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Borderlands 3 changed gaming and no one noticed

Borderlands 3, with all its humor and quirks, stands as one of the best looter shooters on the market. If you like seeing numbers get bigger while you mow down an army of Psychos, chances are you've already been playing Gearbox's newest game. After all, it features a lot of content, including a lengthy campaign and a satisfying endgame. You might not have noticed, however, just how important Borderlands 3 is to the industry at large.

In various ways, the game does many things differently compared to other popular titles on the market. Some of the changes may seem small and insignificant, but when paired with some of the larger trends that Borderlands 3 bucks, it's hard to ignore the risks Gearbox has taken. Whether you love or hate the game, it represents decisions that other AAA titles wouldn't make, arguably for the better.

We took a break from farming legendary weapons to take a look at the bigger picture and analyze just how Borderlands 3 and Gearbox have changed gaming as we know it.

Borderlands 3 showcases stronger audience engagement and retention

Whenever a loot-based game like Borderlands 3 comes out, players can expect an ever-evolving and -changing game. Patches, hot fixes, and expansions often alter the course of a game's life, and titles like Diablo 3 and Destiny 2 are no strangers to these updates. Gearbox has been doing the same with its newest baby, keeping players coming back for more.

However, there's another avenue that keeps players engaged with Borderlands 3: SHiFT codes. These 25-character codes bestow players the coveted Golden Keys. These unlock the special chest in Sanctuary that often contains powerful loot. One of the ways the studio doles out these codes involve none other than Randy Pitchford, the controversial CEO of Gearbox. He tweets out SHiFT codes from his very own personal Twitter account.

This method creates a level of player-developer engagement not seen in other titles. Now, players are rewarded for keeping up with the people who created the game they're playing. Some of these codes only work in a certain timeframe, encouraging a vigilant watch on Pitchford's Twitter profile.

Lost loot? Borderlands 3 says no problem

After completing a quest, you'll find yourself rewarded with all sorts of loot. More often than not, these weapons drop from fallen foes, but the occasional quest might reward you with some neat items, too. Regardless, we all run into the same problem: what happens when we miss an item?

This happens just as much in the first few hours of Borderlands 3 as it does in the endgame. Maybe you skip over an item accidentally. Perhaps your inventory can't fit anything else. In other games, those items would be lost forever. Gearbox, however, solves the problem with its Lost Loot Machine. Found on Sanctuary, this machine gathers Blue, Purple, and Orange gear that you missed and spits them out for you to reclaim.

The developers know how valuable of a service this is, as you can upgrade it down the line to hold even more missed loot. A similar mechanic would absolutely be welcome in other loot-based games, as no one wants to miss a legendary-tier item if they can help it.

A wider net for loot

Getting stronger and shooting enemies is the bread and butter of Borderlands, but everyone knows that the experience is more fun with friends. Gearbox has done everything it can to make the social experience as seamless as possible. Is your friend a different level? No worries! Cooperation mode balances the difficulty for everyone, regardless of their levels. This mode turns on another valuable feature: individualized loot.

This means that helping out your lower level friend can still earn you something, and you won't be ruining the experience for them. Killing the same boss will reward your friend with loot at their level while giving you gear at your level. Furthermore, if you and your friend are at the same level, you won't need to argue over who gets that legendary rifle because the game already determines who gets it.

As the added cherry on top, if your friend gets something that you could use, they can always trade it to you. Cooperation mode makes the experience fair and casual for everyone, and it casts a wider net for loot at the same time. It's a win-win, whether you're playing with friends or randoms online.

Gearbox lets you play how you want

Borderlands 3 lets you take on its challenges with up to three allies, all in the name of friendship (and sweet loot). However, Gearbox has given players some options to tweak their multiplayer experience, and it's a lesson for the industry: the more options the player has, the better.

For more casual Borderlands 3 players, Cooperation mode might fit your needs more. In this mode, players can enjoy the game with anyone while eliminating any debates over loot or levels. However, for the more competitive friends out there, Coopetition mode might be more up your alley. In this mode, everyone sees (and takes from) the same set of loot, and if an enemy is level 50, you better hope your party is strong enough to survive.

The takeaway here is Gearbox's commitment to making Borderlands 3 a social game for as many people as possible. Casual and hardcore groups of friends can find ways to enjoy this looter shooter, simply at the flick of a switch.

Borderlands 3 doesn't have loot boxes

This shouldn't be as big a deal as it is, but with the way the market has shifted in the past few years, it's hard to ignore when a big AAA game doesn't have loot boxes. Borderlands 3, despite all odds, actually doesn't monetize as much as it could have. Eridium, the in-game currency used to buy cosmetics, could have easily doubled as a form of premium currency. Golden Keys could have easily been monetized, turning the high-value chest in Sanctuary into an actual loot box.

Instead, the microtransactions aren't all that egregious; Gearbox plans on selling cosmetics a la carte, but you won't need to roll a loot box and hope for a specific skin. You can just buy the skin. Additionally, there will be paid story DLC, but Gearbox has been upfront about that. Overall, Gearbox presents a mocking disdain of the loot box business model, jokingly calling the slot machines in the game "Lootboxers." Clearly, we know where they stand on the "are loot boxes a form of gambling" debate.

Taking weapon customization even further

For a long time now, first-person shooters have offered players a chance to customize their favorite guns with skins. Call of Duty let players choose their weapon camouflage as early as the fourth game, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Destiny 2 offers a similar reward in its weapon (and armor) ornaments, but those only affects exotic equipment. Borderlands 3 contains weapon skins as well, offering players a variety of sleek designs to make their favorite weapons even better.

