Spoiler's below! Ye have been warned!
Borderlands 3 is a fantastic game. In almost everyway it improves upon Borderlands 2 from guns, to graphics, to more guns. The combat feels both smoother, faster, and more violent. The enemies felt more varied, with different approaches needed for different factions rather than just “SHOOT EM’ TILL THEYRE DEAD”. The world, or should I say worlds, are far more beautiful, as Gearbox has managed to discover there are other colours to the colour spectrum outside of the many wonderous shades of brown. The Vault Hunters too especially feel more unique and add more to the story than the occasional quip like in Borderlands 2. They’re playstyles also differ greatly from one another which only gets more varied as you go down the skill tree. Meanwhile, perks back in Borderlands 2 are almost always a numbers game, giving me little boosts here and there. Meaning although, by the end of Borderlands 3, my character felt considerably different and stronger than the start, while in Borderlands 2 I felt pretty much the same only sometimes I see bigger numbers. Everything is just better... except for one noticeable exception. The baddy.
It seems to sadly be a rather unfortunate theme for 2019 that writing has taken the backseat compared to any other aspect in the medium [Insert cheap shot at Game of thrones here]. However, with Borderlands 3 I’m considerably more sympathetic as they had some pretty darn big shoes to fill, or more accurately, some Hyperion Brand, Ultra Comfy, seal fur-lined, auto-lacing shoes. Borderland 2’s Handsome Jack is easily one of the most dynamic, well written, and popular villains in the history of gaming. In any top 10 list, he can easily be found rubbing shoulders with the likes of Glad0s and Vaas Montenegro. He’s just so darn charismatic, you can’t help but love that twisted, evil son of a bullymong. So, you can imagine the collective heart attack the writing team at Gearbox Studios had when they were tasked with making the villain who would have to follow this masked maniacal mogul. No matter what they did, it was likely that anything they produced would simply not measure up. The only problem is that the villains they revealed from a fog of vape smoke, the calypso twins, are just kind of… meh. And a meh villain is okay, there are plenty of great games with meh villains, like Mass Effect’s Reapers. But when your main villains are two idiots whose goal in life is to be the answer to the question: “what if Logan Paul had a gun fetish?”, and your previous game had one of the best villains ever, the drop in quality is going to be noticeable. Thus, unfortunately in nearly every way the Calypso twins just do not measure up when compared to the long shadow of Handsome Jack
You just need to look at the introduction to both games main villain to realise that comparing Jack to Troy and Tyreen is like comparing a flashy Vladolf legendary to a common Dahl Pistol. The opening cutscene to Borderlands 2 has our main heroes immediately confronted by Jack as he attempts to kill them. Not only does this show he’s actually a pro-active villain, but his opening lines after our heroes fight their way through waves of Hyperion soldiers to the front of the train also completely sum up his character: “It’s cute y’all think you’re the heroes of this little adventure, but you’re not. Welcome to Pandora kiddos!” BOOM. This little cutscene already tells us a lot. 1. Jack is more than happy to sacrifice even his own men just to trick the Vault Hunters to think he’s in a room just to try and blow them up. 2. You know he believes he’s a hero, and the main character, which is a vital point to Jack’s character. 3. He has access to more dynamite than Will. E. Coyote. The best part is when Jack finds out this little attempt to catch our vault loving loonies failed he is utterly unphased, calling you just to tease you while munching on bad pretzels, because he already has an alphabetised list of ways to kill you, all of course with the necessary Hyperion forms filled out. This is Handsome Jack in a nutshell, the villain who thinks he’s a hero, always one step ahead of the game, and will never let you forget it for a second. Now let’s compare that to the Calypsos intro. They don’t make their first appearance at all until you go up to fight Borderlands 3’s first boss. About two-thirds of the way through the first planet. Already the intro falls flat as they are constantly being hyped up by everyone you meet as the ultimate bandit lords who drink from the skulls of their enemies. Yet since you, the player, have probably already seen a trailer for the game, you know their just kind of whiney mid 20-year-olds. Then when you finally first meet them, all you get are generic clips of their live stream, until you beat the boss and when they finally address your existence in the game they just sort of say “Hey”, give you the thing you were looking for (as it’s all part of their MasterfulTM Plot, more on that later) and sod off. As will be a running theme in this post, they don’t leave much of an impact. What’s worse after meeting Jack we know all the core concepts of his character and you understand his rough lessness has lead him to be the main bad guy. After meeting the Calypsos, you know their streamers, and they only reason they are vaguely a threat is that one is a siren, and they may genuinely be so cringey it hurts.
