Portal 2

Whether it’s an Easter egg, a joke character, or just a little nudge at a competitor, developers love slipping the odd reference to other games into their own. Sometimes though, they go beyond just slapping a Dopefish on a wall or quipping about a ‘doomed space marine’, and we get to see our heroes stride into entirely new, often completely inappropriate new worlds.

Here are a few of our favourites, along the ones that caused the most ‘wait, what?’ blinking on discovery. 

Guybrush Threepwood, Mighty Jedi

Yes, he can hold his breath underwater for ten minutes and quip his way through any sword-fight… but only The Force Unleashed II let him try his luck with a lightsaber. Turns out that you don’t need a sharp wit if you’re waving around two of the universe’s deadliest glowsticks and aren’t afraid to use them. Guybrush Threepkiller is so famous in-universe, he even has his own statues. We’re almost positive that’ll be brought up at some point in the next movie. After all, Rey does need a new teacher. Just as long as Elaine never finds out about it. 

Final Fantasy makes history in Assasin's Creed

Obviously, everything in the Assassin’s Creed series is meticulously researched and true to life, especially the alien gods and the time Ezio punched the Pope. Write it all down in your history homework! Which means that, while aliens might not have built the pyramids, they definitely got up to a bit of chocobo racing on the side. That’s according to this crossover, where Assassins ended up in Final Fantasy XV, while its villain ended up pounding sand for a bit before being dragged back to his own game by a hastily summoned Bahamut. There’s even a stuffed Moogle lying around in case you feel lonely after they’ve gone, and some fancy weapons to keep and confuse archaeologists for a few thousand years. Along with that Stargate, obviously. 

Commander Keen hangs about in Doom II

There’s a few odd appearances in Doom 2, including the severed head of John Romero as the end-boss, and a trip back to Wolfenstein 3D in the secret levels. By far the strangest thing though is what lies behind those: former id star Commander Keen… murdered and hanging from meathooks. The story goes that Adrian Carmack was the childkiller in question, having chafed at making cutesy games instead of enjoying himself with blood and guts. However, that was not enough to get rid of the boy-genius forever, for both John Romero and Tom Hall have confirmed that Commander Keen, real name Billy Blaze, is in fact Wolfenstein hero BJ Blazkowicz’s grandson… and father to the Doomguy. What a strange family tree. 

Earthworm Jim digs into Battle Arena Toshinden

He’s the world’s mightiest worm! He fights aliens! He travels galaxies! He gets flattened by a lot of cows! And he’s one of the few 90s mascots to actually be awesome, starring in two excellent platformers, one surprisingly good cartoon series, and… well, let’s not mention the sequels. Like Bubsy, 3D was not kind to Earthworm Jim, though unlike Bubsy, people actually cared. His most successful jump into the third dimension turned out to be this Easter Egg in the PC version of Toshinden, where with the help of his super-suit and a really big club, he was finally able to make the future of gaming eat dirt. Pound them into the ground. Bury himself in glory. Be cut in half and yet… no, wait. Not that one. But it was still as good as fans were going to get.

Everyone plays Poker Night at the Inventory 

Easily the most ambitious gaming crossover in recent memory… and it’s all about hanging out between games. Telltale’s Poker Night series combined, amongst a few others (deep breath) The Heavy from Team Fortress 2, Max from Sam and Max, Strong Bad from Homestar Runner, Tycho Brahe of Penny Arcade Adventures and also some webcomic whose name we forget off-hand, GLaDOS from Portal, Brock Samson from the Venture Bros (not a game, but never mind), Claptrap from Borderlands, Sam from Sam and Max replacing Max from Sam and Max, and Ash from The Evil Dead. Phew.

They weren’t great poker games, but that wasn’t really the point. It was about the banter between the different competitors as they sat back and shot the shit without the customary heavy artillery. We could also have had members of the cast from The Walking Dead and Back to the Future, but they were deemed unsuitable for the atmosphere. They didn’t want anyone crying, or any kids seeing Doc and Marty in a sweary environment. A pity. When the game revved up, they could have seen some serious shit.

Portal 2’s Space Core invades Skyrim 

When Bethesda showed off DLC for Oblivion, it was horse armour. And everybody laughed. Come Skyrim, the laugh was far more positive. One of the earliest additions saw the exiled Space Core (spoilers for a decade old game there) crash-land in Tamriel, still just as eager to explore SPAAAAAAAACE. Going bizarrely unnoticed by the locals, all probably fretting about that whole dragon invasion thing, it came crashing down in a plume of smoke. Pick it up and it still kept blinking and talking in your inventory, delivering… well, not very varied dialogue. In summary:  “Space. Space. Space!” And yet, still it was less annoying than all those guards and their epic tales of glory curtailed by the sudden impact of a ballistic stick to the lower-leg.

XCOM defends Civ V: Brave New World

What does XCOM do when there are no aliens to fight? Apparently, they learn to ****ing shoot straight. The XCOM Squad in Civ V is an elite tactical unit that gets the job done, air-dropping into friendly territory and laying down the law. Specifically, Thou Shalt Not Screw With XCOM. In the absence of aliens, they have their eyes set on "Giant Death Robots," and are happy to act as shock troopers or defensive units while they watch the skies and await their destiny. But since there are apparently no aliens interested in Earth during the Civ games, they’re probably going to be waiting a while. Should have taken the flight to Alpha Centauri.

Princess Rosella favours Leisure Suit Larry 3

Sierra On-Line loved its in-jokes. Not one but two sequels (this one and Space Quest III) ended with the characters somehow finding their way to the developers’ own offices for a chat with studio leads Ken and Roberta Williams, with Larry also taking trips to a Westworld style factory where adventure heroes are rebuilt after every stupid death, complete with King’s Quest’s King Graham being readied for duty, and finally showing up in the Old West for a cameo in Freddy Pharkas Frontier Pharmacist. By far the strangest cameos came at the end of Leisure Suit Larry 3, where the trip to Sierraland involved trekking through scenes from games like Police Quest and Space Quest 2, before meeting Roberta Williams directing a particularly annoying scene from King’s Quest IV, in which Princess Rosella is trapped in the slobbery mouth of a giant whale. Strange.

Frank West covers Lost Planet: Extreme Condition

He’s covered wars, you know. But oddly, Dead Rising’s original and best hero doesn’t seem to know how to cover himself in this odd outing. Despite Lost Planet being set on a frozen world, everyone’s favourite photographer show up not only without his camera, but also without his trousers. Somehow avoiding hypothermia, he runs around in nothing but underpants, while still managing to rain destruction on the armies of insects happy to not have to peel their food for once. What a trooper. 

Scorpion goes mental in Psi-Ops

Fighting game characters are probably the most cameo-friendly of all, whether it’s a full game like Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe, or bonus combatants-without-a-k-because-that’s-how-it’s-spelled in the likes of Injustice. But they show up in other games with curious regularity too. Lightning god Raiden for instance showed up in Unreal Championship, while invisible fighter Reptile could have popped into basically any game. Ever seen a flicker on your screen playing, say, Fortnite? As far as you know, it might be him.

