The Mystique of the Loot n’ Shoot
The loot n’ shoot: It’s a relatively new genre in the world of gaming, only having really made the scene in 2009. With the launch of Destiny and the latest installment in the Borderlands franchise, the genre is arguably straddling the line between strong and stagnant. With every new arrival in this genre, there’s no lack of reviews out there talking about them, and the same gripes always seem to arise. Even so, the problems don’t keep these games from capturing our hearts (and wallets). So why is that? What keeps this genre that does the same things wrong, time after time, floating and lucrative? The answer lies in the draw of these games. It’s a draw that’s been appealing to the hardcore while satisfying the casual for years.
In October 2009, the original Borderlands landed on the shelves. It broke ground and blew minds, selling over a million copies by December. It didn’t do anything truly original. Rather, the superb quality of this game came from a nearly perfect marriage of the first-person shooter and role-playing game genres, arguably the right and left hands of the gaming industry. There are swarms of enemies, millions of guns, and awesome job classes with branching paths. It’s up to you and your friends to go hunt down the Vault and unlock the mother lode of all treasures.
Borderlands appealed to the casual player because it was easy to pick up and drop out at any time, and there was tons of content in the game to keep you busy. It appealed to the hardcore because to take on many of the game’s most fierce challenges, you’d better bring the skills, the equipment, and a few friends along. Not to mention your character was a progressively changing mix of the skills you chose to invest in and the equipment you were coming across and arming yourself with from each battle. From any set of levels to the next, you’d find yourself constantly evolving your strategy as you opened your options. The way you played at the start, or even at the middle, could be entirely different from the way you played at the end.
Despite that magic, Borderlands was not a flawless gem. It’s a big game, and while you could change up your tactics often with your equipment and skills, lack of variety in the quests and the limited A.I. of the enemy made the action eventually quite repetitive. Just like most (if not all) MMOs, it wasn’t out of the ordinary for you to do tons of “get the thing” or “kill the guy” quests. Boss enemies were largely unique in appearance, but killing the swarms of enemies that led up to them and ultimately the bosses themselves boiled down to the same process every time: Shoot them and throw your abilities and grenades at them until they’re dead.
The flaws of Borderlands really glare the brightest when you’re alone and have nothing to distract you from looking at them. I always felt a sense of hollow loneliness out in the world if I played for long periods of time by myself. A lot of my friends confirmed this same experience. You had quest hubs that had a handful of people, but you couldn’t really talk to any of them unless they had a task for you. Besides that, just about everything in the world is out to kill you. It’s a pretty mind-numbing task being out there all by yourself, killing minion after minion to grind out that last level, or get that last quest item. It was something that ensured that I wouldn’t be playing for long periods of time. Not only was I just killing the same guys over and over again, but I was barred from going after more unique parts of the game because I didn’t have the support I needed to do it.
Let’s talk about support. There’s a definite feel in these games that you’re not supposed to be out there alone. It’s not that you were doing it wrong if you were playing the whole game alone, but Borderlands was definitely made with the core idea of playing with other people. The final challenges almost demand it, and even further, this game becomes almost an entirely different experience in co-op. It’s not just the ability to play through boring parts faster. You build camaraderie amongst your crew. I had the benefit of being able to play most of these games with my friends.
Case in point, if I had to take on the real final boss of Borderlands, Crawmerax the Invincible, by myself, I not only wouldn’t be able to do it, I wouldn’t bother after the first few tries. However, with friends, it wasn’t just feasible to do, it was also a blast. We all worked to our strengths, we formed our strategies, we failed like idiots, and laughed about it, and went back for the next round until that magic moment. The moment when the last bullets were flung and Crawmerax exploded into an enormous pile of loot was a moment that brought a tear to my eye. We all cheered and picked and traded the spoils of something that none of us could have done on our own. Crawmerax brought us together. In return, we blew him apart and danced in his, apparently legendary gun-laden, remains.
Now we sure have been talking a lot about Borderlands here. There’s a reason for that. Go back and replace “Borderlands” with any loot n’ shoot game and the story is largely the same with just a little variation. Borderlands 2 had arguably the most apparent story, Dead Island focused on melee, and Destiny is Halo: The Loot n’ Shoot, but they all have the same flaws and strengths. I challenge you to go to practically any review of any of these games, hit F3 and type in “repetitive.” It’ll almost always show up somewhere in the article.
The same flaws don’t offset the magic that these games pull off though. Personally, I’ve had a Crawmerax experience in every loot n’ shoot I’ve played. The most recent experience I can recall comes from Destiny. The Vault of Glass is a hardcore near impossible challenge for anyone underleveled and under-equipped. It can’t be done without a leveled up group. I might never see the end of it for myself, but I’ll say this: when I had the pleasure of getting friends together and finally breaking through the first door, the first door, we all cheered as if we’d just beaten the whole thing. You better believe the dance function was spammed aplenty.
Is there a problem with the loot n’ shoot genre? That’s a complicated question. The same issues are always there: lackluster story, repetitive gameplay, braindead A.I. (Dead Island, you kind of get a pass on that). However, the franchises out on the market and mentioned in this article are financially successful. We keep buying them and we keep playing them. It’s because, despite how much we complain, there’s a distinct charm to getting together with your friends, taking on something bigger than yourself, and collecting the fruits of your journey together. There’s something awesome about finally scoring that epic-tier gun and trying it out in combat for the first time. Whether you like it or not, there’s a mystique to loot n’ shoots, and maybe when we stop buying them en masse, the gaming industry will stop selling them to us.