The way shotguns in Borderlands 3 hurl enemies into the air as if they've been yanked up by a playful god is A+, but Borderlands 2 was a hard act to follow. Sure, it was another game about shooting people and taking their stuff, but it embellished that with character-writing and gags so good you could take away the shooting and still have something enjoyable. Actually, what you'd have is Tales from the Borderlands, which was one of Telltale's best games.
Characters like Vaughn, whose whole deal in Tales from the Borderlands was going through a wild series of life changes that take him from 'corporate henchsuit math guy' to 'shirtless wasteland survivor', became one-note and annoying in Borderlands 3. He starts out as a half-naked bandit chief who shouts BANDIT LYF over and over, and ends the game exactly the same way.
I thought we'd lost the stuff that elevated Borderlands above the other compulsion-loop twitch-action color-coded rarity games, but I was wrong. It's there, you just have to play the DLC to find it.
Not all of the DLC, I should stress. It's not in the Designer's Cut, which adds a roguelike mode nobody asked for, but it's in a solid three of the four story-based expansions bundled together in the first season pass.
Moxxi's Heist of the Handsome Jackpot
If you were the kind of Borderlands 2 player who wished your co-op buddies would shush so you could hear Handsome Jack's improv comedy monologues, Moxxi's Heist of the Handsome Jackpot is the DLC for you.
It brings back Jack, or at least his voice, in the form of holograms all over a space casino he apparently owned but we've never heard of until now. Under the guidance of fan-favorite questgiver Moxxi you put together a heist crew to raid this casino, while once again being monologued at by Handsome Jack in the way you masochistically love.
It also brings back Timothy Lawrence, one of Jack's body doubles who was a playable character added to Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel as DLC. That's a deep cut—even people who played the Pre-Sequel probably didn't bother with its DLC characters, but the handful who did will be pleased to see him not only return but have his arc completed. Given how Borderlands 3 short-changed the returning characters it did feature (#justice4maya), this feels like a statement of intent and it's something the other DLCs will repeat with other characters.
There are a lot of robot enemies guarding the casino so you'll want to bring a corrosive weapon, and there's a whole settlement in its garbage compactor called Trashlantis with an unmissable sidequest called Heart of Gold. Moxxi's Heist is a solid expansion, but its follow-up is even better.
Guns, Love, and Tentacles
Borderlands has done horror before, but in a kitsch, pumpkins-and-zombies kind of way. Guns, Love, and Tentacles is a parody of cosmic horror, so if you thought H.P. Lovecraft was a Minecraft YouTuber you're going to learn some stuff.
The setup is that returning NPCs Sir Hammerlock and Jakob Wainwright are getting married on a planet that suits their interests—big game hunts, and having two whiskeys then shooting your revolver in the air respectively. Said planet is an ice world where the only town is built in the unrotting carcass of a giant tentacle monster, wild beasts prowl the frozen lakes, and everybody's too busy being cursed to notice when it rains bullets.
Obviously everything goes wrong as soon as you get there, what with the giant dead tentacle monster being worshipped by cultists who aren't into having their rituals interrupted by outsiders. The cultists make excellent enemies, varied subtypes with different magic powers all running into battle shouting about how we're occultists actually, and between fights forming their own book club where they argue about whether it counts as reading if you prefer your eldritch tomes in audiobook form.
There's a new hub called the Lodge, a spooky tavern that's much more conveniently laid out than the multi-level spaceship I still get lost on. The DJ upstairs gives you sidequests to collect horrifying noises for her next mix, and the owner's a Vincent Price-soundalike who is actually quite nice and has a quest about finding a cursed recipe book called the Nibblenomicon.
Guns, Love, and Tentacles continues the trend of bringing back DLC characters with Gaige the Mechromancer from Borderlands 2, who has retired from vault hunting to become a wedding planner naturally suited to organize a wedding for characters as triggerhappy as Wainwright and Hammerlock. Fighting Cthulhuesque monsters to make sure their marriage goes smoothly makes it subversively wholesome for Lovecraftian horror, and I enjoyed that a lot.
Also I got a shotgun called The Cure that roars like thunder and reloads like lightning, so that's good too.
Bounty of Blood
Borderlands has gone full western before, and Bounty of Blood is a pretty typical take on the genre. It's a standard new-sheriff-in-town story, only the cowboys ride dinosaur lizards. Everyone says "tomodachi" instead of friend because there are some superficial Japanese aesthetics thrown in, but popping some eastern into your western is nothing new. There's a rambling, fourth-wall-breaking narrator right out of Call of Juarez: Gunslinger too.
On the plus side there's a new vehicle—a speeder bike called the jetbeast—plants you can use to charm enemies, and crystals that can be punched to set off explosions. It tries to shake up the combat formula a little, but it's the most skippable of these DLCs.
Psycho Krieg and the Fantastic Fustercluck
Krieg's another DLC character from Borderlands 2, added in the "Psycho Pack" and introduced in a memorable trailer called A Meat Bicycle Built for Two. In the Fantastic Fustercluck, you travel inside his mind to find the source of the psychosis that afflicts Pandora. The first level is a Disney-bright meadow with a giant version of Krieg looming over it, hurling raiders at you. Some of them ride huge bullets like they're in Dr. Strangelove, others just swing axes and shout nonsense.
Later locations include a besieged castle in a land made of organs and flesh, a railway line that runs through traumatic memories where you fight a train of thought called Locomöbius, and a version of a detention centre Krieg was held in that twists in and out of hallucinations like something out of Eternal Darkness.
While it's a bit more linear and over faster than the other expansions, the locations are all bizarre enough to be fun and the sidequests match them for oddness, like one where you help a talking gun become a parent, or talk Krieg's sane inner voice out of blowing himself up. You find him detonating dynamite over and over while repeating, "I deserve this," and when he tells you to back off you advance the quest by getting close to him. Each vault hunter has different dialogue for this—I was playing as Amara, who talked Krieg around by explaining that there were people who needed him, and he couldn't help them while he was busy hurting himself. "Sometimes the bravest thing you can do is to give yourself a break," she said.
The Borderlands games aren't somewhere I expect to see a sensitive portrayal of mental illness. They're full of kooky, "crazy" characters who rant about turning you into their pain-puppet, so hearing a solid bit of mental health advice mid-quest was a surprise. I did not expect that, or the parts where it talks about the value of therapy and the sidequest to transform Krieg's memory of his old cell into a safe internal happy place by redecorating it.
This is after the bits where you jump around on floating meat islands making bulletriders satisfyingly pop into fireworks by shooting them, yeah.
I didn't think Borderlands 3 was going to win me back after *waves vaguely at main campaign* but what do you know, these four expansions actually managed it. Well, three of them did. Bounty of Blood feels disconnected from the others—it doesn't even have a cameo from the recurring side character named Max Sky who keeps getting trapped in each new place just before you arrive.
But the others fix one of the biggest issues Borderlands 3 had, because they not only focus on characters I already care about, those characters are written in a way that's broadly consistent with their previous portrayal while also building on it. That doesn't seem like a big ask, but *waves vaguely at main campaign*.
Also the jokes are funnier. Let me leave you with the meeting of the Eldritch Book Club.