Borderlands 3 Could be in Trouble

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Jan 16, 2019

Filed under: Column 46 comments

My column this week is a list of reasons why I think we should be worried about Borderlands 3. If you’re susceptible to clickbait behavior, I’ll tell you ahead of time the article gives five reasons. (Number 4 won’t be surprising at all.)

All of this brings us to the question, “So what would a good sequel look like?”

The series is in a bit of a tough spot. In the Telltale spinoff Tales From the Borderlands, some of the main characters are dead. I like the original vault hunters Brick, Mordecai, Lilith, and Roland, but some of them didn’t survive the events of Borderlands 2 and the rest have completed their various character arcs. These characters are mostly a collection of jokes and callbacks at this point. That’s fine, but we already heard those jokes by now. Several times. I’m not saying these characters need to be dropped, I’m just saying it would be a mistake to try to make them the center of yet another game. They can make cameos, but they should not be the main characters again.

Borderlands 2 demonstrated that what these games need is a solid villain. Handsome Jackass is dead, so we need someone new. The obvious, low-effort route would be to give us another colorful villain with a different gimmick, and have the player characters fight with him over the vaults. The previous gamePrevious in terms of chronology. showed us that there are tons of vaults on many worlds out there, so this game should probably have us hopping from world to world on an adventure.

Let’s talk about how I’d do it…

How I’d Do it

First job: push these folks off to the sidelines.
First job: push these folks off to the sidelines.

Since the game is leaving Pandora behind, let’s re-frame the setting and say that “Borderlands” is actually the name given to this lawless, nutter-filled region of space.  We still have the game involve visiting zones of differing biomes: Snow, desert, jungle, citiesI’m thinking contained areas like the Beatdown in the Campaign of Carnage DLC, not a literal open-world city., lava, shrooms, meadows, and so on. The only difference is that this game presents these locations as belonging to different planets. Rather than having a home city, the player would have a spaceship. Again, this can be functionally identical to how Borderlands 2 worked, it’s just that the fast-travel station is presented as if you’re beaming up to the ship or down to the surface.

The ship can be populated by characters from the previous games. They’re essentially the crew, and are sitting at the helm, repairing the engines, mopping the floor, or whatever else seems funny.

At the start, we’re introduced to the fake-out villain. He’s cartoonishly evil. Black outfit. Booming delivery. Basically the Archon from Mass Effect Andromeda, except in this story we recognize how ridiculous he is. He plans to open a vault, looking for yet another doomsday weapon. He tells everyone his name is something overblown like “Lord Doomsday”, but early on we learn his name is actually Roger or whatever.

Do the fans want more of this guy, and is that even possible?
Do the fans want more of this guy, and is that even possible?

I think the Claptrap joke is worn out and I’d suggest letting him fade into the background. But if we’re worried that the fans can’t accept a Borderlands game without this little yellow bastard then I’d make him Roger’s herald. He’d show up, advise you to surrender, and try to hype up Lord Doomsday as much as possible. He’d introduce bosses and promise that no, for real this time, this boss will actually kill you not like the last one. Then you beat the boss and he runs off. He can accidentally reveal his boss’ plans and generally be a huge liability that Roger continues to use for no clear reason.

We’re contacted by yet another character, who is our supposedly good leader. She can be another CEO, or we can make her the president of a planet. She wears white and guides us along the road to defeating Lord Doomsday. The thing is, she’s obviously, clearly, brazenly a villain. She’s a terrible liar and we can tell right away that she plans to betray us. The Pre-Sequel added the idea that our characters can make brief comments during the story, and we could use this to telegraph to the player that their character sees this coming. Each character goes along with it for their own reasons. One of them doesn’t actually care because they just want to fight all the time. Another just wants to get paid. Another has a crush on her. Another is stupid and takes everything she says at face value, creating dramatic irony.

At the end of the first act, we defeat Roger and our villain springs her trap. She tries to kill the party and they escape while she claims the doomsday weapon.  The rest of the game is spent trying to stop her from using the weapon. The story culminates in a sequence where we storm her doomsday ship and fight the actual drive core. Her doomsday ship blows up, we make some obvious Star Wars jokes, and roll credits.

