With Gearbox’s recent reveal of Borderlands 3 at PAX East, my wife and I spent the past week and a half revisiting the earliest entry in the series. Even for a game that’s a decade old, the original Borderlands still feels great to play today. The granddaddy of the looter-shooter genre, it took the world by storm with its fantastic gameplay (which has only gotten better with age), whimsical humor paired with fantastic characters, and a ton of freakin’ guns. It took the first-person shooter and combined it with the quest-based, open-world gameplay most commonly seen in RPGs, in a fantastically compelling way. Players were prompted to explore the environment not only to complete quests, but because it was actually fun to do so. Plus, you never knew when a chest holding a sweet new gun was right around the next corner.
With the Borderlands series now freshly on everyone’s mind, I thought it would be a great chance to revisit some of the things that made the games as impactful as they were. Let’s also take some time to consider how these features can help or hurt Borderlands 3 upon its release.
So Many Guns!
It can’t be understated how much of Borderlands‘ DNA relies on the massive variety of guns, in addition to the fact that you are always finding them all over Pandora. The guns are a conduit of player freedom and expression, and the fact that there are so many of them is a great factor for replayability. You have individual types such as the combat rifle, shotgun, rocket launcher, and so on, but you also have a few different subclasses within each weapon type. There are double barrel shotguns that shoot exploding projectiles with a short fire rate, and fully automatic shotguns with massive clips and a tight bullet spread. Some sniper rifles have higher fire rate and a low damage, making it almost like an semi-automatic assault rifle with a high-caliber bullet. Others have high damage but shoot much more slowly. So, players who rely on their twitch reflexes can comfortably shoot in quick succession for high DPS, or players who tend to be more methodical can wait for the perfect opening. The thing is, neither one of these styles are better than the other. The player is constantly enabled to experiment with these different types of weapons or to keep finding the weapons that work with the way they like to shoot. Weapons can even have elemental augmentations, which can do more damage to different types of enemies. This keeps players thinking about what weapon in their arsenal is the best for the situation which they are in.
Borderlands 3 needs to continue to push this feature further. Not only in increasing the variety of weapons in the game (which they most certainly will), but in how these weapons complement the abilities of the player using them. If a player lands a headshot from far away, it would be great to have a perk that assigns the next bullet a random element for extra damage. There could even be perks such as if 3/4th of a player’s shots do not make contact with an enemy, their character reload time could be increased drastically for the next reload. This would be helpful for players in a tight spot or ones who are still learning the game.
It would also be great to see more elemental types and new enemies that these are meant to deal critical damage to. I’m excited to see the new weapon designs, especially ones that are stylized based on the element designated to them. I hope that Gearbox really doubles down on this because it makes their weapons beautifully unique.
And, please add more wacky weapons like The Bane.
Best in Class Couch Co-op
I likely don’t need to inform you that couch co-op has become a gaming endangered species in recent years. As we’ve switched to a more online-based multiplayer ecosystem, we’ve lost out on the fun of playing a game with someone who is sitting right next to you. Borderlands thankfully has not lost sight of how much fun that it. The games embrace local splitscreen, but wisely use online functions to enhance that experience. You can play with up to a total of four teammates who can be either connected via matchmaking or sitting within arm’s reach.
While Borderlands 3 will most likely retain its multiplayer capabilities, the thing I would like to see is the game encouraging more player-to-player interactions. More things akin to melee attacking an ally to prompt a duel request, as is part of the game already. I think it would match the series’ personality to let gamers play a quick game of rock-paper-scissors. There could even be minigames that pit players against each other, such as poker or a shooting range to test one another’s skills. Players could even be given the option to throw down some money and let the winner take all! Interaction between players is always a good thing, and the Borderlands series has the right type of charm to pull it off in really interesting ways.
