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Borderlands 3’s trailer is a disappointment

Borderlands 3’s debut trailer may have made you happy if you just wanted new Borderlands content and, if that’s the case, I’m happy that you’re happy.

I’m not happy.

What makes a good sequel?

A good sequel happens when a development team takes all the things that defined the previous game, whatever those things were, and finds ways to bring at least a few of them to the next level. There might be a jump in visual quality and an introduction of new faces while existing characters go through some sort of change, and ideally, the mechanics themselves should evolve in some way. “More” isn’t a good excuse for a sequel; the best sequels are defined by a more complex word: “better.”

And I don’t see anything in the Borderlands 3 trailer that makes me think it’s going to be better than Borderlands 2.

Now, I’m talking about the marketing here, because that’s all I have to go on so far. The game might be amazing, and the “better” might come from small improvements spread across the entire game — the sort of quality-of-life improvements that are hard to communicate in a trailer. I’d love for Gearbox to either release information or another trailer in the future that does a better job of selling me on Borderlands 3, but Thursday’s first look at the game was a disappointment.

There might be new characters, but we’re given very little reason to care about them. The quality of the visuals doesn’t seem to have improved, although the idea of playing across new environments helps to shake things up aesthetically; Pandora is too limiting a planet to support a third game in the series by itself. The trailer leans heavily on the idea of a nearly unlimited number of guns to collect as you play, but that has always been the series’ hook.

We’ve been sold a lot of Borderlands content

Part of my skepticism comes from the tepid trailer, but I also can’t remove myself from the meta-context of Borderlands 3. Gearbox Software released Borderlands 2 in 2012, and it was followed by expansions, spinoff games, a VR port, an adventure game, and compilations. Fans have been sold or at least offered an extensive amount of content that isn’t a numbered sequel, and that trend will continue: Gearbox also announced during Thursday’s panel at PAX East a remaster of the original Borderlands, as well as free 4K texture packs for Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel.

That level of support for older games isn’t a bad thing, but it’s been going on for six years. I was so excited to see what Gearbox could do, both in terms of visuals and mechanics, to update the Borderlands series for 2019. Borderlands 3 would have to do something to push the series into the future, right? Comments on our post about yesterday’s teaser mostly focused on a fear that the new game would include a battle royale mode.

But after this lackluster trailer, I’d welcome news about a battle royale mode, because what else is there? This looks like another expansion, not a proper sequel to a major franchise. Gearbox has told us to expect more Borderlands 3 news on April 3, and I hope there will be something new to get me excited about the game on that date. The first trailer looks like a rehash of what we’ve already seen and played, and that’s a terrible thing for a series that has already been chopped up and resold to us in so many ways.

I want Borderlands 3 to be good, but for it to be good, it needs at least one or two new ideas. If you had told me that this trailer was a fan edit that used scenes from existing games, I likely would have believed you. It doesn’t look like a retro game, which might have been charming; it just looks like an outdated game, and that’s the worst-case scenario for such an anticipated project.

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