Last week during E3 2019, among the most surprising revelations, at least for me, was that of the new Borderlands 2 DLC, Commander Lilith and the Fight for Sanctuary. It’s been a long time since anything new came out for a Borderlands game; the Borderlands 2 season pass was over years ago, and Borderlands The Pre-Sequel never got any post-release content. Now, seven years later, there’s a new story connecting Borderlands 2 and Borderlands 3, a wrap-up arc featuring the villainous Hector and his plot to overtake the planet. With the neat and tidy ending of Borderlands 2, the new campaign seems unnecessary—were there really any loose ends left to tie up? But as a promotional tool, it’s ingenious. It offers players an entry point for catching up on the previous games, and it gives Gearbox the opportunity to sell a few more copies of The Handsome Collection before the release of Borderlands 3. For me, a former avid fan, it provides an ideal time to check in with the game, relive some old memories, and see if it still holds that same appeal.
There was a time when I not only played Borderlands 2 regularly but also considered it the center of my social orbit. Its humor, visual style and RPG-lite sensibilities, complete with an addicting and endlessly fun tier-based loot drop system, were a perfect fit for my tastes. Over time, it became my home base of sorts, what I played as a warm-up before I dove into other games for the day. It served both a practical and elective purpose, helping me become better at first person shooter games and more knowledgeable about online multiplayers. Coming back to it now, all these years later, feels almost surreal, like visiting a house I lived in as a child. The new DLC doesn’t feature a lot of old locations, but there are many friendly faces to revisit: Ellie, Mordecai (my first Borderlands love) and Moxxi, Dr. Ned, Brick and Tiny Tina. Running into them again feels like a high school reunion. Moxxi is still slinging drinks, Ellie is delightfully folksy and Tina just wants to blow stuff up. Some things never change.
Sanctuary, meanwhile, really brought the nostalgia home. The first thing I did was visit the Bank, blasting by Tannis on the ground floor and browsing through a treasure trove of old memories, weapons emblazoned with red lettering telling tales of battles past. The gun I got when Roland died is still there, as is the first Orange I ever found. I wonder how many times I ran from the travel station straight to the Golden Key loot chest? I used to save up all my Keys for a special occasion—a new boss fight, a challenging loot drop, whatever I thought might demand a powerful new weapon. But mostly they wound up hoarded and unspent. There were 47 waiting for me when I got back. I immediately traded in five, just to feel alive.
If the purpose of Commander Lilith and the Fight for Sanctuary was to get old players back into the game by sheer nostalgia, it’s working. The DLC isn’t the meaty transformative experience of campaigns past (and to be honest, I have no desire to grind for the new 80 level cap). But it’s a smart dose of “more of the same” at a time when the game’s audience needs a reminder of what made the game great. The humor still ranges from childish to cynical, the environments littered with rustic aged tech, and the combat as chaotic and explosive as ever. It’s as if they picked up right where they left off, which bodes well for the future. And while the saga is a bit short, easily finished in a few hours (you’ll need to do additional loot runs to max out at the new 80 level cap), the new Effervescent loot tier also gives me renewed motivation to do some boss runs. After all these years, the thrill of the hunt and the promise of treasure is just as enthralling as ever.
They say you can’t go home again and I suppose that is true; it’s been four years since I played Borderlands 2 regularly, and everything from my personality to my priorities to my circle of friends has changed since then. There’s really no way to replicate who I was and how I felt when I played the original games (and of course, they didn’t carry nearly as much baggage then as they do now, with what we’ve come to learn about Randy Pitchford). But so far it looks as though Gearbox Software has managed to retain the look, feel and sense of humor of the games despite the no doubt numerous staffing switch-ups that have likely occurred since their original release. I’m optimistic about what this means for Borderlands 3 and how it will improve on the formula upon its September release.
Commander Lilith and the Fight for Sanctuary is available for free on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 for all players who own Borderlands 2, through July 8, 2019.
Holly Green is the assistant editor of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.