In Borderlands 2 you had to shoot Face McShooty in the face. It was a dumb, simple, and glorious mission that sticks in fans’ minds because of its sheer madness and the cocky ‘yeah, this is Borderlands, we can do whatever we want’ attitude the series is famous for. So what on earth is Borderlands 3 going to do to top that? I spoke to Kate Pitstick, one of Borderlands 3's level and mission designers, about the weird side missions that are going to distract us from the main storyline in Borderlands 3, and about how you, dear reader – yes, you – have inspired some of the game's endgame content.
Prepare for distraction
Designing side missions is no simple task. Although the Face McShooty mission might have brought delight into our hearts, a lot more goes into these bizarre little tasks than you’d originally think. Pitstick told me that when she first joined Gearbox "finding out how technically difficult it was to detect that you actually shot him in the face turned out to be really difficult", but did that deter her from creating a side mission that had me trying to get coffee beans, a coffee flask, and holy caffeinated coffee for one of Borderlands 3's NPCs?
No, it didn't. All that probably sounds straight-up ridiculous, but side missions in Borderlands 3 are much more likely to be full of that kind of kooky content than the main story missions. "With side missions it’s a little bit more open, you can have a little bit more fun with it," Pitstick tells me. "That’s where we get the darker humour in, the random poop jokes, and the irreverence that the series is known for." But getting that mix of humour right for Borderlands 3 isn’t easy, especially when the team at Gearbox is trying to make this game stand out from Borderlands 2, which had its own brand of – as Pitstick puts it – "very memey, super internet fanbase" humour.
It's not just the tongue-in-cheek humour of the side missions which should distract you from the main story, as this time around Pitstick and the mission design team is doing their damnedest to make sure that even those of you who like to push onwards with the main story feel tempted to dip into a side mission every now and again. And the way to do that? Give us players something shiny and special at the end of it, of course! "We’ve really tried to pair certain rewards with specific missions, having like mission-specific rewards, and figuring out what makes those cool. What will incentivise players to go off the main track and play these like random side missions, especially if it doesn’t seem like an interesting one at first, what is the surprise at the end of it?" Pitstick tells me. "I want to kind of entice them to it with a nice reward, but also draw them in with something that happens in the story like 'oh shit, I wasn’t expecting that.'"
Take it from me: That approach works. During my time with Borderlands 3, one side mission in particular managed this by almost immediately having two bandits competing over the airwaves over who was the most evil. Hearing them boast about the people they've killed and the generally abhorrent things they’ve done – all in an attempt to convince me that they were the one I should kill – intrigued me, ensuring that I saw the side mission through to its end, rather than switching back to the main story mission.
Mind you, although we gamers can be a fickle bunch when it comes to doing side missions, having a special bit of loot as a reward is genius. I definitely get sentimental about certain bits of loot in my backpack. After going through the whole of Borderlands 2 with that special golden Gearbox gun (like many of you reading this), emotionally manipulating us with some carefully-chosen rewards at the end of a mission is exactly the kind of thing that'll make me save loot instead of selling it to Marcus. Perhaps the reward in question will remind us of a heartfelt thank you from a civilian we saved, or the justice we got for a dead family, or a reminder of that time I had to make burgers for some soldiers, which involved harvesting meat and all… Yeah, that was trippy. But hey, that’s Borderlands for you.
Not just another boring fetch quest
I don't think it’s stretching to say that Borderlands 2 has set the bar very high indeed. From Handsome Jack bragging over the airwaves, to the missions that had you saving baby skags, or finding the weapon cache belonging to a bandit you just shot to assure you he had no hard feelings over you killing him, there are tons of memorable moments to choose from. So when it comes to missions in Borderlands 3, according to Pitstick "one of the biggest challenges is we don’t just want [missions] to feel like just another boring fetch quest. It might be that at heart, because mission design really across all games are the same, it's just figuring out what the mechanics are that make it different [...] even if it is a very basic 'go pick up that rock over there', finding the humour in oh no, what was the issue with getting that rock, why couldn’t you just pick up that rock." A question I myself would ask, to be honest.
There are other challenges too, apart from making sure each side mission has the series' trademark irreverence, and Pitstick was pretty blunt about it (she was laughing while she said this though, just to make that clear). "Co-op is butt, and it ruins everything. Because with single player games you can take control of the player's camera, make them look in a certain direction, or make sure they’re standing in a particular area, but with co-op in Borderlands you don't necessarily know if everyone’s right there [...] so it's a little harder to make sure the combat still feels good when everyone’s scattered and spread out". The addition of loot instancing is already a huge sign that co-op is one of Borderlands 3's core factors, but making all that work within missions sounds like one hell of a headache. Curse us gamers and our heart-warming desire to play with friends! Kidding, kidding (please don’t yell at me).
You - yes, you - have inspired Borderlands 3
At the moment, Gearbox is staying tight-lipped about what’s in store for Borderlands 3's endgame content. It does, by the sounds of it, sound like it's the fans who have inspired the types of activities we'll be doing when the main story is done and dusted. "We definitely have noticed the fans of Borderlands 2, Borderlands 1, who have been playing for the last forever," Pitstick tells me when discussing Gearbox's approach to designing the endgame missions of Borderlands 3. "And then the things the community developed themselves, like the hunt, where they had their own huge excel spreadsheet of this is what you’re looking for, this is how many points you get if you get it – we definitely took note of that."
With so many fan activities to keep track of, hopefully Borderlands 3's endgame will go way beyond defeating a megaboss like Terramorphus the destroyer into some longer-form side missions that deal with the fallout of – hopefully – defeating Tyreen and Troy, the Calypso Twins. We’ll have to wait and see what’s in store when Borderlands 3 launches on September 13, which is *checks calendar* 4 months away. Sob.
For all you eager Vault Hunters, here’s our Borderlands 3 preview which goes through the 23 ways it’s reinventing the formula, or look below to watch it in video form!