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The Entire Borderlands Story Explained

"So, you want to hear a story, eh? One about treasure hunters?"

Despite its often irreverent tone, there's more to the Borderlands series and its lore than folks may be aware of. Though the first game in the series had a pretty bare-bones plot, the legends of the Vault Hunters have only grown with time. Thanks to DLCs, spinoffs, and The Pre-Sequel, the story of the Borderlands universe is now quite developed.


That's why, in preparation for the release of the long-awaited Borderlands 3it's probably a good time to do a bit of a recap of the story so far. While there are quite a few DLCs that feature some non-canonical battles (like the magical escapades within Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon's Keep), there are definitely some milestones in the plotline that will likely factor into the events of Borderlands 3. With that in mind, and with our ECHO devices at the ready, let's open the treasure trove that is the Borderlands timeline.

The story begins with the Eridians and the Vaults

Before the series even properly begins, there are several mysteries to address. The Borderlands series has given us some clues as to the dealings of the ancient alien race known as the Eridians, though little is known about their culture or even really what they may have looked like. In the early days of the planet Pandora, the Eridians mastered using ancient ore (dubbed Eridium by the scientists of future generations) to construct incredible buildings and power fascinating technology. They also created the Vaults, giant tombs that eventually gave birth to legends of untold riches and immeasurable power.


No one knows exactly what led to the death of the Eridian people, but they left behind Guardians, techno-organic creations that were possibly modeled after their own appearance, to guard the Vaults from intruders. Some of their technology was eventually found and reverse-engineered by the Atlas corporation, who made weapons from Eridian tech and eventually became a major commercial superpower in the galaxy. Though the Eridians are long gone, their influence is still felt. Over the years, the myths of the Vaults led to the rise of fortune seekers known as Vault Hunters.

The main story kicks off on Pandora - Borderlands

Seeking the fortunes within the Vault, a group of Vault Hunters — Mordecai, Brick, Roland, and Lilith, one of only six superpowered Sirens in the universe — arrived on Pandora, kicking off the events of the first Borderlands game. Following the instructions of a mysterious figure called the Guardian Angel, who claimed to be an AI, they set out on a series of missions throughout the badlands of Pandora. Along the way, they made some new friends and plenty more enemies, battling their way through the planet's various bandit factions and the Crimson Lance, a private army owned by the opportunistic Atlas corporation.


Eventually, they were introduced to Patricia Tannis, an unhinged but enthusiastic scientist who had been studying the Eridian ruins on Pandora. Tannis told the Vault Hunters that the Vault was actually real and that it could only be opened by assembling the pieces of a Key that had been spread across Pandora. Naturally, this was the Vault Hunters' cue to kill everyone between them and the Key fragments. Which they did.

Opening the Vault (oops) - Borderlands

After finally securing the scattered pieces of the Vault Key, the Vault Hunters still had to fight their way through the bloodthirsty forces of Atlas, who also wanted to get their hands on the Vault and its secrets. Along the way, the Vault Hunters also ran afoul of the Guardians of the Vault. Clearly, the Eridians never wanted this particular Vault to be disturbed.


Upon finally opening it, our heroes were very dismayed to find that it contained not riches or an energy source, but rather a Lovecraftian beast called the Destroyer. Following a grueling battle, the Destroyer fell and the Vault was resealed. Following this violent confrontation, the Guardian Angel reveals that she knew about the Destroyer's existence all along, which put her motives more in question than ever before. 

While this monstrous battle brought the first Borderlands to a close and would be enough of a shock to put anyone off of seeking out the rest of the Vaults, it only emboldened some other, more nefarious parties. Soon, Pandora would know the name of Handsome Jack.

