It wasn't obvious before, but there is a definite running thread to the DLC add-ons for Borderlands 3, and it has to deal with movies. While the main game might have made a lot of references to the current social media landscape, along with nods to other games, the DLC packs have each been something of a love letter to specific movie genres. Admittedly snarky love letters at times, but the affection is genuine.
Moxxi's Heist of The Handsome Jackpot reflects heist movies such as Ocean's Eleven and David Mamet's Heist. Guns, Love, and Tentacles is an ode to horror movies like The Thing and Event Horizon. So it's not surprising that the third DLC, Bounty of Blood, would be initially mistaken for a celebration of cowboy movies. As it turns out, Gearbox is paying its respects to both cowboy movies and samurai movies, acknowledging the unusual dynamic that has had the two genres feeding into each other for decades.
Narrated by an unseen and never-encountered presence known only as "The Liar," Bounty of Blood brings players to the planet Gehenna, a world which was once a mining outpost for a major corporation which isn't ever explicitly named by any of the characters (though the loot chests scattered around do give a pretty strong hint). For some reason, "The Company" abandoned Gehenna with indecent haste when their research efforts on the planet uncovered something potentially world-shattering, and which wasn't an Eridian Vault. Those left behind made a life for themselves, either scraping out a living in the town of Vestige or taking up the outlaw path and raiding Vestige for supplies. The Vault Hunters, drawn to the system by a wanted poster promising a ridiculous sum of money, come looking to change lead into gold the old fashioned way: as bounty hunters.
Bounty of Blood continues the pattern of tightly written storylines and compacted gameplay set across sprawling maps. Indeed, this particular outing feels almost a little too compact. The main quest for the DLC leads players through four different zones, culminating in a final two-stage boss fight that (absent any Mayhem Mode difficulty enhancements) can be almost ridiculously easy for a fully built-up character. And when I say "fully built-up," that's not an exaggeration. With the level cap rising to 60, it's now possible to spec out in two skill trees without leaving a particular skill incompletely filled out if you put points into it. You might not completely fill up every skill in a tree that way, but you can build up to a pair of the "apex" skills/perks in any given tree.
Unlike the previous two DLCs, Bounty of Blood almost feels like an original side story. It's the complete absence of nearly everything familiar in Borderlands 3 up to this point. There are no cameos from any previous Borderlands characters. The eridium deposits scattered hither and yon aren't anywhere to be found. Even the corporate connection feels oddly tenuous, almost tacked on, as if the developers said, "Eh, may as well."
Aside from loot drops and the aforementioned chests, the only thing which echoes anything from the main game's storyline is the various location collectibles, reminiscent of Hammerlock's big game hunt targets or the journal pedestals of Typhon DeLeon. They serve as useful callbacks to the main game, but the circumscribed nature of the DLC doesn't quite let players take care of business and clear out all the location tasks before the end of the story. You can still visit those few corners you missed, of course. It all depends on how much of a completionist you are, though the smart move is to wait until you've maxed out your levels before trying your luck.
For all the callbacks and nods to the various genres, Bounty of Blood suffers from a few flaws, which make it less satisfying than the previous two offerings. The constrained gameplay lets players quickly run-up to the new level cap well before reaching the end of the storyline. If one was to ignore the side quests and activities completely, a player could conceivably finish the DLC's storyline in less than a day. There seems to be a shortage of new gear that excites as a player. The new legendary and epic weapons don't feel particularly powerful.
Moreover, the RNG feels unusually stingy compared to Guns, Love, and Tentacles. It kept handing out sniper rifles to me, which created a bit of a problem since I would have preferred a wider variety of weapons to try out, and I know they're out there. More problematic is the lack of new shields, class mods, and artifacts. Sure, the guns fit with the cowboy theme in general, but if you consider the other gear as armor (of a sort), it would have helped. As it is, it feels like an oddly forced dichotomy between the predominantly pseudo-Japanese/samurai visuals and the cowboy mechanics, rather than a harmonious blending of the two genres.
From a story perspective, Bounty of Blood lacks a lot of the narrative punch that the previous DLCs had, much less the base game's main storyline. It's tempting to chalk this up to the absence of prior characters or story elements. However, one has to wonder why they didn't go for an apparent reference by bringing the character of Zer0 along for the ride. The guy speaks in haiku, swings a sword, and has you hunting bounty marks in the main game, so it would seem like an entirely consistent story reference to make even in passing.
Instead, we're treated to a half-baked plot involving justice (or revenge, take your pick) for a town sheriff, a pissing contest between a deputy and the replacement sheriff, and the locals who conveniently decide to relocate to town once you do them a favor by completing their side quests. Some moments briefly touch on tropes in Japanese monster movies and anime towards the end, but they feel entirely tacked on. Again, much like the corporation connection, it feels like an afterthought rather than part of a deliberate narrative strategy. It fails to bring the humor players have come to expect from a Borderlands game as well demonstrates as an obtuse disregard for a lot of the genre conventions which could be subverted both for comedic as well as dramatic effect. It'd be a bit much to expect the humor quotient of Blazing Saddles or the gravitas of Ran, but not even a winking nod to those films and others seems just wasted.
Players who got the "Deluxe" or "Super Deluxe" edition are already going to have this DLC, and they're going to need to do something between now and the fourth DLC pack coming out later this year. But for those coming in late, and who didn't buy the Season Pass, Bounty of Blood isn't what you'd expect, and it's not exactly what fans of Borderlands, cowboy movies, or samurai movies deserve. But as a sage gunslinger once said, "Deserve's got nothin' to do with it."
This review was based off a copy of the game purchased independently by the writer.