I don’t know if you guys have heard, but Borderlands 3 sounds like it’s going to be a pretty big game. Developer Gearbox has promised that the latest version of the popular loot shooter will be the biggest yet, with millions of guns, multiple planets to explore, and more.
Early reports put the game’s campaign at around 30 hours, but with all the side content, secrets, extra playthroughs, DLC expansions, and co-op mayhem to work through, it’s much more likely that your time with Borderlands 3 will creep past the 100 hour mark.
As you might expect, keeping track of all the lore and story in a video game of this size, let alone one that’s part of a franchise that has had two core entries, a spinoff, and a (kind of) prequel while still finding a way to separate the latest game from what came before is a difficult task.
Thankfully, Randy Varnell seems to be up to the task. As the Managing Producer of Narrative for Gearbox, Varnell is a chap with a lot on his plate at the moment.
That didn’t stop him from sitting down with UNILAD during a recent preview event for Borderlands 3 in LA, where he spoke to us a little bit about managing the lore of the franchise, and how the team aim to make each of the individual planets we explore over the course of the game stand out in their own ways.
Fans of Borderlands will of course be familiar with the planet Pandora, which was the key setting for the first two games in the series. Varnell told us that the amount of time players have spent on Pandora in previous games presented something of a challenge in Borderlands 3, as the team was keen to develop entirely new worlds that all feel as fully formed and full of life as Pandora does.
We’ve done so much development on Pandora. In Borderlands, and Borderlands 2, we really expanded Pandora a bunch, answered a lot of questions about the characters and the culture… if you really dig around, there’s a lot of deep lore there.
With that in mind, Gearbox was excited to have the opportunity to expand the universe. Varnell said that, beyond the chance to show “cool new visuals that are great for video games”, the narrative team saw it as their “responsibility” to address how the cultures on each planet differ.
He continued, using the location we played through at the event as an example:
Okay, that culture is different – they’re not all wild bandits. You go to Promethea, which we saw in the reveal livestream, Meridean City is this massive city. What is that city like in our sci-fi universe? How does it work? It’s controlled by this corporation, Atlas, that may not be as malevolent as Hyperion was under Handsome Jack, but it’s now fighting a corporate invasion from Maliwan – the slick, high tech, Appleesque company. What does it look like when these two corporations go to war over a home planet?
It sounds clear that in Borderlands 3, every planet will have its own stories to tell, history to discover, and “bigger themes”. As Varnell says, Gearbox want to give players unique experiences on every world that help to differentiate the various locations we come across on our intergalactic adventure, while giving the player further insight into the larger universe and the characters that inhabit it.
While that inevitably means more work for the narrative team, Varnell’s enthusiasm for these new opportunities was obvious. He joked about being a massive lore nerd, telling us how he “cut his teeth on Tolkien”, before stressing that despite the fact Borderlands 3 will be packed with references and new lore for hardcore players, the game is still being written with new players in mind.
Varnell used the Marvel Cinematic Universe as an example of how the team approached the universe building this time around, explaining that while each movie tells its own story, there are plenty of callbacks and characters arcs that come back or are referenced for longtime fans in some way.
Look, if you’re coming right to Borderlands 3, we’re gonna help you out. There’s some stuff there that’s gonna be good, it’s gonna be new. That said, if we’ve done our job right, a returning fan who’s done a deep dive on the lore and knows stuff will be rewarded.
Varnell later told us that both Borderlands and Borderlands 2 actually only had one writer each, and both were “burned to a crisp” by the end of development. With that in mind, Gearbox opted to hire a team of writers as well as dedicated lore master to ensure Borderlands 3 was comprehensive and massive, but wouldn’t contradict what had come before.
We knew going into Borderlands 3 that this was gonna be big, so we built a team. There are four principal writers on the project, two co-lead writers, and I’ve got one guy, Dante Silvia, who’s our lore master – the dude just has a head for that. He’s the one who reads everything and is like ‘that’s wrong, that’s wrong, this goes here, that name is wrong’, so we really are trying to be careful so that returning fans can see long running arcs payed off. I think we have some fan service in there.
If Borderlands 3 really can offer accessibility for newcomers while rewarding long time fans who’ve waited years for this game, then Gearbox could have a serious hit on its hands. We’ll find out when the game launches on September 13.
Ewan Moore is a journalist at UNILAD Gaming who still quite hasn’t gotten out of his mid 00’s emo phase. After graduating from the University of Portsmouth in 2015 with a BA in Journalism & Media Studies (thanks for asking), he went on to do some freelance words for various places, including Kotaku, Den of Geek, and TheSixthAxis, before landing a full time gig at UNILAD in 2016.