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Borderlands Part 20: Deadlift

By Shamus
on Thursday Dec 14, 2017
Filed under:
Borderlands

 
 

I know earlier I praised several aspects of the Pre-Sequel gameplay. I don’t want to leave you with the impression that this is a brilliantly constructed game. This is a very uneven game, and for every brilliant idea they had to balance it out with something annoying, broken, or terrible.

And then you run into something like the encounter with Deadlift, which is all three.

The Setup

Janey Springs is kinda cool but she's no Mr. Torgue, much less a Tiny Tina. Like a lot of the things in Pre-Sequel, she's serviceable yet not as good as what came before.
Janey Springs is kinda cool but she's no Mr. Torgue, much less a Tiny Tina. Like a lot of the things in Pre-Sequel, she's serviceable yet not as good as what came before.

Early in the game you make friends with Janey Springs. She’s your tutorial questgiver and her job is to introduce the new mechanics (oxygen management, low-grav jumping, laser weapons) while also giving a little exposition and maybe telling the occasional quasi-joke.

She sends you to kill the banditHere on the moon they’re not bandits. They’re “scavs”. Which is apparently what moon people call bandits. Whatever. They’re people who shoot player characters without provocation. Doesn’t matter what we call them. boss Deadlift. She has a few reasons, but none of them really resonate. She wants him dead because he’s “a dick”, and because he has “something” you’ll need to get into Concordia. Getting into Concordia is the real goal here.

This feels a lot like the old lazy Borderlands 1 design where you have to kill a bandit king to get a key to enter a city that shouldn’t be locked in the first place. This is totally fine if there is a steady supply of jokes and lampshading to keep us engaged, but… there isn’t. Janey’s reasoning isn’t funny, Deadlift himself isn’t funny, and this setup isn’t funny.

The Fight

I realize this is a REALLY minor nitpick, but the taglines in these intro screens are kind of lame. The ones in earlier games were funnier.

I realize this is a REALLY minor nitpick, but the taglines in these intro screens are kind of lame. The ones in earlier games were funnier.

This fight is based around Quake III Arena style jump pads. That’s pretty old school. In principle I approve of this sort of thing. Like double-jumping, jump pads are a great fit for this crazy universe and madcap gameplay. The designer clearly intends the player to hop on these pads and get launched around the arena, making this a boss fight that takes place mostly in mid-air.

That sounds like a great idea for a battle. Unfortunately, every single design decision undermines this, so the “intended” way to play is also the worst way to play. This fight is a disaster of conflicting design choices that synergize to create confusion and frustration for the player.

1. Vertical Arena

Here is what you see at the start of the fight. No sense of scale or depth. No sense of layout. No idea where Deadlift enters from. No indication of where the mooks come from. You can't see any of the important features, like the electrical doodads he uses to zap the floor.

Here is what you see at the start of the fight. No sense of scale or depth. No sense of layout. No idea where Deadlift enters from. No indication of where the mooks come from. You can't see any of the important features, like the electrical doodads he uses to zap the floor.

This arena is really deep. There are several layers of platforms. Deadlift might be directly above you, below you, or anywhere around you. It’s a fight that requires lots of horizontal travel and vertical shooting. That’s totally inappropriate for a fight against a minor threat this early in the story. In fact, this fight is the most complex fight in the entire game, and it’s only our second boss fight. You might argue that the final multi-stage fight against the vault guardian is pretty close in terms of complexity, but the Deadlift fight is a lot less clear about what you’re supposed to be doing. Also, that’s the final boss and Deadlift is just a speed bump bandit.

Here is a shot from in the air at the top of the arena. You probably won't get this view until the fight is OVER. All of those green glowing things are bounce pads. That's a really complicated layout!

Here is a shot from in the air at the top of the arena. You probably won't get this view until the fight is OVER. All of those green glowing things are bounce pads. That's a really complicated layout!

It sounds like it might be fun to ride jump pads around the arena, but if you try you’ll just get blindsided by his shock attacks. (See below.) Deadlift gets to have all the fun bouncing around. You need to stay on the ground or near a wall where you can’t be attacked from all sides.

What makes it worse is that you enter the arena at the bottom. From this vantage point, you have no idea where either of the two available jump pads will take you. You can’t get any sense of how this layout works. You just have to take a leap of faith, and then before you can even get your bearings Deadlift and his mooks will begin pounding on you.

