Why Borderlands 3 has such a stale endgame meta (and why this isn't an easy problem to fix)

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:

  1. They are extremely powerful
  2. They are specific to their class (Zer0 cannot use Money Shot)
  3. 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:

  1. Extremely powerful - much more so than basically every individual skill except Violent Momentum and lucky SF procs
  2. Not specific to class (except Cast/Slam)
  3. 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:

  1. Last/first shot of magazine
  2. Decrease mag size/accuracy/fire rate for increased damage
  3. Massively increased magazine size/decreased ammo consumption
  4. 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.

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1) Enemies have too much health

Instead of turning enemies into Bullet Sponges increase difficulty by changing the play loop instead. Make enemies more evasive, increase mob sizes, increase badass+ spawns, mix different enemy types, increase enemy accuracy, introduce “upgraded” enemies that are overall tougher (Elemental weapons rather than normal). Special gear that they have access to i.e some enemies in Mayhem 2 will have Spike shields, some Mayhem 3 enemies will have Nova Shields, Mayhem 4 enemies could have a shield that does both spike & nova. Improve the AI- have it call for reinforcements (like the Cartel did), try to flank the player, call in air support (Racks, jet pack troopers etc). The point is that any new threat added to a normal play loop would be an increase in difficulty without an increase in enemy health.

2) Some weapons are way too powerful

The Mayhem 2.0 scaling is a mess, it’s totally unbalanced and only a handful of weapons are viable. Grenades, melee, damage shields (nova, roider, spike…) and action skills don’t scale accordingly and are not viable either. Remove the Mayhem 2.0 weapon scaling and return to Mayhem 1.0, the game was much more balanced then. Eliminate the need for weapon scaling and everything that makes damage fluctuate too much. This comes from a good baseline and balance design.

3) Anointment System

Some anointments are 5x stronger than skills and gear… they are ridiculous and make everything much harder to balance. How do you scale enemies properly when Player A makes 100% more damage than Player B due to an anointment? Anointments should give a 10-30% bonus, not 100-300%. If their DMG bonus was around 10-30%, other anointments (that nobody is using right now) would suddenly become viable. Bottom line: Gear should be the exciting part and the anointment should be a bonus that doesn’t ruin the effectivity of the weapon if you don’t have the right one. Either nerf all anointments to a point where they are bonuses and not the sole focus of this entire game or make them rerollable.

Major problem: Action skills do nothing more than trigger anoints. It shouldn’t be like that. Action Skills should be the important factor, not anointments.

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great recap for gbx , but ill like to mention that u didnt mention wilhelm and axton aka the worst character xd , i think this can trigger some people

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Skill rebalanced and class mods that enhance them were mentioned for the next patch so it’s going to be interesting to see.

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Phase 2 focuses on feedback concerning character balance and build diversity. The goal of this phase is to give players the ability to create viable builds using their Vault Hunter’s signature Action Skills that simply didn’t deliver enough power in the past. We are building a foundation from which the community can create new builds centered around gear or Action Skills.

I hope they deliver

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After the latest releases and the resulting balance, I do NOT have my hopes up. This is coming from someone who plays at least an hour a day each night after work, almost 7 days a week. I love the game, but want to see the variety and balance get back to where it was right before MM2.0 came out and destroyed it. Prior to that, the game felt like it was in a GREAT spot.

This thread also has the most well-written and succinct writeup of the problem facing the game right now.

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This is my main focus when I create a build. My character should be something that only works because of the things I put in play. That’s why Zane took a nose dive for me. Seeing Dead removed so much of my autonomy with the character. I no longer had things that worked because I built them well, the things I build were being boosted by SD.

My Nova Crit Moze relies on stuff that doesn’t work for anyone else the same way. Freezesploder Amara too. My FL4K is just kinda a goofy build. Lol.

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Laughed at this… Love when people say Axton was the worst. Axton was my fav, the most fun and challenging to play. He didn’t have a win button like sal with grog+dpuh (which took no skill and was boring to play imo). Or a one shot setup like zero bore or Krieg bloodsplosion. I found him the most fun.

