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Borderlands 3 Proves That Practice Makes Perfect

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With Borderlands 3 only a few months away, the anticipation surrounding the return of the franchise that modernized the looter shooter is the topic of many conversations. For over five years, the industry has been without a mainline entry to the series, leaving many to wonder how the franchise would continue after the grand success of Borderlands 2. Although Gearbox and 2K maintained relevance with the release of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, fans of the franchise are eager to see where the vault hunters will go next.

Not long ago now, Gearbox officially announced Borderlands 3 with a release date of September 13, 2019. Shortly afterwards, the industry was shown pre-release footage of the game where audiences witnessed footage of a game similar to that of its predecessors, yet better in every way imaginable. All of the positive reception surrounding the gameplay of Borderlands 3 can be attributed to the length of development time. Similarly to titles such as Red Dead Redemption 2 and God of War (2018), Borderlands 3 will be another game that proves that taking whatever time is necessary will yield a better product.

Within the footage, Gearbox detailed a host of quality of life changes that gamers have always needed, yet never knew they wanted. An argument can be made that the last Borderlands released during a time when these features were an afterthought, but the same one can be made towards the belief that Gearbox was not required to implement them at all. For instance, sliding and mantling were not seen as missed opportunities during Borderlands 2, though the features are now a welcome change that will greatly alter a player’s experience. Similar to mantling in Destiny 2, players did not realize how naturally the mechanic enhanced their experience until returning to the first Destiny where it was absent.  

Borderlands 3 will alter the player’s experience from previous entries in more ways than one. Along with easier mobility, Gearbox has created numerous weapon and ammunition variants to emphasise the over-the-top appeal. In Borderlands 2, most weapons advertised the user experience upon collection and inspection, whereas players will only truly understand a weapon’s strength through experimentation in the sequel. For example, guns will now feature alternative firing modes that can vary from elemental bullets to firing homing rockets when reloading. Additionally, one weapon archetype will transform into a mobile turret when reloading/disposed of—need I say more?

Most of the enhancements presented in the reveal are accompanied by the realization of the developer’s love and admiration towards the series. Listening to the developers talk about what Borderlands means to them, along with the genuine excitement shown when describing new features reinforces that with enough time and care a project can exceed all expectations. Nevertheless, the game’s greatest features are yet to be shown, leaving some amount of speculation and excitement for the months coming.

From what Borderlands 3 has teased so far, audiences can see how expansive the world will be, including planetary space travel and deep character customization. Of the four confirmed playable characters, Zane and Amara were featured during the reveal. For fans of the previous titles, these characters’ abilities will seem a little familiar. The almost déjà vu sense of familiarity comes from the fact that their abilities are a hybrid of previous character designs. Along with ability design, Borderlands 3 will feature more methods of utilizing a character’s strength through more customizable skill trees.

Zane encompasses features that are reminiscent of numerous characters in the Borderlands series. His Barrier skill tree will feel useful to those who preferred the playstyle of Roland or Axton, as it can both heal and provide buffs for players who stand within its radius. Additionally, his Digi-Clone action skill serves as a mutation from the Doppelganger’s ability in Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel with the ability to cast out a fully automatized clone and teleport to its location whenever necessary. Finally, Zane’s SNTNL skill tree shoots out a motorized drone that will mark targets, damaging them in the process. Interestingly enough, however, is that Zane has the potential to be the only character that will allow for the selection of two action skills simultaneously, creating the persona of a one-man army.

Amara, on the other hand, continues a series staple of the presence of a playable Siren. Her Phasegrasp ability is sure to remind players of Borderlands 2’s Maya and her ability to suspend enemies mid-air and deal damage. One ability that is new to the game is Amara’s Phasecast, which projects a spectral form that can damage enemies from distance. Finally, Amara’s Phaseslam ability is akin to Destiny’s Titan Smash, where the player will leap into the air and crash down, creating an area-of-effect blast that can damage enemies while knocking them back.

As previously stated, Borderlands 3 shows evidence of a quality game even months before its scheduled release. Quality, though, should come as no surprise since Gearbox has consistently shown dedication towards the series with how well it supported each title after release. The ideology surrounding the concept of slow roasting a game to perfection can be found in past titles as well. Red Dead Redemption 2 and God of War both experienced extensive development periods, which proved to be for the better given their critical acclaim. The developers of these titles poured their heart and soul into their projects with the desire to create a title that they could be proud of.

For many individuals who worked on Red Dead Redemption 2 and God of War, the fact that their creations are forever cemented as some of the finest experiences in all of gaming is a reward in itself. These titles are truly a testament to how effective a development cycle can be when supported by a team that is just as excited for the final product as any fan would be, and I firmly believe that Borderlands 3 will follow suit. As is evident in every showing so far, Borderlands 3 is a game made for fans by fans.

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Pokémon Games Have Always Been Better Than Their Graphics

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Pokemon Sword and Shield starters

As fans learned more about the upcoming Pokémon Sword and Shield at E3 this year, a portion of them turned against the titles. Back in February, a Pokémon region based on the United Kingdom enticed players, and they constructed thousands of memes around the premise. Now, though, a subset of the Pokémon community is complaining about two elements of the titles: the lack of every single Pokémon ever created, which developer Game Freak addressed but does not plan to change, and the graphics and animations. The latter gripe is especially odd since the Pokémon franchise has never had especially good graphics or animations. 

The Pokémon games have always had an especially strong art direction, but the graphics that realize this vision are notoriously lackluster. While the outrage is somewhat understandable, it also seems misplaced; graphics were never a core part of the Pokémon experience. This anger also shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what made Pokémon such a successful franchise and why it is still such a significant part of the video game landscape today.