But still, this was an odd one. Even though Midway was the publisher of both MK and Psi-Ops, it’s a bit of a leap from fighting game to third-person action game. Sadly, just wearing his palette-swapped ninja outfit didn’t actually make you the world’s clingiest fighter. He still had to swap out his “get over here!” attack for regular guns. On the plus side, having to beat every character in the game two out of three times would have gotten pretty darn tiring.

X-COM: UFO Defense

Great moments in PC gaming are short, bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories. 

One of the great things about the original X-COM, or UFO: Enemy Unknown as it was called in the UK, was that it wasn’t afraid to be about losing. Losing really badly. Apocalyptically badly, often. Not for nothing did it have ‘terror missions’, which lived up to their name as the initial weak little-grey-men Sectoids got politely pushed out of the way for the likes of the Chryssalids, hideous Giger style monsters who didn’t just kill your jumpsuit-wearing soldiers, but implanted them with hideous alien wing-wang to turn them first into a zombie, and then into another bloody Chryssalid.

So many deaths. So many worlds lost.

Ah, but then comes The Moment. You can almost feel it in the air. The moment where the tables turn, and the X-COM organization switches from a plucky group of do-gooders into a tooled-up force of pure human vengeance. When you stop going into battle with simple pistols and prayers and start tooling up with advanced technology ripped from the aliens themselves. Psychic boosters, plasma guns, the Blaster Bomb. When you stop playing defensively and go on the offensive, shooting down UFOs like they were clay pigeons and preparing to give them a taste of their own medicine. Launching your own ship, the Avenger, to fly to Mars and kick all kinds of arse.

That’s the moment that defines X-Com, and arguably one of the biggest reasons why the series is always such a pleasure to return to.

Spec Ops: The Line

Computer games are made out of a lot of things. Level geometry and music, shader effects and AI, physics systems and sound effects, textures and scripting. And words. Words of dialogue, plot, lore and backstory. Words for the menus and tutorials. Words for store pages and pitch documents and documentation of their systems. Even games that do their damnedest to avoid using words to tell their stories—even games that apparently have no stories at all—they're all still built on thousands of the things. 

Writers therefore take a central place in game development, perhaps more central than you might expect. Working alongside artists and designers and every team, they help to build a game's world, stitching all its often divergent parts together into a form that makes sense to you, the player. To put it succinctly, writers make the glue that holds a game together.

Tom Bissell, who was lead writer on Gears of War 4 and has credits on What Remains of Edith Finch, Battlefield: Hardline, and the Uncharted series, boils down game writing to three fundamental roles: "Understanding what a game is trying to do; creating an involving space for the player's experience; and working collaboratively with dozens and sometimes hundreds of human beings, not all of whom will have your taste or inclinations."

But how do game writers work? What do they write? Where do they fit in that grand collaboration? And can they do their job better?

Writing from the start

Increasingly, writers get started on a game from its very beginnings. "Having a writer on the team in pre-production essentially gives you someone who has the broad view of the whole game," says Walt Williams, who was lead writer of Spec Ops: The Line, is author of excellent game development memoir Significant Zero, and has credits on many other games, including Star Wars: Battlefront II and The Darkness II. "The designer is thinking about the systems they want to build, the environment and character artists are thinking about the style, and they're not necessarily crossing over much, whereas the writer is meeting with all the different teams and taking their ideas, brainstorming and coming up with more stuff in their realm."

"If there's not someone concentrating on the narrative from the beginning, that can often feel very disjointed and you'll end up with the game not feeling right," says Phil Huxley, a former writer at Rocksteady who's now behind adventure game Du Lac & Fey: Dance of Death. "Why is the character suddenly doing this? Why are we suddenly here?"

The shape that writing takes during preproduction varies, but artists might come to a writer with an idea for an environment, and the writer will then imagine a story that will help the artists to draw concept art for it. They'll imagine who lives in this world, what else is in it, a fictional history that explains how its present came to be.

Writers might also meet with a game's designers to discuss its core design and start to plan how the narrative will be told within it. So we've a game about pirates looking for a lost treasure. What kicks off their quest, and how did they find out about the booty? What's the twist when they find it? If it's some free-roaming game that allows players to tackle its goals in whatever order they wish, how might the story work?

"You're constantly just generating, throwing stuff at the wall, and the wall is the creative director and you’re seeing what sticks," says Williams. “During this period you’re dealing with a lot of, 'I don't know what I want but I'll know it when I see it' mentality."

Place in the pecking order

So writers can play a central role making games, but let’s be real about the place of story and narrative in them. As Williams says, "As much as we like to say that videogames can be a narrative medium, financially they're really not. It can elevate a great game to a legendary game, and it can elevate a bad game, but Spec Ops [The Line], that's a game that has earned the label of cult classic but people play it because it's on sale for three dollars. Everyone knows Spec Ops so it feels like it was a successful game, but it was not successful at all."

And the writers' place in a game project comes down to who's leading it. Think about some of the strongest narrative-driven games, where story and theme and play are all bound together, like the BioShock series and Naughty Dog's games at Sony, and the creative directors who forged them—Ken Levine, Amy Hennig—all came from writing backgrounds. "It's only truly important if the creative director identifies as a writer," Williams says. "If they don't, then writing is expendable." Writers' place in the pecking order can therefore change drastically between projects. 

Bissell has found his position on the games on which he’s worked has been largely a matter of happenstance, because he’s a freelancer, depending on what capacity he’s been brought in. "But the games I've been a lead writer on, I've always felt like I had a seat at the table, and have worked with people who understand that there’s no such thing as the 'game' part of the game and the 'story' part of the game; it's all the same thing. You have to view a game and the experience you’re trying to provide players holistically."

Huxley has been lucky to work at studios, like Rocksteady, which value writing. There were always meetings that he didn't get to go to, usually just the high-level director ones, but he's felt his expertise has been sought and that writing has always been valued. "You hear the horror stories of where it isn't, and writers get referred to as narrative paramedics, but that's definitely changing, at least from my perspective."

Call the narrative paramedic

Narrative paramedic. A term coined by Tomb Raider writer Rhianna Pratchett, it refers to the situation in which a game goes through a major change, such as a level or feature getting cut, and writers are asked to glue it all back together so the story makes sense and everything ties up again. It's an example of the way in which writers are important and deeply involved, and also can also be tossed around by the tumult of game development.

Words are, after all, cheap. They're not painstakingly sculpted, textured and rigged like character models, or meticulously planned, laid out and scripted, like levels. They're just words, easily reordered, deleted, and re-written. "You have to throw out stuff you're passionate about, trashing ideas you love," says Williams. “No other discipline in game development has to deal with that as much as writing. Everyone else has a certain amount of autonomy, they're considered the masters of their domains."

Games can go wrong in so many ways that have nothing to do with who the writer is or how well or poorly he or she or they are treated

Tom Bissell

And anyone can type words. "Everyone writes, whereas not everyone designs or codes, and I think people feel they have a stake in it," says Huxley, who has also found that other departments tend to feel they can take an active role in writing, but the buck stops with the creative director. 

"I've seen changes take place and you can voice your opinion of what they might do to the story or the game as a whole, but I've not been in a position to push back. It's quite challenging sometimes, but you've got to appreciate that it's someone else's vision and that experience matters. You have to trust they're making the right decisions."

Making cuts

Still, cutting and editing is an essential part of writing. And game writers are commonly asked to cut their scripts from, for example, a projected 90 minutes of fully animated cutscenes to 70 minutes because the full thing doesn’t fit into the budget. 

