Hello everyone, I went to school for a BFA in creative writing. I also went to grad school at Seton Hill University for an MFA, but it didn’t work out. I have worked under editors and with deadlines, so I know the struggle.
First, before we get into things, I know that many of us were disappointed in the story, but let’s not be too harsh on the writers. Once you create a masterpiece like Borderlands 2, it’s hard to outdo it. It is even harder when story direction rests in the hands of a company, with multiple people and a revolving door.
In order to begin to understand what went wrong we have to look at the types of character development; flat and round characters, or two-dimensional characters and three-dimensional characters, they are called, depending on who you talk to.
Flat characters are characters who exist to serve a function, such as a uniformed officer in a crime show, or the clerk at a gas station. They are meant to perform a function to the story and plot and then disappear.
In Borderlands 3, what we have is a bunch of flat characters, who happen to have leading roles. They don’t have any motivations or agency other than generic ones. In fact, I can describe each of these characters with very few words. Ava, orphan, traumatic past. Tyreen wants to be a goddess, and destroy everything else. Troy, also wants to be a god, has an inferiority complex.
Let’s start with Ava and compare her, a flat character with a more rounded character Simba, from Disney’s Lion King.
What do they have in common? Both are rebellious, both have a strong birthright, both get someone they care about killed. (It was mostly Scar, though.) That’s where the similarity ends.
Why does Simba work and Ava doesn’t? The first part is sympathy. Simba comes off as a “take the world by the teeth,” kid who just wants to explore his domain. Ava comes off as an entitled brat.
Now, if you watched the Lion King, do you believe that statement to be true? Simba also comes off as an entitled brat, more so than Ava, but the difference here is that Simba internalizes his failures to point that he almost dies from them.
In Ava’s case, she did none of that. Instead of statements like, “I killed her, I killed Maya,” which would have given this character a little bit more sympathy, or even better, “I killed her, just like my parents,” we get “She’s dead. Maya’s dead. Another telling statement is “Maya’s dead because you wanted to open the vaults!”
What we have is a character who doesn’t seem to blame herself for her failures but instead blames others.
In the case of Simba, he has an entire character arc where he develops as a character. Ava doesn’t really have that. If I were to do damage control for this project, I would have dedicated at least two missions to Ava where she develops a character (not those stupid ghost crime missions, I have not played those so if she did, disregard this statement.)
Let’s talk about Tyreen and Troy next. If I was a story editor for this project, I would have told Gearbox. “A homicidal streamer? Sorry, this isn’t working. Look, if you don’t have anything, then don’t try to reinvent the wheel, stick with the formula that made this franchise successful.”
What made Borderlands 2 successful? The audience was invested in the villain. The audience hated him and loved him. The absolute nuggets of that game were the missions “Where Angels Fear to Tread” and the last one when Jack was defeated, and he explained his whole worldview.
In the case of “Where Angels Fear to Tread,” raw emotion courses through my body every time I play that mission. I know what I am doing is right, but that mission always leaves a seed of doubt in my heart. I would have used that. “Don’t you get what you’re doing? You’re going to end the life of an innocent girl!”gets me every time.
Instead of the annoying self-absorbed brat, we get in Tyreen, imagine Borderlands 3 with a story like this. It took me a few hours to come up with something like this.
Echo 1: (Tyreen) “Troy and I landed on Pandora today. Mostly dust and dried skag turds blowing in the wind. This planet is a keeper. We made our way to a Crimson Raider town. I knew that there would be action when we came here, but I didn’t expect this. There was so much blood, I didn’t know what to do, Troy had to pull me away.
Echo 2: (Troy) I had to pull Ty away. She would have leeched the whole town. We don’t need a planet-sized target on our backs. There was a riot of some kind. I heard some in the crowd talking about not getting enough to eat. A boom when off. Sounded like a Torgue cannon, but it didn’t matter. These Raiders, they just started firing. There was a child in the crowd, it didn’t matter. So much blood.
Echo 3: (Captain Thomas, Crimson Raider): We chased some bandit agitators out. I guess some of them could have been civs, but what the Commander doesn’t know won’t hurt her. They will all die out there, bandits will get them, psychos love chasing down fresh meat.
