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After the last few good-but-not-great expansions for Borderlands 3, it brings me great joy to tell you that Bounty of Blood is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, my favorite Borderlands 3 DLC so far. In fact, I’d go so far as to say this might be my favorite Borderlands-anything since Borderlands 2 way back in 2012. A novel approach to storytelling, likable characters, an interesting new world to explore, and of course gobs and gobs of great loot all come together to cross the border into greatness.
The name led me to believe this was going to be some sort of satirical take on Red Dead Redemption 2, but its awkward title and its western themes are about the only dots you could connect between the two. Instead, this DLC takes place on the planet Gehenna, a blend of the American Wild West and feudal Japan. The unusual “East meets West” setting leans much more heavily on Western side for its tropes, but the Japanese-inspired architecture integrates incredibly well and makes Bounty of Blood the best looking Borderlands 3 expansion to date.
It’s kind of funny to think Borderlands, a game whose origins drew inspiration from the fusion of the American frontier and science-fiction futurism, would come full-circle like this. Somewhere along the way, Borderlands felt like it shifted away from being about lands… on the border… so it’s great to have that old familiar feel back in a way, even if it’s explicit rather than implicit.
The story, at first blush, seems like a cliche: quite literally, there’s a new sheriff in town. Your main objective is to retrieve the Obsidian Stone, a monument of sorts to the days when Gehenna was used to create biological weapons. The main antagonists are the Devil Riders, an outlaw gang whose name is also literal: they ride Devils, a new dinosaur-like enemy type first teased at PAX East 2020. I love their design, even if they don’t do much that hasn’t already been done with other Borderlands enemies.
On top of the usual unfolding of the story, there’s a narrator guiding your progress the entire way, and the narrator – a grizzled cowpoke called “The Liar” – works wonderfully. His lines were something I didn’t even know I wanted until I had it, and now I can’t get enough. The Liar will occasionally drop hints, too – When I was battling a boss, he made reference to its weakpoint’s location more than once, and it dawned on me that, oh yeah, if I go where he’s guiding me to I’ll have a better chance to dole out some damage.
Less is More
Another reason the narrator and the main story for Bounty of Blood as a whole work is that they practice some rare restraint when it comes to humor. That’s not to say there aren’t any jokes – far from it. They’re here, and they definitely fit the overall Borderlands 3 tone. But as far as the main quest, Gearbox has pumped the brakes on the humor and gone for a much mellower tone. It’s more Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski and less Jeff Daniels in Dumb & Dumber.
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One of my complaints with Borderlands 3 was it had too many jokes. I know, it sounds ridiculous to say, but hear me out. Comedy is all about timing, yet Borderlands 3 jams jokes into every nook and cranny, whether the situation calls for them or not, almost reaching the point of self-parody. There’s no buildup – it’s just punchline after punchline after punchline with no time for thoughtful buildup. Bounty of Blood, on the other hand, rations out the humor, doling it out in delicious servings that are neither too big nor too small. This Goldilocks Zone of jokes makes the comedy so much more effective – more akin to the original Borderlands.
With each story mission flowing so expertly into the next over about six hours, I didn’t want to stop playing. The pacing is wonderful with none of the unnecessary filler that annoyed me in the main game and some of the previous DLC. There is one minor scene where I had to do the classic Borderlands 3 “walk 20 steps to find a shelf with an item requested by a story character, grab the item, walk back and give it to the character so they’ll continue their expositional dialogue.” Other than that, the story keeps moving right along with an assist from The Liar’s dialogue, which pops in at just the right times to keep you from being pulled out of the story while being conservative enough not to feel like a nuisance.The one letdown is that the sidequests I’ve taken on since beating the main story are more of the same. The loot is good, but the missions are fetchy and uninspired, in stark contrast to the fun flow of the story quest. Think of the coffee fetch-quest mission from the main game to get an idea of the side-mission structure. They’re funny, at least, which somewhat makes up for the monotony of fetching and placing an item over and over again. I particularly enjoyed the mission where I had to battle a character named Soapy Steve, for the writing rather than the mission structure.
Say, You Like Loot?
Levels in Bounty of Blood are huge and beg for exploration. I was really impressed by how massive and well-planned each map is, and appreciated how, in spite of their size, Bounty of Blood’s areas feel easy to navigate. I stuck mostly to the path at hand for the main story, but when I noticed a place with an unusually placed rockface or conveniently located broken staircase, my curiosity paid off by way of hidden treasures. Being rewarded with loot exactly where decades of gaming logic told me I’d find loot seems so obvious, but it never stops being great.
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Speaking of treasures, the loot in Bounty of Blood is plentiful. I managed to score orange-rarity loot drops well before the end of the story, and letting me use those fancy new toys for the final battle was a nice touch. I absolutely adore my Bloom Jakobs pistol: charging it up unleashes all six powerful shots in a rapid, bloody flurry, often resulting in instant death for whatever or whoever is on the receiving end. I also came across a ton of new decorations for my room back on Sanctuary 3, including one item used when the main quest is beaten, that then becomes decorative after use. It’s a nice little trophy for completing the main story. I don’t remember getting so many in the previous DLC, and as a sucker for arbitrary in-game cosmetic items I was delighted.
Once I completed the main mission, the payday was fantastic. Not only did the big baddie drop a hill of goodies after defeat, the immediate aftermath in the post-game introduced me to a cache of gear that nearly brought a tear to my eye. Right now, all my weapons slots are filled with incredible new orange-rarity weapons, along with an orange-rarity shield that makes me feel like a golden god, and I still have a bunch in my inventory waiting for me to experiment with them. Feels real good, is what I’m sayin.’
Likewise, Boss fights in Bounty of Blood’s story are nicely paced and never feel overwhelming or beyond the realm of possibility to solo. There are a few fights, particularly the final boss, where it’s obvious the designers had co-op in mind (as they should!), but even then solo runs aren’t out of the question. I particularly appreciated the novel use of The Liar to gently nudge me in the right direction in one of the main fights. The narration didn’t beat me over the head, but it was enough to both help me while flowing seamlessly with the overall story.
I did venture off the beaten path a few times in search of hidden treasures, extending the playtime beyond a mere six hours. However, after beating the story, I’d still only explored 33% of what Bounty of Blood’s Gehanna has to offer, so there’s plenty more to do and see once the main story is done. That said, what I did explore of the post-story content hasn’t reached nearly the same heights as the main quest.