If the dialogue can be shortened and streamlined across multiple scenes to achieve the cuts, then that's great. But writers can also employ smarter—or sneakier, depending on the way you look at it—ways of retaining their script, by presenting some scenes as part of gameplay rather than as discreet cutscenes.

"Someone's still going to have to create that explosion and all the assets, but it’s not falling under the cinematic budget, it's now falling under the level design budget,” says Williams. “It's about finding the spare resources on the project and fitting it into them."

But when a scene is entirely canned, it's not a disaster. It's a design challenge. Since the writer knows what narrative beat it was intended to accomplish, they'll rewrite in a way that takes the restrictions into account while also accomplishing the same beat, and then bridge the gaps left by the scene's removal.

How open worlds are written

As writing, cutting and re-writing continues throughout a game's development, one of the big challenges for writers is ensuring the dialogue and narrative remains consistent. Huxley finds that even keeping a full view of Dance of Death, on which he's the sole writer, is tricky. Expand that out to the non-linear and vast scale of an open world and you can appreciate how difficult to maintain a coherent voice.

"It's about having a writer own certain systems rather than spreading it across several people. That's when you can lose that consistency of voice," Huxley says. Rocksteady gives its writers ownership of specific parts of the game so they see them from beginning to end, such as a single character, like Riddler, or the conversations you hear as you grapple around the city.

Our biggest mistake is that we've decided to consider AAA games as something better than they are

Walt Williams

"And it's had the shit played out of it," he adds. Huxley and his writing colleagues played Batman: Arkham Knight for months before it shipped, so Huxley could get a sense of how thugs' conversations fitted into the flow of play and tweak them as necessary, even if their voice performances were already done. "That's the beauty of that level of polish."

Williams says, however, that the lead writer's role on an open world game really should keep a handle on everything, whether systems designers writing their own NPC barks or artists designing their own signs. "You have to be the one to constantly have your eye on all of it and then fucking yell at people when they step out of line and do stupid stuff that doesn't match with the tone of everything else. You also need to accept the fact that while the game will be better, you will not be liked."

How can games be better written?

But whether writers really hold the key to better stories, that's another question. For Bissell it's a misconception that they'd improve if only writers were more integral with development. "Sorry, but that's just not true in my experience. Games can go wrong in so many ways that have nothing to do with who the writer is or how well or poorly he or she or they are treated. Sometimes cleaning up the mess in a wayward game falls on level design and sometimes art and sometimes narrative, but this idea that games have 'shitty stories' because there aren't good writers in the industry, or that writers aren’t listened to, is, to be perfectly frank, a deflection."

Bissell says that games have 'shitty stories' because games are often simply absurd. "That’s not a criticism, it's an acknowledgment of the reality that stares anyone working on an action game right in the face." These aren't his examples, but think about Lara Croft weeping over killing an enemy soldier in a cutscene and then happily murdering a platoon of them fifteen minutes later, or crashing your Far Cry 5 airplane, befriending a bear, and then getting into a serious conversation with a prepper who's torturing a cult member. 

"The only way you escape the absurdity problem is through sheer force of will, and you can do that only when the prime creative force behind the game is also overseeing virtually every aspect of it," Bissell says. "That's not a position most game writers will ever find themselves in, obviously." And so for Bissell, the best common solution is to lean into the absurdity, to celebrate the gaminess of games. 

Williams agrees. "Our biggest mistake is that we've decided to consider AAA games as something better than they are," he says. "We like to think our super-silly destruction derby arena is a piece of serious art that can say something meaningful."

Writing spans every aspect of the making of games, and is both utterly integral to them and also the first to be cast aside. That makes writing one of the most challenging roles to do well, as Bissell explains: "When I'm asked, and I'm often asked, by younger people, 'How do I get into writing videogames?' I ask them, 'Do you want to tell meaningful, personal stories?' When they say yes, and they always say yes, I say, 'Then maybe don't write videogames.' I'm not trying to be snide when I say this, or discouraging. But the fact is, videogames are highly collaborative and complicated, possibly the most complicated popular art form ever created."

PC Gamer

Borderlands 3 quickly earned worst-kept-secret status in the years following Borderlands 2's smash success, but developer Gearbox has mostly steered attention toward its two spinoffs and the shortlived Battleborn for thirsty Vault Hunters. Apart from an outright confirmation that some sort of Borderlands development definitely exists, we haven't heard much news about what's next for the looter shooter series, or when we can expect to learn Borderlands 3's release date.

But we know more Borderlands is coming, so expect Gearbox to finally start talking more about Borderlands 3 in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, we've gathered everything we know here about Borderlands 3's release, rumors about characters and setting, and what else you should expect. Check back for updates as we learn more.

Because Borderlands 3 hasn't been officially announced yet, Gearbox has kept silent on a specific date, even though it was entertaining concepts as far back as 2012. Publisher Take-Two seems keen on a potential 2018-2019 launch window, as suggested by an investors call report from March 2017. In it, CEO Strauss Zelnick included a “highly anticipated new title from one of 2K's biggest franchises” as part of the publisher's fiscal 2019 outlook, a span of months ranging between October 2018 and September 2019. 

Zelnick's comments appeared again in subsequent reports in August, November, and February, increasing the likelihood of a solidified timeframe. Though not named specifically, Borderlands 3 is a strong contender for Take-Two's plans, especially considering the known quantities of the studio's annual sports releases, the juggernaut omnipresence of Grand Theft Auto V, and the radio silence from Steam sale darlings XCOM, Civilization, and BioShock (the latter's recent stirrings notwithstanding). 

Where does Borderlands 3 take place?

Not Pandora, hopefully. While the plundered planet could make a threepeat (or fivepeat if you count Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel and Tales from the Borderlands) to our collective boredom, it's far more feasible that we'll visit one of the many other Vaults dotting space, a welcome change of scenery teased during Borderlands 2's conclusion. Hints of a new world named Promethea were discovered by Battleborn sleuths, including hidden graffiti of a Vault symbol and peculiar audio patterns heard from portal anomalies beckoning listeners to Promethea and warning of Patricia Tannis, the unhinged scientist researching the Vaults' mysterious origins. Promethea's candidacy was strengthened most recently by a tweet last month from the official Borderlands account that restated the Battleborn Easter eggs in clearer form.

In the Borderlands canon, Promethea is where the gargantuan Atlas Corporation first harnessed the alien Eridian technology to manufacture advanced weaponry and starships. The Crimson Lance, Atlas' private military and playable character Roland's former employer, would return to prominence as it keeps a major base planetside. Promethea also houses the first Vault discovered by Atlas which would eventually kickstart the rush of hunters and rival corporations plying the stars in search of riches.

With all clues pointing to Promethea's importance, there would be little reason to pass up the chance to understand the true nature of the Vaults, perhaps bridge the connection with the magical Sirens, and, of course, loot one of the juiciest motherlodes in the galaxy. 

What has Gearbox said about Borderlands 3?

The studio is certainly withholding major announcements as we creep closer to the summer convention block, but that hasn't stopped CEO Randy Pitchford from drip-feeding progress updates on Borderlands 3. During PAX South 2015's Gearbox panel, Pitchford opened recruitment for Borderlands 3's development team, saying, “We want to think about the future, and we want to think about what the next Borderlands is, and we're going to need some help.”