Gearbox takes things a step further, though, by adding an assortment of weapon trinkets. Some can be obtained by purchasing the Deluxe Edition, but there are plenty to find in the game. Enemies and chests have them, and Crazy Earl sells a bunch (for Eridium). With all these avenues to obtain trinkets, you're sure to find a couple you like.

Each weapon wears its trinket differently, too. Some pistols have them hang off the bottom of the handle. Some assault rifles have them hang off the side. Essentially, Borderlands 3 pulls out all the stops to make you feel a real attachment to your favorite weapons, more so than other shooters on the market.

The AAA game with meta commentary

It's no secret that all the hottest games live a second life on Twitch. Borderlands 3 is no different, but the nature of its narrative gives the livestream experience a bit of a quirk. After all, the villains of this title are, for all intents and purposes, streamers themselves. Sure, no one on Twitch has the power of a Siren, and murder isn't exactly welcome on the platform. Yet, the Calypso twins' mannerisms clearly lampoon the YouTubers and streamers of today. Tyreen even says, "Like, follow, and obey!" when signing off, which clearly twists a common YouTube signoff.

When watching livestreams or let's plays of Borderlands 3, there's a meta sense to the narrative. In a weird way, influencers are playing the game to defeat an overblown representation of themselves. Few AAA game narratives recognize the existence of streamers in such an explicit way.

The experience gets even more meta when you add stream integration into the mix. With the ECHOcast extension, you can earn in-game rewards while watching a streamer play a game with evil streamers. Let that sink in.

Borderlands 3 shakes up the narrative

In the middle of the last act of the narrative, there's a moment where Tyreen gets the upper hand, and she seemingly kills Ava, Lilith, and Tannis. That can't be the end of the journey, right? The heroes always win, of course. Yet, Gearbox pulls a fast one on us here by fading to a black screen with the text, "To be continued in 4."

It lingers just long enough to make you think that they really did just reveal a Borderlands 4. But then the 4 starts counting down, and then we return to the scene. Our heroes are fine, and the journey continues. Games, especially AAA ones, don't pull this kind of stunt nowadays, but Borderlands 3 has the perfect mix of guts and silliness to do it.

Could you imagine if Rockstar prematurely ended Arthur Morgan's story and faded to a screen that read "To be continued in 3"? Absolutely not. Gearbox has the levity to do it, and it's something that only they can pull off ... for now. If other studios can embrace more quirky and lighthearted faire, then many more possibilities open up.

The mayhem of the endgame

Any game that has loot at the core of its gameplay loop lives and dies by its endgame. If it isn't fun to kill more enemies and get more loot, then what's the point in playing more? Gearbox arguably nails the endgame of Borderlands 3 pretty well, giving players many reasons to keep playing after beating the Calypso twins. True Vault Hunter Mode, Gearbox's take on New Game+, keeps ramping up the challenge, but the endgame truly shines with Mayhem Mode.

Mayhem Mode adds a flat health and damage buff for every enemy you run across, which is similar to, for example, Diablo 3's Torment difficulty. However, Mayhem takes things one step further by rolling random modifiers for every map you walk into. This keeps the endgame interesting, as you have to change your playstyle to remain effective. For instance, say you walk into a map with Hit and Run (SMGs, pistols, and shotguns do more damage), Insulated (enemies take less fire damage), and Overwhelming (you regenerate health slower but move faster). That means you might want to use a non-fire SMG, and you have to move constantly, even if that's not your usual style.

These weapons are absolutely bonkers

Weird guns define a lot of what Borderlands is. The Bane is a classic example from Borderlands 2, but Borderlands 3 perhaps over-delivers on the weird and zany when it comes to its weapons. Have you ever wanted to murder someone with the power of cheeseburgers? Then pick up the Gettleburger, which launches cheeseburgers.

If you want something more off the wall, try finding the Ten Gallon. This SMG basically creates a floating, shooting companion every time you reload it. For fans of creepy crawlies, the Smart-Gun XXL creates a crawling spider turret every time you reload it. Irreverent humor fans can find a cheeky weapon that does insane melee damage but only if you hit them from behind.

In other words, Borderlands 3 interprets the definition of "gun" pretty loosely. No matter how many shooters you've played, you're bound to find something that will surprise you on your journey to stop the Calypsos. Even the previous Borderland games can't hold a candle to the eccentricity on display here.

From Vine to Gearbox

Fans of comedy sketches on Vine and YouTube might be familiar with Sungwon Cho, perhaps better known by his username ProZD. The man started as an internet sensation with his hilarious short skits, but nowadays, he's moved onto bigger projects. Now, he voices none other than FL4K, the robotic beastmaster in Borderlands 3.

Cho has been in smaller video games in the past few years, like Monster Prom and Aura Kingdom. He even made small appearances in bigger titles, like the English dub of Sega's Judgment. But Borderlands 3 marks his first leading role in a AAA game. In other words, Gearbox took a chance on talent that rose to prominence thanks to the internet, lending legitimacy to the idea that YouTubers are just as professional as other voice actors.

This could open the door for more internet-based voice talents, allowing them to find work with more high-profile game studios, either in leading roles or simply as voices for side characters. YouTube made it easier for aspiring actors to get their name out there, and Gearbox is picking up on that.