2. Where Are All The Bullets?

You're supposed to be level 5 or 6 at this point in the game, but I'm level 32 here because I had to come back later to get some of these screenshots. You can't normally stand around in the open taking pictures when you're doing the fight for the first time.

You're supposed to be level 5 or 6 at this point in the game, but I'm level 32 here because I had to come back later to get some of these screenshots. You can't normally stand around in the open taking pictures when you're doing the fight for the first time.

There’s a reason most boss enemies are very large or covered in glowing lights. It’s really easy to lose track of this grey-blue person in a room full of grey-blue scenery. Can you spot Deadlift in the shot aboveHe’s above and just a little to the right of the center of the screen.?

You’re going to be engaging Deadlift at long distances where he’ll be very hard to hit. You’re still in the early game where you might still be using trash white weapons with terrible accuracy. So you’re going to need to use a lot of bullets to kill him. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of bullets around here. At this point in the game you’re still limited to just two weapon slots. This fight is roughly equivalent to the fight with Captain Flynt in Borderlands 2. Except that fight gave you a vending machine just before you enter the arena. Here you have a fixed supply of crates.

This can result in a death spiral. If you blow most of your ammo on him and then die, you’ll respawn just outside. You’ll get a modest handful of ammo when you respawn, but he’ll fully recover both shields and armor. Heck, you don’t even need to die. If you walk back outside to grab any of the bullets on his doorstep, he gets a free full heal. If you were a little low on bullets before, then you’re totally screwed now.

3. Deadlift Breaks the Rules

FOUR homing projectiles, which are blue against a busy blue background. All of them are coming from different vectors, and the boss isn't anywhere in sight. If I was looking at Deadlift, then I wouldn't see these coming, which is bad because getting hit by all four is enough to kill you.
FOUR homing projectiles, which are blue against a busy blue background. All of them are coming from different vectors, and the boss isn't anywhere in sight. If I was looking at Deadlift, then I wouldn't see these coming, which is bad because getting hit by all four is enough to kill you.

Deadlift shoots energy bolts at you. Maybe you’ll strafe to avoid them. Except no, they’re homing energy bolts with a tight turning radius, and they can easily obliterate your shields.

You’re supposed to shoot them down. Except, how are you supposed to know to do that? These things don’t look like homing missiles. They look like electricity, and the rest of the game has established that blobs of electricity are not shoot-able. Worse, this means the game is teaching you wrong things. Later in the game you’ll encounter energy bolts that look identical to these, except they can’t be shot down.

Even within it’s own rule-breaking context, the game is terrible about making the threat clear. What happens is Deadlift shoots at you, then jumps on a jump pad and rockets across the area. You’ll see him arcing overhead and start shooting at him. Since the energy bolts originated from the start of his arc, they won’t be in your field of view. They’ll clock you in the side of the head and you’ll have no idea why your shields are gone and your health is dropping.

So you need to watch Overhead for Deadlift, but you also need to watch all around for his energy attacks.

Just to keep things interesting: He’s also got a hitscan beam weapon. It doesn’t do a lot of damage, but it’s enough to keep your shields from recharging.

4. Electrified Floor

Good luck spotting the homing shock bolts coming at you if there's an electrified floor behind them.

Good luck spotting the homing shock bolts coming at you if there's an electrified floor behind them.

So after getting blindsided by shock bolts and wasting all your ammo at long distances, maybe you think the solution is an up-close engagement? So once you get some kind of handle on navigating the 3D maze, you’ll jump onto his current platform to give him a face-full of buckshot. But then he electrifies the floor you’re standing on. This does tons of damage, and the damage keeps coming even after you leave the platformJust in case you thought hopping might be a viable strategy..

So now you need to look overhead for Deadlift, all around you for incoming shock bolts, and below you to make sure you’re not heading for an electrified floor. This fight requires complete spherical awareness.

5. Don’t Forget the Mooks!

While I was blasting this mook I was hit by a pair of shock bolts from somewhere off-screen, so now I'm nearly dead.

While I was blasting this mook I was hit by a pair of shock bolts from somewhere off-screen, so now I'm nearly dead.

All of this might make for an acceptable fight against a mid-game boss, provided he’d been built up enough as a serious threat, and not just some “dick” that Janey wanted us to kill for lulz. You could bounce around, shoot the shock things, and slowly wear Deadlift down.

