Now, there will be some spoilers ahead in terms of story. I intend to use them in my explanation as to why we should change up the current formula of the series.
In Borderlands 3, we have killed powerful godlike creatures. From the opening of the vault on Promethea to the defeat of Tyreen the destroyer. Though many feel the twins were portrayed as weak villains in the main story, on a technical standpoint, they were the greatest threat to plague the galaxies. The twins were sirens, able to leech off other sirens and perform feats like pulling Pandora’s moon out of the sky. That moon was the key to unlocking “the great vault” which had been the planet Pandora itself.
The destroyer from the first game is a Lovecraftian terror capable of devouring anything. From entire civilizations to the very stars that twinkle in the vastness of space. It was so dangerous, that an ancient siren named Niriad helped the eridians imprison the destroyer, by using their own people as bait to lure the great terror into it’s prison. It is set free, and absorbed by Tyreen Calypso, and the four vault hunters we play now defeat the terror, and end the threat of the destroyer.
We have come to the point now that the stakes are no longer high in opening vaults. Not when the Crimson Raiders prove that they have the badasses to defeat the beasts that dwell within them. There capabilities are great, able to slay powerful creatures with their combined efforts. It’s here, that I think the series should move in another direction. Not interms of what the game is about, the vaults are a vital part of the series as a whole. But I think the Crimson Raiders have become too big at this point in time. Not only with those who are capable of overcoming any challenge that opposes them, but also with those whose abilities make them a force to be reckoned with. They have an eridian expert in Tannis. Powerful influential allies like Moxxi, Ellie, and Marcus. And the power of the sirens.
Now, one of the best ways I think the series can progress is by moving away from the Crimson Raiders. Not entirely, but enough for the story to dwell on other types of happenings going on in the universe. One of the biggest draws for me when I first got into this series was the feeling of being in a universe I didn’t know or understand. The only objective I had in mind was to fulfill the objective of the game, which was to find and open a vault. Along the way, we were introduced to amazing, deranged, and strange characters. People that would help you on your quest, and inhabitants that stood in the way of your ultimate goal. Bandits, wildlife, dangerous mega-corporations that sought the same thing you did. It gave you the sense that there was a larger story going on, and that our vault hunters ended up getting mixed into that story in pursuit of the vaults.
For Borderlands 4, I’d like for Gearbox to recapture that feeling. One where the universe we explored was bigger than your character. I feel that one of the best ways to do so is by introducing another group of vault hunters who are not associated with the Raiders. Not to say they wouldn’t by the end of the game, but that joining up with the Raiders becomes a feat you earn by the end of the story. And the reason for this, is to see another side of the characters we have come to know and love. One of the main themes of Borderlands 3 was family. That through finding one another and being united in a common goal, our characters have accomplished great feats. They all come from different backgrounds but are actually birds of a feather. They care and look out for one another.
For the next game, if it is about the great war to come, then the theme I think the story should exhibit is conflict. The Raiders are not the only ones in search of the vaults. Yes, you have the corporations, and you have megalomaniacs like Jack and the Calypso twins. Not only that, but there are other vault hunters as well. People who seek the vaults for their own reasons, and those reasons are plenty. Power, vengeance, belief, wealth, greed, fame, thrills, a way to make a means end. Some of the core aspects of the conflict are because of those whose views, values, creeds, beliefs, and intent. The slightest variation can determine what makes you different from me and me from you. It could be these very reasons, these differences, that we come into conflict. What you have in mind may be different from mine. Or maybe there’s something about me you don’t like. Differing methods on how to handle certain things. Or maybe just something I do that makes you uncomfortable. It’s a dog eat dog universe, and you’d best be sure your bite is enough to keep you alive.
There are many people like this in the Borderlands universe. Hence why there is so much blood and conflict. Compassion and empathy is not something you will get unless you find people that are yours. Comradery, familial bonds, survival, a reason to want to fight together. This is something that should be depicted when the universe eventually goes into an all-out arms race in-game. As the story goes on, you have the Raiders, the Corporations, and the megalomaniacs all fighting for control. There will also be other vault hunters to consider. All vying for the treasure that lay in wait within vaults. We the players would take the role of a ragtag band of unlikely badasses fighting just like everyone else. Just a group of vault hunters who are making their way up amidst the mayhem.
