Borderlands has vehicle sections sometimes. The first game, for example, gives you a heavily armed, bulked up dune buggy pretty early on to help get from one end of the Arid Badlands to the other in a hurry. This is basically just a slightly slower than normal fast travel system at first, as the Arid Badlands is built around a road running east-west and the bulked up buggy is too big to be taken too far off that road, but then the next area, the Dahl Headlands, is much more wide and open, focusing heavily on vehicle combat. The game’s next hub area is the Rust Commons, which is about 70% buggy-traversible, and its final hub area the Salt Flats (though visited relatively briefly) is vehicle-focused like the Dahl Headlands was. The DLCs follow a similar pattern, with the General Knoxx DLC being heavily vehicle focused while vehicle combat is totally absent from Jakobs Cove and the claptrap areas.
Having wider, more open spaces traversed by vehicles helps give the game world a sense of scale, adds some variety to the gameplay, and gives the game a chance to show off its cool vehicle designs. Unfortunately, Borderlands’ vehicle gameplay sucks. Your vehicle is too fragile, it’s very difficult to effectively dodge enemy projectiles, and the only thing that stops the vehicle sections from being interminably frustrating is that aim is a crapshoot for both you and enemies, which means even though swerving around incoming shots is rarely reasonably doable, it’s also rarely required, as the majority of shots miss all by themselves.
In order for Borderlands’ vehicle sections to work, it needed more time and money, and this from a game that’s already clearly struggling to get things done in time to ship. The General Knoxx DLC was potentially a chance to do better, but without seeing the budget and the code, it’s impossible to say for sure (plus, it’s worth noting that General Knoxx did do better, just not much better, and not nearly realizing the full potential of the idea). So I’m not really suggesting the following system as what they should’ve done, because it’s possible the resources just weren’t there. But I am suggesting the following system as something that would be cool.
Borderlands is a looter shooter, and the premise behind its vehicles is that you can use hypertech digistructors to create new vehicles from thin-air at any vehicle station, so there’s no reason why its vehicles shouldn’t be randomly dropped loot just like its guns. You’d want vehicles to be relatively rare drops from regular guys, so that they don’t distract from the guns, but to reverse the odds for drops from destroyed enemy vehicles, so that the number of vehicles you’re looking at goes up when you’re in a vehicle-friendly part of the game.
Just like guns, different vehicles should have different damage, accuracy, rate of fire, shields, top speeds, acceleration, and maybe some other stats, and just like guns, these should be randomized but within a certain range based on their level and vehicle class. Some factors, like speed and rate of fire, are heavily impacted by vehicle class, while others, like damage and shields, are heavily impacted by level.
I propose five different vehicle classes, slightly less than the seven weapon classes in the game. The first vehicle class is the motorcycle, which is the fastest, the most fragile, and is narrow enough to get past a lot of barriers that you can’t normally get vehicles through, although it still can’t fit through doorways or go up stairs. The motorcycle has a forward-facing machine gun that the driver can fire, but like the driver weapons on the game’s runners (the name of the bulked up dune buggies), they’re not great and you’re expected to use the motorcycle to reach a place and then hop out to shoot people on foot. The motorcycle is fragile, but its death detonation doesn’t do much damage, which means you aren’t at a significant disadvantage in the ensuing firefight if it gets blown up from under you.
The second vehicle class is the runner. The runner is a small (for a vehicle) profile and quite speedy vehicle with mediocre shields and a single turret that can be either a machine gun or an elemental turret: Flamethrowers, acidthrowers, Tesla cannons, a mine launcher (it fires spreadshot bursts of proximity mines into the ground – only enemies can trigger them, although the explosions can harm players if they’re nearby when they go off) or a rocket launcher (because “explosive” is an elemental damage type in Borderlands). These weapons are all anti-personnel, with the rocket and mine launchers being the only one that does even moderately well against vehicles, and even that not especially against more heavily armored vehicles. Because the runner is lightly armored itself, it is vulnerable to rocket launchers so you can have runner duels, but mostly they’re good for light anti-personnel support and getting around in a hurry, being nearly as fast as the motorcycle. Like the motorcycle, it doesn’t do much damage when it explodes, so you can reasonably drive it up to a fight, use it as a weapons platform, and still have the bulk of your HP/shields left to finish the fight if it gets blown up while you’re in it.
