Handsome Jack is a very hard act to follow. The charismatic douche carried players through Borderlands 2, somehow managing to tread that thin line between all of us thinking ‘oh my god, he’s such an ass’ but still barely able to wait for the next time he spoke to us. Borderlands 3’s two main villains, the Calypso Twins Tyreen and Troy, might not be as irritatingly charming as Handsome Jack, but they’re not meant to be. They’re coming out of his shadow by being based on the most irritating influencers you can possibly imagine, with hordes of followers that they actually like seeing you kill as hey, all that carnage goes down damnably well on their stream. Yet the terrible twosome is just part of why Borderlands 3’s world feels more relatable than ever before. You aren’t ready for it. Trust me.
Like, comment, and obey!
I spoke to Sam Winkler, Co-Writer of Borderlands 3, about how on earth you make villains that don’t feel like they’re aping Handsome Jack. “Who the bad guy of a character is [...] is about what the game is about”, he told me. “Handsome Jack in Borderlands 2 is this domineering tyrant who says ‘you’re going to do what I say because I’m going to kill you otherwise’, and that’s reflected in the gameplay. So there’s this omnipresent H hanging over you, and you have the robots to fight, and in Borderlands 3 what’s changed [is that bandits are] one big group, the Children of the Vault. So we’re looking at that and saying what’s happening in social media right now, and what are people clawing onto, and we went you know, what if a social media star with 10 million followers said ‘hey, kill that guy’? Someone would do it!”. And there you have the crux of the Calypso Twins.
When you jet off to fight Mouthpiece, the boss who runs the Twin’s livestreams in the Holy Broadcast center, Tyreen actually asks everyone watching their stream to “like, follow, and obey”. Obviously a familiar refrain for anyone reading this right now, it sent shivers down my spine. Because Winkler is right: the power that some influencers have is staggering, and it’s not a far leap to imagine a world where some would use that borderline-godlike influence to get people to do seriously bad stuff for them.
There’s even this sick relationship between you as the badass Vault Hunter and Tyreen, as she actually enjoys seeing you massacre her followers. The more you kill, the better content it makes for her streams, which means more people watch them, and follow her, and fight you… the cycle goes on and on. It feels like you’re almost part of the Twins’ sick plan to have Tyreen use her Siren powers to absorb the might of the creatures guarding the Vaults. Shudder. The Twins aren’t entirely predictable either, as Winkler reveals that you’ll be getting “a different vibe from them depending on if they’re broadcasting live, or if they’re sort of DM’ing you [things like] ‘look you little shit’”. With their literal cult of personality, the less performative side of the Twins is only visible to you, the Vault Hunter. It’s is an uncomfortable reminder that almost all of us present a distorted version of ourselves online.
Just the beginning
If all that makes you look at your social media accounts in a slightly worried way - as you spend a little too long wondering what would happen if someone like Beyoncé or Markiplier went the way of the Calypso Twins - there is another side to this relatable trend running throughout Borderlands 3’s world. Although the big bad guys are uncomfortably easy to imagine in our world, it’s not difficult to see yourself in Borderlands 3 either. For the first time there’s a bigger focus on how you and your Vault Hunter fit into the story, and a few small tweaks - so small you wonder why they weren’t in the game before - end up having a huge impact.
Borderlands was always an odd game because, despite your growing fame, there wasn’t that much scattered throughout Pandora to prove that you had had an effect on the inhabitants and civilians. No matter how many times you saved their lives, the most you got in return in Borderlands 2 was a vault to store your guns in, and Borderlands 1 just had those ‘Wanted’ posters with your character’s face plastered on them. Finally, Borderlands 3 is giving you more love than before, as in your spaceship homebase of Sanctuary 3 you have your very own quarters. Customizable quarters, at that. Guns can be mounted on the walls (don’t lie, you get weirdly attached to one particular weapon too), and the decor changes depending on which Vault Hunter you play as, with Amara’s room having a beat-up punching bag and a purple bedspread to match her outfit.
The customization doesn’t stop there: as well as changing your head, skin, and color, there’s now added options of having a range of emotes, an Echo theme, and a special respawn animation. Plus there’s plenty more to make you feel like you’re actually making a difference in Borderlands 3. Sir Hammerlock’s room in Sanctuary 3, for example, has empty plaques on the wall. Kill enough creatures during your travels and their heads will become mounted on those majestic mahogany displays, or if vehicles are more your thing you can customize the color, weapons, armor, and material of your go-to mode of transport.
All those might seem like small cosmetic tweaks, but they’re far from it. Adding little customization options promises to make your Vault Hunter feel like they’re really yours, as with previous Borderlands games there was a limit on how different two Gaiges, for example, could really be. The one message Gearbox is sending is that Borderlands 3 belongs to us, the gamers. Whether that’s because Tyreen and Troy remind us a little too much of the YouTubers we watch to unwind, or because there’s a one in a million chance that someone will have exactly the same build of Zane as you, I can already feel Borderlands 3 burrowing deep into my heart. And I hope that when it comes out on September 13, you will too.
For more Borderlands 3 goodness check out our Borderlands 3 preview that runs down the 23 things that’s changed since Borderlands 2, or look below to see it in glorious video form!