I will begin this with two forewords;
First, I am not remunerated by GBX in any way. I am just a moderator, not an employee. If I weren’t a moderator tomorrow, I wouldn’t be bothered much by that fact. I do this because I am very fond of the folks over at GBX, I adore my fellow mods, but mostly because I am particularly fond of most of you guys. Also, I’d be an expensive Mouthpiece for them to grab, because I do pretty well for myself and only whore my soul out for extortionate sums.
Second, this will be a TL;DR kind of thread. I will not only laud the writing where I deem fit, but also critique the parts I didn’t particularly like as much (perhaps that’ll cast doubt on any shill claims). But I can comfortably say that the good heavily outweighs the bad. It is very competently written and I will express why I believe that. But it will be a slog of a read, so if you’re not in to that, perhaps this is the point you may want to hit that backspace key.
The premise. This story is a capable display of building upon already standing lore. It did it’s best to touch on already spoken of aspects and built upon themes, while making sure not to completely ossify it’s potential arcs for any future iterations of the series. So kudos to Sam and Danny, because this is better than even I had expected. I had feared that the story would become a repetition of previous themes, and it certainly didn’t turn out to be that.
Borderlands had never intended to be a game with a rich story setting, it was at it’s core a cooperative shooter set in an adventurous and funny environment. In fact, it’s plot didn’t differ too much from many of the old Dungeon Crawlers. There was a clear objective and we were given glimpses in to separate characters by way of exposition and quests, little more above that. Would it make you laugh? Yes, of course, and plenty. It made us giggle mostly by way of gags that ran like an episode of ‘Police Squad!’ It worked rather well for what it was at the time. A game meant to explore cooperative mechanics and world building in a franchise that never expected to be as popular as it became. Some of the constantly recurring characters in the series, like Miss Moxxi, and Athena were actually introduced in DLCs, and not the original. It was around that point, and with the Knoxx DLC that the writers began considering building upon this world.
Borderlands 2 came around and the game had to finally flesh itself out. The writers knew full well that presenting a game that had the same level of depth as the previous installment meant that it would ultimately feel increasingly redundant. Giving you little incentive to go through the world of Pandora other than reaching the next orange item card. They had the workings of a strong foundation. Characters like Roland, Lilith, Mordecai and Brick presented enough individuality in the original where they could take front stage as NPCs, while the previous supporting cast could add a great deal of world depth. The themes of interstellar mysticism, a battle of corporate powers, and adventure had to be present. They needed a new foil, something to capitalize on (pun intended).
Handsome Jack. He forever changed the series because a clever blend of likability and hatefulness meant that you could spend an entire game chasing after him and you’d enjoy the task. Even his jabs at you and his sadistic nature was presented with such great narration, pace, and voice acting that you couldn’t get enough of it. We loved Brick, Lilith, Mordy and Roland, since we were once at least one of them, but we loved to hate Jack. We were presented with an unthinkable future where a charismatic CEO, managed to create a narrative that just seemed to sound better than it ended up being. Throwing slogans around and touting himself as being the only capable of saving us from an unknown enemy.
Pretty radical stuff back in 2012.
Anyway, lets (finally) fast forward to Borderlands 3.
The new plot line had to be anchored within reality. It needed to reflect the world we live in today, because at it’s best, Borderlands has always been a satirical view on the absurdity of futurism if it were to have many of today’s aspects instilled in to it. It says; ‘If we do this nonsense for another millennia, the future will look grim.’
The playable character core was mostly refreshing, but at the very least well balanced. There were now over a dozen character types down if you include, BL, BL2, and BL:TPS. So they needed enough variation where the character felt different from those who came before it, but still felt like something that belonged in Borderlands.
Amara, as many of you may have foreseen, is in my opinion the best stroke of good writing. In the past, Sirens seem to exude a kind of cool calm stoicism, mixed in with a deviousness that is very typical of heroines. And even more typical of those in shooters. Amara is very much not this. She has more characteristics akin to Brick, and seems to be as much of a brute as he is. But this isn’t the only characteristic, and she is set apart. She is delightfully egomaniacal, and has no problem using her feminine aspects to either taunt or as matter of expression. This was the only direction they could’ve gone without creating a clone character due to the constraints the plot may have given them. It was very wise of them to take it.
Zane is a necessary addition in this character comedy, because it wouldn’t be a Borderlands game without the cheeky wit within the party. If all the characters were grizzled veterans, then it would play far too much like modern shooters where there sudden comedic asides are jarring considering the personality they usually display. Some one playful and cunning would fill a role that Zer0 filled in the previous setting, but without all that grim mystery and haiku. He was more lackadaisical and a Jack Sparrow kind of talent.
Fl4k had everything you could ask for from a Beastmaster, but they had their issues as well. The AI that loves animals is not exactly a new theme in literature and has been a bit overdone in the past. Even in BL3, Claptrap gains a love for a pest like creature which reminds him of himself. I think the most unique aspect of Fl4k came from their decision to wear mangled clothes and resemble the lifeforms of Pandora. It seems to show a bit more depth than usually afforded to AI. While it was incredibly controversial, making this character non-binary was a very potent choice from a writer’s view point. It worked to show a disdain for many human practices, while they drew themselves closer to their pet.