Except, there are also mooks in this fight for some stupid reason. They come from all sides and they constantly harass you with gunfire. They don’t do a lot of damage, but their attacks keep your shield from recharging. When combined with the way that the shock bolts obliterate your shields, this makes for a nasty combination.

Now, normally boss fights have mooks so that if you are near death you can kill a guy to revive yourself. Except, in this huge arena you’ll be engaging them at large distances. You’re already fighting with trash weapons, so once you go down the accuracy penalty and listing camera angle make it incredibly unlikely that you’ll be able to hit anything. So these mooks make the fight harder without fullfilling the one thing mooks are supposed to do in a boss fight.

And of course they just make for one more thing to waste your finite supply of bullets on. If you’re foolish enough to think, “I should wipe out these mooks before engaging Deadlift directly” then you’re basically doomed. By the time you realize they’re never-ending, you’ll be out of bullets.

6. Taunts

"PREPARE! To get DeadLIFTed!" Damn it. That lame taunt wasn't worth saying ONCE, much less ten times.

"PREPARE! To get DeadLIFTed!" Damn it. That lame taunt wasn't worth saying ONCE, much less ten times.

Just to make this fight as tedious as possible, Deadlift only has a couple of combat taunts and some numbskull decided he needed to shout them every few seconds, so you’ll hear the same couple of messages many times before the end.

Worse, Deadlift has a taunt that can be confusing for the player. Sometimes when you shoot him he shouts, “Yes! Fill my battery!” When I heard this I assumed I was doing something wrong. I actually stopped shooting him. Am I charging his shield? Or powering up his floor shock? What does this line mean?

As far as I can tell, the line doesn’t mean anything and I have no idea why he says it.

Wrong, All Wrong

Why is this idiot the same color as the scenery? This is Game Design 101.

Why is this idiot the same color as the scenery? This is Game Design 101.

This is way too many new game concepts to be throwing at the player at once:

  1. Jump pads.
  2. Electrified floors.
  3. Homing projectiles.
  4. Shooting down projectiles.
  5. Multi-level engagements.

Generally you shouldn’t introduce new gameplay concepts during a boss fight. You let the player practice on mooks, and then the boss is the final exam.

But if you do throw new mechanics into a boss fight, you should usually limit them to one at a time. You could build a really cool encounter around any one of these ideas. But instead the game drops them all on you at once, early in the game, in a situation where you have very limited ammo and weapon choices.

If you get too close you get killed by electrified floors. If you’re too far then you’ll never hit him with your trash starting weapons and you’ll run out of bullets. He’s got a combat taunt that can confuse or mislead you. The generators he uses to electrify the floor look like the kinds of stuff you’re supposed to shoot to power down a boss, but they aren’t. The boss is a blue-grey blob against a blue-grey background that shoots blue homing projectiles at you. You enter the arena from the bottom and he enters from the top. You need to look down to figure out where the bounce pads are, up to see where Deadlift is going, and all around for his mooks and homing shock projectiles.

This fight is a perfect storm of appalling game design. It feels like you’re supposed to bounce around on jump pads. That sounds like the most fun way to play and it seems to be what the game designer is telegraphing you’re expected to do. But if you engage the fight on those terms then you’re doing things the hard way.

If you look online you’ll see the most common strategy is to cower in a closet near the entrance (Gosh, THAT sounds exciting!) and use the sniper rifle (Hope you didn’t sell it!) that Janey gives you after a sidequest (Hope you did all those “optional” quests before coming here!) in the previous area.

It’s clear this difficulty spike is not intentional. Deadlift is not supposed to be a major threat. The next boss is Red Belly, and that’s a completely ordinary fight in a flat arena with lots of places to take cover and no homing weapons, and it takes place right after a full set of vending machines. This fight is the result of several bad design decisions and not enough playtesting.

Git Gud

This fight is a lot easier if you play as Athena. You can get in his face and absorb the damage with your shield. Again, that doesn't seem to be how you're SUPPOSED to do the fight, but it works.

This fight is a lot easier if you play as Athena. You can get in his face and absorb the damage with your shield. Again, that doesn't seem to be how you're SUPPOSED to do the fight, but it works.