The rise of Handsome Jack - Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel filled us in on what happened next, as a battle in space began that would change the lives of everyone in Pandora. Jack, a lowly employee of the mega-corporation known as Hyperion, discovered the existence of another Vault deep within Pandora's moon, Elpis. Figuring this would finally be his chance to hit the big time, Jack hired a new team of Vault Hunters, a team that included a mercenary named Athena (remember her; she'll be pretty important later). Unfortunately for Jack and these new Vault Hunters, the quest for the Vault awakened a fanatical military group called the Lost Legion, who were determined to protect Elpis' Vault and its secrets. 


The Lost Legion led an attack on Helios, Hyperion's massive space station. Though Jack helped the Vault Hunters escape to safety, he still needed their help to find a way to defeat the Lost Legion, who were threatening to destroy Elpis and Pandora in their efforts to keep the Vault out of the wrong hands. To stop them, he needed to recruit people who knew how to handle the kind of extra-dimensional terror he was dealing with. He needed Roland and Lilith.

Jack seizes power - Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel

Through the combined efforts of the whole team, Jack managed to mass produce an army of robots and wrestle control of Helios away from the Lost Legion. However, there was little time for celebration. Fearing that Jack was beginning to go mad with power, Lilith and her friends found and destroyed Jack's secret weapon, a cannon created from the remains of the Destroyer called the Eye of Helios. 


This did little to deter Jack from his main goal, however. Upon entering the Vault on Elpis, Jack and his mercenaries were attacked by a being called the Sentinel. Following the death of the Sentinel, Jack found a relic that showed him a vision of an even greater power: the Vault of the Warrior. At that moment, Lilith appeared and destroyed the relic, an act that left Jack disfigured.

Now almost completely out of his mind, wearing a mask and calling himself Handsome Jack, he murdered the CEO of Hyperion and took over the company. With a renewed and darker sense of purpose, Jack began a misinformation campaign that branded Lilith and her allies as criminals, even taking credit for killing the Destroyer.


The story is refreshed by new blood - Borderlands 2

After Jack's rise to power, the original Vault Hunters became freedom fighters against his regime. With Roland as their leader, they formed the Crimson Raiders from the remnants of the Crimson Lance (aside from Brick, who was perfectly happy returning to the bandit lifestyle). Hearing the rumors of the Vault of the Warrior, a new group of Vault Hunters headed to Pandora, including a new Siren named Maya. This is where Borderlands 2 began, with a desperate fight for survival. After Jack made an attempt on their lives, the new Vault Hunters joined forces with the Crimson Raiders, who hoped to find the Vault of the Warrior before Jack could open it and use it for his own twisted means. 


With the help of the Guardian Angel, the Vault Hunters appeared to be on the right track, fighting their way through several of Jack's generals. However, following Angel's instructions, they were tricked into sabotaging the shield system for Sanctuary, the headquarters and safe haven of the Crimson Raiders. After a horrific attack from Jack, it was revealed that the Guardian Angel was, in fact, Jack's biological daughter, Angel.

The heroes suffer heavy losses - Borderlands 2

After Jack showed how ruthless he really was by killing multiple innocents in his attack on Sanctuary and the Crimson Raiders, Angel decided she could no longer aid him in his schemes. She led the Vault Hunters to the facility where she was being held, where they discovered that Angel was a Siren. Not only that, but Jack had been using her powers to charge the Vault Key with enough energy to open the new Vault, a process that put Angel through constant, excruciating pain. 


After a prolonged battle against Jack's security systems, Angel was freed from the machine that Jack had kept her in. She then begged the Vault Hunters to kill her and free her from Jack's control. The Vault Hunters reluctantly put Angel out of her misery. This prompted Handsome Jack to teleport into the facility and murder Roland in retaliation. Declaring that he'd charge his Vault Key one way or another, Jack kidnapped Lilith. Following this heavy loss, the Vault Hunters retreated to Sanctuary to regroup and plan one last attack on Jack and his forces.