Later, at PAX East 2016's panel, Pitchford noted that “obviously there's going to be another Borderlands.” He also mentioned the transfer of Battleborn art director Scott Kester onto the team in a similar role. Staff changes are common for large projects, but this aligns with Gearbox's plans to refocus manpower onto Borderlands 3 after Battleborn was finished.

During the same panel, Pitchford pondered whether the next Borderlands would use a number or a more exotic designation. “We don't even know if we're going to call it that,” he said. “We could call it Borderlands 4 for all we know.” The tongue-in-cheek style of Borderlands' comedy might involve a box cover poking fun at colons and buzzwords. More clear cut is Gearbox's intent for delivering a “really big, worthy” continuation instead of an offshoot like the Pre-Sequel, as Pitchford explained in an September 2017 IGN interview.

Another major Pitchford preview surfaced in April last year with a tweeted photo of the man himself wearing a motion capture rig. The getup was for a shoot that “may or may not be a psycho bandit in a video game we may or may not be working on.” Seeing as psychos are the babbling poster-mobs of Borderlands' wastes, it's almost assured a Borderlands 3 is on the way teeming with more masked madmen.

Image via The Nocturnal Rambler

What sort of loot will be in Borderlands 3?

Expect the usual bevy of wacky weapons and bizarre effects—and a fire-spitting gun straight out of Tesla CEO Elon Musk's laboratory. No, really: In January, Musk attracted Pitchford's attention when he debuted a novelty flamethrower available to the public from his Boring Company, joking on Twitter that the flamethrower was sentient and came with a free cryptocurrency blockchain. Pitchford then declared the flamethrower's inclusion in the next Borderlands game, requesting Musk to write the flavor text. Surprisingly, Musk agreed. "Boring Flamethrower" already smacks of a cheekily named legendary drop, and sentient guns aren't anything new—this is the same series that gave us a yelling SMG—so keep an eye out for a flavored firestarter blessed by Musk. 

Other Borderlands 3 details

  • Around 90 percent of Gearbox is working on Borderlands 3. Pitchford told last year's PAX West panel audience that the studio was full steam ahead on a project “most of you guys want us to be working on.” Since no one was brave enough to shout out “Colonial Marines 2,” that project is most definitely Borderlands-related.
  • An Unreal Engine 4 talk at last year's GDC included a very Borderlands-looking sequence. Pitchford presented the engine's features of improved lighting and shadow effects that would “power the next Borderlands game” but was quick to disclaim the footage as just a “technology demonstration” and not a snippet of actual gameplay. The previous Borderlands games ran on the Unreal Engine, so it makes sense if the next entry kept tradition with snazzier tech.
  • Gearbox saw a few notable departures, including writer and Scooter voice actor Mikey Neumann. Borderlands 2 lead writer Anthony Burch also left the studio in 2015 to eventually join League of Legends' Riot Games. Claptrap voice actor David Eddings moved on to Rooster Teeth last year.
PC Gamer

Borderlands 3 hasn't been announced, but it almost surely exists. In 2017 Gearbox's Randy Pitchford got on stage during an Unreal Engine 4 presentation to show what, hypothetically, a new game that happened to look a lot like Borderlands would look like running on that shiny new engine. E3 is coming up; could this be the year that Gearbox decide to show their major new shooter to the world? As Destiny 2 struggles along, there's certainly room for a shiny new loot-driven shooter to steal the crowd.

But what would Borderlands 3 have to do to win out? Here are a few features we'd love to see in a new Borderlands game.

Less playable Claptrap

Actually, less Claptrap period, please. Borderlands' little robot mascot was always a bit grating, intentionally so, but over the course of three games became a bit of an Urkel: that obnoxious minor character who somehow gets so popular they show up more and more and before you know it Reginald VelJohnson can't even find a moment's peace in his own house. Claptrap is like that, but for our ears while we're playing Borderlands.

Less is more. Borderlands 3 could do with some fresh characters, so let Claptrap run a shop somewhere we can talk to him once every 10 hours or so.

Bungie-caliber shooting

Okay, this is a big ask, cause just about nobody does guns like Bungie does guns. But Borderlands has always been a shooter where the feeling of pulling the trigger and killing an enemy was fine, but not amazing. The fun comes from the wild variety of weapons and their outlandish effects, like an SMG that fires 43 lightning bullets a second, or a grenade launcher that fires grenades that explode into yet more grenades and blanket an entire area. The effects of the weapons were fun, and so were combining them with abilities that upped your crit damage or sent you into a melee-killing god rage.

But how much better would Borderlands' procedurally generated arsenal of wacky guns be if the feedback and punch of each gun was as satisfying as it is in Bungie's Destiny 2? Or in 2016's Doom? Or Tripwire's Killing Floor 2? Those are lofty goals to aspire to, especially with procedurally generated weapons, but Gearbox has a big opportunity to buff up the fundamentals of its trigger-pulling, bullet-firing animations and physics. Make each weapon archetype feel incredibly good to shoot, and then figure out how the random modifiers would tweak those sensations. Make Borderlands 3 a shooter we'd want to play even without all the lootin'.

Broken builds

The best payoff in loot-dumping RPGs is to find loot that actually matters. In Borderlands 2, it was possible to make some ridiculous builds (remember when literally every shotgun pellet was counted in damage multipliers?) that took down endgame bosses in seconds. We’re not asking for a buggy, easily exploitable stat system—we just want loot stacks that actually get better the more you play. Don’t scale the challenge and suck out the expressive traits of classes and weapons like Destiny 2.

Channel those wack-ass late-late game witch doctor Diablo 2 builds where molten frogs and jars of spiders cloud the screen, pulling loot from corpses like water from a loaded sponge. Hell, how about a gun that shoots loot?

Raids

Borderlands’ sturdiest leg was its co-op play. Without a buddy or two to lean on, the massive empty worlds felt far more massive and empty, and the more challenging combat encounters felt too onenote without other players to synergize with. But even with friends, the only time close cooperation was required was during the endgame boss encounters and those synergies played out similarly every single time—you just had to play your damn class. With full-blown raids, the rest of Borderlands’ mechanics could get put to the test in areas designed for a specific amount of players.

Imagine big dungeons that match (or surpass) the sophistication of Destiny 2’s first-person platforming ballets and phantom-realm symbol memorization, but with Borderlands much more diverse classes, skill trees, and weapon types. I can’t wait to hate my friends all over again. 

Leave Pandora behind

Look, Pandora's great. It shows that the Sanford And Son aesthetic works well in almost any environment—be it deserts crawling with skags or decrepit hamlets ripped out of Dungeons & Dragons. But after three games, piles of DLC, and Tales From the Borderlands, it's time to move on. A new Borderlands would do well to set its unique brand of shoot-and-loot on another planet entirely, or for that matter, on multiple planets. It's a big galaxy out there, and letting us explore it would not only give us a welcome change of scenery, but also let Gearbox experiment with different physics and elemental loot.

Planet hopping could be an especially cool twist, making your ship home base along the lines of a 3D Starbound. However Gearbox chooses to handle a new setting, it should feel free to detach itself from the history it's built up on Pandora. We're ready for entirely new adventures.