An Art Style Full of Substance

Pokémon Red and Blue premiered in 1996 for the Game Boy. The series began towards the end of the handheld’s lifespan, with the Game Boy Color releasing in October 1998. With essentially 151 playable characters, a world rich with personality and lore, and a game design that strongly encouraged players to interact with each other outside of the games, the first generation of Pokémon became an international phenomenon. However, the graphics and animations in these original games were noticeably limited compared to other Game Boy games. 

In these games, character sprites are static, only the simplest of animations are used to convey attacks, and the overworld is borderline minimalistic. Compared to titles that premiered earlier on the Game Boy, such as 1992’s Kirby Dream Land or 1993’s The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, Pokémon Red and Blue are a huge step down graphically. 1999’s Pokémon Gold and Silver for the Game Boy Color would do little to improve these graphics, merely using the console’s enhanced hardware to add color to the games while adding brief introduction animations for monsters in Pokémon Crystal.

Pokémon games have never had hardware-pushing graphics. Instead, they made up for this shortcoming by having a never-before-seen scope of characters and truly outstanding art direction. Sword and Shield seem as though they are continuing this tradition of exceptional art direction, and will realize an extraordinary version of the United Kingdom where Pokémon battles are treated like sporting events. Furthermore, the player can easily interpret what kind of personality Pokémon and trainers have from their designs; especially in the early games. Giovanni’s hunched posture and receding hairline demonstrate that he is a villain, and Erika’s resting pose and closed eyes convey her serene nature. Likewise, Poliwrath’s superhero pose reinforced its newfound fighting-type and Gengar’s grin and raised hands defined it as a ghostly prankster. This focus on art direction is a big part of why the Pokémon games are so full of life and character, and Game Freak was right to focus more on this element of the games than pursuing high graphical fidelity.

How Character Overcame Graphics

That some fans are upset about the graphics and animations in Pokémon Sword and Shield is understandable, so long as they are not harassing Game Freak and its employees. After all, the fans just want a franchise they love dearly to be the best possible version of itself. However, this anger seems to misunderstand what made Pokémon popular in the first place. 

Pokémon rose to prominence because it is an appealing concept that was executed well. When one plays the first and second generation of games, they understand that the team behind them had a very specific vision for this world and its characters. The Pokémon games are kind of strange in that their worlds contain a lot of culture and lore that do not have any bearing on the actual gameplay or story. For instance, the gym leader Sabrina has psychic powers even though her supernatural abilities never really come into play, and the Sinnoh region of  Pokémon Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum has a distinct religion that does not impact the game whatsoever. This meticulously crafted world is very much like a supernatural version of our own, and that made Pokémon such a success. The very specific tone of the games comes off as both familiar and incredible, making players wish that their own reality was just a bit more like that of Pokémon

Of course, the emphasis on social features also played a far larger role in Pokémon’s success than the graphics of any given game. The focus on trading, competitive battles, and even sharing details on a hidden area or how to evolve a specific Pokémon rapidly created a community surrounding the franchise. Then, with the launch of the anime and trading card game, the community rapidly expanded and people could enjoy the franchise in whatever way they enjoyed the most. Graphics were never a part of what made Pokémon a hit and for Game Freak to focus on the elements at the core of the franchise, rather than 3D graphics and animations that are going to look dated in half a decade anyway, is a smart move.

Using A Small Team To Achieve A Brilliant Vision

A common response to the suggestion that Pokémon games do not need stellar graphics or animation to be great games is that Game Freak has abundant resources considering Pokémon’s unmatched success. A part of the group that takes issue with the visuals and animation of Sword and Shield thinks that Game Freak is making enough from its games that it can afford to make them look much better than it has so far. While this idea has some merit, executing it could betray the core ideals of the franchise and ignores the fact that no new Pokémon game will make everyone happy. 

Each new Pokémon game is so well received because it is a solid execution of a specific vision that a small group of people share. Game Freak has around 150 employees, making the team behind each game rather small for such an established franchise. Pouring more money into a game does not automatically make it look better, and Game Freak would have to bring on more staff members to improve the game’s graphics or, for the people upset about the lack of a complete National Pokedex, code every single monster into the game. Expanding Game Freak’s team like this could cloud the vision of the games, though, and easily work against the company. Creating top-tier graphics and animations for a game that includes hundreds of characters will always be a herculean task to which no easy solution exists.

This issue of middling graphics and animations is not actually all that significant in the first place. Most Pokémon fans are excited for Sword and Shield and only a small section of them draw significant issue with their visuals. The Pokémon fanbase is so big that pleasing everyone is impossible. Game Freak is right to focus on honing the core themes and mechanics that made Pokémon a success, rather than pour a terrific amount of time and effort into visuals of the games. The last time a Pokémon game really marketed itself on exceptional graphics and animations was 2006’s Pokémon Battle Revolution—which sold less than two million copies, a rather meager number for a spin-off Pokémon title. 

Pokémon

Personality Over Polish

For people to be upset, within reason, that something they love is not living up to their expectations is fine. However, the expectation that Sword and Shield should have hardware-pushing graphics is an unreasonable one that fails to consider that the Pokémon games have always had subpar graphics. Pokémon is a hit franchise consisting of several great games in spite of the graphics in those titles. In fact, the more limited graphics and animations suggest that Sword and Shield are on track to be similar to the previous Pokémon games. Some may perceive the graphics as weak, but the world, characters, and the events of the games will more than make up for this overstated shortcoming.

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