It's almost strange to start thinking of Borderlands 3 as a set-in-stone reality given just how fruitful Borderlands 2 turned out to be, with over two years of DLC packs and a full-fledged expansion. But here we are, with the sequel right around the corner, and after so many players have invested so much time into Borderlands 2, it's only right to give the game a proper send-off. Commander Lilith & The Fight for Sanctuary isn't so much an Irish funeral as a subdued respectful toast for the game, but within its comparatively short play time is a reminder of all things good and all things frustrating about our time on Pandora these last seven years.
Set right after the ending of Telltale's Tales from the Borderlands, Pandora is experiencing a sort of peace as several of the protagonists from Borderlands 1 and 2 analyze the Vault Key map found in the final moments of the second game. Naturally, the peace is short-lived, as a military stooge and, as Lilith puts it, “four-star a**hole” named Hector shows up to snatch the Vault Key. Apparently, there's a military splinter faction that's none too happy about Pandora being left to its own devices while its heroes go vault hunting, and it has concocted a plan to restore plant life and natural beauty back to the Pandoran wastelands. Sounds great, except for the fact that the gas Hector's boys are using to restore the world has the nasty side effect of turning any humans exposed to it into hideous half-plant hybrid monsters that look and act like an eco-friendly version of The Flood from Halo. So, once again, it's up to the Vault Hunters to take out the trash. Or compost, in this case.
Any new Borderlands story is only as good as the company you keep and the big bad they have to take down. On the downside, Hector is a lame villain not even remotely fit to shine Handsome Jack's diamond pony or Mr. Torgue's glorious gold chains. A few logs reveal him straight up slaughtering civilians for the hell of it, which is sure to get him on your bad side. Mostly, though, he just grumbles predictable military hard-ass threats over your Echo from time to time, until it's time for his eye-rollingly cheap boss fight, which is utterly rife with the kind of unavoidable hits the most hectic and aggravating parts of Borderlands 2 are sometimes prone to.
His big plan doesn't amount to much either. There's an interesting idea in that restoring green beauty to Pandora might actually kill it--especially since martial law would be part of the package--but nothing really comes of this, aside from seeing a few familiar locales covered in giant vines and poison-gas spewing flowers. The hideous mutated humanoid plant enemies that spew from those flowers are easy enough to deal with, especially for folks jumping in with high-level characters, but Hector's own New Pandora goon squad can get troublesome in heavy numbers. There's nothing to suggest Pandora as a whole might be better or worse for the infection, aside from a single throwaway line when you start closing in on Hector's lair.
So, no, this definitely isn't breaking any new ground on the antagonist front. What makes Fight for Sanctuary worthwhile entirely comes down to your friends during this last go-around, as this DLC acts as one giant elaborate curtain call for the entire series up to this point. Right from the jump, you're surrounded by Ellie, Dr. Tannis, and Lilith. Later, you wind up taking on squads of baddies with Mordecai and Brick. Tiny Tina shows up to guide you on a certain quest just so she can get to fire a space cannon. The love even extends to the brilliant Tales from the Borderlands. One of your first side missions involves talking to Moxxi and hearing poor, heroic Scooter's last recorded will and testament. Cassius shows up later to help synthesize a cure to the plant infection. Unfortunately, Vaughn also shows up, and his mere presence is aggravating for a vast multitude of reasons, the most enraging in-game reason being that his wanton cowardice and ego-stroking missions are at complete odds with everyone else you take marching orders from during the course of these new quest lines.
Fight for Sanctuary isn't a taste of things to come so much as a grand encapsulation of Borderlands’ virtues and flaws.
For much of the duration, however, Fight for Sanctuary just feels like the flimsiest excuse to put the band back together one last time, to hang out with these characters in a few familiar places, letting them play off each other in a situation where there's tension but not world-ending stakes. It's worth the trip for that, to remember just how much of Borderlands’ universe is enjoyable less for the looting-and-shooting but for the company you keep while you’re doing it. There are, of course, the players who are mostly just looking for any excuse to go chumming for loot in the sands of Pandora once again. There may not be as much to do that's on-mission for Fight For Sanctuary, but those looking to jump in do at least have a bit further to grind to get to the level cap of 80. There's also a brand-new class of elite weapons to look for. In my travels, I found two of them, and the gun that became my go-to shimmers with rainbows and sparkles, but also does the most elemental fire damage of any gun I've ever used in the game.
Fight for Sanctuary isn't a taste of things to come so much as a grand encapsulation of Borderlands’ virtues and flaws. The gunplay feels dated. Level progression is often shallow and grindy. Some of the characters can be painfully obnoxious. Just as often, however, there are perfect moments when you managed to bring the right weapon to the right gunfight to gain the right reward from the loot shower that follows. You then get to celebrate with some of the most sloppy, endearing, badass misfits the galaxy has ever known. That’s as good a reason as any to revisit Borderlands 2 one last time, but also a convincing example of all the ways Borderlands 3 can drastically improve on its predecessor.