Improved character customization

Since Borderlands, similar shooter/RPGs like Destiny and Warframe have placed a huge emphasis on character customization, because they know RPG players love to look fashionable. Borderlands 2 had some light customization options, but didn't go nearly far enough. Borderlands is best enjoyed in its cooperative mode, and extensive customization would allow players to distinguish themselves from their party.

We'd like to see more options besides swappable heads and color variations for outfits—instead, let's have entirely different costumes for each character. Just imagine, for instance, how much better Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep would have been if you were allowed to put on a robe and a wizard hat.

Improved enemy AI

You know the drill: You encounter an enemy in either Borderlands, and then they go nuts, either rushing you with makeshift axes or pelting you with bullets while they saunter from right to left. In time, the only thing that makes non-boss fights different from one another is how many bullets to takes before the baddies fall over. That's not going to cut it for the next game.

Enemies need to be more responsive and less bullet spongy, and more varied in their behavior. We're not asking for tactical geniuses, here, but the occasional flanking maneuver wouldn't hurt. Make playspaces arenas that enemies will intelligently navigate, rather than rushing at us like maniacs over and over again. Just because the enemies are psychos doesn't mean they have to be idiots.

Improved difficulty balance

The Borderlands games are definitely built for co-op, and they're a blast that way, but that ends up meaning some sections are almost trivial with a full group, and maddeningly tough solo, depending on your class. Better scaling for number of players could help smooth things over. Going further, we'd love to see more nuanced difficulty in Borderlands for New Game+, which is a crucial part of the Borderlands experience. Most of the time, that New Game+ difficulty just means enemies have much larger health pools. Give them new attacks, bring out surprise new enemy types, shake things up. 

Smoothing out the difficulty curve for various player numbers is important, but so is keeping that difficulty interesting for the entire run.

Make your own bounty hunter

Customizing premade characters would be cool, but we wouldn't mind seeing Borderlands lean into its RPG side even more and let us completely design our own characters from scratch. Let's be honest—we're not playing Borderlands for the story, even though Borderlands 2 did have some fun twists and turns. But the point is, we don't need to play predefined characters. Let us create our own and fully customize their looks and playstyles.

A broader, more open-ended skill tree for a range of character classes would be a huge task to balance, but would make us more attached to our characters and make Borderlands even more replayable than it already is.

Better inventory and bank space

What's the most heartbreaking moment in Borderlands? You'd think it's the death of a major character, but it's not. It's tossing aside your legendary Fashionable Volcano with a 44.5 percent chance to ignite because you had to make room in your 27-slot backpack for some new specimen of badassery. Borderlands 2 remedied that problem a bit when it released a patch for new slots (among other things) back in April of 2013, but even then it seemed like a sin to toss aside legendaries that couldn't fit.

While we're at it: Gearbox, give us a place to display some of that cool loot that we may have outgrown but we're still proud of. It works for Skyrim, and there's no reason why it can't work on Pandora.

Spec Ops: The Line

Spec Ops: The Line is a hell of a game. On the surface it's a conventional third-person military shooter, but it goes places and does things that you don't very often run into in videogames. I will say no more! Except to say that it is currently free on the Humble Store.

Spec Ops was definitely not a hit when it came out in 2012, probably because it looked at a glance like an unremarkable shooter, where you and the rest of Team Ooh-Rah go in and shooty-bang-bang some guys and 'save the world' and whatever. Nothing about it appeared to stand out, and the parts of it that did prove exceptional were neither immediately apparent nor the kind of things that lead to "that was awesome!" moments on Discord. 

But it is a hell of a game, and if you haven't played it yet, this is a perfect opportunity to correct that oversight—or add it to your pile of shame will all the best intentions. However that works out for you, you've got until 10 am PT/1 pm ET on March 31 to grab it. Don't forget while you're there that the Indie Mega Week Sale, with up to 75 percent off all kinds of indie games, is also still rolling.

PC Gamer

Game designer Jennifer Scheurle

Remember that metro train in Fallout 3 that was actually, according to the game's code, an "arm" inexplicably worn on the head of an ordinary character model? My favorite stories about games give us a glimpse at the kinds of workarounds and crazy tricks game developers pull to make their games fun (or to make them work at all). Designer Jennifer Scheurle gave a talk on that subject at GDC, drawing from a viral Twitter thread she started last fall. She pulled out some of the best examples from that thread to explain in her talk, and these are the PC games that stood out to me.

BioShock

The first bullet a splicer fires at you in BioShock will almost certainly miss. This lets the designers spring surprise attacks, but still give the player time to react to incoming fire. It's the kind of thing you likely never notice while playing the game, but is blindingly obvious once you see a video example. A splicer will waltz up and miss their first shot from short range. 

Scheurle got her information from Ken Levine, who said the first shot will always miss, but Bioshock's AI designer weighed in to say it's actually a bit more complicated than that. Enemies have an accuracy curve that increases the longer they're in a battle, so they start extremely inaccurate and become quite accurate over the length of an encounter.

The more surprising tidbit, though, was that a single shot will never kill you in Bioshock, but instead bring you down to 1 percent health. If a splicer targets you with a tommy gun and unloads—a bunch of bullets hit you in sequence—you're probably going to die, because you'll be taking a hit at 1 percent damage. But that first shot won't do it. This gives the player the rush and tension of just barely surviving, without feeling like a cheap hit took them out.

It's the kind of game design balance that isn't realistic or necessarily "fair." We think all bullets should do the same amount of damage, right? But that small touch is something most players will probably never notice, and if it works as designed, means Bioshock's combat will be more fun.

Gears of War

This was the only secret that totally shocked me, and it was one that generated plenty of discussion in the Twitter thread last year. In the original Gears of War, the developers realized that something like 90% of players would never touch multiplayer again if they didn't get a single kill in their first couple matches. So how do you ease new players into a very high skill, challenging multiplayer mode? The Gears team decided to give them an invisible buff.

Players who haven't gotten a multiplayer kill before get a damage bonus on their shots, akin to the higher damage you get from Gears' active reload mechanic. Except the new players didn't actually have to pull off an active reload to get that damage buff. Once newbies had a couple kills, the game would dial back their bonuses. 

This one made some people mad because it's a competiive game and not fair. But some designers argued the advantage for new players was there to offset the many advantages skilled players had already—knowledge of the map, the ability to pull off active reload, and so on. 

Spec Ops: The Line

This was my favorite detail of the talk, because it touches on two things: designers taking shortcuts that players will never notice, and bending the truth to make the game more fun. In Spec Ops: The Line, enemies will shout at you to let you know they're about to throw a grenade. They'll step out of cover and trigger a wind up animation. But they never actually throw a grenade at you. 

Instead, the grenade simply spawns in midair, on an arc headed towards you. Scheurle explained how it all worked, thanks to input from a designer at developer Yaeger. "Nobody has found out since the game came out, and I'm spilling the beans today," she said.

This implenentation of grenades fulfilled the game design goal of having grenades as a threat, but was much less work than programming a full ballistic system for the AI. As Scheurle said, "it didn't really matter." 

Yaeger hid the system by having grenades spawn at the feet of an enemy if you shoot them before the "throw" takes place. That helps complete the illusion. 