Strong Environmental Storytelling
Telling a story through the environment alone is one of those things that seems easy in theory, but is very difficult to do effectively. A lot of games try to do it, but miss some essential ingredients. The Borderlands games have always been very good at this. They do a great job at communicating the tone and circumstances of an area to the player. A city that is struggling to survive looks the part: holes in the walls are patched up by whatever junk happened to be laying on the ground nearby, old technology is used in place of the latest Hyperion/Atlas equipment, and even vending machines are sometimes knocked down as if they were just recently vandalized. This is always paired with quests to do repair work or fight off invading bandits that are given to you by the world-weariest folks. The whole attitude of the area is “we’re just doing what we can to survive.” You can feel the desperation in the air, all by merely walking into town.
This can be seen in nearly every area of Pandora and Elpis that you can play in. The Hyperion Corporation has a very distinguishable and distinct visual style, so you know immediately when you walk into their territory. You feel suppressed in these areas. Like you are some opinion-less savage stumbling in from the wastes. Everything appears cleaned and maintained, all in a way that makes you feel unwelcome because you’ve only every fought for and built sentiment in rundown towns and people. Without any background, you can walk into an area and get a pretty good feeling for just what kind of place it is, all by simply observing.
For Borderlands 3 to innovate in this area they are going to have to bring something pretty big to the table, only because they do it so well already. It would be easy to say that they need to make a bigger variety of environments, but I want more! I want to walk into an area that has an air of hopelessness and a kill or be killed attitude, and I want to watch it evolve over time into a beacon of progress for a desperate planet. I want fewer static environments and more adaptive ones. Ones that change based on the choices you make or the actions you complete, or maybe that you don’t complete. It would be great to see a world that is changing on many levels because of the player’s impact on it. That would definitely cause the playerbase to become more invested in the world, which is an area in the series that could use some improvement.
Their Improvements Come from Player Feedback
The Borderlands games started far from greatness. There was a lot wrong with the first game, and the second game (heralded as the best one) still had a lot to fix. The original Borderlands was notoriously lacking in story and narrative structure. You could only piece together why you were doing what you were doing primarily by reading the mission descriptions, instead of through dialog or any sort of character development. Lore was given to the player mostly through finding optional Echo audio logs scattered around the world. To gain a good understanding for Pandora and its mythos, the player is required to search further than the main plot line. This issue is nearly eradicated in Borderlands 2. A great deal of focus was put on creating a story with strong characters front and center, and an antagonist that is bewitchingly charismatic yet poses a very real threat as a villain.
This improvement isn’t only focused on the story, but on the gameplay as well. The overall loot grind was vastly overhauled. It gave players a much larger variety of guns and spawned rarer weapons in more appropriate instances such as after defeating a boss (as opposed to getting one after beating a Psycho somewhere in the overworld). Character abilities and classes were deepened as well, adding more to the replayability of the sequel. The variety in the environment was spiced up in Borderlands 2 compared to the brown-on-brown color scheme of the original game. This looks to be a major focus in Borderlands 3 from the announcement trailer at PAX.
Gearbox has had quite a while to look into suggestions and grievances in the fanbase, and address them before the development of Borderlands 3 even began. With each DLC released for Borderlands 2, it seemed like improvements were being made in all of the right places. The apex of this was in Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep, which used the series’ snarky humor and interesting environments to tell a surprisingly heavy story. The best part about this was that you could see growth in each character. It was apparent that a lot of attention went into writing every line of dialog to connect the player with the characters. Gearbox has learned a lot since the flagship title in the series, and now they just need to incorporate almost a decade’s worth of feedback into Borderlands 3.
While this is, without a doubt, not an all-inclusive list, these are some of the key things that make the Borderlands series resonate with so many people. If Borderlands 3 continues to innovate on these fronts then this next entry is sure to be a treasured addition to many player’s libraries. We will hopefully see more of the game in-depth during E3, or one of the many other events coming up. At the very least, we’ll know for sure when we get our hands on it September 13th.
Let me know what you love (or don’t) about the Borderlands series in the comments below!