That’s what I came up with in half an hour. Let’s see if the real game can do any better.

EDIT: Also! I already suggested this in my Borderlands series, but the next game really does need jetpacks, jump jets, or whatever. The-Sequel had this on the moon, and it was fantastic.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Previous in terms of chronology.

[2] I’m thinking contained areas like the Beatdown in the Campaign of Carnage DLC, not a literal open-world city.



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46 thoughts on “Borderlands 3 Could be in Trouble

  1. Redrock says:

    I’d really like to see Tales from the Borderlands factor into the story of Borderlands 3 somehow. Heck, my dream scenario is having Fiona as a playable characters, especially since the ending of TftB pretty much allows for that. Also, Tales is a good example of a Borderlands story doing fine with little to no Claptrap. Tales also proved that you can have a good Borderlands story without Burch’s direct involvement, but I already wrote about that in the comments section on The Escapist. Also, yeah, I really, REALLY like Tales from the Borderlands.

    1. Gargamel Le Noir says:

      As you should my friend!

    2. FluffySquirrel says:

      I really wasn’t a fan of the Telltale games ones.. I didn’t think they generally offered a lot of good choices.. too much illusion of choice.. not for me

      .. all that was untrue with Tales from the Borderlands. I watched someone play it and damn it was good.. I absolutely would like them to be characters in the 3rd game. Will be pretty disappointed if they’re not even mentioned

    3. eVie says:

      With regards to small robot companions and Tales from the Borderlands, I just absolutely adored Gortys. She’s such a delightful character.

    4. camycamera says:

      Yeah, Shamus really needs to play Tales, I played it without playing Borderlands 2, and it’s up there with TWAU and TWDS1 in terms of quality.

  2. Geebs says:

    I’d make it a game about gathering “swag” to pay for the evil CEO’s data storage device, which has been lost in the Medieval dimension. You could call it “Borderlands, the Pre-Legal

    (spoilered for spectacularly off-colour but unavoidable joke, please delete this post if too inappropriate)

    1. Jack V says:

      Yeah, your version sounds v good!

  3. Rymdsmurfen says:

    Am I the only one that thinks those comic-book-like black outlines in 3D games look horrible, to the point of being nauseating?

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Nuts to that; I want the game to look even more comic-booky! The game’s too high fidelity!

      1. Hector says:

        Just to continue this, the art style is a huge part of Borderlands. Without it, it wouldn’t be visually interesting. This might not be to everyone’s taste, but without it, the series would look and feel far worse.

        This is the wrong game for hyper-real graphics.

        1. baud says:

          Also with not trying to chase high-fidelity/hyper-real graphics (that the players stop seeing 1 hour in), the game will be cheaper to produce and will run on more pc, by virtue of having lower requirements!

        2. Rymdsmurfen says:

          To be clear, I don’t mind it not being photorealistic — it’s just the black outline. I guess it has something to do with mixing an intrinsically 2D style with a 3D world that makes my brain instantly reject it. Was just curious if someone else was having the same reaction.

          1. Echo Tango says:

            Is it just the black outline, or the cartoonishness / cel-shading altogether? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a cartoony game (or movie for that matter) without the black outline. It would make the game cheaper to run[1], though! :)

            [1] It’d be a single extra rendering pass to get the cartoony colors, rather than a two-pass, to get colors + get the black outline from the depth buffer / edge-detection.

            1. Rymdsmurfen says:

              Looking at some screenshots of cel-shading, I have to admit that I’m not too fond of that either, and removing the black outline would perhaps just make it look worse.

              > I don’t think I’ve ever seen a cartoony game (or movie for that matter) without the black outline.

              Team Fortress 2 is cartoony but without the black outline, and it looks great. But that game is not technically cel-shaded (right…?) so perhaps the cel-shading and the black outline go hand in hand?

