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I just don't care about Borderlands 2.

To be sure, a lot of well-meaning people tried like hell to sell me on the genius of the first Borderlands, but I remain unswayed. It took me a while to figure out why. True, the art direction didn't grab me, and the actual shooting felt competent rather than spectacular. But y'know what really killed it for me? The guns, man. It's all those freakin' guns.  

Borderlands 2
Fine, I'll shoot you. But I won't enjoy it!

At last count, Borderlands contains over 17.5 million color-coded, procedurally generated firearms. The gun population of planet Pandora outnumbers the individual populations of Cuba, Greece, Israel, and Switzerland. What the hell am I supposed to do with all that? I know we're talking about a loot drop game where the entire appeal lies in those loot drops, but outside of dollars, I don't need 17.5 million of anything. That's way, way, waaaaaaaay too much crap to ever constitute fun. Hell, even the comparatively modest arsenals of Battlefield 3 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 quickly blur into one amorphous, nondescript mess.

Eight guns. That's all you really need. Maybe fewer. And imposing that kind of limitation will net you a better game to boot. Here's how.

 

First, let me draw your attention to a non-shooter for a moment. El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron offers exactly three weapons. You can only carry one at a time. It's a perfectly balanced rock-paper-scissors trifecta — speed, strength, or range — that forces you to accept vulnerabilities for every advantage you gain. And because the focus is so narrow, you spend a lengthy campaign getting to know each one and learning what they can do.

Now riddle me this: What's the defining element of any shooter? Why, it's the guns! And yet, I couldn't name you a single distinctive rifle or sidearm from the last five Call of Duty games.

Call of Duty Black Ops
I'm sure that helicopter appreciates the backup.

Maybe they had iron sights, maybe they sported the magic red dot, maybe they scoped in. Beyond that, nothing. The Call of Duty modus operandi dumps you in a location on a mission with a different (and appropriate) loadout which applies to that level only. Forget picking favorites. You take what you get, what you get won't stick around for long, and any substitutions come from baddies packing even more boring heat.

Hey, I enjoy variety, and I'm not saying those games don't deliver the goods…if, by "goods," you mean gameplay. In terms of ordinance, you might occasionally get something with a nice tactile feel and a beefy, satisfying sound effect, but too many shooters treat their weaponry as generic, interchangeable boxes. And in Borderlands' case, add "incomplete" to the list. You're constantly chasing after the next gun instead of digging the iron you're actually carrying right now. I gave that game up three times because I got tired of sifting through tons of chaffe to find a fleck of gold.

That's not loot. That's ballistic spam.

Compare Borderlands' approach to the wild death-o-matics used by Ratchet and Clank…or the tight little arsenal in Gears of War 3. It's essentially the same list from Gears of War 1 plus a few additions. You've got three assault rifles, two shotguns, three pistols, one sniper rifle, one heavy weapon, and a few gonzo/super weapons. Pretty easy to keep track of everything, particularly since they're broken down by class. More to the point, each one has personality…you'll never mistake a Hammerburst for a Lancer, and it won't take long to figure out which one's right for you.

Gears of War 3
It's even better if you make the "pew! pew!" noises yourself.

I like that. Let me figure out early on what makes the gameplay fun for me personally. Allow me to discover true love with the boom stick that just gets me and then have the confidence to let me take things from there.

And as El Shaddai teaches us, generally speaking, the fewer the guns, the better the balance.

So keep it simple. Keep it smart. Don't give me a bajillion crappy firearms…give me eight really good ones. Make them memorable and a joy to use. Two assault rifles. Two short-range, probably an SMG and a shotgun. Two sidearms. Two specialty items (sniper rifle, rocket launcher, etc.). Eight guns. Done.

And maybe a few more for the sequel.