I’ve been in this game crit business long enough to see the objections coming a mile off. Whenever I pick apart a badly designed bit of game like this, I can always count on getting these two responses:

  1. I didn’t have any trouble with this. [Therefore you don’t know what you’re doing and your opinion is invalid.]
  2. It’s not that hard once you know how to beat it.

Taking the second one first, “It’s not that hard once you know how to beat it.” That’s actually the point I’m making. The problem isn’t that it’s “too hard”. The problem is that the game is presenting the challenge wrong, which leads to player confusion and frustration.

Imagine I set up a track and field challenge for the “best jumper”. People try it. They do their best long jump, but they fail the challenge. Someone else does their best high jump, and they fail. People start asking, “How far does Shamus expect us to jump?” Then after everyone blows several hours in confusion and frustration, someone points out that “best jumper” just means jumping as many times as possible in a given timeframe. If you do fast little hops, you’ll succeed.

Doing a bunch of tiny baby hops is indeed piss-easy. The problem with my challenge is that I didn’t make it clear what you needed to do to achieve your goals. This isn’t a physical challenge, it’s a trick or a guessing game.

In a good challenge, you can at least learn from your failure. Sure, you died. But now you see what you’re supposed to be doing. But on my first play through Deadlift killed me two or three times and I still wasn’t sure what I was doing wrongAt first I was hopping on jump pads to escape the shock bolts, and they would just do a hairpin turn and hit me in the backside. It took me a while to realize I was supposed to shoot them down..

Dead Deadlift. On the left is the gizmo he uses to electrify the floor. It might be a cool mechanic if you could blow this thing up to stop him from doing that. But you can't.

Dead Deadlift. On the left is the gizmo he uses to electrify the floor. It might be a cool mechanic if you could blow this thing up to stop him from doing that. But you can't.

The other objection – that the challenge is fine because some people got it on the first try – is obviously a goofy way to go about looking at things. If I ask you to guess what playing card I’m thinking of, then about 1 in 52 people will get it right on the first guess. That doesn’t mean this is a fair or reasonable thing to expect everyone to be able to do. Rather than saying, “Some people got it on the first try, therefore it must be fine,” it makes more sense to say, “An awful lot of people struggled with this fight, and they didn’t seem to struggle with other fights in the game”. Either these people became momentarily terrible at the game, or there’s something wrong with this fight. (Unless you want to argue that this difficulty spike is intentional. I can’t prove you wrong, but there’s nothing in the text to support that notion.)

And even if you’re reading this thinking, “Wow! That sounds like a fun challenge!” then don’t get your hopes up. If this sort of sudden arbitrary hurdle appeals to you, then you’re going to find the rest of the game to be very boring.

This is just a dumb broken fight. Nothing more. The game sets up your expectations for a thrilling bounce-pad duel, but then delivers a fight where that style of play is really sub-optimal. Borderlands is not a game about puzzle bosses and it’s reasonable to insist that the designer make our goals and the mechanics clear.

Footnotes:

[1] Here on the moon they’re not bandits. They’re “scavs”. Which is apparently what moon people call bandits. Whatever. They’re people who shoot player characters without provocation. Doesn’t matter what we call them.

[2] He’s above and just a little to the right of the center of the screen.

[3] Just in case you thought hopping might be a viable strategy.

[4] At first I was hopping on jump pads to escape the shock bolts, and they would just do a hairpin turn and hit me in the backside. It took me a while to realize I was supposed to shoot them down.


 
 
Comments (62)

  1. Syal says:

    I’m trying to think if you could make a fun fight where the boss is the same color as the room but you have a weapon to turn him a different color temporarily. How long do they have to stay recolored to make it more than a gimmick but less than a problem?

    …not much relevant to say, bad bosses suck.

    Unrelated Bad Boss Video.

  2. Ardis Meade says:

    You’re thinking about the Jack of Spades.

  3. Lame Duck says:

    Deadlift only has a couple of combat taunts and some numbskull decided he needed to shout them every few seconds, so you'll hear the same couple of messages many times before the end.

    This is one of those problem – like long, unskippable cutscenes before difficult bosses – that I am perpetually baffled still occasionally manages to make it into games. It seems like a thing that everyone who plays games realised was a terrible mistake more than a decade ago but somehow the people who develop games still manage to make that mistake.

  4. The Big Brzezinski says:

    Maybe Deadlift really was supposed to be a puzzle boss, but they stripped out the depowering mechanics to better fit a dumb looter-shooter without actually reworking him. So instead of changes in tactics humorously telegraphed by an increasingly desperate/angry boss, you get steamrolled without explanation.

