I wasn’t expecting much heading into Bounty of Blood: A Fistful of Redemption, the third of four planned Borderlands 3 expansions. The vaguely western theme has been done to death and, truth be told, I hadn’t spent much time with the game since the last major update dropped. But what I found was a unique addition to the Borderlands universe with some of the most gorgeous (and useful) scenery the franchise has ever seen.
Bounty of Blood sends you on a mission to the barren world of Gehenna, where roving bands of beast-taming Devil Riders loot and pillage to their hearts’ content. Gehenna had once been home to a mysterious corporation known only as The Company that, after its experiments petered out, abandoned tons of technology across the planet’s surface. It’s up to the Vault Hunters to end the Devil Riders’ reign of brutality and bring peace to the normal folk just trying to get by.
Narrative has never been the Borderlands franchise’s strong suit, and Bounty of Blood doesn’t buck that trend. Its attempts to lambaste the western genre often fall flat. The ever-present narrator is forgettable. And after a few obvious twists, it’s over. What’s interesting about Bounty of Blood, however, is its attempt at toning down the humor in favor of more serious storytelling. It’s no masterpiece, but the subtlety of the adventure is a far cry from the over-the-top quirkiness normally associated with Borderlands, which makes the few jokes that manage to land that much better.
Where Bounty of Blood truly excels are the environments. Gehenna’s culture is a strange mixture of western influences and vaguely Japanese architecture. At one point, you traverse a massive bathhouse that serves as the Devil Riders’ headquarters. The sauna is later destroyed by a bomb, and you have to traverse its ruins to reach the final boss. An underground biome known as the Obsidian Forest provides a striking contrast to the wild expanses of Gehenna’s surface, brutal spires of volcanic glass stretching from the cave floor to the overarching ceilings like giant fingers.
The scenery of Gehenna is just as functional as it is beautiful. Bounty of Blood introduces a variety of new environmental tools, all of which contribute an exciting new layer to the normal run-and-gun combat of Borderlands 3. Fungal launch pads mimic similar mechanics from The Pre-Sequel, which makes traversing levels more fluid and enjoyable. After a few missions, you’re given special knuckles that can dislodge explosive crystals that are scattered around the environments and send them flying at opponents. Even further into the story, you learn to harness a specific type of plant to command enemies. Simply shooting these weeds, even from a great distance, produces insects that turn enemies into allies for a short time, providing excellent distractions as you pick off their buddies.
Bounty of Blood doesn’t reinvent the Borderlands 3 wheel. It’s an all-too-short adventure without any of the nostalgia of Moxxi’s Heist of the Handsome Jackpot or the compelling boss battles of Guns, Love, and Tentacles. That said, the developers set out to tell a story disconnected from the main narrative of the series, and I’d say they ultimately succeeded. Bounty of Blood is carried by a great cast of newcomers, from the former Devil Rider turned sheriff who accompanies you on many missions or the big bad who menaces you before her ultimate defeat.
But seriously, bring on the fourth and final expansion already. I can’t wait to see what Krieg the Psycho has been up to.