Delayed Responsibility

I Shouldn't Be Gaming Right Now… But I Am!

Impressions: Anticipation in Borderlands and Torchlight

Posted by deckard47 on October 29, 2009

For games like Borderlands and Torchlight, the fun and great experiences produced by their combat, skills, and spells works hand in hand with their respective loot/item systems. Sure, it is a lot of fun to plan your build, try out new powers, and experiment with how to mix and match abilities, but it’s just as fun to find, buy, gamble, or trade for new, cool items (and they often augment your skills, so everyone wins).

I was thinking about the different ways that Borderlands and Torchlight go about drumming up excitement for new weapons. Borderlands actually has its little robot tutorial guy, Claptrap, explain the more essential new items and abilities as you find them (augments, elemental damage, artifacts, etc.). Torchlight, for the most part, stays out of your way. After the first hour or two it lets you learn about stuff naturally, aside from a few necessary tips. This is because the game introduces all of the non-PC interactions (selling, buying, augmenting, portaling, gambling, etc.) from the start, and then lets you play around with them for the rest of the game.

Borderlands is much less generous, initially, and chooses to doll out its bonuses, new items and options, and other add ons and goodies in small, evenly paced doses. Of course, both games play around with these precedents: Borderlands never hides how good or bad an item is. In fact, you can see the gun’s stats as it lies on the ground, and compare it to any gun you hold. It means that, unless the gun is very similar to your present weapon (or you need cash), you never pick up an item you don’t need. In Torchlight you pick up gold automatically, and you can’t tell how good magical items are when you first pick them up. By making the “Identify” spell the only method of figuring out an item’s true power, Torchlight makes ever weapon drop a potentially rewarding, exciting experience. We know the item won’t be that good (unless it’s green or purple, but more on that later), but we still want, really badly, to identify the item. You never know.

Which is really what drives these two games. They both share the color-coded weapon/item mechanic, so that a green, purple, or orange drop instantly piques the player’s attention. You know it’s good, but how good is it? You want to pick it up, even if you’re a Siren and it’s a rocket launcher. You can’t help yourself.

Strangely, this is one place where Borderlands has a bit of a leg up on Torchlight. They use many of the same techniques, but their approach to chests (terribly important fixtures of Action RPGs) is different. In Torchlight, there are chests, and then there are chests. The latter are bigger, often near a boss or two, and are guaranteed to hold a little extra money, or a better item than usual.

Borderlands goes even further, designing ammo chests to look significantly different from item/gun chests, and item/gun chests to look different from the best chests, huge, heavily locked boxes. The great thing about the latter two chests is that when you open them they don’t just open. They twirl, slide, and unlock, like a giant clockwork PSP Go. It takes about 5 seconds for this to happen, whereas regular ammo chests swing open instantly. Those 5 seconds are pretty damn exciting. You know you might be on the verge of finding new pistols, shields, or grenades, and ou just don’t know whether they’ll be good enough for you or not. It’s a wonderful sensation, and it means that when you see one of the weapon chests, you actually start thinking about its contents long before you open the chest, prolonging you anxious wonderings. It’s a long stretch of seconds (possibly minutes, if you see the chest, but are then attacked by Raiders), and it is measurably more exciting than the near-instantaneous act of seeing a  green, orange, or purple gun, using the interface to compare it to your present gun, and making your decision.

So while Torchlight might have better (and more, way more) options and items, Borderlands makes me antsy, every time I see those chests. For a game that is often focused on instant gratification (your new gun blows people up and electrocutes them!), every chest and lockbox is a strangely, wonderfully drawn out encounter. Just don’t be too disappointed when the chest unfurls its metal arms, only to reveal a mundane shotgun and a pistol for another character. There are always more chests.


2 Responses to “Impressions: Anticipation in Borderlands and Torchlight”

  1. I’m really starting to wish I could play this on my PC. Note; even if I were to spend the money, the actual ability to run the game on my aging rig most likely just isn’t there. When I play L4D, which is a rare occurrence, I play it at just about 800×600 with most effects all the way down.

    On the console I’ve only really got one friend to play online with, and I’m leery of jumping into the arms of strangers, especially when I can’t seem to find a party at or near my level. I really like the single player in some respects, but it wears quickly.

    But hey! I got to play the Torchlight demo! So when I get over my writers block I’ll be writing up some impressions! And when I get some cash maybe even something…reviewy? I love Torchlight and I love having an inventory full of shiny different weapons all full of possibilities, but it is hard to beat Borderland’s candy colored unfolding machines, which readily offer beautiful weaponry surrounded by petals of delicious ammunition.

    • deckard47 said

      It looks amazing on a PC, but there are a lot more bugs, and it can be hell to get a MP game working. Still, there are workarounds, so it can be done. I’m sure I’ll tire of it soon, but until then, I haven’t been this much in thrall of a game in a long time.

      Torchlight is actually taking a backseat to Borderlands, sadly. I’ll have to get back in there to get my Vanquisher above 30 soon. Listen to me, complaining about all of these great RPGs I have 🙂

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