              1. Nimrandir says:

                The only cartoon I know off the top of my head without the black outline is Samurai Jack.

    2. Agammamon says:

      There’s a way to turn it off – through editing config files as its just a shader (called cel shading). I did in the first game but by the second it had grown on me.

      1. Karma The Alligator says:

        Yeah, I turned them off in both games. I really dislike the black outlines in any game they’re in (has to do with the fact they get massive if your computer isn’t up to it, and they cost a lot of performance in that case).

  4. Nixorbo says:

    Also, when Borderlands 2 came out, it was the only looter-shooter game in town. Nowadays you have Destiny, The Division, Anthem, Ghost Recon: South America Is Scary and Drug-Filled and others I’m sure I’m forgetting. If B3 can’t measure up to the much stiffer competition, I don’t think its name alone is going to save it, at least not in the long-term.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Maybe they could try having actual mechanics and/or a real story instead? Tales From The Borderlands was pretty good for the latter; The main-line titles could focus on the former. In fact, I think they should focus on improving their mechanics, because of the competition. Anthem especially seems like it’s going to outclass Borderlands. It’s got jetpacks and giant monsters – monsters as giant as the final boss in Borderlands!

      1. galacticplumber says:

        Eh, I have absolute faith in EA’s ability to fuck up. I even have a frighteningly strong statistical position to work from in recent years.

  5. Inspector Gesicht says:

    I hate Diablo loot so much. Plus not getting to pick any skills until level 5 for some reason. And comic-relief characters whom you don’t get to murder.

  6. Dreadjaws says:

    I think the Claptrap joke is worn out and I’d suggest letting him fade into the background. But if we’re worried that the fans can’t accept a Borderlands game without this little yellow bastard then I’d make him Roger’s herald. He’d show up, advise you to surrender, and try to hype up Lord Doomsday as much as possible. He’d introduce bosses and promise that no, for real this time, this boss will actually kill you not like the last one. Then you beat the boss and he runs off. He can accidentally reveal his boss’ plans and generally be a huge liability that Roger continues to use for no clear reason.

    I actually think it’d be better if Claptrap was the real villain all along. Doing stupid things and “accidentally” revealing the plans would all be in service of you doing things in his favor. He could be revealed to be a massively powerful computer that’s relegated to use the Claptrap robots to do his bidding, but since they’re fragile and lacking in weaponry he has to use cunning to force the player to do his job for him.

    You could go several ways with this. Either revealing that all Claptraps have been secretly evil all along (either since the start of this game or even the start of the franchise, which would retroactively change how we’d feel about them) or he purposely makes them dumb in order to not raise any suspicions (or perhaps just to keep them in check).

    If you’re feeling really cheeky you could have him be simply just another Claptrap that happens to be smarter than all the other ones for one reason or another (having him be a mistake in the assembly line, for instance). You could even make him the final boss, which could easily be taken out with one shot.

    I mean, I do agree that just the old Claptrap joke could get tiresome, but expanding on it this way could make things more interesting.

    1. Hector says:

      They have done the Evil Claptrap joke before, but an evil psychic machine that uses the necromantically-animated corpses of destroyed Clatraps could be fun.

      Plus , then you can have the “Well, we didn’t see that coming!” moment with the obvious villains defeated.

  7. slug camargo says:

    I thought this one was about Pitchford’s latest story.

    I’m amazed at how much thought you gave to these games’ stories and characters. I only played the first one because I loved the art style and overall presentation and the intro was excellent, but the shooting was so bland and the game was so mind-numbingly boring that I couldn’t force myself to play it for more than a couple hours. I never imagined they’d have so much to write about.

  8. DonLasagna says:

    One of them don’t actually care because they just want to fight all the time. Another just wants paid.

    Should probably be

    One of them doesn’t really care because they just want to fight all the time. Another one just wants to get paid.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      I was hoping that typo was one of capitalization, and a hint at the third main character, the token pretty girl, “Paige” who everyone just calls “Paid”.

