The Borderlands series is easy to jump into without needing to play all of its games. It's not something like Kingdom Hearts where you'd be lost and confused. Still, you may want to know a few essentials before hopping into Borderlands 3, so you're more informed than the average Joe. At the very least, knowing some important universe history, terms, and characters will allow you to get the most out of your experience and understand some references made to previous games.
History and lore
Eridian influence: Long before events in any of the games took place, an ancient alien race known as Eridians flourished across the galaxy. They mysteriously disappeared, leaving behind ruins and vaults containing untold riches (and threats), and their advanced technology was eventually discovered that led powerful corporations to Pandora, a mostly arid, desolate planet that held remnants of these artifacts. Cue years of corporations fighting for resources and exploiting their workers before taking off, you're left with hostile factions making Pandora their new home.
Sirens: Sirens are women imbued with mystical powers in the Borderlands universe. Only six Sirens can exist within the universe at a time. Little is known about their history, but it is speculated that they are connected to Eridians in some way. Their lore is set to be further explored in Borderlands 3.
Lilith: Lilith is a playable Vault Hunter in the first Borderlands, and is one of the most powerful Sirens in the galaxy. She is now the leader of a resistance movement that works towards ensuring powerful Eridian artifacts don't fall into the wrong hands.
Maya: Another Siren, Maya, is a playable character in Borderlands 2. We don't know what role she will play in Borderlands 3 yet, but at some point, we will be going to her home planet of Athenas and interacting with a monastic cult that took her in as a child.
Zero: Zero is also a playable character in Borderlands 2. It appears to now be an assassin for hire that helps our new Vault Hunters in Borderlands 3 and will be a mission-giver.
Ellie: Ellie serves as Borderlands' resident mechanic and his responsible for getting your vehicles up and running. Her brother, Scooter, died in Tales from the Borderlands.
Rhys: Rhys is one of the main playable characters in Tales from the Borderlands. He started out as a Hyperion employee and, after finding a Vault, has now become CEO of the Atlas corporation.
Vaughn: Vaughn is a supporting character in Tales from the Borderlands. He started out as an accountant for Hyperion. By the time the events of Borderlands 3 roll around, he now leads the local bandits.
Athena: Athena is an assassin who has been recruited to help Lilith's resistance. Though Lilith initially wanted to kill her and was reluctant to accept her help, a mysterious entity known as The Watcher showed up and saved her life, warning of an impending disaster.
Handsome Jack: Handsome Jack was the infamous main villain in Borderlands 2 and former CEO of the Hyperion corporation. On his quest to dominate Pandora and unleash a powerful monster from within an Eridian Vault, he was subdued and killed by Lilith.
Roland: Roland was a playable character in the first Borderlands and a member of the Crimson Lance, what would become the Crimson Raiders, the resistance group that Lilith leads. He was killed during the events of Borderlands 2.
Each Borderlands game summarized
Lucky for you guys, I've summarized what happened in the series previously.
Borderlands is a role-playing shooter (RPS) that released in 2009. On the fictional planet of Pandora, what appears in some spots to be a post-apocalyptic wasteland, four characters known as Vault Hunters journey to loot the riches of a rumored ancient alien vault and happen to get caught up in a corporate takeover of the planet along the way. Through the use of previously-uncovered Eridian technology—the alien tech sealed within vaults across the universe—the Atlas Corporation attempted to stop the Vault Hunters from finding the vault in order to take its contents for themselves. Atlas loses, of course, and it turns out that the vault actually housed a giant monster that was sealed inside for centuries to prevent the destruction of the universe.
Borderlands 2 picks up several years after Borderlands ends, and stars a new set of Vault Hunters. While out on a job they are betrayed by a man called Handsome Jack, the leader of the Hyperion Corporation. A woman known as the Guardian Angel then appears and tells them to find the city of Sanctuary and join its local resistance group that opposes Hyperion. With the help of the four original Vault Hunters from the first game who make appearances as NPCs, we come to discover that Handsome Jack intends to open a new vault and unleash The Warrior, a powerful monster who he will then be able to command to do his bidding. As is usually the case, our heroes end up defeating Handsome Jack, but not before The Warrior is released and taken care of.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel
Much of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, a spin-off title that released after both games, takes place chronologically in between the two main entries, hence the name, but the beginning and end give us a taste of what went on after Borderlands 2. It begins with the former assassin Athena recounting the events of Handsome Jack's (simply known as Jack at the time) rise to power on Pandora's moon Elpis. You can think of this as a bit of an origin story for Handsome Jack, even if he originally wasn't a playable character. What's interesting is that after Athena finishes recounting her story, an Eridian alien appears at Sanctuary and warns everyone of an imminent war in which they will need "all the Vault Hunters they can get."
Tales from the Borderlands
Telltale also got their hands on the series at one point and released a 5-episode narrative adventure called Tales from the Borderlands. Taking place after Borderlands 2, this series follows a Hyperion employee and a con artist who gets caught up in a struggle on Pandora to find another vault. This time, however, instead of a monster awaiting them at the end of their journey, a simple glowing chest—no doubt Eridian in nature—greeted them upon entry, and once they opened it, they vanished. Their whereabouts and what happened after are currently unknown.
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