made a class. And the Blast Master, Mercenary and Gunslinger did just that. Still it wasn’t very good or creative - GB upped their game in the next 2 games. The balance of power in BL2 and especially TPS lay in class skills - Money Shot, Critical Ascension, Blood Bath, Anarchy, Maelstrom, One for Each of Ya, Tombstone, OLT etc. These skills had 3 important characteristics which are required for skills to create diversity:
- They are extremely powerful
- They are specific to their class (Zer0 cannot use Money Shot)
- They have conditions that make using specific weapon types especially advantageous. Money shot/OLT was best with weapons which could reach that last shot often, Maelstrom with high pellet count, high FR weapons, Blood Bath with splash weapons.
Now lets look at BL3 - where does the balance of power lie? Certainly not in class skills. The only skills in the same league would be Violent Momentum/Driver/St4ckbot. Rather the biggest numbers you see in Borderlands 3 are in ANOINTMENTS. Moze scrapes +200% splash damage with Blast Master + 5/5 TCP + COM/artifact bonus - but you get the same for ending your action skill. Currently the strongest anointments are:
- Extremely powerful - much more so than basically every individual skill except Violent Momentum and lucky SF procs
- Not specific to class (except Cast/Slam)
- Not really conditional in a manner which makes using certain weapon types advantageous - rather they constrain all class playstyles to incessantly ending action skills.
This is why even if the balance issues of M10 are solved - players will always gravitate towards the strongest weapons, rather than build-synergistic ones. To truly create a rich and diverse endgame meta, GB needs to vest power into class-specific properties (skills, COMS and anointments). And not just that, the powerful skills have to be attached to conditions which result in greater constraining than “gotta go fast” or “score crits”. Taking a leaf from previous games a few examples are:
- Last/first shot of magazine
- Decrease mag size/accuracy/fire rate for increased damage
- Massively increased magazine size/decreased ammo consumption
- Specific weapon types get a signicant and irreplicable boost
Moze actually has the best general idea right now - the Green Monster, Minesweeper and Blast Master do push Moze to favor certain weapons, its just that both these COMs ultimately have bonuses which are additive and pale in comparison to those obtained from universal artifacts and anointments. Fade Away Fl4k is also pretty good - and will shine once strong enough weapons with build synergy are introduced. Skills like Two Fang and Playing Dirty are also a step in the right direction, just not strong enough.