It wouldn't be a stretch to say that the Borderlands series defined a whole genre of shooters when it first hit shelves in 2009. The looter-shooter (shlooter?) has only become more popular with titles like Destiny 2, creating an environment where the rewards are plentiful and just as satisfying to receive as the gameplay.

Borderlands 3 is shaping up to be more of what made the first and second Borderlands games so memorable, but not only in the realm of over-the-top, cartoonish combat. What also made the franchise a hit was its writing: its dark sense of humor, its world building, character development, the dialog. It all comes together to create the kind of game where the villain tells you that he's named his horse after you — Butt Stallion! — and that's considered a shining moment.

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I got the chance to play a few hours of Borderlands 3 at an event put on by 2K and found that while the gameplay continues to a highlight, along with the related improvements to it, it's the writing that still manages to be the star. The game has some intriguing villains, new allies, and a much larger play space that sets up even more subtext and flavor for the world.

A new story

Borderlands 3

Get back to Pandora... and beyond

Borderlands 3 is shaping up to be another full experience for fans of the franchise, with improved gameplay and an intriguing and complex story.

The Calypso Twins and their "Let's Flays"

Borderlands 3 the Calypso Twins

There's a moment a couple hours into the prologue where the player learns just how dangerous Tyreen, one of the Calypso Twins is. She and her brother Troy face off against our heroes, namely Lillith, as they're about to blast off into space, but Tyreen has a final reveal. "I can leech the power from any living thing." She saps Lillith's powers, leaving her without her iconic tattoos, and the two take off. Arguably the most powerful member of the Crimson Raiders is now mostly out of commission.

Their setup involves taking a lot of elements from streamer culture, but there's a Borderlands twist.

It makes sense then that it's up to you to fight the twins, who are more than just "influencers," as they're described. Their setup involves taking a lot of elements from streamer culture, but there's a Borderlands twist. Instead of Let's Plays, they stream Let's Flays. From there, it goes to some dark places. They live stream battles to their millions of bandit fans (or "fanatics" as they're called) and are constantly upping the ante to create content. Just like internet creators have to consistently create better and better content for their followers while sacrificing their mental health, Tyreen and Troy also have to create better and bloodier murder videos. The only other difference is that instead of sacrificing their mental health, they leech off the mental health and power of others.

Streamer culture is obviously relatable in 2019, especially to a lot of the gaming fans who'll likely be playing the game, but there was more to it than that when crafting the main villains of the game. Having two people who knew everything about each other and who could play off each other was a part of the twins' charm, but then that dynamic could be channeled into a more narrative-driven direction.

This unififcation of all the psychos and "fanatics" on Pandora shouldn't have been possible, but the Calypso Twins have done it. It doesn't seem to have an impact on gameplay, since you'll be mowing through hoards of bandits in any case, but it provides story dressing. Things have changed. They've created a cult — the Children of the Vault — that's threatening the sanctity of the Pandoran lifestyle. What are you and the rest of the Crimson Raiders going to do about it?

"The bandits of Pandora should never have been able to unify under anything," Danny Homan, a co-lead writer on the game, explained. "The Calypso Twins talk to these bandits and they're like, 'No, what you're doing is great. The violence is awesome. We just want to put it in front of a camera and make sure everyone can see it.'"

It's a larger move than having another Handsome Jack as the villain since there's, you know, two of them, but also because there's a lot more there to unravel. The twins are these huge personalities and are constantly on and working, but there's an intriguing mystery surrounding their origins and how they work. You see, Tyreen is a Siren and Troy seems to be too, but Tyreen calls him a "parasite" who has to feed off of her to survive. They mention growing up isolated from the world and emerging to the overwhelming violence of Pandora. They're not only dangerous, but the potential is staggering.

"What's terrifying about them is that this intense personality is not focused at us. It's focused at all these millions of grassroots, psycho armies," Sam Winkler, another co-lead writer on the game, said. "That felt a lot more relevant for a game in 2019 than the quintessential video game person that yammers at you for a while and then you shoot him in the face."

How do you bring in Tales from the Borderlands?

Rhys in Borderlands 3

A lot has happened since Borderlands 2. We've gotten numerous DLC packs and two games: Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel and Tales from the Borderlands. While the latter isn't a formal Gearbox joint, it's a canon addition to the universe as evidenced by some key elements from Borderlands 3.