The trick that makes Spec Ops more fun is also pretty simple. When you throw a grenade at enemies, there's a reaction radius that will tell the AI to run away. That's called the panic radius. Smart AI! Except, the AI is actually programmed to stay within the blast radius, so they'll still take damage. That's not so smart. But isn't it way more fun to blow up the AI with a grenade than it is to miss?

There are plenty of other tidbits hidden inside Scheurle's Twitter thread. If you missed it, give it a read. And then try calling yourself from inside Surgeon Simulator:

Borderlands 2

The pantheon of great videogame weapons is dominated by shotguns, rocket launchers, and the odd sword or hammer. And it makes sense, these tools are responsible for the large majority of blood you’ll spill in most games. It’s a shame though, because there’s something wonderful and elegant about a perfect grenade toss—that graceful arc through the air before unleashing untold, instant destruction. If the rat-a-tat of a gun is the string section of an orchestra, grenades are that ear-splitting crash cymbal. Pound for pound, grenades can be every bit as satisfying—and there’s no shortage of wacky grenades that rival the most absurd guns.

In honor of these little death dealers, we’re rounding up the best grenades in PC gaming—from the satisfying shockwave of FEAR’s frag grenades to the divine chorus that spells doom for your team in Worms. If you like watching things explode (or implode!), we’ve got some good ‘nades for you.

Holy Hand Grenade - Worms 

Few grenades are capable of triggering horrific childhood memories quite like Worms’ Holy Hand Grenade. I vividly remember the dread of seeing one plop down next to several of my worms, a chorus of angels singing a triumphant “Hallelujah!” before blasting them all straight to hell. It’s the enormity of God’s holy wrath contained in the tiniest of weapons. Compared to Worm’s other assortment of absurd weaponry, the Holy Hand Grenade is elegant and simple: You throw it and count to three—four shall thou not count, neither count thou two, accepting that thou then proceed to three—and revel in the obscenely large explosion capable of destroying a huge portion of the map. And if the initial blast doesn’t finish off your enemy, you can always rest easy knowing it’ll send them soaring through the air to a watery grave. Monty Python might have invented it, but Worms’ hilarious variation is what really made this one of PC gaming’s most iconic grenades. — Steven Messner

Pulse Grenade - Destiny 2 

I generally don’t like a damage-over-time ‘nades, but until these were nerfed they were straight up broken in Destiny 2. Pulse Grenades are arc-powered pineapples that are exclusive to the Warlock Stormcaller and the Titan Striker subclasses, the latter of which could carry two at once with the top skill tree. Toss a Pulse Grenade down and the initial impact sends enemies pinwheeling through the air. Anything not killed instantly is then flash fried by repeated bursts of electrical energy that look like a fire in a sparkler factory. The funny thing is that Pulse grenades were absolutely garbage in Destiny 1, but for the sequel they were buffed to be good enough to melt bosses, whilst almost every other grenade got reduced to water balloon effectiveness. But that’s Bungie’s sandbox balance team for you. The daft bastards. — Tim Clark 

N6A3 Fragmentation Grenade - FEAR 

*Slow motion voice* Get dowwn!

I don't know what porn is, but watching a N6A3 fragmentation grenade explode in slow motion is grenade porn. The explosion bends the air into a visible concussive bubble, a shockwave that sends office supplies flying and men's asses to the ground. There's a half-second of quiet as everything floats away from the grenade's center, and then pop, fire and shrapnel fill the screen and dissolve the men and their asses into errant blood spatter textures and goofy little giblets. It takes some time for the smoke to clear. Exhale with it as you try to convince yourself FEAR came out over ten years ago. — James Davenport 

Medic grenade - Killing Floor 2 

Killing Floor 2 is so focused on shooting and blowing stuff up that even its medics get to shoot you (with love) and blow you up (with vitality). I love that KF2's medic class doesn't have to slow down or weild a Team Fortress 2 or Overwatch-like proton pack to do the job: just alt fire to stick a teammate with a healing dart, or throw a medic grenade to pop a cloud of blue smoke for everyone to suck into their lungs. It’s not the most impressive visual effect, but nailing a toss and capturing your struggling teammates in the cool, healthy embrace of your medicinal gas, which also damages Zeds, can prevent a team wipe—and I love saving my teammates by violently chucking metal at them.— Tyler Wilde

Boogie Bomb - Fortnite Battle Royale 

Would you rather your digital avatar be torn limb from limb by bits of shrapnel or would you rather lose control of it altogether, forced into some stupid boogie nights wiggle as your executioner watches and laughs? Sure, Fortnite Battle Royale's Boogie Bomb is cute, but the reality is a horror show, a tool built for humiliation. Death by one such mirror-plated 'nade is like being taken to the influencer gallows, where you're forced to tromp around and bash cymbals together for a meme-hemorrhaging audience before the floor gives out. I'll take the shrapnel, please. — James Davenport

Thermal Imploder - Star Wars Battlefront

The best grenades don’t always have to have to do something wacky, sometimes it’s all in the presentation—and in that regard the Thermal Imploder is unparalleled (except by FEAR’s N6A3 ‘nade, maybe). EA’s Battlefront stuck relatively close to Star War’s canon when it came to weaponry, but the Thermal Imploder is an exception I’m willing to make. The blast effect is gorgeous, but it’s really the bwah-bwuuuuh! of its detonation that makes this grenade stand out. If FEAR's frag grenade is grenade porn for the eyes, then the Thermal Imploder is grenade porno music for the ears. — Steven Messner

Candela - Rainbow Six Siege 

The fanciest flash grenade in video games, Ying's 'candela' spits out not one but six independent flash charges in quick succession, making it hard to shield yourself from. It also has strangely nuanced throwing behavior. If you cook it, up to three LEDs will illuminate on the candela before throwing. The more lights that are lit, the further the tactical light ball will roll along a floor. And separately, you can simply affix the thing to any 'soft' wall in Siege to flash through the wall. It's fun to hurl into a bombsite or hostage room, knowing at the very least you've sent anyone inside scattering. — Evan Lahti

Singularity grenade - Borderlands 2 

I played most of Borderlands 2 solo as Maya, so singularity grenades, which suck enemies into a little black hole before exploding, were my best friend. I sampled a few other grenade mods in the early hours, but once I found my first singularity, I never looked back. I'd actually hold onto low-level singularity mods instead of using higher-level bouncing betty mods and the like. They're that good, especially for Maya, whose super skill preys on clusters of enemies. They're also fabulous with rocket launchers, and I have fond memories of gawking at their Geforce PhysX particle effects. Remember when that was still novel? Where do the years go... — Austin Wood

Frag Grenade - XCOM

On the surface, frags in XCOM are not that impressive. You can cause more damage by shooting someone, their range isn't great, they destroy equipment so you can't salvage stuff off anyone you do manage to kill with them, and lining up that bubble showing where they will land can be annoying. It's not flashy, it's not special, it doesn't draw attention to itself. It's the Jimmy Stewart of handheld explosives. But the humble XCOM frag grenade is in everybody's inventory from mission one, they destroy cover, and you don't have a percentage chance to miss with them. They always lands where you want and cause enough damage to kill a baseline sectoid. The number of turns where I've messed up every easy shot and found myself in a situation where someone's fucked unless I can cause precisely three points of damage to that one guy over there are beyond counting. In those situations, the XCOM frag grenade is the best.— Jody Macgregor

