Borderlands and Difficulty Scaling

It was a no-brainer that combining hack ‘n slash RPG elements with the First Person Shooter genre would make for a great game. But even for a loot whore like myself, I wasn’t prepared for how great of a game Borderlands would be. It has everything – great visuals, an awesome soundtrack, plenty of items, and 4 player co-op. But the unsung hero of this game is its scaling – at the end of the day, this is what keeps you coming back for more.

Gearbox Software nailed it. I’ll be the first to say it: no other RPG or MMO has ever scaled from level to level as well as Borderlands does. From level 1 to level 50, Borderlands throws perfectly balanced enemies at the player. And when that’s done, get ready for play through #2, because increases in difficultly seamlessly and is just as fun the 2nd time around.

While playing through Borderlands, especially during the main quest, every battle is just as entertaining as the last, because Gearbox tweaked the level system to perfection. You never find yourself in an unbalanced fight. Then when another player joins, the enemies are scaled to a more difficult level flawlessly. The game is always challenging, from start to finish, but never too hard or too easy. Other great RPGs, like Diablo II couldn’t even balance itself this well.

From a game developer’s standpoint, this is one of the hardest things to do. It is extremely difficult to gauge how difficult an enemy should be for a player at a certain time. Then when you add multiple players to mix, it becomes even harder to balance game difficulty. But Gearbox did it, and they did it well. The level system is very sensitive, and each level counts. When a player walks into an area against enemies their level, or a level higher, they know they’re in the right place. With the exception of side quests, which can be too easy if not done right away, the player always seems to be the right level at the right time.

In retrospect, there weren’t many battles in the game stood out. Instead, every fight was a ton of fun throughout the entire game, thanks to Gearbox’s perfect balancing through scaling. This game scales so well, that the player can start a 2nd play through, at the same level they previously completed the game at, and still expect to have just as much fun the 2nd time around. This level of replayability is unheard of in both RPG and FPS genres, and certainly has set the standard for games to come.


About Me

I’m a game developer who’s extremely passionate about video game development and games in general. I've worked in the industry for quite some time and I like to share things I’ve learned and anecdotes from the industry here on this website. I work as a Network Programmer, but I have a deep rooted interest in level design.


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