Before Destiny, before The Division, there was the original loot-shooter, Borderlands. It existed for years without any imitators, without anyone trying to play the “Diablo but for shooters” card other than it. And yet, now that the genre is more popular than ever, it feels like this founding father is constantly left out of the conversation.
As I start my fourth character in The Division for reasons I can’t really explain, and re-run the same strike for the 325th time in Destiny, I find myself wishing that Borderlands 3 was right around the corner. Destiny 2 may not arrive until fall, and even then it might still be delayed. The Division has one more DLC left, but a true sequel hasn’t even been hinted at yet.
Borderlands 3 does exist, but only as a nebulous word cloud, a few loose quotes here and there confirming that it will be Gearbox’s next game, but with no clues about either its content or a timetable for release.
Gearbox has stumbled into some pretty high profile failures the past few years between Duke Nukem Forever, Aliens: Colonial Marines and now recently Battleborn, which may have been its greatest miscalculation of all. Battleborn is currently in death process, despite Gearbox’s best efforts. The game is toying with incentive weekends and free trials and ultimately seems like it may be on a march to be fully F2P, something 2K’s Evolve tried, but that game ultimately failed all over again, despite many improvements and a brief reengagement of players.
I previously argued that Battleborn would have been much better off being set in the Borderlands universe using characters from that game and its more appealing art style. Battleborn comes off as a knock-off of Gearbox’s own IP, in many ways. But upon further reflection, this wasn’t really even the problem. The issue was that Gearbox picked the wrong war to fight. They were trying to compete with Blizzard’s Overwatch (even if the games are very different), when they should have set their sights on Destiny and The Division with Borderlands 3 right out of the gate given their years of expertise in the genre.
While I understand that Gearbox wants to find success outside of the Borderlands series, in an age when loot-shooters have become some of the most played, most talked about games on the market, it seems crazy that Borderlands has essentially sat this fight out.
To this day, Borderlands 2 is still scratching the itch for many players who love the grind for levels and loot, and the game has had more active players on Steam than Battleborn more often than not the over the past year. I’m currently watching a few major Destiny streamers like Gothalion and ProfessorBroman organize a community event called “The Hunt” where streamers and players track down legendary guns in Borderlands for points. Gearbox supports it, but didn’t organize it themselves, and it’s reflective of just how much fans still love Borderlands.
I am not saying that Borderlands 3 won’t be a hit when it finally does arrive, but it does feel like its missing a prime moment to strike here when Destiny, Division and even Diablo fans are running out of content in those games, and more is a long ways off for each, if it ever comes. I can’t imagine we’ll see Borderlands 3 until well into 2018, and who knows what the market will be like at that point. But I can’t help think that Battleborn was a huge misstep not just because of the resources it may have lost by itself, but because of how much it delayed Borderlands 3 during a moment when it could have ruled the loot-shooter roost.
While The Division and Destiny owe a lot to Borderlands, I do think Borderlands 3 has a lot to learn from its newfound competition. I’ve never been a fan of inserting PvP where it doesn’t belong, but Destiny’s Crucible and The Division’s Dark Zone have been significant components of those games, and it’s something Borderlands might want to investigate. I’d also love if Borderlands finally went down the road to give players armor and gear sets and the like, rather than dropping nothing but guns, class mods and shields. But even if nothing really changed and it was just more of the same, Borderlands has done well enough where that’s just fine.
This is a genre I’ve spent more time in than probably all others combined, and a significant portion of those hours have been in Borderlands. It’s just been rather strange to see the loot-shooter genre finally explode, yet Borderlands has been missing from the conversation almost completely. Sure, going back and playing the old games is still worthwhile, but it’s easy to wonder what a brand new installment would be like with new tech, new ideas and lessons learned from its competition. And yet something like that may still be years away because Gearbox sunk so much time and effort into Battleborn. It’s frustrating for a fan, but I imagine it’s probably even more frustrating for Gearbox themselves, seeing how the market unfolded.
Hopefully we’ll hear more about Borderlands 3 soon, and maybe it could be closer than it appears.
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