If there’s anything that I am hoping for from 2018, it’s that this year will deliver some of the most anticipated and long-awaited games that we have been waiting for many years on. High on my list are games like Red Dead Redemption 2 (which is so far confirmed to arrive in October) and Kingdom Hearts III (which hopefully arrives sometime before I hit 30): I have no doubts I’m going to love both of them immensely. However, there is one other title that I am hoping arrives sometime within the next year which still remains a mystery, and that is the next Borderlands game.
Given that we’re now almost six years removed from Borderlands 2 (and over 3 years from The Pre-Sequel!), the time is right for a return trip to Pandora, and yet we know next to nothing about the next game in the series, which is both frustrating and intriguing as a Borderlands fan.
At this point, a third Borderlands game is all but confirmed. The game itself has not been formally announced yet by either Gearbox Software or its publisher 2K Games, but multiple instances of hints and teases (many coming from Gearbox’s CEO Randy Pitchford himself) are implying not only that the game seems to be in development but, if all goes well, it might not be that far away.
That last point seems even more likely given that publisher Take Two Interactive has said it has a “highly anticipated new title from one of 2K’s biggest franchises” in the works on multiple occasions, including as recently as earlier this month during its latest fiscal quarter financial results. There are plenty of suggestions as to what that actual game is, but it’s a pretty safe bet that it will be the next Borderlands title.
The Borderlands-inspired Unreal Engine 4 tech demo that Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford displayed at last year’s Game Developers Conference (video via IGN).
There’s a ton of room to speculate on what Borderlands 3 (or at least what we will be calling it for the purposes of this editorial) will look and play like. I have no doubt that the third game will satisfy my need for what Borderlands has always been best at: addicting, loot-based gameplay and a world filled with tons of charm and a dark sense of humor. What I’m even more curious about, however, is how the impact of recent trends in the current gaming landscape (especially when it comes to shooters) might drive the direction for the Borderlands series moving forward.
Those games in question are titles like Destiny and The Division, both of which have helped to spark the trend of “shared-world shooters” in the gaming marketplace today. With their emphasis on gameplay that combines the speed and action of shooter with RPG-like progression and loot, these games are meant by design to be experiences to come back to for weeks, months, and heck, years on end. It’s easy to see why so many other studios have been trying to chase the success that those titles have had in this generation.
EA, for example, not only has BioWare’s highly-anticipated new IP Anthem coming sometime within the next year, but confirmed last fall that it was reworking its highly-anticipated single-player Star Wars title from Visceral Games to instead follow a new design approach that sounds far closer to something like Destiny.
While we only have an inkling of what to expect from Anthem based on its reveal at E3 last year, I bring up Destiny and The Division as points of comparison to Borderlands in that these titles share a lot of the same DNA by design. While Borderlands is not the same as far as delivering a “shared-world” experience in the same sense as either of those games and is instead something closer to Diablo, I have a hunch that we’ll see Borderlands 3 develop into something closer to what Destiny and The Division have modeled themselves into.
What I’m hoping, however, is that if Gearbox takes Borderlands into the realm of something closer to the shared-world shooter model that the studio takes to mind some of the lessons that both Destiny and The Division have learned within the past few years, especially the ones that they have learned the hard way.
Both of those games have been lauded for giving players a satisfying gameplay loop to build their characters around through RPG-like progression, weapon customization, and their emphasis on a social experience with friends. While we’ve seen these types of games expand in popularity over the past few years for those reasons, we’ve also seen them hit some significant roadblocks, such as their approach to storytelling and developing engaging characters, a lack of meaningful endgame content for players in the longterm, and issues with transparency as far as development and addressing changes with their communities.
Barely a month has gone by without Bungie issuing an apology for controversial changes or updates to Destiny 2, and the game’s community and player base have suffered for it in the past few months. Massive Entertainment with The Division had a more proactive approach to managing community expectations and addressing concerns with players, but at this point nearly two years since release, The Division only maintains a fraction of the player base that it had back when it first launched in 2016.