Moze, as (incredibly) fun as she is to play, works well when instilled in the plot as a whole but isn’t exactly unique writing in the least bit. She shares enough characteristics with other characters that there are plenty of others who can add what she adds to the plot. This isn’t unique to BL3. As much as we love Axton, there is a reason he didn’t show up in the plot, and that is because he wasn’t a necessity. What truly sets her apart is a playstyle that hasn’t been seen before in a BL game, especially with the mech-anichs allow for mech antics. Writing wise? I’d challenge anyone to tell me what she could add in BL4 plot wise that coudln’t already be presented.
All and all, solid character core. We have plenty of variation, and enough to draw in not only different styles of players, but people who look for a certain something in their character.
Now on to the plot.
Handsome Jack had become a larger than life character in both BL2, BL:TPS, and TFTBL, and they needed to shed that incredibly heavy mantle once and for all. The issue with any foil based episodic game is that it will ultimately always be compared to it’s predecessor, and some themes will be more consumable than others by the public at large.
They couldn’t go with yet another character you desperately hate to love, as they seem to be one step ahead of you most of the time. First and foremost, the message would’ve been redundant. In BL2 you often felt yourself wondering; ‘Wait, am I really the good guy?’ As you traversed between the lawless lands of Pandora and the glistening (albeit fascistic) cities that Hyperion built. It presented an old concept which espoused the virtues of vigilante lawlessness vs. oppressive lawfulness. BL3 could pretty much do anything but that.
So as opposed to presenting you with one villain, they presented you with two. A pair, and endowed them with powers they never truly earned and a legion of fanatical followers. The themes of BL2 were very 1984, and BL3 was very 2019. That is much of the reason why people weren’t fond of Tyreen and Troy. It had to do more with the world as it is today than writing.
Two future-twitterati are endowed with absolute power after they have spent their entire life being coddled by the Pandoran equivalent of a baby-boomer father, and took out their frustrations on everyone but the deserving. Ouuuuch. Did that hit a little too close to home? The demagogues of the future won’t be people like Handsome Jack, who became maniacal in their gritty fight for power against all odds, but rather, the Troys and Tyreens of the world. Petulant debutantes who have been afforded more responsibility than they were ever due.
They’re annoying? Good. They’re grating? Better. You hate them? Very good. Do they remind you of anyone you may know? Oh. Absolutely perfect.
I don’t know why anyone thinks that the writing was attempting to make them anything other than that. That was the point. You were supposed to feel a level of satisfaction in wiping those grins off of their faces that you just couldn’t absolutely feel with Handsome Jack. The only humanizing aspect of their’s came very purposefully in the end of the game where you saw them for the children they were, desperately trying to prove something to dad.
This is not a unique theme, but it is one that desperately needs to be expressed in today’s world. There have been many literary/cinematic eras that emphasized the carelessly entitled nature of so much of the world at the time, and how they would suffer from it.
Also. Read a lot of the detraction on the writing from what we’ll call ‘the more vocal and less constructive’ aspects of twitter/facebook/reddit. You could crop half of the text out and replace it with Troy’s voice and you wouldn’t know the difference.
The plot then follows a rather great arc for a sequel to two previous installments. You start where you originally began and see a glimpse of Pandora as it is today. You’re presented with the current star of the series, and it’s usual comic relief. Not necessarily a ‘strong start’ since it was exactly the one I completely expected, but definitely one that could be built upon. The path follows one which shows the world as it is, as opposed to relying exclusively on annoying exposition. We re-discover Pandora.
Who do we run in to next? Vaughn. Is it because everyone was on pins and needles to see Vaughn? No, it is because the plot called for exactly that kind of character. One who we were introduced to in some iteration of Borderlands, and has been changed, and I stress changed, by life on Pandora.
Then we see the first conflict between the stars and the Calyspos. They lack all of Jack’s cunning. They don’t have the financial power of the corporations we were faced with in BL1. They seem particularly lacking as a threat. What makes them so… ah, there it is. A gimmick. A gimmick and a stream is all you need in the future. They draw the powers out of some one far more potent than them. Now we’re invested. Now we get to hate them for something more than their attitudes.
We planet skip between Promothea and Athena, and are reintroduced to Maya and Rhys. With Ava in her first role in the series, and I assure you not the last.
I’m going to gloss over many of those parts, because if you’ve been patient enough to read this far, I don’t want to begin punishing you.
The battle for Promethea, and the supposed treachery of Zer0 was actually quite fun. I liked seeing Rhys in power showing what he did best in Tales, while being weighed down by the same inefficiencies that plague his character. I do have to say though that Katagawa read a lot like ‘Jack-lite’. They did do a lot to try separate him from Handsome Jack by trying to remove a lot of the likable aspects from him, but that did little to enhance the situation. The one great thing that final bit showed is how it was initially wise of the writers not to create another Jack for the villain.
