With Borderlands 3 right around the corner, Gearbox released a final DLC pack, titled Commander Lilith & the Fight for Sanctuary, for Borderlands 2 which aims to bridge the gap between where the current game ends and the next begins. The now defunct 2K Australia handled Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, so the Fight for Sanctuary is the first look into what we can expect out of the upcoming sequel. Oh boy.
Where do I even begin with this?
Borderlands 3 has been heralded as some kind of video game Messiah as it won’t feature any of the live service nonsense that is increasingly prevalent in games. It is also releasing into a market which now houses several close competitors. In 2009 an ARPG with a first-person shooting gimmick (later coined looter-shooter) was a breath of fresh air. Three games later that is no longer the case. So what is Gearbox’s big play with Borderlands 3? If the Fight for Sanctuary is anything to go by then it’s to stagnate and change as little as possible. For better, or worse.
First off, lets look at the level design, or lack thereof. Across the entirety of Borderlands, especially in the latter two games, areas can be broken down into two types: big open nothings, and corridors of chest high walls. The former adds unneeded downtime by extending the time it takes to get anywhere. Even the sections with vehicles feel sluggish as you meander from your current location to the next point of interest. A smaller map could dramatically reduce downtime lending to a more exciting experience rather than one plagued with boring lulls.
Chest high walls will always be something I despise. And it would happen that most of Borderlands level design utilizes them. Yay. You spend a lot of combat huddled behind cover poking out periodically to shoot at enemies as they move slowly towards you. Games like Doom (2016) and Vermintide showcase the viability of combat built around strafing and movement. I was hopeful that Borderlands, with its similarly unrealistic tone, would take some cues from this. It seems that wasn’t the case. And unlike other games Borderlands can’t use realism to explain its monotonous combat cycle.
If you took all the memes from Reddit and boiled them into a soup you’d have the bulk of Borderlands‘ writing. The script is so jam-packed with jokes that almost none of them have time to breath before another is thrown in your face. While I got the occasional chuckle out of something it was never given time to stick the landing before another joke was flung at me. This made most of the writing incredibly exhausting to listen to.
The Fight for Sanctuary also still does that thing where you have to listen to every piece of dialogue and can’t skip it. There is a lot of waiting around for NPCs to stop spouting useless dribble before you can continue forward in a quest. With the developers stating in interviews that, “we’ve always been heavily focused on story and characters”, I have no doubt this annoyance will persist in the upcoming sequel. I wouldn’t be as bothered by this if the dialogue didn’t routinely hold me hostage with exposition dumps.
Other Things That Aren’t Fair to Complain About in DLC
I’m keeping the remaining points of worry I have short because unlike the level design and writing, these would have been impossible to address in DLC.
I still firmly believe Borderlands has some of the weakest skill trees in any RPG. Many of the skills are marginal passive bonuses, which eventually add up to making your character feel stronger but they seldom offer the same level of customization you’d see in other games.
For a game so focused on loot you have surprisingly small trousers. Playing through the DLC I constantly ran out of inventory space, which required a trek to the nearest vending machine to sell off all of the trash. Luckily vending machines are all over the map, but it always struck me as strange that your inventory wasn’t unlimited in a game about collecting “billions of guns”. No billions for you. You can only hold thirty nine of the things.
Why does currency exist? Or more importantly, why is it so underutilized? In the original game money could be used to buy expensive, but powerful special items from vendors. In Borderlands 2 those same items are relatively weak, and also substantially cheaper. This means you’ll usually have hordes of money in your pockets for…nothing in particular.
Also I’d like to see the return of the loot grinder from The Pre-Sequel. In my three hours with the DLC I received more legendary equipment drops than I did in my other almost two hundred hours of play time. The loot grinder is the only reason I was able to get a handful of half decent equipment in The Pre-Sequel in substantially less time. Alternatively, making the drop rate as wild as it was in the Fight for Sanctuary would also work. I actually like that idea a lot better. Do that.
I’ve spent a lot of time with Borderlands in the past, but I’m worried that the latest game from Gearbox will release and feel dated. A reliance on doing exactly what worked in the past without refining those rough edges could see Borderlands 3 releasing into a market where it is woefully behind its competition. And the absence of live service elements isn’t going to change that. If you want more of the same you’ll still enjoy it, but the Fight for Sanctuary didn’t do anything to raise my expectations for Borderlands 3.
This was originally supposed to be a post about Commander Lilith & the Fight for Sanctuary and I guess it still kind of is. Perhaps I’m reading into the DLC too heavily? Did you play it? Did you enjoy it? Are you excited for Borderlands 3? Let’s chat in the comments below.