The fall of Handsome Jack - Borderlands 2

Completely out of control and out for blood, Handsome Jack managed to finish charging the Vault Key using Lilith's power. The Vault Hunters launched a rescue mission, but were too late to keep Jack from opening the new Vault and releasing a gigantic beast known as the Warrior. Planning to use the Warrior to destroy the Crimson Raiders and the bandits and to remake Pandora in his own image, Jack joined the Warrior for one final battle. Under Jack's control, the Warrior attempted to kill the Vault Hunters, but their combined might brought it down, leaving Jack a bloody, raving mess. 


After Jack was killed, the Vault Hunters found that the Vault Key contained one more surprise: a map of the stars that appeared to show at least dozens of other Vaults throughout the galaxy. Borderlands 2 closed with the Vault Hunters deciding to seek the rest of them out, which leads Lilith to declare, "No rest for the wicked."

The story opens way up - Tales from the Borderlands

Following the death of Handsome Jack, Hyperion attempted to resume business as usual. This is where the story picked up in Tales from the Borderlands, where players were introduced to a lowly Hyperion worker with delusions of grandeur (sound familiar?) named Rhys, who uses his cybernetic implants to see through treacherous situations. After getting passed over for a promotion that was rightfully his, Rhys formulates a plan to use Hyperion assets to purchase a rumored Vault Key on Pandora. 


Unfortunately for Rhys and his friend Vaughn, the Vault Key was a phony; the whole thing was a con orchestrated by two criminals, Fiona and her sister Sasha. The double-cross got even more complicated when a group of bandits busted the deal up and made off with Rhys' money, prompting Rhys and Fiona to team up in order to get it back. While uploading a program to his neural network that he hoped would help him find the lost money, Rhys was shocked to discover that he had, in fact, uploaded an AI copy of Handsome Jack right into his own brain. Not his finest plan.

Jack's back - Tales from the Borderlands

Following the instructions of this holographic Handsome Jack, Rhys and his team were able to find the scattered pieces of a robot called Gortys, which had been built for the express purpose of finding and opening the fabled Vault of the Traveler. After yet another double-cross (sheesh, these people and their double-crossing ways), Rhys inadvertently uploaded Handsome Jack into the main network of Helios station. The only way to stop Jack was for Rhys to send the entire station plummeting out of orbit, where it crashed into the surface of Pandora, presumably putting a final end to Jack.


After a few false starts, Rhys and his friends were able to defeat the Traveler, the giant guardian of this Vault. As their friends and family enjoyed the loot dropped by the fallen Traveler, Rhys and Fiona entered the Vault together, where they found a curious chest. They opened the Vault together and vanished without a trace, ending Tales from the Borderlands on a curious cliffhanger.

War is coming - Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel

The epilogue of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel brought us back to the days following Jack's defeat and Rhys' disappearance. After the destruction of Helios and the fall of the Warrior and the Traveler, the Crimson Raiders managed to capture Athena, who had returned to her life as a bounty hunter in the badlands. Athena told them her side of the story and explained her involvement with Handsome Jack's rise to power, revealing that Jack seemingly began his quest with good intentions, but that he ultimately went mad with power. Lilith, still reeling from the death of Roland, ordered her men to execute Athena, much to the shock of her fellow Vault Hunters, who begged her to reconsider.


Though the Crimson Raiders opened fire on Athena, she was saved at the last moment by the mysterious Watcher, who appeared to be an advanced form of the Guardians and has been theorized to be the last living Eridian. The Watcher explained to them that they shouldn't be fighting amongst themselves. Instead, it warned that they needed to gather all of the help they could get their hands on, because "war is coming."

The fight for Sanctuary - Borderlands 2 DLC

The DLC Commander Lilith and the Fight for Sanctuaryset some time after the events of Borderlands 2, began with Sanctuary under attack from an army led by Colonel Hector, a madman who planned to blanket Pandora in spores that would hideously transform or kill every living being on the planet. Hector took the Vault Key and overran Sanctuary with his mutated legions. Lilith and the rest of the Crimson Raiders escaped from Sanctuary and regrouped in a place called the Backburner, a stronghold run by Rhys' former partner Vaughn, now a bandit leader (and a little more unbalanced than the last time players saw him). 