Incendiary Grenade - The Division 

If the twenty first century has taught us anything, and so far it probably hasn’t, it’s that blowing people up is bad. But for real transgressive thrills you can’t beat setting (pretend) people on fire.  I think my love of immolating NPCs began with TimeSplitters on PS1, because Free Radical Design went the extra mile to code in really scared HOLYFUCKIMONFIRE screams. But it was with The Division that my pyromania took root. I main the Firecrest gear set which is built around setting dudes on fire. Mostly with the rinky dink flamethrower turret, but also with the extra Incendiary Grenades the gear grants. Pop one of these spicy little peppers and it spills liquid napalm over a satisfyingly wide surface area. Enemies caught within the nade’s roast radius start flapping around like, well… like their arses on fire. With the Wildfire talent enabled the burn spreads to their colleagues in that satisfyingly organic way that Ubisoft games seem to have nailed. I dunno, man. Burning is just the best. — Tim Clark

PC Gamer

Back in 2017, Gearbox's Randy Pitchford got on stage during an Unreal Engine 4 presentation to show what, hypothetically, a new game that happened to look a lot like Borderlands would look like running on that shiny new engine. A game like, say, Borderlands 3, which hasn't been announced but almost surely exists. It's been five years now since Gearbox made Borderlands 2, and three years since the Pre-Sequel mostly followed the same playbook, with more Handsome Jack and more playable Claptrap. That's long enough for us to reflect on what we want from Borderlands 3, and we're ready for another round of sarcastic looting and shooting.

Here's where we want to see Gearbox take Borderlands next.

Actually, less Claptrap period, please. Borderlands' little robot mascot was always a bit grating, intentionally so, but over the course of three games became a bit of an Urkel: that obnoxious minor character who somehow gets so popular they show up more and more and before you know it Reginald VelJohnson can't even find a moment's peace in his own house. Claptrap is like that, but for our ears while we're playing Borderlands.

Less is more. Borderlands 3 could do with some fresh characters, so let Claptrap run a shop somewhere we can talk to him once every 10 hours or so.

Okay, this is a big ask, cause just about nobody does guns like Bungie does guns. But Borderlands has always been a shooter where the feeling of pulling the trigger and killing an enemy was fine, but not amazing. The fun comes from the wild variety of weapons and their outlandish effects, like an SMG that fires 43 lightning bullets a second, or a grenade launcher that fires grenades that explode into yet more grenades and blanket an entire area. The effects of the weapons were fun, and so were combining them with abilities that upped your crit damage or sent you into a melee-killing god rage.

But how much better would Borderlands' procedurally generated arsenal of wacky guns be if the feedback and punch of each gun was as satisfying as it is in Bungie's Destiny 2? Or in 2016's Doom? Or Tripwire's Killing Floor 2? Those are lofty goals to aspire to, especially with procedurally generated weapons, but Gearbox has a big opportunity to buff up the fundamentals of its trigger-pulling, bullet-firing animations and physics. Make each weapon archetype feel incredibly good to shoot, and then figure out how the random modifiers would tweak those sensations. Make Borderlands 3 a shooter we'd want to play even without all the lootin'.

The best payoff in loot-dumping RPGs is to find loot that actually matters. In Borderlands 2, it was possible to make some ridiculous builds (remember when literally every shotgun pellet was counted in damage multipliers?) that took down endgame bosses in seconds. We’re not asking for a buggy, easily exploitable stat system—we just want loot stacks that actually get better the more you play. Don’t scale the challenge and suck out the expressive traits of classes and weapons like Destiny 2.

Channel those wack-ass late-late game witch doctor Diablo 2 builds where molten frogs and jars of spiders cloud the screen, pulling loot from corpses like water from a loaded sponge. Hell, how about a gun that shoots loot?

Borderlands’ sturdiest leg was its co-op play. Without a buddy or two to lean on, the massive empty worlds felt far more massive and empty, and the more challenging combat encounters felt too onenote without other players to synergize with. But even with friends, the only time close cooperation was required was during the endgame boss encounters and those synergies played out similarly every single time—you just had to play your damn class. With full-blown raids, the rest of Borderlands’ mechanics could get put to the test in areas designed for a specific amount of players.

Imagine big dungeons that match (or surpass) the sophistication of Destiny 2’s first-person platforming ballets and phantom-realm symbol memorization, but with Borderlands much more diverse classes, skill trees, and weapon types. I can’t wait to hate my friends all over again. 

Look, Pandora's great. It shows that the Sanford And Son aesthetic works well in almost any environment—be it deserts crawling with skags or decrepit hamlets ripped out of Dungeons & Dragons. But after three games, piles of DLC, and Tales From the Borderlands, it's time to move on. A new Borderlands would do well to set its unique brand of shoot-and-loot on another planet entirely, or for that matter, on multiple planets. It's a big galaxy out there, and letting us explore it would not only give us a welcome change of scenery, but also let Gearbox experiment with different physics and elemental loot.

Planet hopping could be an especially cool twist, making your ship home base along the lines of a 3D Starbound. However Gearbox chooses to handle a new setting, it should feel free to detach itself from the history it's built up on Pandora. We're ready for entirely new adventures.

Since Borderlands, similar shooter/RPGs like Destiny and Warframe have placed a huge emphasis on character customization, because they know RPG players love to look fashionable. Borderlands 2 had some light customization options, but didn't go nearly far enough. Borderlands is best enjoyed in its cooperative mode, and extensive customization would allow players to distinguish themselves from their party.

We'd like to see more options besides swappable heads and color variations for outfits—instead, let's have entirely different costumes for each character. Just imagine, for instance, how much better Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep would have been if you were allowed to put on a robe and a wizard hat.

You know the drill: You encounter an enemy in either Borderlands, and then they go nuts, either rushing you with makeshift axes or pelting you with bullets while they saunter from right to left. In time, the only thing that makes non-boss fights different from one another is how many bullets to takes before the baddies fall over. That's not going to cut it for the next game.

Enemies need to be more responsive and less bullet spongy, and more varied in their behavior. We're not asking for tactical geniuses, here, but the occasional flanking maneuver wouldn't hurt. Make playspaces arenas that enemies will intelligently navigate, rather than rushing at us like maniacs over and over again. Just because the enemies are psychos doesn't mean they have to be idiots.

The Borderlands games are definitely built for co-op, and they're a blast that way, but that ends up meaning some sections are almost trivial with a full group, and maddeningly tough solo, depending on your class. Better scaling for number of players could help smooth things over. Going further, we'd love to see more nuanced difficulty in Borderlands for New Game+, which is a crucial part of the Borderlands experience. Most of the time, that New Game+ difficulty just means enemies have much larger health pools. Give them new attacks, bring out surprise new enemy types, shake things up. 

Smoothing out the difficulty curve for various player numbers is important, but so is keeping that difficulty interesting for the entire run.

Customizing premade characters would be cool, but we wouldn't mind seeing Borderlands lean into its RPG side even more and let us completely design our own characters from scratch. Let's be honest—we're not playing Borderlands for the story, even though Borderlands 2 did have some fun twists and turns. But the point is, we don't need to play predefined characters. Let us create our own and fully customize their looks and playstyles.