  5. Darren says:

    I thought level design in general was way worse in the Pre-Sequel, and I don’t consider Borderlands to have very good level design to begin with. My boyfriend and I played through most of the game and we were both always confused about where to go and what to do.

  6. Abnaxis says:

    To be fair, Janey goes into a little more detail than “he’s a dick.” Something about him turning violent when she spurned his advances because she’s lesbian, or something? There was a definite “homophobe” vibe to his dickishness IIRC.

    Also, until I read this article I never even knew you could shoot those projectiles down. I always just rushed him and tried to dump damage into him fast enough that his bullshit attacks didn’t have a chance to go off. Usually I would beat him, die to his DoT and not be able to get up because LUL all the mooks are impossible to hit, and then have to run back and try to remember where he died to get the loot.

    • Fade2Gray says:

      Also, until I read this article I never even knew you could shoot those projectiles down. I always just rushed him and tried to dump damage into him fast enough that his bullshit attacks didn't have a chance to go off. Usually I would beat him, die to his DoT and not be able to get up because LUL all the mooks are impossible to hit, and then have to run back and try to remember where he died to get the loot.

      This is basically my experience too. I’ve done that fight three times that I can remember and never once realized I could shoot the glowy-death-balls. Two of the three times I died almost immediately after killing him.

  7. Dreadjaws says:

    I've been in this game crit business long enough to see the objections coming a mile off. Whenever I pick apart a badly designed bit of game like this, I can always count on getting these two responses:

    1. I didn't have any trouble with this. [Therefore you don't know what you're doing and your opinion is invalid.]
    2. It's not that hard once you know how to beat it.

    I can relate too much. These replies always pop up whenever I complain about something in a game. And mind you, it’s not only about game design, you will receive these responses if you complain that a game won’t run in your PC.

    For instance, I left a review of FTL where I complained that in my 2+ hours of playtime I found the game to be too random to be fun, except for the boss battle, which turned out to need a specific strategy or two to win. My major complaints were that in 2+ hours of gameplay I wasn’t having any fun due to the overwhelming randomness, which meant that anything I learned in a previous playthrough might end up being completely useless in the next one and that the boss fight required me to do or have specific things, contrary to the previous randomness in the entirety of the game.

    Of course, I had anticipated people would respond with “You need to play more, the game gets better several hours in” or “git gud”, so I countered with the fact that if a game can’t hold my attention 2+ hours in I’m more than allowed to leave it, and that difficulty didn’t play a role in my lack of fun. That didn’t stop people from replying with exactly those things I had anticipated.

    Same issue with that goddamn Deathstroke fight in Arkham Origins. Everyone keeps calling it the best fight in a superhero game or some crap, and I’m all like “What? Calling this thing an interactive cutscene is being generous.” But no, I don’t like the fight, that can only mean I’m bad at the game, I guess.

    • The Rocketeer says:

      Uh-oh, complaining about randomness in FTL? Board your windows, I can hear hoofbeats already.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Nonsense.In space,no one can hear you gallop.

      • Grampy_bone says:

        Here I come, FTL apologist to the rescue!

        In FTL there are a finite number of events, and eventually you *will* see them all enough times that you will figure out the “right” option for all of them (which in some cases is to just avoid it). It works but only if you’re willing to put up with that initial difficulty curve and harsh retry penalty of restarting the game.

        I can completely see why someone would hate it and the game is not for everyone. I liked FTL enough and got good enough to be able to win any run 95% of the time with a specific strategy. But I hated Rogue Legacy for pretty much exactly those reasons. So go figure.

        • Hector says:

          As someone who loved Rogue Legacy but didn’t like FTL at all, I think there’s a huge difference.

          The randomness in Rogue Legacy is present, but doesn’t determine your ability to progress. You develop skills, which do improve, but it’s essentially beatable on the first run even if doing so is Nintendo Hard. I doubt anyone ever did or will, but it’s hypothetically possible with no luck involved. (OK, a few of the rooms have somewhat poor design, but that’s another issue). The skill ceiling required is extremely high, but there’s actually very little to learn unless you’ve just never played a side-scroller before.