I still love Zane but agree with seeing dead… I still play my Zane full green and red tree… I don’t take any hitman tree or use seeing dead and love playing him still. I mean it’s completely not viable for M10 or takedowns… But that’s GBx ■■■■■■■ up… The buffed killed skills . Then made them simple to stack with seeing dead… Have done nothing to help the other tree’s offence… And no he is deemed OP due to one tree and haven’t touched him since (outside of breaking and fixing his barrier ever HotFix)

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Clone Dome Sniper Zane is my favorite Zane. But even that Zane is better with SD than any other com :frowning:

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Clone dome is so much fun… I have a two man Army version and a “look at my drones” version and both are great… Ya it’s sad that Zane has no other class mods that are really viable… I was using cold Warrior (as awful as it was) and now use conductor all the time. Seeing dead I only used when dlc came out and I wanted to do some takedown runs… But fun and DLC content is always my clone/dome.

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Can we all agree that the other coms need a massive buff?

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Great summary @OP. And thank you for reminding me how satisfying playing Athena with a Company Man or glitch Delivery/Thinking was. I should definitely go back to TPS again.

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THIS.

I miss my action skill actually shaping my playstyle and helping me do damage instead of triggering it for annointment buffs.

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honestly axton aren’t really that hard to play either , hes pretty good at mobbing but require quite a lot for boss raid . on a legitimate no gibbed perspective, avenger gunerang sandhawk etc etc is pretty hard to get a great version of it

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this makes so much sense. any class can use any weapon but i dont feel an explicit push to favor specific gear bc of their niche combined with specific class skills, except maybe reflux on fl4k but then again every class should use the reflux

hey >:c

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I’d axe the Mayhem Mode-leveled gear altogether and replace the enemy health bonuses with an adjustable damage-dealing reduction to the player (from 0% to 99% with exponentially increasing rewards. Allows each player to make their own difficulty without ruining it for others.) Nerf the devil out of anointments and certain pieces of gear, separate modifiers from difficulty and replace them with a set of modifiers that encourage alternate playstyles positively. Add a server browser so that people are actually slightly willing to try multiplayer, add a means of respawning bosses by spending eridium, and make True Vault Hunter Mode Function like a True Takedown for the whole playthrough to differentiate it from Normal Vault Hunter Mode.

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This is very spot on. The funny thing is that since the largest bonuses are on anointed gear, action skills get their largest bonuses from anointments, and certain anointments only spawn on certain weapons, your weapon variety is completely dictated by the anointment you’re building around.

For example, if I wanted to buff the ■■■■ out of phase spells (can this be a thing? I’m tired of always typing cast/slam), attack commands, or IB I’d need to use weapons that can rolls with splash, which limits me to Maliwan, Torgue, Tediore, and a few uniques and legendaries. So wanting to buff up actions skills effectively removes 70% of weapons in the game from your build.

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Besides decreasing weapon variety and character uniqueness, moving power away from skill trees has:

  1. left things that do not fit into these new systems behind. So much power is coming from Anointments, Guardian Rank, and passives on coms/artifacts, but they are unequal in their effect on different builds or different parts of your kit. for example they boost the damage of your guns much more than they boost the damage of action skills, melee, summons, etc. it’s hard to make a capstones like double barrel feel great if the game is balanced around anoints that the clone does not inherit. the few times they tried to make, like, a pet anointment during terror, it was kinda ignored by virtue of the fact it was competing with an anointment slot for player damage

now it is true they’re going to be adding action skill damage scaling shortly but I worry it is a galaxy-brained solution to the problem. the game doesn’t need to be balanced around a freaking 100,000% health increase compensated for by ridiculously powerful anointments and new scaling systems

  1. added a ton of rng to farming which effectively discourages experimentation and swapping between characters or action skills for people who farm

  2. the execution of anointments feels pretty all-over-the-place and disrespectful to fundamental aspects of gameplay. one of the common complaints I was hearing after nerf to 300/90 was “yeah it was kinda broken but at least I could swap weapons and still do damage.” ASE just feels like an arbitrary limitation of possible gameplay loops. Even if they would be supported or enabled by the skill trees themselves

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No mention of the disparity between enemy/player health and damage that ruins skills such as dominate, makes lifesteal vastly superior to regen, etc. I know you mentioned enemies having too much health but nothing about the comparison to VH or how it hinders the game. BL3 is the only game to do it this way and really falls short

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Every BL game does it, it’s just that skills that reflected enemy damage or mind controlled them had other benefits such as cool down time, damage reduction for yourself, or multiplying reflected damage by a fair amount. When all we get in this game is “enemies attack each other” with no other bonus effect, then it’s bound to suck since that kind of ability sucks in just about every game.

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