I Never Knew Dying In Borderlands 3 Could Feel So Brutal

Sometimes you really need to kill a dude, and you just can’t, and it sucks.

Borderlands 3 is not a heavy game. It’s full of bright colors, fun sounds, and jokes (even if most of them aren’t very funny). I would no more liken it to a Dark Souls game as put orange juice in my Fruit Loops, and yet as I lay dying, watching a cyborg bounty hunter slowly strut away from my corpse, it sure felt like some had just poured a soggy bowl of orange juice infused Fruit Loops all over my face.

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Recently, I’ve been trying to race through the game to get to the good stuff: endlessly fighting the same bosses over and over to get the rarest loot. That’s why I found myself on the asteroid Skywell-27 trying to blow up Katagawa Jr.’s laser cannon facing enemies several levels ahead of mine. The entire mission was a slog and I died more times in the span of 20 minutes than in the rest of the game up to that point.

Should I have maybe taken a step back and worked on some side quests to get a little stronger and find a better mix of guns. Absolutely. It’s what any good vault hunter would do, and especially one who’s been playing games about grinding to watch the numbers go up for most of his life. But marauding across an asteroid in low gravity at midnight when the end goal is within sight is not a moment that’s necessarily amenable to such clear thinking.

And so I threw myself against Katagawa Jr.’s army ready to sneakily earn a victory my character wasn’t yet worthy of. Borderlands does two things to make death less upsetting: respawn you nearby with no progress lost for a fraction of your in-game cash and give you a chance as you’re bleeding out to kill an enemy and catch a second win. They’re meant to help you keep playing and having fun, even when things aren’t going your way. But when things really aren’t going your way they can feel like the dump truck that just ran you over backing up and lifting its bed to bury you in a pile of salt.

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I’d already died three or four times, losing a healthy third of my bank account in the process, whittling away at the enemies in the final section guarding Katagawa Jr.’s laser when I found myself one-on-one with a level 18 Badass Trooper. And again, and again, and again as I kept getting owned. His damage-per-second felt ridiculous, melting through my level 12 spike shield, barely giving me enough time to aim down sights before I hit the floor.

Even after unloading almost a full clip from my shotgun and then switching to nailing him in the face at point blank while hip firing my sniper rifle it wasn’t enough. He was becoming my Black Knight from Dark Souls. Except this wasn’t Dark Souls. It was Borderlands 3. The game you play because you explicitly do not want to be tortured by a game like Dark Souls.

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This is the part where I tell you that maybe Dark Souls isn’t a type of game so much as a state of mind, a prison you can create for yourself even when all you want to do is escape it. Or maybe I just really should have done some more of those side missions that I thought were just a waste of time like going back to feed the meter instead of pretending you’re a lucky guy and there’s no way you’ll get a ticket in the 20 minutes it takes you to walk back to your car.

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Borderlands 3 isn’t necessarily a game people think of as making you feel things. But I have felt many things: Fear, rage, regret, self-loathing. And fortunately, in the end, they paved the way for the best feeling of all: triumph. Eventually I did demolish that Badass Trooper, just like I should have the first time. And if he was a real cyborg mercenary and not just a fake one inside a video game I would have yelled at him “I drink your Fruit Loop Orange Julius Mister Badass” or hopefully something way less corny.

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About the author

Ethan Gach

Kotaku staff writer. You can reach him at ethan.gach@kotaku.com