          FTL is almost entirely luck-based… unless you have pre-existing knowledge. Even if you know how to control & play the game perfectly from the moment you first run it, the only possible way to win would be absurd luck in choosing from random events with unpredictable and hidden outcomes. It’s the kind of game that begs for wikis with tables of outcomes. And even with perfect play, you can absolutely lose. I’ve seen some people pretend it’s a game with a high “skill ceiling,” which is exactly wrong. It has a low skill ceiling but an absurdly high requirement to memorize.

          This isn’t bad on its own, but it’s hideously unappealing to a great many people. it also means that if the early-game doesn’t interest you, well, it’s a tedious slog with basically no reward. Some people may love this, and that’s ok. But as a game it’s in a completely different mold than Rogue Legacy, even apart from vaguely being in the Roguelike genre.

          • Francis-Olivier says:

            I’d argue that FTL does have a high skill celling in how you manage fights but:
            a) it’s so ridiculously high that it might as well be lower. b) isn’t as comlpex as it sound. c) isn’t really required to reach to properly manage the game usually. d) is still relliant on luck at some point or an other.

          • Decius says:

            Memorizing tables of outcomes IS a skill. Include the benefit acquired from memorizing the rules when evaluating how high the skill ceiling is.

          • Blake says:

            As someone who loved FTL and Rogue Legacy, I’d say RL definitely requires more skill, and that FTL is far easier to beat with just a basic understanding of the mechanics.

            Obviously RL has progression on every death, if it didn’t then very few people would get all that far, and the only thing you gain in FTL is a better understanding of mechanics.
            I loved RL for it’s progression, but the randomness never really felt good to me. It was mostly a slightly different maze instead of something forcing you to change your play style.

            On my first run of FTL I made it to the bosses third form where I was totally unprepared for his lasers, on my second run I targeted all the people in the isolated weapons rooms on the first form, and had a good cloaking device which let me avoid most of that heavy laser damage for the win.
            Before my first run I’d seen a friend play a bit of it so I understood the mechanics, but all the events were new to me.
            While it’s true that you can sometimes be screwed in FTL by the RNG, in most cases your success comes down to what you buy, upgrade, and how you execute a fight, not picking the better choice in the events.

        • Matt Downie says:

          Is there a “right” option for FTL decisions? A lot of them have very random consequences. If you help these guys, there’s a 50% chance of getting some good loot and a 50% chance of losing a character (unless you have a cloning bay). Is it worth risking a character? Depends on how many crew you have and how desperate you are for resources…

          • Decius says:

            Not only are their right and wrong answers, there are hidden elements (blue text option) that change the cost/reward ratio of lots of choices.

          • TheJungerLudendorff says:

            It’s more of a risk/reward thing. Usually you get the option to leave if you don’t like the risks. If you have specific items/crew/ship modules/whatever you can get a blue option that usually guarantees a success.

            Then again, the game never bothers to tell you up front what the odds are, what you risk losing and what the potential rewards are.
            And the boss itsself either breaks several rules or outright introduces several new mechanics.

          • GoStu says:

            There’s two things that improve over time. First is your knowledge of the odds of good/neutral/bad outcomes. Second is your knowledge of the various “blue options” and how to get them.

            For example, the Slug sectors can actually be very high-reward… if you’re prepared for them. Otherwise, they can crush your run very quickly. If you bring Long-Range Scanners (to pick ‘good’ beacons), upgraded sensors, upgraded life support, and upgraded medbay a lot of their crappiest events can be beaten more easily. Slug sectors also have a lot of stores (as many as a green sector) so you’re more likely to be able to use your scrap on other upgrades.

            Eventually, you can play the odds on the long run. Sometimes the RNG might screw you, but you can avoid the worst rolls (Giant Alien Spiders!) and start outfitting your ship to play the Blue Option Lottery a lot better.

    • Grudgeal says:

      I had the same problem with Battlefleet Gothic. I reviewed the game saying that its lack of a proper tutorial and the game immediately throwing you into matches where you are horribly outmatched and the game expecting you to win by using A.I. exploits and advanced strategies you possibly couldn’t have mastered yet because there was no way to learn it (and then throwing scripted events that penalize you on top of it, which you may not realize are scripted to happen and think the game is just rubbing your failures into your nose).

      To Steam’s credit quite a few people were sympathetic, but I still got several comments to the theme of “you only have to get better, the game’s actually TOO EASY once you know what you’re doing”. To which my thoughts are essentially, “how am I supposed to learn what to do, when the game seems to resent you for trying to learn in the first place?”.