    2. Syal says:

      Probably, but “that needs painted” is a phrase I’ve heard multiple times from multiple people, so ‘wants paid’ could just be a colloquialism.

  9. Thomas says:

    Gearbox are a really shady developer – and that’s before all the paedophilia accusation stuff. They’ve been accused of skimming resources from other games.

    And Gearbox are running out of time. Next year the new console cycle might be starting up, which could leave Borderlands behind if theres another graphics arms race.

    1. baud says:

      They’ve been accused of skimming resources from other games.

      They are not the only ones. For example Obsidian used Paradox’s money, given for Tyranny, on Pillars of Eternity.

      1. Kavonde says:

        Maybe, but at least they then produced two excellent games anyway, rather than, say, Borderlands 2 and then Colonial Marines.

  10. Sjonnar says:

    Shamus said

    That’s what I came up with in half an hour. Let’s see if the real game can do any better.

    !!SPOILER ALERT!!

    No, it can’t.

  11. The Big Brzezinski says:

    I kind of want a short sidequest centered on Claptrap, probably just after the beginning of the second act. Maybe have it serve as a tutorial for a strategic mechanic or guided hub tour, sort of like Claptrap’s party in BL2. The sidequests’s last mission and its description would simply be “No.” and would be completed by walking away. Claptrap should then stick to standing around dispensing highfives and one liners until the pre-finale farewells.

    Alternatively, if he’s going to stick around, play up how annoying Claptrap is and point him at the villain. Have him make inane calls to the villain that drive him crazy yet can’t ignore because Hyperion robot magic. After all, Claptrap knows he’s obviously the super charismatic center that brought all these super badass protagonists together, so he should certainly befriend the villain so he can join, too. Claptrap’s probably too distracting to include in the finale sequence, but he could show up after the final battle. How about having the villain’s final fate be a brain-uploading gambit to become an all-powerful ECHOnet ghost that instead traps him eternally in virtual discotech hell with two dancing, beatboxing, untiring Claptrap software clones?

  12. GoStu says:

    I would buy and play the hell of out of your version of Borderlands 3, Shamus.

    So when’s your coronation as King of All Videogames?

  13. Joe says:

    Points 1 and 2. Lord of the Rings took a long time to make, and it was a lot bigger than the original. But so much better. I’m not saying Borderlands is the LOTR of games, but sometimes these things take time to make.

    Point 3. I never played Borderlands for the story or the jokes. Besides, Burch could come back if he was wanted. Or maybe another writer could have a different take on the material.

    Point 4. Yes, but the fever around loot boxes is becoming somewhat cooled by the law. Maybe someone will realise that it’s a bad idea to engage in possibly illegal activity.

    Point 5. Yes, but Borderlands seems to be Pitchford’s baby. He takes time and care to make it good, rather than the other projects.

  14. Galad says:

    The “little yellow bastard” is the only truly positive* hero in this universe, and is a much needed counterbalance to all the grimdark in its DNA.

    I very much loved your idea of making it the final boss, Shamus. ;)

    *Yes, well, if you paid attention to its opening dialog, and as such he’s not strictly speaking a positive hero, that being said, if it walks like a duck and it talks like a duck, it may as well be a duck in my book.

    1. Syal says:

      Well Claptrap certainly walks and talks like a duck.

      1. Gautsu says:

        Except I have seen ducks climb stairs

      2. Agammamon says:

        So you’re saying Claptrap is a little . . . duck?

  15. Mertseger says:

    I was surprised you did not mention Mikey Neumann’s leaving the Borderlands 3 team in one of your points. I suspect he was a key source for the humor in the series, and while it’s perfectly reasonable for him to stop working because of his having to deal with multiple sclerosis, I suspect his absence will be felt in the final product.

  16. Agammamon says:

    These sorts of games live or die on their pacing.

    Ain’t that the truth.

    I bought BL2 late – long after the initial rush of players had died off and open MP was basically dead so I went through it alone. Was having a blast. Decided to check out one of the DLC’s. Unfortunately it was the pirate one. Pacing in that was soooo bad, the whole thing was soo boring that I ducked out at the final boss fight and . . . never went back to the game. Not even the main game that I was enjoying. Just hit that wall and changed course.