Echo 4: The sound of the engines can be heard.
Troy: Bandits! Ty, play it cool.
Tyreen: They are going to kill them!
Psycho One: What do we have here! More meat to feed my stomach eyeball?
Psycho Two: No no you idiot. Bad meat gets made into bicycles. Good meat goes to me! I wanted a meat doll to poop on.
Shiv: Enough, can’t you what’s in front of you? More finger cannons.
Echo 5: Tyreen: I don’t believe it, these bandits took us in. Shiv says all meat has a part to play. He’s the leader, I guess. Troy and I have been with them for about a week now. They’re like a family. Everyone has a part to play even the little bandits that get run over by outrunners or chewed up by skags. The meat is not so bad, a little gummy. Troy was horrified, but we have to fit in. We’re on Pandora baby!
Echo 6: Tyreen: I uh, well I uh, leeched a tink today. His head just popped right off. I was upset at first, but Shiv told me not to be ashamed of who I was I guess? I don’t know, it’s hard to tell with all the meat metaphors. They accepted me even though I’m not a bandit. They’ve done more for me than my Dad ever did. This is my family now.
Echo 7: Troy: I’m worried about Ty. She has always had homicidal ups, then ‘I am going to save everyone’ lows. Shiv keeps giving her more people to leech. She shares some of this power with me. Before with Dad, Ty would just leech animals. This is different. I feel weird like somehow a part of me is lost, no that isn’t right… replaced, maybe?
Echo 8: Tyreen: Shiv introduced us to some of the other war chiefs. We have a new objective now. We are going to build our family. We are going to find the vaults, become gods, and take apart these corporations and this universe that caused so much suffering and build a new system from the ashes. They helped to make me whole again, so now I will return the favor. We are all the Children of the Vault.
I would have also had a pre-match-up with base Tyreen and you the vault hunter. Earlier in the game.
Tyreen: Do you even know what you are fighting for, Vault Hunter?
Tyreen: How much do you know about your allies? Do you think Marcus cares about anything other than the weapons he puts into the hands of bandits?
Tyreen: He arms your enemies, Vault Hunter. He arms us and profits off of it.
Troy: It’s all about that commission baby.
Tyreen: Do you think Lil or Marcus would lose sleep if you died?
Tyreen: Do the Crimson Raiders do anything other than to partake in a system that has ruined so many lives?
Tyreen: I know your teeny tiny brain is probably going into overdrive, so I explain this once. I am going to do what Jack failed to do. I am going to become a god and bring peace to the system. Because it’s my birthright. And a gun slut could never understand.
After absorbing the Destroyer:
Tyreen: I am a GOD! (In the voice of Maya, now overlapping) Now you will fall… (In my version Ava doesn’t get Maya’s power after Troy’s death. We move that to later.)
Tyreen: What? Something… is… arrrgh!
Tyreen: (in the voice of Troy) Where am I?
Tyreen: Troy? No, no, no. shut up! SHUT UP!
Tyreen: I am ME! TYREEN THE DESTROYER!
Tyreen: (in the voice of a psycho) Up the meaty sausage rainbow, we go!
Tyreen: This isn’t what I- Help me, Daddy. Make it stop!
(Tyreen also cycles through some of the dialogue from bandits you fight like bruisers who get set on fire)
At the end of the Destroyer fight, she lays there and pleads with the vault hunter to kill her, to which they reply: “gladly,” and then shoots her in the head to finish her off.
So what I have done here is given Tyreen a better motive, than that nonsense we get in the game, make her somewhat likable, and just make her a better character. In creative writing, this is a rough draft. I wrote this up within a few hours.
The other thing I did was make Tyreen into a metaphor. She becomes the Destroyer and takes upon herself all the pain and suffering of many of the characters you fought in the series. You end the series where the vault hunter shows no remorse and puts Tyreen out of her misery. You, the audience is left wondering, am I a hero, which is a huge part of the second game.
Gearbox, if you want help with some of the writing within your projects let me know. I will gladly help, and I will do it for free.