After fighting their way through the bowels of the downed Helios station to find a cure for Hector's gas, Lilith led the charge back to Sanctuary. Though Hector was defeated, Sanctuary was destroyed in the process and the Vault Key seemed to disappear with it. Though this seemed like a hollow victory, Lilith encouraged her companions to seek out the rest of the Vaults anyway. Meanwhile, Lilith decided to stay behind on Pandora, certain that they Key survived the destruction of Sanctuary, setting up the events of Borderlands 3

The loss of an ally - Borderlands 3

Borderlands 3 introduces us to four Vault Hunters who seek adventure: Amara, Moze, Zane, and FL4K. They answer Lilith's call to join the Crimson Raiders, which still hunts for the Pandora Vault Key. Meanwhile, bad guys Troy and Tyreen Calypso want to open what's called the Great Vault so they can absorb its guardian and become the most powerful beings in the universe. This motivation comes from grand stories their father would tell them about the various powerful Vaults around the galaxy. Before leaving Pandora, Tyreen takes Lilith's Siren abilities, rendering the Firehawk powerless.


Tyreen's plan includes sucking the energy from various Vault Guardians, so she heads to Promethea, the home planet of Atlas corporation. The Vault Hunters rendezvous with the new Atlas CEO, Rhys from Tales from the Borderlands, and aim to open the Vault before Tyreen. Along the way, they make a detour to pick up Maya and the Vault Key.

Our heroes open Promethea's Vault first, and they slay the Vault Guardian. However, the Calypso twins ambush them, and Tyreen still takes the power of the fallen beast. At the same time, Troy steals Maya's Siren powers, killing her in the process.

Tannis' secret revealed - Borderlands 3

Despite losing Maya, the Vault Hunters recruit her young, feisty apprentice, Ava. Determined to not lose anyone else, they set course for Eden-6, the home planet of the Jakobs corporation. Unfortunately, the Vault Hunter Aurelia has been working with the Calypso twins. She wants to forcefully acquire Jakobs, which houses the secret to the Eden-6 Vault.


The Vault Hunters stop Aurelia from doing so and proceed to open the Vault themselves. Tannis promises that she has a plan to stop Tyreen from absorbing this beast, so they defeat Eden-6's Vault Guardian. The kooky scientist then arrives on the scene, sapping the energy of the beast herself. In anger, the Calpyso twins swoop in and kidnap Tannis, taking her back to Pandora for execution. They claim they have another way to open the Great Vault, anyway.

Lilith mobilizes her entire army, sending them deep into Calypso territory to save Tannis. The Vault Hunters reach Tannis and defeat Pain and Terror, who were going to execute her on a livestream. After beating their hulking machine, Tannis absorbs energy from it. She breaks her restraints, revealing she's been a Siren since Angel died.


A hero's sacrifice - Borderlands 3

The Vault Hunters kill Troy, but it's too late. The Destroyer, the Great Vault's guardian, has been awakened. Turns out, Pandora itself is the Great Vault, with its moon, Elpis, being the Key. With Pandora opening, Typhon DeLeon, the first Vault Hunter, contacts the Crimson Raiders, telling them to come to Nekrotafeyo.


Home to the mysterious Eridians, Nekrotafeyo houses a machine that can seal Pandora. As our heroes gather the pieces to activate it, Typhon reveals he's the father of the Calypso twins, but he sees they've grown into monsters. With the help of Typhon and Tannis, the Vault Hunters almost activate the machine, but Tyreen foils their plan at the last minute. As the cherry on top, she murders her own father.

She returns to Pandora and fuses with The Destroyer, achieving the godhood she craved. However, the Crimson Raiders band together to defeat her, at which point Lilith regains her Siren powers. Unfortunately, they find that Elpis is on a crash course to Pandora. As her final action, Lilith sacrifices herself to keep Elpis in place. The moon becomes emblazoned with her crest, lighting the way for future Vault Hunters.