    Sometimes I think about downloading it again and checking out the Tina DLC – everyone’s favorite lolwacky NPC – but I can’t muster the interest. Especially now that I’ve moved out of town and my internet speed is crap.

    That’s how dependent this game can be on pacing. At least without Bethesda’s ‘Its better with friends’ defense.

    1. Agammamon says:

      And Anthony Burch being gone is a real killer for the story here. He and his team were able to nail a grimdark macabre-humor story and world for BL2.

      Even using tired and annoying game tropes (like the villain able to taunt you ‘over the radio’ and not being able to stop that) he was able to make it fun. You *hope* Jack comes around spouting bullshit because its genuinely funny. Jack’s having a great time, you’re having a great time – the PC isn’t but who cares about him?

      The trick with these kinds of games is that the player spends hours searching for rare loot, and it’s very tempting for a publisher to start asking why they can’t just make more money by selling the player that rare loot.

      Dumb developers sell rare loot.

      Smart developers know to sell the most precious and rare loot of all – cosmetic items that make your ‘toon look awesome.

      Do the fans want more of this guy, and is that even possible?

      Wub wub wub wub wub wub wub wub wub wub wub wub wub wub. DROP! Wub wub wub wub wub wub wub wub wub wub wub wub.

      Aaaaah yeah!

    2. Sleeping Dragon says:

      Late to the party but I feel I need to chip in I’m one of those people who played BL games for the story and jokes (though I did it coop with a friend who shared this attitude) and yeah, the pirate one was pretty meh but it really shouldn’t discourage you from the gem that is Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragonkeep. This is obviously somewhat a case of varying mileage but in my opinion it is very, very good. Not only is there a lot of BL style humour (for me the added bonus was the faux-RPG premise) but there is also some actual serious writing at the core of the DLC that is pretty solid, or at least it had the desired emotional effect for me.

  17. Karma The Alligator says:

    Do the fans want more of this guy, and is that even possible?

    I never minded Claptrap, so I wouldn’t mind him coming back, but then again I’m one of those who like Navi. It takes a lot for me to find a character annoying.

  18. SPCTRE says:

    Personally, one of Borderlands’ largest issues today is that there are direct competitors now that feel a lot – and I mean a lot – better in the core gameplay department. You know, shooting stuff. Just try switching between a Destiny and a Borderlands game, doesn’t matter which version. The contrast will be jarring.
    I adore this series (as does the wife, and we love to play it co-operatively), but they have to improve the impact of those bazillions of guns.

    As for the possibly troubled development cycle BL3 is currently in, I would guess some of it has to do with Gearbox reacting/trying to react to the new market segment of live games / GaaS competitors that have sprung up in the meantime (Destiny, The Division and the like, now even Fallout 76).

  19. Jonathan Babineau says:

    I am completely down for every part of your idea, Shamus. Heck, why stop at just your character making comments from the future?

    “You really shoulda killed that one.”
    “I did!”
    “Yeah, but like, faster.”
    “Brick, get the hell off the comm!”

    The jokes practically write themselves.

  20. Carlos García says:

    They want to make it another 300+ hours of game play. What’s it with the huge, long games that require you to spend insane amounts of time to finish? Can’t they look to make games you can do in a few hours (doesn’t have to be two)? It’s like the publishers wanted to make their games so time consuming choosing their games makes impossible to also play anything from their competitors (or even their own other games). And by that they just reduce their own public, since the same way they cause clients having to choose their game and give up playing that other from their competitors, they also make others choose their competitors instead of them, when everyone could’ve been played both theirs and their competitors if they didn’t go in the effort of gratuitously making their games as long and time consuming as possible. Of course that doesn’t mean a game may not be justifiably very long. But I’m seeing a lot of “buy this awesome game with umpteen hours of play that will make you drop whatever you like more if you want to finish it”.

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