A new Borderlands 3 DLC is upon us. Bounty of Blood is the third DLC and the first to focus entirely on a new scenario and new characters. The Vault Hunter is, of course, present and accounted for but aside from them, everyone you meet in Bounty of Blood is brand-new.
Fans may be disappointed by the lack of call-backs but by focusing on new characters, Gearbox has the ability to break free from the shackles of established lore. Sure, the overaching Borderlands universe remains the same but there’s no requirement to slot in some fan-service.
Instead, Bounty of Blood can exist solely as a standalone story. Sadly, the story is the weakest aspect of this DLC. There are hints and teases of something grander but none of it materialises. Instead, it’s the gameplay that drives while the narrative takes a back seat.
Bounty of Blood
Accessed, like all other Borderlands 3 DLC, from Sanctuary III, Bounty of Blood takes place on the desert planet of Gehenna. Attracted to Gehenna by the bounty placed on the Devil Riders, the Vault Hunter travels there with the intention of claiming it. Par for the course; things don’t go according to plan.
On the surface and from all promotional materials, Bounty of Blood appears to be a western…and it is. But it also draws heavily from the samurai films of Akira Kurosawa. Like Firefly and The Expanse and who knows how many other science fiction (and western) properties, Bounty of Blood includes a hefty dose of Asian influence. Settlements are decorated with paper lanterns, Asian looking calligraphy, sloped rooves, neon signs and an overall east meets west vibe. It’s certainly worked for others in the past and Borderlands 3 uses it equally well.
And by well, I mean that Bounty of Blood doesn’t overdo or explain why this western frontier town feels like a small market in a village in Japan. It just is.
And it’s perfect.
If you’ve ever watched a western film, odds are that there’s a samurai film it’s based on. And it tonnes of cases, the reverse is true. Both genres have been influencing each other for decades and so it makes sense for worlds to collide. Borderlands 3 is a pretty perfect petri dish for this to happen. Sadly, the potential, like every band I’ve ever created with my mates, is never really capitalised on.
Essentially, you’re The Drifter and through your dealing with the town of Vestige, you become invested. But, the story just isn’t that gripping.
Vestige has been under siege by the Devil Riders for years and the Devil Riders are looking to takeover Gehenaa wholesale. There’s some really interesting notions about the Jakobs corporation and its experiments as well as a tonne of sci-fi potential but it’s not mined, it’s not explored and ultimately it’s not that interesting.
Compared to Guns, Love & Tentacles, Bounty of Blood may as well have not had a story whatsoever. Contrary to Gearbox’s claim that this DLC is a chance to start fresh, to hand over the reins to the player and to expand the narrative through the narrator, Bounty of Blood just feels narratively weak.
That’s not to say the story isn’t decent. It’s ok, it’s just not really impactful in any meaningful way. I’ve only just recently finished it and I’m struggling to remember characters or their motivations, which isn’t a sign of a good story.
Although the story’s weak, the gameplay is anything but. There are several massive zones to explore on Gehenna and each is fairly unique to one another. Vestige is the hub, a large western/eastern town, filled with NPCs, narrative exploration and some really impressive environmental design work.
The Blastplains (the largest of all the areas) is a massive, sprawling desert with some minor encampments and places of interest. This is what you’ll traverse to get to each of the other locations there just so much to love about the design. It echoes Pandora yet remains distinct from it. The colour palette is different, the flora and fauna are different and it’s not quite as much of a shithole.
Sure, it’s dusty, dry and awful but not in the same way Pandora is. It’s its own kind of awful, the kind the Vault Hunter would look at, smile and consider putting down roots.
Ashfall Peaks is a densely populated area, overrun by the devil riders. Here is where you’ll really see the eastern influences on architecture, colouring, character and more. Ashfall Peaks is where Bounty of Blood fully embraces its samurai influence and pushes the cowboys to one side for a moment. It’s a breathtaking combination and the artistry at play truly deserves a round of applause.
Ashfall Peaks wasn’t my favourite location for gameplay, but for aesthetics, it wins hands down. The other locations, Obsidian Forest and Bloodsun Canyon are both different riffs playing the same tune. The former is your typical cave/mine location and the latter is a very western/frontier feeling area that morphs into this Dharma Initiative, Federal Bureau of Control-esque science facility.
This latter section is a radical departure for the DLC, yet it fits within the themes and narrative that is established early on. It was what excited me most while playing and yet, was what was most disappointing. It was the section that felt the most fertile and most ripe for exploration but no sooner had I started exploring was I finished.
It’s frustrating for Gearbox to leave so much on the table. Perhaps the developer was trying to create some mystery but, to me, it simply felt undercooked.
For the most part, gameplay in Bounty of Blood is as excellent as ever. That same core loop of shoot, loot repeat is intact and as addictive and polished as ever. Bounty of Blood also introduces four new mechanics; Breezebloom, Traitorweed, Coresploder and Telezapper. Breezebloom is the plant you stand on that shoots you up in the air and you’ll likely have seen it in gameplay trailers.
It’s useful for quickly moving around the environment, getting the drop on enemies and staying mobile. It’s a great addition and while it doesn’t radically change the way you play Borderlands 3, it’s a neat new tool to add to the kit.
Traitorweed is a plant that when shot will infect an enemy and turn them into your alley for a time. The premise behind this mechanic is great and the idea is solid, but in practice, I rarely had time to actively make it happen. Instead, I would accidentally activate the Traitorweed and then barely notice the effect of having an ally. I’m not sure if it would work better at higher or lower levels but playing at around the mid-30s, Traitorweed’s impact on my experience was negligible.
Coresploder is a mechanic that allows the Vault Hunter to damage the blooms of Core located around Gehenna. Doing so sends out a shower of sparks that damage enemies in a wide radius. Again, it’s a great idea but its effects are barely felt.
Finally, the Telezapper is just a fancy way to travel between two points. In and of itself, it doesn’t change a lot but the way it’s applied opens up so many possibilities. Gearbox uses the Telezapper as a gatekeeping device, in the Metroidvania sense, and it’s a really simple but effective tool. It made me take note of Telezapper locations and remember to come back later. If I have a criticism of the Telezapper, it’s that it wasn’t used enough and, if there’s a way to innovate and improve on the Borderlands formula, this is the way.
If Gearbox was to focus more on backtracking, unlocking paths and gradual upgrades, well, Borderlands would be elevated to a whole new level.
Overall, Bounty of Blood is yet more fantastic Borderlands 3 gameplay with a nothing story and new mechanics that barely scratch the surface of possibility. I enjoyed it immensely, thanks to the impeccable gameplay and environmental design, but wish the narrative had some more depth.
I applaud Gearbox for introducing new elements but really wish it had gone all in, instead of simply calling on a weak, no bet hand with pocket twos.
Hopefully, what Gearbox has learned from Bounty of Blood can be applied more thoroughly going forward and the gameplay of Borderlands 3 can be strengthened, deepened and made more engaging.
Not that it needs to be, it’s a damn good time. Bounty of Blood is well-worth playing and will give you more excellent Borderlands gameplay. Unfortunately, it won’t give you much of a story.
Borderlands 3 DLC Bounty of Blood was reviewed on PC using a digital copy provided by the pubisher.