A broader, more open-ended skill tree for a range of character classes would be a huge task to balance, but would make us more attached to our characters and make Borderlands even more replayable than it already is.

What's the most heartbreaking moment in Borderlands? You'd think it's the death of a major character, but it's not. It's tossing aside your legendary Fashionable Volcano with a 44.5 percent chance to ignite because you had to make room in your 27-slot backpack for some new specimen of badassery. Borderlands 2 remedied that problem a bit when it released a patch for new slots (among other things) back in April of 2013, but even then it seemed like a sin to toss aside legendaries that couldn't fit.

While we're at it: Gearbox, give us a place to display some of that cool loot that we may have outgrown but we're still proud of. It works for Skyrim, and there's no reason why it can't work on Pandora.

Borderlands 2

Welcome back to the PC Gamer Q&A. Every week, we ask our panel of PC Gamer writers a question about PC gaming. This week: which game were you the best at? We all have those games we become obsessed with, until we reach some level of mastery. We'd love to read your suggestions in the comments, too.

James Davenport: Super Hexagon

I never get too attached to one game for very long. I think the most time I've spent playing any one game is Borderlands 2 with something like 300 hours clocked, and I don't even like it that much. But when I do love a game, it's a swift, dedicated, blinding attachment, usually the product of horrible depression or anxiety. So it's weird that I would play Super Hexagon during one of the most difficult months of my life, but I did, and it helped me calm down. Within a week I beat the hardest difficulty and managed to stretch nearly a minute beyond the 'win' time, though I can't remember my times exactly. When you see that game for the first time, it's almost not easy to parse what's going on. Between the rotating screen, flashing colors, and intense chiptune soundtrack, maneuvering that tiny triangle for even a few seconds was impossible at first. But then it wasn't impossible, just difficult. Then it wasn't difficult, it was second nature. It's a silly example, but I try to remember that when I don't feel capable. Super Hexagon is more potent than any quote from a dead philosopher. 

Wes Fenlon: Tower Wars

Years ago, a friend and I spent a good week mastering the wonderful tower defense game PixelJunk Monsters on PS3, which had a rare co-op mode that let you run around the map together building and buffing towers. So when we happened upon another cute tower defense game on Steam with online co-op, we decided to give it a shot. And for a couple weeks we were utterly addicted to Tower Wars.

It's classic Tower Defense, really: you build mazes out of towers, upgrade them as you get more cash, and defeat hordes of enemies as they wind their way towards your base. But in online multiplayer, you had to manage building your own defenses and send waves of units crashing down on your opponents. We played the 2v2 mode and quickly developed a pretty effective strategy. Cheap towers to sketch out just enough of our maze to handle early waves, and then rush the right combination of fast units to send our opponents into a panic. We figured out some good unit combinations and managed to win against most of our opponents. It was a winning spree of only a few days, but man it felt good.

Only a few thousand people owned Tower Wars when it first came out, and I don't remember how many people were on the 2v2 leaderboard, but I do remember we got down below 100. Maybe 80? Maybe 40? We were definitely some of the best players in the world. Never mind that it was a very small pool. Wherever we peaked, we definitely started playing against opponents who could outlast our rush strategy and slowly wear us down with clearly superior maze building. Those matches would drag on for so long that Tower Wars' framerate would slow to a crawl as we delayed the inevitable. We knew we'd topped out. But for those couple of weeks, we were unstoppable. 

Chris Livingston: Half-Life 2: Deathmatch

I'm sad to say it's Half-Life 2: Deathmatch. Damn, I was good at that. Something about flinging around toilets and file cabinets with a gravity gun was second nature to me and it's pretty much the only multiplayer game where I'd routinely wind up with the most kills. And there's no better kill than a toilet kill, except possibly using the gravity gun to catch someone's pulse rifle orb and fling it back at them. I was good at that too.

Unfortunately, HL2 Deathmatch was about as popular as an antlion at a beach party and quickly fell by the wayside. Maybe everyone got tired of being killed by flying toilets. Or maybe it just wasn't a good multiplayer game. I guess I'll just wait for Half-Life 3: Deathmatch. Should be out soon, right?

Tim Clark: Hearthstone (obviously)

This feels like a very deliberate attempt to trap me into answering Hearthstone again, which I will now step smoothly into. The one time I put the effort into grinding to legend rank remains the single hardest thing I've done in a game (even though I played Zoo for quite a bit of the way), and so seeing that card back reward pop when I made it is also one of my happiest moments. For the rest of the month I tooled around playing comedy decks with the pressure off, and one Sunday afternoon managed to find myself at about rank 400-and-something (blaze it) on the EU server with Yogg & Load Hunter. For about an hour or so, I was technically, sort of, the 400th-ish best player in Europe. Contract offers from pro teams should be directed to the usual address. 

Austin Wood: Hearthstone

Most of my best games aren't on PC, so I was having a hard time choosing—until Tim answered Hearthstone. Which reminded me that, for a glorious hour, I was legend rank four (which, correct me if I'm wrong, is better and handsomer than 400-and-something) on the North American server. It was during Midrange Paladin's Goblins vs. Gnomes heyday. I built a list with two Equality, two Solemn Vigil, one Defender of Argus and only one Quartermaster, and climbed the ladder with a 67 percent win rate. It's still the only time I've actually recorded Hearthstone matches. That deck absolutely feasted on the Zoolocks and Handlocks in that meta. I hit legend at rank 13, and climbed to rank four before being beaten back by a wave of Rogues. Which was when I, too, started playing meme decks.  

Jody Macgregor: Thief Gold

After finishing Thief on normal difficulty I went back and did it all again on expert, 100% loot. I was unemployed and living with my parents, which is the only reason I had time for it. Replaying it more recently I'm pretty average, and have forgotten where half the secrets are. But on the other hand I don't sleep on a mattress on the floor of my parents' spare room these days so it's hard to feel sad about my atrophied stealth skills. 

Andy Chalk: Doom

I was an untouchable OG Doom machine. Ultimate, Master Levels, Lost Episodes, WAD CDs, you name it, I slapped 'em all around like they were a pistol zombie standing in the middle of a room full of barrels. Opportunities for multiplayer were far rarer than they are now—you could go one-on-one over a phone line, or put yourself through the hellish wringer of setting up an IPX network for some four-way fun—but I was a monster there, too. And strictly with the keyboard—it never occurred to me to play with the mouse at first, and mouseketeers couldn't keep up anyway so I never saw a point in changing. (This attitude would come back to bite me in the ass when I attempted to take on Quake.)

At one point I exchanged a few messages with American McGee on the Software Creations BBS in an attempt to shit-talk John Romero into taking me on. McGee politely but firmly told me to stop bugging him. 

Samuel Roberts: Batman: Arkham City

I'll never be Batman, but in Arkham City's challenge rooms I got pretty damned close—while still being able to maintain my diet of cheeses and red wine. The amount of tools you get deep into the second Batman game, like the ice bomb and the remote electrical charge, give you numerous ways to creatively deal with Gotham's thugs and send your score soaring. It's terrific to just practice that until you can perfect each room without breaking your combo or taking a hit. I never quite mastered Arkham Knight in the same way. 

But what about you, reader? Let us know below.

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