The third vehicle class is the infantry fighting vehicle, or IFV for short. You can also call it an APC, and that term might be more familiar to a general audience and help the game keep its frontier mercs-and-militias feel. It’s a broad-profile, medium-speed, medium-armor vehicle with three turrets (plus the driver seat), allowing it to carry a full team of four players. It has the same turret options as the runner, but different IFVs can have any combination of turrets. The oops-all-rockets IFV will be pretty good against vehicles (especially lightly armored runners), but since the pool of turret weapons is slanted towards anti-infantry flamethrowers and machine guns (just because that is two weapons and the rocket launcher is only one weapon), most IFVs are going to be really good at providing a firing platform for combat against infantry. The IFV does a decent chunk of damage when it explodes, so you don’t want to still be in it when it’s taken out, but you aren’t immediately finished off by it, either.
The fourth vehicle class is the tank. The tank is a broad-profile, slow-speed (though still faster than running on foot), very heavily armored vehicle with a tank turret. Unlike the runner/APC turret options, these things always kill vehicles: Plasma cannons, rocket barrages, huge dual chain-guns. They kill infantry pretty dead, too, and some of them even have good rate of fire (the chain-guns fire continuously), but they have trouble aiming downward and even when they’re firing explosives, they don’t have a wide radius of effect. The tank is good at killing other vehicles, but isn’t as good at taking on infantry, so you will have to climb out and fight them with guns. It also deals sufficiently massive amounts of damage when blown up to nearly or completely kill whoever’s in or near it. Getting out of the tank takes longer than most other vehicles classes, too, and you still get smacked by the explosion if you’re in the middle of the climbing-out animation. You don’t use a tank as an alpha strike and then carry on the fight on foot after it’s blown up – if you brought a tank to the fight and it got blown up, that’s basically it for you.
The fifth vehicle class is the artillery. Artillery has either a real big cannon or a real big rocket launcher, and either way it’s slow, poorly armored, but has a massive range and does a lot of damage. It’s a sniper rifle but for vehicles. Like the tank, it does a tremendous amount of damage to its driver when blown up, so if the enemies are getting close, you should hop out.
Borderlands was already heading in this direction in the General Knoxx DLC. It collapses the machine gun runner and the rocket launcher runner into one vehicle, the rocket launcher runner, because the machine gun runner was just worse and without being some kind of loot drop, strictly worse vehicles are clutter. It adds the monster, an up-armored truck with a homing rocket launcher that makes it much easier to take out enemy vehicles, and the Lancer, an APC with room for all four characters and a very powerful cannon but which is very slow (I split this concept into the IFV and the tank – and it’s worth noting that the stingray hoverbike from the Borderlands Pre-Sequel is pretty similar to the motorcycle I proposed, just float-y and moon-themed, so Borderlands has done most of these before, just never all in one game and never integrating them into looter shooter mechanics).
General Knoxx not only fails to integrate these new vehicle classes into the looter shooter gameplay, they’re also very weak across the board compared to Crimson Lance vehicles. So far as winning fights on highways with limited room to maneuver goes, a Lancer is just better than monsters or runners. Even after you unlock the Lancer yourself, though, your odds against two or especially three such vehicles aren’t very good, and you’ll have to fight a half-dozen of them any time you’re going from one end of the highway to another. Your shields do regenerate (and your vehicle’s health is all shields, no regular non-regenerating HP), but it’s at such a slow pace that you either try to run the gauntlet with minimal shield regeneration or you take a five-minute break after each of the half-dozen enemy encounters you have on the trip.
