I unashamedly admit that Borderlands 2 is one of my favourite games of all time, it’s in the top ten at the very least. It was a perfect game for a perfect time for me, near endlessly replayable with an absolute ton of content even before you take the substantial DLC into account. So why has my previous excitement for Borderlands 3 cooled so much since the reveal a few months back?
The thing is, the more I see of Borderlands 3, the more I find myself concerned about it. Not for what they’ve changed about the game, but what’s staying the same. As I just mentioned, Borderlands 2 was very much a “right time, right place” kind of game. Adding randomness, RPG elements and both a unique art style and sense of humour to the mix that made it stand out from pretty much everything that was coming out at the time.
Since then, we’ve moved on. The state of the medium has changed, but based on what we’ve seen from the upcoming se-sequel, Borderlands has not. All of the preview footage and hands on impressions paint a picture of Gearbox and 2K going and making another one of “those”.
Which, on the surface, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. An If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it approach to game development is a sound one, especially if you’re a studio with a less than stellar track record like Gearbox. The problem is, Borderlands was a pretty influential game, and there are many, many games that have come and gone in the time since that took it’s lunch and added their own lunchables for good measure.
The hope was, with Borderlands being one of the progenitors of “shlooter” genre, they would take the next logical step in order to keep pace with the industry as it has changed in the intermitting seven years. But by all accounts, they haven’t.
Currently, the two biggest shooters I’m playing right now are Destiny 2 (yes, still) and Apex Legends as season two has just started. Two games that take some aspect of what made Borderlands 2 great and expand upon it to the Nth degree to become something else entirely.
Destiny took the randomly generating guns, the multiplayer experience and RPG elements are blew them out into what essentially become a new genre, and they’re still delving even deeper. The more Bungie announce about Shadowkeep, the more I am convinced I’m eventually going to find myself in a place where I’m never going to be playing anything else.
Apex, on the other hand, takes the visual style and general ambivalent attitude of Borderland’s setting and makes it it’s own. The animated trailer for season 2 even had a layer of cel-shading that made it look way more Borderlands than ever before, especially when they’re putting Octane front and centre.
Expectations of Borderlands 3 have been, maybe unfairly, increased at an exponential rate. When it was still the worst kept secret, people had hoped for a more Destiny-like approach to the game, or at least a significant graphics bump and updating of the UI. Today, seeing the game in action, it’s difficult to differentiate it from Borderlands 2. Which is worrisome.
I have enough good will for the franchise itself that I will most likely pick BL3 up on release day, and I’d imagine that the game will be a perfectly good example of the franchise. Why I worry is that the genre has left Borderlands behind and Gearbox haven’t done enough to keep up with the times.
Hell, if you wanted a story driven shooter with an absurdly irreverent attitude to its own setting and story, you’ve got both The Outer Worlds and Wolfenstein: New Blood coming out around the same time, on top of the two games I already mentioned that are getting supported all the time.
And I didn’t even get into Fortnite which eats everyone’s lunch at all times.
With such a heavy release schedule in the final third of this year, I really don’t see how Borderlands 3 can poke its head above the crowd, even with the good faith of its existing fanbase taken into account. The idea of a Borderlands 3 has been something I’ve been hotly anticipating for the past seven years, now that it’s finally here, I feel like it’s six years too late.