This is one of the main problems of the Calypsos. There is just nothing to them. Plus it seems they are just pulled along by outside factors. They only reason they could rise to power in the first place was not because of cunning or strategy but because they have superpowers, without them they would not be nearly as popular or effective, as shown by the fact the Troy only starts getting attention from other bandits when he gains powers of his own and is able to step away from his sisters shadow. Then there is their grand master plan which is to literally let the player do everything for them. That’s basically it. They just let the player find and open the Vault, kill the monster guarding it, then eat said monster. They even give you the first Vault Key, just so you can charge it for them. If you literally stop fighting them and sod off, their plans would be in utter tatters! The most proactive step they make in the entire game happens before you arrive, and that’s simply to start a following. Worse still the few victories they do get are accomplished by dumb means. Tyreen is able to beat Lilith, because Lilith stops mid-fight to admire Troy’s tattoos. Tyreen beats Maya only because Ava shows up, and Troy discovers he can suck up other people’s powers. You meanwhile were not around to save Maya because you ran inside the vault without them, Yet come just one vault later, Tannis gets kidnapped because, once again, you were inside a vault and Tannis thought it better to stay outside. Tyreen’s greatest power is not her Siren abilities but her own dumb luck. Compare that to Borderlands 2, when Jack’s plan is already in full swing, he is charging the vault key, it is only a matter of time until he open’s it. Even though at the start, you are playing into his plans like in Borderlands 3, by getting the generator which would allow the attack on Sanctuary, his plans won’t grind to a halt if you just stopped doing things, he still has the key after all and only because of your direct actions does that ever change. Not only this but Jack’s motivation for the plan are way stronger, because he has an actual motivation. He believes he is the hero, and so the hero has to stop the bad guys. His idea is to use the vault key to get access to The Warrior and rid Pandora of bandits and crazy psychos. He believes he is the only one who can bring peace to Pandora, and in a way, he’s right. The main difference between the Crimson Raiders and everyone else on pandora is that they are bandits with a cause, but bandits none the less. Crimson Raider HQ, Sanctuary, is a mess, the people sick and deranged, the whole place feels like it could collapse at any moment. Meanwhile, Jack’s city, Opportunity, is clean, quiet, and most importantly, bandit free. Jack not only wants to save Pandora from Bandits, but there is plenty of evidence to show he actually could! Meanwhile, Troy and Tyreen want to be bandit leaders because… YOLO?
Handsome Jack has actual character progression to boot. At the start, he is the super arrogant CEO, and although funny, a cocky business bad guy is hardly something we haven’t seen before. However, Once his plan starts to go awry he noticeably changes. He increasingly starts to acknowledge you as a threat, he starts throwing insults out of anger and not simply because he’s winning. The cracks behind the façade of his literal mask starts to show as despite everything you just don’t die. How is that possible when he is the hero? Once Angel dies any bravado he had is lost completely, replaced by sheer rage. His quips stop almost completely as he becomes obsessed with his goal as he sees that as the only way to avenge his daughter. Jumping back to the Calypsos not only is there a lack of any character development, but a giant open goal for a great twist is completely ignored! At the start of the game, Troy is very much seen as the man behind the curtain, who just sets up the stream and works behinds the scenes. His sister doesn’t seem to really care about him and often refers to him as a parasite. Yet once Troy gets his own powers he steps into the limelight, he starts to gather his own followers and cultists, and gets a taste of his sisters’ popularity and even starts to brag how he rivals her in power. This actually got me really excited as I thought it would lead to some epic brother v sister civil war which may even lead to us picking sides. But nope. Nothing happens. They both stay friendly and then Troy dies. Showing that the calypsos are a lot like their cheesy made clips, a lot of annoying noises, and not a lot of substance.
And to bring it to a close, what about their exit? What are their final words? How does the game you’ve sunk hundreds of hours in end? Well for Jack it’s fantastic. The Warrior, his objective for decades lies dead at his feet, which themselves are slowly pooling in his own blood. What follows is a rant of a broken man, unable to come to grips with how on earth he lost! He was the good guy! He literally screams “You are the bandit, AND I AM THE GODDAMN HERO”! Everything he believed about himself, and the world around him, has come crashing down, and the utterly brilliant voice acting by Dameon Clarke sells this. Meanwhile, Troy dies saying, “we were so close…” and Tyreen doesn’t say anything. She kicks the bucket with no last words, no curse of revenge, not even a cheesy quip! That’s freaking villain 101! You’re just left standing around going, was that it?
So in summary, there is just a colossal divide between the quality of Handsome Jack and the Calypso twins. While Handsome jack is built on the tried and tested idea of jerky CEO baddy, he is uniquely developed through the fact he believes himself the hero and how that image is brought into the question by the actions of the player. The Calypsos meanwhile are built around the idea of: “Hey guys, aren’t steamers like, sooooooooooooooo annoying?!”. As a result, you want to kill Jack not only to stop his plans but to make him realise his hubris. You want to kill the Calypsos because you want them to just freaking shut up. Looking back this makes me sound incredibly negative, and I do believe the Calypsos had their moments, and were sometimes genuinely funny. The whole streamer gimmick would actually have been a great idea for a mini-boss at the end of one questline. Maybe even the head boss of one planet. But they’re just not good enough to be promoted to main villain, there’s just not enough to them! It’s almost like someone had an idea for a great 3-minute video but then extends it to 10 minutes in order to cram the most ad revenue in. Or when your favourite blogger takes a simple comparison idea and stretches it over 4 pages because he doesn’t know what concise means. In the end, the Calypso twins just end up a lot like Maliwan guns: flashy, colourful, but lacking any impact.