So in addition to the different vehicle classes and integrating them all into the looter shooter gameplay loop, you’d also want to drastically increase the shield regeneration rate on all vehicles so that it only takes thirty seconds after a fight to recharge (if you haven’t played the game: There’s a long delay on when the shield recharge begins that gets reset every time you take damage, so you can only recharge shields mid-fight if you’re driving circles around your enemy anyway, which means the rate at which shields recharge won’t affect battles much). Borderlands games after 1 are better about this, and while the vehicle options are often worse than what you get in General Knoxx (but never as bad as the Borderlands 1 base game), faster health recharge makes it more than worth it.
Since we’re already dreaming past the limits of the time and money the game actually had, we can go ahead and imagine the vehicles as having different appearances when manufactured by different corporations:
-Bandits make motorcycles, runners, and artillery which deal more damage but have lower accuracy and HP. They have a post-apocalyptic cobbled-together-from-corrogated-metal kind of appearance. Their artillery are always rocket artillery that can only do volley fire to compensate for their terrible accuracy.
-Dahl makes tanks, IFVs, and artillery that look like current-day real world military vehicles in camo color schemes (the exact palette of which we can let players select like they do for vehicles in the existing game, particularly since that lets you do things like change the palette to match your current environment). Their mechanical gimmick is that if you aim at the same target for a bit, they lock on, giving you an aimbot and making any missiles you’re firing into homing missiles. Some amount of effort to keep your targeting reticule on the target is still required, if only because that allows you to break off the lock by dragging away from them.
-Hyperion produces motorcycles, IFVs, and tanks with a high-tech, angular, military space-tank kinda look. Its machine guns have negative recoil like their infantry weapons do, getting more accurate as you fire, and their rockets are TOW-style guided weapons that keep tracking your cursor position after you fire them. They never have flamethrowers, acidthrowers, or tesla cannons, although they can have plasma turrets on their tanks which benefit from the TOW guidance.
-Maliwan produces motorcycles and runners with a sleek neo-Tokyo anime cyberpunk aesthetic which have a bit less HP but go much faster than other vehicles and have higher elemental effect chance on their flamethrowers, acidthrowers, and tesla cannons. They never have machine guns, rocket launchers, or mine throwers as turrets, and their driver-operated machine guns deal elemental damage matching their turret or, in the case of the motorcycle which has no turret, a randomly selected non-explosive element.
-Pangolin (if you don’t remember them from the games, it’s because they’re a shield manufacturer) make IFVs, tanks, and artillery which go slower but have better HP than other manufacturers. They have a bulky, juggernaut-y sort of appearance with lots of unpainted metal, but also a very rounded appearance to help make it look intentional and not like bandit vehicles that are just throwing more and more scrap metal on until they run out or it’s too heavy to move. If we’re really ignoring budget issues completely, then I’d make Pangolin vehicles into walkers to really help them stand out visually.
-Tediore make runners with a cheap economy-class sedan from the 70s/80s but it’s a dune buggy kind of look, with, like, wood paneling and angular designs that nevertheless look like they’re made out of aluminum. They have slightly lower stats across the board except speed, which is normal, and HP, which is much lower, but they deal no damage when destroyed so you can use them as ablative armor on your personal shields/HP at no risk.
-Torgue make tanks and artillery which have lower accuracy but much bigger radius on the AoE explosions, making the tank more usable for anti-personnel and the artillery more of a “spam it out and destroy the whole city block” kind of thing than the vehicle sniper thing most artillery do. They have a monster truck rally kind of aesthetic with brand logos painted all over them. Their tanks never have plasma turrets, and the chaingun turrets on the tanks fire explosive bullets.
-Vladof make IFVs, tanks, and artillery with the same high rate of fire and mid-to-late Soviet aesthetic as the regular Vladof guns. Their IFVs never have acidthrowers, flamethrowers, or Tesla cannons because you can’t really have a higher rate of fire on a weapon that’s already continuously firing.
-I’m leaving out Atlas and S&S since they aren’t in Borderlands 2 or the Pre-Sequel, I’m letting Anshin remain as a shield manufacturer only, and I’m leaving Jakobs out because they don’t seem like they’d make vehicles, or at least, not ones suitable for Pandoran terrain.