Here we are, more than three years removed from the launch of the most recent Gearbox-developed Borderlands game, Borderlands 2. Right now the studio is focused on the hobby-grade, meta-growth Battleborn, but after that releases in a few months, where will the studio’s focus go? Okay, yeah, probably Battleborn DLC. But after that? Borderlands 3.
Borderlands 2 was a triumph in my eyes. It took the concept and world I loved from the first game and addressed most of the issues I had with it (and even some I didn’t even realize existed until they were fixed). Gearbox is going to have to step it up in order for Borderlands 3 to have that same wow factor. Hopefully, the developer has been paying attention to these games over the past few years, because they hold valuable lessons to be learned.
Bungie’s take on the loot-shooter genre shares a lot of similarities with Borderlands, and it does a few things significantly better. Borderlands 3 probably shouldn’t go pseudo-MMO like Destiny, nor should it mimic the more grind-focused loot system. Where Gearbox can improve by taking Bungie’s lead is in its endgame content.
The original Borderlands didn’t have a proper raid boss until its third DLC, The Secret Armory of General Knoxx. And while the sequel shipped with Terramorphous and Vermiferous, all three of those are essentially just large versions of enemies that take a lot of bullets to kill. The battles got more interesting with Hyperius and Master Gee, incorporating actual combat mechanics to deal with other than the usual “point gun at thing, hold trigger until dead” tactic.
But Destiny‘s raids are so much more than just one difficult boss fight. They can take several hours to complete. They incorporate puzzles, platforming, labyrinths, exploration, and stealth on top of the fairly intricate boss battles. Heck, the King’s Fall raid contains four boss fights across three distinct arenas. Getting through it the first time feels like an enormous accomplishment.
Imagine doing all of that in the more bombastic world of Pandora. Competing in a death race in order to enter an enormous vault. Navigating through treacherous terrain to delve deeper. Solving puzzles to unlock secret doors full of loot. All of this culminating in a battle that requires complete teamwork and communication among all party members. It would be glorious.
When considering tone or focus, Mass Effect is just about on the opposite end of the spectrum as Borderlands. It wouldn’t help if Borderlands took itself as seriously as BioWare’s space epic, nor would it benefit from going down the moral choice route. However, one thing Gearbox can learn from Mass Effect is the sense of scale.
To be fair, Borderlands 2 is enormous, especially after considering all of the DLC it eventually featured. Mass Effect games probably cover about the same total area, but they feel like much grander affairs. The reason: Shepard and company go on a romp across the entire friggin’ galaxy, visiting all sorts of exotic locales.
Even though Pandora got a massive upgrade in the second game, featuring much more distinctive environments, it would be nice to see what else the universe has to offer. From characters’ back stories we know other inhabited worlds exist and interstellar travel is possible, so maybe we should capitalize on that and see what else is out there. It helps that the ending for Borderlands 2 strongly hints toward this possibility.
Tales from the Borderlands
When Borderlands 2 released, it received praise for having a more cohesive story than the first game. It also received a good bit of derision for its reliance on referential humor and memes. For the most part, the writing was appropriate accompaniment for the gameplay when it wasn’t cringe-inducing.
But oh man. Telltale took on Gearbox’s baby and showed what could really be done with it. Telltale made likable, flawed characters. It crafted actual jokes, ranging from snide one-liners to more slapstick physical humor while steering clear of blatant references. Telltale made its mark on the series with a more memorable story than any of the main series games had.
Not only that, but Telltale also embraced something Gearbox seemed to shy away from. Borderlands is M-rated, and Tales leans into that in more ways than just having guns and some blood. In a world full of genocide, immolation, and cannibalism, it’s weird to hear middle school insults like “jaggoff” or “piss-for-brains” out of its denizens. A big dramatic crescendo leads to Angel calling Handsome Jack an “asshole” as if that carries an appreciable amount of linguistic weight.
Borderlands 3 will get the M rating, so Gearbox: run with it. Don’t be afraid to drop some unbleeped F-bombs like Tales does. Oh, and put exploding sniper headshots back in too, while you’re at it.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel
Though it has been more than three years since Gearbox released a Borderlands game, we did get a loot-shooter in the series from 2K Australia, and it was… strange. It introduced some elements like double jumps, butt stomps, and laser guns that felt great from a moment-to-moment standpoint and yet, the experience as a whole fell flat.
I played through Borderlands almost ten times and Borderlands 2 a couple dozen, but I couldn’t muster a third playthrough of The Pre-Sequel. Any number of factors could have contributed to that, but the main reason it didn’t have staying power was that it just felt too similar to what came before it. Borderlands 2 feels like a proper sequel to Borderlands, but The Pre-Sequel feels like (substantial) DLC to Borderlands 2.
For Borderlands 3 to really wow us, it has to go that extra mile. What that extra mile is, I can’t say. A new engine built for current generation hardware would be a nice start, but it will need to up the ante on the gameplay front as well. To meet expectations and become the definitive entry in the series, it will have to be bigger, bolder, and more badass in just about every way.
Is that too much to ask?