    • Philadelphus says:

      FTL is a game where people either embrace the randomness or hate it intensely, as far as I’ve seen.

      In FTL’s defense, the flagship is not random, and after fighting it a few times* you’ll know all its tricks and can plan ahead for it. Certain combinations of items make it much more likely that you’ll win, and without gating access to them behind the RNG you’d be able to pick up the exact best combo every time. (Even with the randomness I can still get all or most of them in at least 75% of runs.) At that point what would be the point of the game? You’d simply execute a pre-defined plan to pick up the exact best layout and kill the flagship over and over again”ā€¯basically a degenerate strategy. The randomness in the game keeps it fresh by forcing you to adapt to what you’re given, possibly to play outside your comfort zone and try new tactics, maybe beat the flagship with a combo you didn’t think was possible.

      I wonder if it comes down in part to how much people care about the role of chance in a setback or loss (since you will inevitably lose sometimes when playing FTL, even with perfect play). Switching games for a moment and looking at random crits in Team Fortress 2, some people seem to deplore dying to a random crit with a burning passion (and vocally call for their removal); others (like me) simply shrug and continue on with the game. Dying because I made a sup-par play annoys me; dying to random chance doesn’t. Other people seem to be exactly the opposite. It’d be interesting to see if there’s any connection between that and people’s attitudes towards FTL.

      *and therein lies the rub, I suppose; you either enjoy the gameplay for its gameplay from the start and play it for its own sake, or hate the gameplay and stop before getting a chance to master the game.

      • Blake says:

        I’m much more a fan of the FTL randomness than the TF2 randomness.
        The main reason is that the FTL randomness, while occasionally ruining you, generally just gives you a new situation to adapt to, whereas in TF2 (a much more skill-focused), crits just make it so you sometimes win/lose without giving you a chance to adjust and experience something new.

  8. Thomas says:

    I’ve loved your increased move to analysing gameplay in these long form breakdowns.

    And in game design I can never get enough of the stuff about how the boss fight would have been improved if it felt like a big deal boss flavour wise. That interaction between set-dressing feels like magic to me. Having a system where creatures can only be interacted with under certain conditions feels super clunky. But make it a flying creature, and suddenly it makes total sense that only other flying or ‘special’ creatures can interact with it.

  9. Type_V says:

    It's not that hard once you know how to beat it.

    Sorry Shamus to be one of those people, but to all people who have yet to beat this boss, yes the arena is confusing and poorly lit and all those criticisms are legit. But if you can get to Deadlift, you can chain stun him with ground slams which means you only have to worry about taking damage before you get to him.
    I’ve played this for 150 hours+ and I didn’t know you could shoot the orbs down. This fight sucks.

    • Christopher Kerr says:

      The ground slam that you get, like, 1 tutorial prompt for? Because I played for about 4 hours not using it before I saw Shamus mention that it does huge damage in one of these articles. It’s pretty cool if you know it’s there!

  10. John says:

    Bounce pads are the best thing about Quake III and the reason it is still my favorite FPS. I suck at FPS. My aim is terrible. But sometimes a man just wants to shoot some bots for half an hour, you know? Anyway, the presence of bounce pads in the final level of Quake III’s single-player content means that it is, for me, actually the easiest level, because whenever the boss-bot steps on one he goes sailing through the open air in a nice, predictable arc and I can snipe him with a rail gun. Good times.

    • Zekiel says:

      Ah yes, Xaero and The Very End Of You. I played that level so many times. Most of the time I was trying to railgun bots while bouncing through the air. (I don’t think I ever got any good it it, but it was fun nonetheless)

  11. Destrustor says:

    They come from all sides and they constantly harass you with gunfire.

    That’s something I’ve found to be a problem for the entire game, really.
    The level design of this game loves verticality, as seen in this very boss fight, and the devs seem to really enjoy placing enemy spawn points and their triggers in such a way that anytime you walk forward and trigger enemies to spawn, a few of them will appear behind you. Coupled with the abundance of flying enemies and the fact that the series doesn’t give you the familiar red indicator arrow of where an enemy is shooting you from, you often end up taking massive damage from foes you can’t even see and who regularly take a few seconds each to find.
    It’s one of the biggest reasons I didn’t have as much fun with this game as with the previous ones; I’d always spend most of my time confused and frustrated, wildly spinning the camera around to find the three or four unidentified enemies shooting at me from three stories up behind my back.
    Thinking about it, this whole thing might be Athena’s fault. Her super-directional action skill only has one counter; shooting her from several directions at once, so this might be the developers’ way of ensuring she isn’t the de facto best character.
    I don’t know. I’d have happily taken a nerfed shield for her if it meant more manageably linear level layouts.

