All four playable Vault Hunters in Borderlands 3 feel unique from one another, but not just because they each have unique skill trees. In comparison to the playable Vault Hunters in previous games, Borderlands 3's Zane, Moze, Amara, and FL4K are extremely chatty, constantly speaking their minds and responding to NPCs during conversations. And unlike the older hunters, these four have very different conversations with people, as opposed to saying different variations of the same thing. Your choice of Vault Hunter won't impact how the campaign ultimately ends, but it will influence how you perceive certain events and understand the relationships of specific characters--encouraging anyone who wants to get really deep into the story and characters to replay Borderlands 3 more than once.
"We wanted to make sure that if people said, 'I want to play through this game all over again with a different character,' that they would then feel rewarded," co-lead writer Sam Winkler said in an interview with GameSpot. "Not just in terms of different mechanics but also a slightly different interpretation of some of the stories." The emphasis on Sirens in Borderlands 3's plot means Amara has a vested interest in the story's events, for instance, and FL4K--a nonbinary AI--explores their growing sexual attraction to Ellie by flirting with her every chance they have.
Having played as all four of the Vault Hunters now, I love how much each one changes how many of the interactions go. Previous Vault Hunters have rarely felt like carbon copies of each other--their unique abilities mean each one handles in a distinct way. But within their respective stories, each one typically reacts to every event in a similar way to their teammates. There's no new insight playing as Brick instead of Mordecai or Maya instead of Zer0. So it's a nice change of pace in Borderlands 3, and I'm already eager to see how each Vault Hunter uniquely responds to the streamer-like banter and violent habits of the Calypso Twins--especially Tyreen, a Siren whose curse-like Phase Leech ability and horrifying backstory (if true) write her as somewhat of a tragic figure.
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To also encourage replayability, several side quests in Borderlands 3 contain choices, allowing you to impact the game in different ways. Don't expect world-changing events but, for example, you can influence how certain characters will appear depending on what you do. In Borderlands 3's prologue, for instance, Claptrap loses his antenna, and--for the rest of the game--he'll just wear whatever you decide to give him as a replacement. "Maybe it's a tin foil hat, or a human arm, or something else," Winkler said.
Aside from the more vocal protagonists and additional agency in how certain side quests conclude, the story of Borderlands 3 is fundamentally the same character-driven tale of crass humor, murderous mayhem, and silly puns that defined Borderlands, Borderlands 2, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, and Tales from the Borderlands. Almost every major character from the previous four games returns in this newest installment, though many have changed in the seven in-game years since the events of Borderlands 2. Because there's been so much history in the franchise, Gearbox wanted to avoid making any of the previously established characters--such as Tiny Tina, Sir Hammerlock, or Ellie--into playable Vault Hunters. It was important that players were forced to use characters who had never interacted with Pandora and its inhabitants before so the story would then have to reintroduce the franchise's lore, helping out series newcomers.
"There's that wonderful cadence of Borderlands where the previous rounds of Vault Hunters become characters in the world, and that allows you the opportunity to learn more about them and where they're from," co-lead writer Danny Homan said. "But as a result, with Borderlands 3, you need a new generation of Vault Hunters because you need to see an old world through a new perspective. It's so useful when you have a new cast who have just made their way to Pandora and they're asking all the [expositional] questions that the players may be asking, like, 'What the heck is a Vault? What am I doing here? Who is Lilith? Why is this robot trying to insult me and also give me stuff?'"
"We never want Borderlands 3 to feel like you have to know everything about the franchise in order to understand why a character is important," Winkler added. "We want it to be accessible to both new and old players." Not every bit of information in regards to past events could be fit into Borderlands 3's early chapters though. As a result, Borderlands 2--which hasn't seen a story expansion since 2013's Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep--got new DLC earlier this summer, just ahead of Borderlands 3's release.
"Our biggest goal with [Commander Lilith and the Fight for Sanctuary DLC] was to canonize some stuff from [Tales from the Borderlands]," Winkler said. "A lot more people played Borderlands 2 than Tales, and so we didn't want people to ask, 'Where's Helios?' when they picked up Borderlands 3."
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Tales from the Borderlands is an outlier in the franchise, the only game in the series that doesn't star Vault Hunters as the main characters and also isn't a first-person shooter. However, it took Borderlands' ludicrous humor to new heights, and it's this level of ridiculousness that Borderlands 3 strives for.
"A lot of people would say 'Don't do an extended five-minute gunfight without any guns,'" Winkler said. "And yet Tales did it and I still see that [finger gun fight] all the time on the internet. That's the energy we want to bring to Borderlands 3. Have people say, 'Did you play that one thing? It's insane.'" In this, Borderlands 3 certainly seems to fit the bill. On Eden-6 (one of the new planets you'll visit in the game), you meet an Ice-T-voiced AI that's been trapped in a teddy bear by its angry ex-girlfriend. The jokes that follow in that particular chapter go to places that are as shocking and unsettling as they are morbidly amusing. Borderlands 3's story is definitely closer to the creative weirdness and pretty-much-anything-goes tone of Tales, as opposed to the unhinged attitude of the previous mainline games.
If nothing else, the story told in Borderlands 3 seems to be somewhat of an apotheosis for the franchise up to this point--rewarding fans with the answers to many of the series' most long-standing questions. You shouldn't expect to have everything laid bare though, as Borderlands 3 expands upon the franchise's lore with brand-new concepts as well. "There are definitely events from previous Borderlands games that kind of reach an interesting culmination in certain ways," Homan said. "The focus on Lilith from Borderlands 1 to Borderlands 3--there are some interesting stories that we're telling there. People love the Borderlands universe and there are always more stories out there, and so when we're trying to wrap up a story, we're always trying to see new stories." Winkler added, "Whatever Borderlands ends up looking like after Borderlands 3, I think that people will be able to look back and see one, two, and three as maybe a trilogy. But not necessarily with walls on either side of it."
Borderlands 3 is scheduled to release for Xbox One, PS4, and PC on September 13. On PC, Borderlands 3 has a limited-time exclusivity deal with the Epic Games Store that lasts until 2020. Borderlands 3 will also be a day one title on Google Stadia, a cloud-based game streaming service scheduled to launch in November 2019.