The Telltale game took a risk by putting the normally combat-heavy Borderlands world into a dialog and character-driven storytelling adventure and it paid off thanks to a roster of new characters and by delving into elements that were left unexplored in the proper games (it's also hilarious to boot). It may not have sold well but it's beloved, so it was exciting to see Rhys pop up in the first trailers for Borderlands 3.

"We wanted to do right by them in a game where your primary verb is 'gun.'"

Rhys, one of the leads of the game, and supporting player Vaughn are two of the characters who've made their way from Tales to Borderlands 3. Other huge story aspects, like how Scooter, the owner of the Catch-A-Ride stations, died in a heroic fashion (spoilers?) and passed the company along to his sister Ellie, have made it into the primary games (this particular thread was capped off in the Borderlands 2 DLC).

"We wanted to do right by them in a game where your primary verb is 'gun," Winkler said about the characters.

When asked why they chose to bring back Vaughn instead of Fiona, for example, Winkler said that Vaughn's background, which was set up in Tales, made for narrative potential. You see, after getting stranded on Pandora during Tales, the former Hyperion accountant set himself up with bandits and became a clan leader. He might've taken to the bandit lifestyle, even though he wasn't especially good at it, but the Calypso Twins have come in and messed up everything by uniting all the bandits under one banner.

"For new players that don't necessarily understand what the bandit clan wars were, we wanted someone to speak towards Pandora's changing," he said.

As for whether other characters will show up (like Fiona or Sasha, who were other prominent characters from Tales), Winkler was vague, but noted there were plans to bring back characters in DLC.

"We have a pretty big menagerie of returning characters," Winkler added. "We wanted to make sure that if we are going to bring back Rhys or Vaughn that they would have a distinct mark on the universe… I will say we do have a robust plan for DLC and we will be seeing some returning characters."

When the corporations come out to play

Eden 6 in Borderlands 3

When we're reintroduced to Rhys in Borderlands 3, we find that he's now the head of the Atlas Corporation, one of the main economic powers that was responsible for the downfall of Pandora. Players learn about the corporations as they play all the Borderlands games; their guns and ruins are scattered throughout Pandora. However, the only time we get a close look into the corporations is in regards to Hyperion, which takes center stage thanks to Handsome Jack.

Borderlands 3 is looking to expand the story of the corporations and what they're not just doing on Pandora but to other parts of the universe. In an earlier preview, we got a look at Promethea, a once thriving urban planet that has since been thrown into guerilla warfare because of the corporations.

In this recent playthrough, I got a look at Eden-6, which is mostly a sparsely populated jungle planet but has been similarly touched by companies like Jacobs. On Eden-6 I was tasked with uncovering a "family jewel" and got roped into a couples fight between two exes that just happened to also be AI. I wasn't able to finish the quest, but the fact I got embroiled in Jacobs family drama at all shows that there's room here to really expand on the personalities of the corporations. Atlas, for example, is now under Rhys, who wants to change the company's violent branding and show that it's not all about Vaults. However, it's all stuck in a war against Malwan.

"It's refreshing to flip that a bit and go 'not every corporation is out to get you.' Some might actually have some of your best interests at heart, which is just a nice thing for world building," Homan said of the decision to make Atlas more morally gray.

This all works to take an idea that was almost always subtext in Borderlands games and move it to the open. Now the corporations are some of the main characters.

"I think the question is who are corporations accountable to? Are they accountable to people or they just accountable to themselves?" Homan noted. "I think once you figure out the answer to that a corporation can kind of do anything it wants for the sake of preserving and building itself up and that makes it a really cool actor in the world."

Final thoughts

FL4K in Borderlands 3

There's a lot going on in Borderlands 3 storywise. The world is much larger, which paves the way for even more threats against the Vault Hunters. Elements that have been in the background of Borderlands games are now at the forefront, along with characters from other games in the universe.

Borderlands 3 preview — On Xbox One X support, story direction, and explosive mayhem

Players will continue to get a kick out of the game itself. It continues the Borderlands tradition of satisfying combat while adding in some much-needed life improvements to put it in the same realm as other 2019 shooters. However, what it's done with the story is looking to be more up in the air. Can the game stick the landing in regards to its central conflict? Will the corporations get enough time in the spotlight?

Borderlands 3 is set to debut on Sept. 13, 2019 for PC on the Epic Store, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

A new story

Borderlands 3

Get back to Pandora... and beyond

Borderlands 3 is shaping up to be another full experience for fans of the franchise, with improved gameplay and an intriguing and complex story.

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