Now for one of the more controversial aspects.
Ava is exactly the character she is meant to be. That isn’t bad writing, it’s called writing with a purpose. She is hyperactive and a little bothersome, while having some redeeming qualities. She reminds you of those kids who follow you around at a party asking to play with your cellphone. If you play through the story it is because you realize that she is a kid that has been deprived of a childhood. She makes for the perfect antithesis to the likes of Tyreen and Troy. Instead of two coddled brats who were sheltered, she had to face the world at large and came out slightly the worse for wear.
This is an extremely necessary theme, and one that must be presented if you’re going to create anything which acts as the inverse to the game’s villains. You cannot demonize the current generation as nothing more than spoiled brats, you have to create a hint of hope and tell people they can’t judge a book by it’s cover.
This is a recurring theme in literature. If you’ve read many of Dicken’s works, the Aeneid, Huckleberry Finn, you’ll see many characters who are trying to grow in to their breeches.
In more contemporary literature, Sansa Stark is exactly this kind of character. One who may rub the reader the wrong way initially, but ultimately has an arc which gives enough depth to show transformation (moreso bookwise than via the show).
Now I am going to get in to something I found jarring about the writing. Which is; please stop depressing me. As much as I thought this writing was exceptional, I felt like I needed a drink every time I had to take a drop pod. You see, Borderlands 2 only made us mourn for Bloodwing as a foreshadowing to the major death of Roland. I am less than halfway through the game and devastated by the sudden (and the constantly referred to) death of Maya. This doesn’t read like a comedy. It is okay to introduce us with a bit of tragedy while we’re laughing, or a bit of comedy while we’re crying, but constantly instilling one in to the other creates for a confusing experience. Did this game affect me? Absolutely. But of any Borderlands, I laughed least in this one, and thought the most.
Eden-6 is particularly interesting because you could have based the entirety of the plot around Wainright and Alistair and it would’ve been worth it. They operate as a refreshing adventurer romance that plays out as a dynamic duo. The juxtaposition to these two frontiersmen with the foil of Aurelia, who lacks any of their more sturdy attributes, and her willingness to betray anything for the right price was sublime. What I would say about this bit, is that it was a strange point in the game to introduce the B-Team. Did they play out well? Absolutely. Their screen time seemed unnecessary though, and was much more enjoyable in Boom-Town.
I’ll skip all the in between and say that some of the side-quests were tedious, but most were quick and interesting in that they allowed for the plot to create an incentive to get through them. Especially for BL veterans, they presented enough backstory to act like more than fetch quests.
Typhon DeLeon is exactly the hero we needed to see in the Borderlands series. He may not be what you expected to be physically, but he is a far greater adventurer than even his stories gave credit to. He is far more clever, capable, and important than his logs or legends could have given you the ability to suspect. He then ends up being an atrocious father. There is no glossing over of the fact that we always sacrifice something for anything we gain. For immortality in the spoken word, he sacrificed the fates of his children, and he realized that far too late. An excellent balance of good and bad in a character.
I must say that the cut-scenes in BL2 played out better since they made certain to neutralize the ability of the Vault Hunter before making the villain go in to their ‘homicidal maniac’ speech. I was often wondering why Amara wasn’t stopping Tyreen from slaughtering everyone while standing a few feet away. I will forgive that though as more of a circumstantial error, than a writing one. Because it is.
Finally to top it all off. The ending was nothing short of excellent. In fact, it was by far the best part of the entire work and I particularly laud Sam and Danny for that bit. Spot on.
Tyreen is defeated, but the after-effects of her rage and egomania are felt throughout the planet. That is often the case with tyrants. Lilith regains what was deprived of her, she becomes the Firehawk and realizes what she must do.
The Sirens complete their task. One that had the weight of billions of souls upon them, and Lilith, the first Siren we came across, is the one to do it. She isn’t the Goddess from BL2, using silly Bandits to her will the way Tyreen and Troy are actually doing, she actually becomes the fabled Firehawk. Rising in to the sky.
If you think there wasn’t a glimpse of Roland in her, you haven’t been paying attention.
The annoying little youth, is now inspired by act of some one who realizes the value of becoming the person they always claimed to be. Not convincing others of that person, but becoming it.
What song plays? Seconds afterward? This Girl is on Fire.
I understand many people drew from it some sort of political message, and I honestly have no idea where you’re coming from. Politics encompasses the entirety of existence, because those who can do will often impose on those who cannot do. Some one expressing their view of the world cannot be pigeon-holed to some silly contemporary notion of the word. That ending was excellent.
Listen. You can say you didn’t like BL3, and that is all fine and good. You don’t have to like something. I am not a particularly big fan of Austen novels, but I know she is an exceptional writer. A great one in fact. Simply because something wasn’t your cup of tea doesn’t mean you should attack it because it didn’t suit your particular need.
That has never been what fiction is about.