    • Fizban says:

      I think this can extend to the other action skills, at least in theory. Gaige’s robot could pin down a whole area, dunno if the attack drones in this one can but they’re probably expected to. Aim-bot would in theory let you turn around and just shoot them. And Claptrap’s random effect always includes a full heal, so you’re a lot harder to kill.

    • Francis-Olivier says:

      I find that if the mooks are at long range they then keeping on the move once they start shooting at you usually mess up their accuracy. Doesn’t work as well once they close the gap though but then they are easier to locate too.

  12. Fizban says:

    I had sort of the opposite problem. I never expected to be the one jumping around: the boss loves his jump pads, that’s his hard-to-kill gimmick, ‘s fine whatevs, and my first run I did get smacked around for a while and run low on ammo shooting at mooks. But on that and all future runs, once I got a clear line of sight it’s just drill him with the sniper rifle and he dies, in just one mag if you land all the headshots. So even if you know the boss fight it’s still a disappointment.

    Can’t say I have too much sympathy if someone playing solo sold their only good sniper rifle- there’s not-yet-gud, and then there’s self-defeating.

    • Matt Downie says:

      In Borderlands 2, I always carried every type of weapon in my inventory so I could swap them around and be less likely to run out of ammo (even if that means going to the inventory screen mid-battle). Shamus complaining about being “limited to two weapon slots” makes me think he has a tendency to sell all the guns that aren’t in his active weapon slots…

    • Francis-Olivier says:

      To be fair he’s one of the first bosses so I’d say figuring out how to avoid his nonsense might be exciting enough. But then again none of the bosses are engagin until you reach Fenrir Robotic Facility so maybe there’s still a problem to boss desings in this game. Still better than BL2 boss desings although that’s not such high praise.

    • James P. says:

      I also ended him too quickly. I didn’t even know about half these attacks or gimmicks.

      Does it matter, since he had zero dialogue at all to this point? Even Captain Flynt was a character, this was a stop-gap.

      (Love your name! I recently met a wizard named Zafnib, sweet man, couldn’t find his hat on his own head though.)

  13. Zaxares says:

    There used to be one example of gaming in which it was expected that a mid-game boss would suddenly be unreasonably difficult for no apparent reason, and that was arcade games. The idea behind it was to basically act as a massive difficulty wall in order to get players to keep pumping in quarters before they could continue.

  14. GargamelLeNoir says:

    “If you look online you'll see the most common strategy(…) in the previous area.”
    This is 100% what I ended up doing, and I felt like shit for having to resort to such a noob move when clearly I was supposed to have fun with the jump pads that I assumed everyone but me had a blast using…
    I liked Janey’s writing however, she’s a positive character and I really liked the motivational posters quest chain. I really liked how important it was for her to properly deliver the merchandise to the scavs we’re about to blow the hell up.

  15. James P. says:

    This game has a bit of a problem with design around low grav and the jump pads. On the one hand, wide open places are cool and fun to play around. But they start to get annoying when you miss a jump by an inch and have to climb the 100ft tower again, without knowing if you’re jumping onto something you can’t go onto or just not jumping at the right time.

    And this game has a love affair with endless pits and lava that really makes the awful buggy controls like ashes in your mouth.

  16. Falterfire says:

    Given that I’ve played Pre-Sequel a bunch and never really registered Deadlift as a threat, I have to wonder if it has something to do with his level as well. As somebody who habitually does every single available sidequest before leaving an area, I tend to be a bit over the expected level for an area.

    I’m curious if the devs expected players to be a level or two higher, since that would massively swing the difficulty based on the way Borderlands level scaling works and his position this early in the game would make it possible to hit him at a much wider spread of levels than a later boss.

    Those same attacks that you register as being instantly deadly would be far less of a threat if you were a couple levels higher, which would account for why some players (like myself) would find him to be a pretty easy fight even without being particularly mechanically skilled.

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