Likewise, both games have had their ups-and-downs in keeping a consistent stream of content (especially when it comes to endgame content for higher-leveled players) rolling to engage players past the first month or so after launch, such as the lukewarm reception of Destiny‘s “Curse of Osiris” expansion released this past December.
With these things in mind, I feel like Borderlands 3 is in the position to not only implement some of the features that have made these games successful, but to also make good on the ways that some of these games have stumbled. Just to clarify, I’m not trying to boil this down to wanting Borderlands to become Destiny: I still want the Borderlands that I know and love. But with all the time that has separated us from the last proper Borderlands title, there are plenty of ways that I think that Gearbox can not only improve the series on a technical level with the power of current-gen hardware, but also incorporating some new features and elements that could improve on some of its foundations, given the current market for “loot shooters” that the original Borderlands helped to define nearly a decade ago.
By all accounts, Borderlands‘ strengths are its characters, world, and the sheer variety of both its content and gameplay. All of these are reasons why I love the series, and I’ve often returned to the games from time-to-time (especially Borderlands 2) either to hop into games with friends, or to go back into the many DLC packs or missions that I haven’t gotten through, yet. Borderlands 2 however is starting to show its age in a lot of ways, and I couldn’t help but wonder how taking Borderlands into a shared-world shooter idea could improve on its experience in some ways.
As far as elements that Borderlands 3 could implement from something like Destiny and The Division, I feel that Borderlands 2 already had some features that could very easily translate to the MMO-like experience that those games offer. Sanctuary — which acted as sort of the “main hub” of Borderlands 2 — or an environment like it could very easily become the series’ social space like Destiny‘s Tower, where players can meet-up between missions to change their characters’ appearance, buy and sell weapons, purchase upgrades, and organize where to head out next on Pandora.
Personally, this is one of the aspects that I would be most excited for Gearbox to implement from what shared-world shooters have gotten right in the past few years — making their worlds feel alive. It took me a few tries to even try to get into Borderlands when I started playing the original game (which I played the majority of solo), and playing those games alone often tends to be far less enjoyable compared to banding together with friends for missions.
Borderlands can be a real drag when playing without friends, but even with that small implementation of being able to see other players out in the world a la Destiny, I think it would do wonders to having the game world feel more alive with the activities of other players going on around you. That alone would make me so much more enticed to explore Pandora for a return playthrough or to grind out a new character if Borderlands 3 were to integrate a more social aspect to its cycle of shooting and looting, whether that’s through a dedicated social hub/space or exploring out in the world itself.
If there is one element though that I will put into Borderlands‘ favor (and hope that they continue to deliver), it’s the series’ penchant for content and character. Each of the Borderlands games have been packed with missions, storylines, and activities to complete throughout Pandora for hours on end. But other than just having a ton of stuff to do, (almost) all of it is fun and filled with personality and Borderlands‘ distinctive sense of humor.
Despite some of the improvements that Destiny 2 showed, overall Destiny as a series has notoriously struggled with giving players a compelling story and characters. By contrast, I would hope that this is one of the instances where the next Borderlands game can show that storyline and characters don’t have to be sacrificed to make way for gameplay in the way that Destiny (in particular) has been weak at over its last two installments.
Characters like Handsome Jack and Tiny Tina in Borderlands 2 stole the show thanks to their endlessly quotable dialogue and hilarious lines, and I think that sense of personality that the series has can go a long way if Borderlands 3 continues to deliver the type of oddball, dark humor that the series has been known for (even better if they take some cues from Telltale Games’ excellent Tales from the Borderlands series).
As part of a series that (I think) helped to define what the market now looks like for the “loot shooter,” Borderlands 3 is high on the list of games I’m not only looking forward to seeing come to fruition, but also in my hopes that Gearbox takes the time to develop it into the true “next-gen” experience that the series should be (and needs to be). It goes without saying that Gearbox also needs a hit too, given what happened with the studio’s previous efforts in Battleborn.
Whatever form that Borderlands 3 ends up taking, if that follows a “shared-world shooter” model or not, I just hope that the next Borderlands title will create something that I will want to come back to and spend dozens of hours in alongside my friends on Pandora, even more than I would want to spend in the Tower or in post-apocalyptic New York City.