DEFCON - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alec Meer)

An entirely objective ranking of the 50 best PC strategy games ever made, now freshened up to include everything from 2017 and 2018. From intricate, global-scale wargames to the tight thrills of guerrilla squads, the broad expanse of the genre contains something for everyone, and we’ve gathered the best of the best.

The vast majority are available to buy digitally, a few are free to download and play forever. They’re all brilliant.

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X-COM: UFO Defense - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Dominic Tarason)

XCom: Enemy Unknown

Is six years within ‘fashionably late’ territory? Better late than never, at least. Today, Firaxis’s alien-bothering turn-based squad tactics revival, XCom: Enemy Unknown has launched on GOG after over half a decade of the PC version being Steam-exclusive. Rather than divide it up, GOG are only selling the Complete edition of the game, including two minor bits of DLC and the rather more significant Enemy Within expansion.

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XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Qualcomm is a San Diego-based company specializing in telecommunications equipment. As The LA Times reports, three of Qualcomm's top executives recently left to start their own tech company, also based in San Diego, and they're calling it… XCOM. Not Excom. Not even EXCOM. Just XCOM. As in, you know, XCOM. 

They had a 95 percent chance to hit, and somehow they still missed. 

What will XCOM specialize in, you ask? "Inventing and investing in wireless technologies to propel the next mobile revolution," according to its newly minted site. Before they can get to that though, as XCOM designer Jake Solomon pointed out on Twitter, they've got another problem to figure out first:  

Left 4 Dead 2 - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Dominic Tarason)

Steam Spring Cleaning

I’m not sure if Valve’s latest promotional wotsit on Steam knows whether it’s coming or going. On one hand, it’s nice that the Spring Cleaning Event (running until Monday, 28th May) is nudging players into trying out games they may have bought in sales and never touched, but pairing that with nine simultaneous free weekend events does somewhat undermine the message.

Ah well, it’s an excuse to play videogames all weekend. Can’t grumble about that. Plus, there’s an actual free game giveaway running – take a peek within. Oh, and yesterday’s big Steam giveaway is still live until tomorrow, so try that too. Oh dear, there’s just too many games.

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Wolfenstein 3D - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Hunter Pauli)

Header image The most diverse Jew in gaming

For a series built around the deconstruction of Aryan bodies, it s taken a long time for players to take the hint that Wolfenstein s ubermensch William Blazkowicz is Jewish.

That hesitation betrays our definitions of Jewish identity as old-fashioned, and also reflects that the few prominent Jewish characters in games play into and reinforce stereotypes. While Blazkowicz is the most high profile character to break the mold, what does it say about games that the most diverse representation of a Jew we ve seen is simply whiter than most? (more…)

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.

Left 4 Dead - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (RPS)

Sometimes you need a hand to hold, so we ve updated our list of the 25 best co-op games to play on PC with a headset-wearing friend or a muted stranger.

Everything’s better with a pal or two in tow, from collaborative puzzle solving to sublime double stealth takedowns. Equally sublime are when those takedowns go awry, your partner shrieks in panic and all hands are needed on deck to clear up the mess. Whether local or online, co-op games offer some of the best fun you can have in 2018.

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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 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.

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