It’s for this reason that I think the story should go from narrative to character-oriented storytelling. Like in the first game, we play through events we don’t know have significance and are contacted by different people for it. It could be the characters we know and love. It could be new characters we have yet to meet. Or those who seek to oppose us. Also, like the first game, there should be no big bad antagonist or at least no clear antagonist. The reason for this, it can’t really get any bigger then what we’ve faced in 3 at this point. And if we are able to travel the galaxy to different planets again, this would especially make that case. Cause it means we’ll be facing off against multiple antagonists, making any main antagonist take a back seat. That leaves the greatest concern we players would face, and that’s being the vaults themselves. Instead of making those bosses giant bullet sponges, we should give the importance of opening the vaults’ serious thought. We are about to face an enemy that should not go down by normal means. In this instance, there should be a method to defeating the monster, via the environment, having characters that are powerful enough to do harm to the beast, or the beast being small enough to kill realistically with our own vault hunters.
Which brings me to another point. Our new vault hunters don’t have to be more powerful than the vault hunters we’ve played in the past. Cause at this point, to really say that any new vault hunters can outdo the deeds of the current ones we play now would be seriously downplaying the feats they have accomplished. If you told me that Zane, Amara, FL4K, and Moze were the most powerful vault hunters in the universe, I’d believe you. Their feats were no joke, they killed something they really shouldn’t have been able to. And took out many powerful forces even before that last boss. Our new vault hunters don’t have to outdo our current ones, they just have to overcome their challenges. Being the badass doesn’t always mean you’re the best of the best. Sometimes it means being able to hold your own and overcome odds you know most wouldn’t have. And if there is an active war going on for the vaults, then the fact that they can hold their own in pursuit of it is a testament to their capabilities.
The universe of the Borderlands is home to many types of people. So far, the ones we have been presented are those in whom we might relate or understand. My suggestion, introduce us to characters we can not. The ones we have come into conflict with the most. Or just any other person that is a product of the universe they inhabit. Characters that represent the average person of this universe, and becomes a badass through their accomplished feats.
Maybe play as a cannibal, not someone who suffers from a split personality like Krieg, but someone who is aware of what they do and revels in it. Or maybe a fanatic, we’ve seen what the COV is capable of, so why not someone whose faith makes them as determined as any vault hunter? Or maybe a scavenger, someone who lived by making ends meet, and sought to become more. Or maybe a character related to the ones we know. I thought it was awesome that Zane was a Flynt, and that he was the brother of two bosses we faced in BL 1 and 2. Maybe Gearbox can finally introduce Zed’s forbidden brother Ted. Or bring another member of the Flynt family into the story. It could be the sister Zane mentions in a line of dialogue he makes when he blows up enemy vehicles.
We could have a character who is an engineer that can build useful tech. A Corporate big wig who is secretly trying to get ahead by becoming a vault hunter. A Cyborg, a mutant, or maybe even an alien vault hunter. All the possibilities are there, we can play the deranged, the broken, the scary, the evil, the devoted, the creative, the survivors, the strange, and the exotic. Each with their own styles, aesthetics, and points of view. They don’t have to be the most handsome or beautiful. But reflect on what it is they are and stand for. I wouldn’t mind playing a character that looked like he came from one of the bandit clans. Just decked out in tribal tattoos and war paint. The point I’m making here, when it comes to characters and concepts, Gearbox can go crazy with them. Outlandish would fit the mold of the Borderlands universe well. I don’t know how many vault hunters the next game in the series will have. It’ll likely stick to teams of four, but any one of these concepts are liable for becoming vault hunters.
While I think the design and concept of the current vault hunters are some of the best Gearbox has come up with this far, they could have done more with them. Like give them character-specific missions, or gave them their own opinions and views when it came to one another. I get that they want to leave room for interpretation, but I do think they could have done so while drawing on the concepts of the characters. It would have made them feel like this group of strangers that became this ragtag team. People who would not have associated with each other if not for their common goal. They have their pasts and personalities, I see no reason not to utilize them if an opportunity was there.
We don’t really need to revolve the series around the Crimson Raiders or some big bad main antagonist. We can focus on other groups and characters that are also trying to make their way. This way, the story can be paced to a point where we could explore all aspects of the universe they inhabit. All the while, keeping to the main objective of opening a vault. You can take all types of routes to get to that point. Which means you can fit in as many returning characters as you want. You’re not being held to a narrative that limits you, you are being told a story through the perspective of your character. They’re not the big heroes, they’re not morally ambiguous, and they don’t even have to be the big badasses that have to save the day.
They are not being held to any narrative or plot, so you writers at Gearbox can have as much fun as you want with the story. Other than keeping characters as themselves, you’d have nothing to worry about if you tell the story from a point of view that doesn’t revolve around established characters or planets. This would be an ideal point for people who are new to the series to jump in. It also allows veterans of the series to revisit that feeling of being in a universe they don’t know or understand. We’d be dealing with a new group, on new planets, who’d either be in cooperation or competition with the established characters we have now.