Borderlands 3 – Bounty of Blood – Interview with Creative Director Matt Cox

Borderlands 3’s Bounty of Blood DLC is out tomorrow and ahead of the launch, we had the chance to sit down with the DLC’s Creative Director Matt Cox. Bounty of Blood is a bit of a departure for Borderlands 3 DLC. It doesn’t reintroduce any existing characters, instead choosing to focus on a new location and a new cast.

Additionally, it introduces not one, but four new gameplay mechanics and a brand-new vehicle. The planet Gehenna is the most Pandora-like of anything in Borderlands 3 — aside from Pandora itself — though it leans heavily on western tropes.

Bounty of Blood is a radical departure from the previous DLC — Guns, Love & Tentacles — trading in horror for horseback and the supernatural for wide open plains. Bounty of Blood is shaping up to be Borderlands’ take on both the samurai and western genres, fusing them in a glorious combination.

Bounty of Blood

The DLC released for Borderlands 3 thus far has been thematic and each one has been a genre piece. Moxxi’s Heist of the Handsome Jackpot plays with casino and heist movies while Guns, Love & Tentacles was an exploration of cosmic horror and Lovecraftian influences. Bounty of Blood is part western, part samurai. I asked Cox about playing with genre tropes and how Borderlands can get away with it so easily.

“It’s definitely an awesome feeling as a developer to not be limited by real-life ‘realism’ rules,” he told me. “Borderlands’ universe has its own set of rules for sure, but the wide variety of genres we can fit into its wide sci-fi reach is such an enticing thing to explore.

“It also helps we can visit entirely new planets and locales via space travel, so there’s a lot of blank canvas there to play with.”

Borderlands has previously played with genre conventions in other DLC all the way back to the first game. Usually, as a way to ease players into the new scenarios, Gearbox includes some familiar faces. The first two DLCs for Borderlands 3 were teeming with fan favourites; not so in Bounty of Blood. In fact, there are no returning characters in Bounty of Blood whatsoever. Cox explained the decision to focus on new characters to me as a way for Gearbox to have a clean slate.

“That is correct that the only returning characters in Bounty of Blood are the BL3 vault hunters themselves. Our team was very interested in telling a fresh story!

“Some of Borderlands’ most beloved characters debuted in DLC and we wanted the chance to introduce new main characters on a wholly different planet that tied into the greater Borderlands universe in a unique way.

“We know our fans love returning characters and Handsome Jackpot and Guns, Love and Tentacles were wonderful experiences that included fan favourites. We also have fans that love meeting new faces in the Borderlands universe and we’re looking forward to what everyone thinks of Rose, Juno, and the others they’ll meet!”

Borderlands 3

If the name of Bounty of Blood’s planet (Gehenna) sounds familiar, it might be that you recognise it from a number of places. It is the name of the eighth track on Slipknot’s fourth album, All Hope is Gone and is a valley in Jerusalem. The word Gehenna translates as either ‘Hell’ or the Valley of Hinnom which is the destination of the wicked and the damned.

When I spoke with Anthony Nicholson at Gearbox about Guns, Love and Tentacles, I noted that the name of the planet (Xylourgos) is the Greek word for carpenter. The DLC also dealt with a dead ‘god’ to be raised from the dead and the opposition of a cult to the marriage of two men.

Nicholson denied there was any biblical influence at play and when I pointed out the names and translations to Cox, he too denied it and laughed it off.

Ideas come from everywhere! We have teams with a wide variety of backgrounds and influences. If you look for it, you’ll always see traces of our makeup in all aspects of our creative works!

That’s a longwinded way of saying no, haha.

There is no specific or intended undertone deriving from any particular religion, myth, or belief system.

In addition to introducing new characters, a new planet and a new story, Bounty of Blood adds four new gameplay mechanics and a new vehicle. Breezebloom, Coresploder, Traitorweed and the Telezapper are integral to Bounty of Blood and offer new ways to play, while remaining true to Borderlands. I asked Cox about messing with the Borderlands formula and how the team goes about creating new ways to play the game.

“I think it starts by honouring the shooter looter loop that Borderlands pioneered and still sets the standard for today,” he says. “So the idea for Bounty of Blood wasn’t to replace that loop but to add fun ingredients to it. No Western is complete without a horse. For the player, it’s a jetbike with a creature head called a Jetbeast.

“It packs a serious punch as you ride and fire throughout the Blastplains.”

We’ve seen new vehicles in Borderlands before. While there’s no denying the Jetbeast Hoverbike is badass, it’s not a whole new way to play. The four new mechanics are.

“For the gameplay objects like the Breezebloom, Coresploder, Traitorweed, and Telezapper, we added a Metroidvania-like flavour into that tested core loop for enjoyable moments on the main path and more challenging puzzle type challenges on the side,” Cox explains. It’s an interesting addition to Borderlands as, for the most part, when you explore an area, you’re always able to go everywhere and do everything right away. By adding in locked-off areas that only become accessible later, Gearbox is forcing players to think and play differently than they have in the past.

Metroidvania doesn’t suit every genre or franchise but Borderlands as a concept seems to be able to support anything and everything Gearbox throws at it. For example, Bounty of Blood features a nameless, disembodied narrator who comments on the gameplay as it happens. Less of a gameplay mechanic and more a storytelling device, I asked Cox how the narrator came to be.

“The narrator allows us to build a world without needing to solely rely on dialogue between characters. The narrator fills in mission context, backstory, or regional history when it fits the story, so when the characters talk, it’s almost pure character and story craft,” he tells me.  “And when we visit these varied locales, we have more moments of soaking in the visual storytelling that our art team did an amazing job crafting.”

On face value, Bounty of Blood is a far less politically charged story then Guns, Love and Tentacles. And while the marriage of two people in love, regardless of gender identity, shouldn’t be politicial, for some pockets of society, it still is. Given the focus on Wainright and Hammerlock’s nuptuals in Borderlands 3’s second DLC, I wanted to know if Gearbox has experienced any backlash.

Thankfully, Cox told me the response had been overwhelmingly positive.

Any negative responses were drowned out by the absolute love from our fans for this great story. Gearbox is committed to inclusivity and intersectionality and I’m proud to work at a company where representation authentically matters.  

Guns, Love, and Tentacles wasn’t a political story, it was a love story.

Finally, now that Borderlands is available on Nintendo Switch, I wondered if Gearbox had any thoughts on a character from the franchise appearing in Super Smash Bros. Guest Characters in Super Smash Bros and their announcements are events in and of themselves. Fans go absolutely bonkers for any information, hint or tease and there are still a number of fighters available in Fighter Pass 2.

So I asked Cox which character from Borderlands he’d love to see in Smash Bros.

“Amara,” he said.

“All her skills would translate almost perfectly into that title. I mean, it has to be one of the Sirens, right?

“Lilith…Maya…nope, definitely Amara. Okay, now I have to play that, but I have no idea what the real-life chances of that happening are.”

Sadly, we didn’t even get close to a hint of a tease but at least Nintendo now knows that Gearbox is up for it. Maybe Borderlands and Smash Bros fans need to start a tweetstorm and make #AmaraForSmash trend. Just saying.

Borderlands 3 Bounty of Blood will be available tomorrow (June 26, 2020).

Thanks to Matt Cox for his time.

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Leo Stevenson
Leo Stevenson
I've been playing games for the past 27 years and have been writing for almost as long. Combining two passions in the way I'm able is a true privilege. PowerUp! is a labour of love and one I am so excited to share.

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