There are a lot of things ahead of Borderlands 4 that stand out in the franchise, whether it’s wacky humor, thousands of guns per player, or unique shading graphics. What brings fans back to the FPS franchise again and again are its characters. From Tiny Tina, who got her own spin-off in Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, to one of the most famous game villains in Handsome Jack, Pandora and the planets around her are full of intriguing personalities.
For many Borderlands fans, the series is no longer the same without characters like Iron, Lilith and Handsome Jack, which leads to problems when one of them dies. In the case of Handsome Jack, his death led to Borderlands games, which follow either the use of a character in one form or another, or the creation of a new villain who is criticized for not following the precedent set by Jack. Borderlands 4 really needs to improve its game to create an antagonist unrelated to this iconic villain who stands out on his own.
What made Handsome Jack work?
Before seeing how Borderlands 4 can get away from megalomania, it’s important to take a look at what made Handsome Jack work in Borderlands 2. As a villain, Jack managed to make players hate him, in particular because of his constant harassment of Vault Hunters. The player, it would seem, could not walk five feet on Pandora without Handsome Jack appearing in the corner of his screen, either insulting them for their choice, or telling them about his diamond-encrusted pony.
While Tyrene and Troy Calypso turned out to be similar irritants, the problem with these twins was that their dialogue seemed to be Jack’s robbery rather than Gearbox’s attempt to create something new. One of the reasons Handsome Jack was a strong villain is that he was different from Commandant Steele from the original Borderlands. Handsome Jack offered a breath of fresh air, while the similarity of the Calypso twins was like Gearbox trying to catch lightning in a bottle twice. Both Jack and the Calypso twins killed characters from previous games, but fans claimed that the situation in Borderlands 2 was an effective shock, while Borderlands 3 confused them.
Another thing that makes Jack’s jokes and connections stand out is that from the very beginning of the game, he positions himself as the person who hates the Vault Finder the most. In the initial part of Borderlands 2, he sets a trap that the player falls into and leads him to a meeting with a Piece of Iron. Hence the main story of revenge on the man who tried to kill the player, while saving Pandora. Establishing this personal connection ensures that the fans really want Jack, and his verbal attacks only fuel the fire.
How Borderlands 4 Can Get Away from Jack
If repeating Jack’s character in another villain doesn’t work, the question arises how Gearbox can create a meaningful character who walks away from Handsome Jack. While Jack may return in the next Borderlands, it may also be helpful to see an entirely new villain take center stage and offer the player a similar challenge.
Some aspects of Handsome Jack’s personality can be used to create a new villain who will not look like a parody. For example, setting the player as the enemy of a new villain from the very beginning helps to create a memorable relationship in which the Shelter Hunter wants to defeat his antagonist more than to find prey. In many other games, the player faced a certain opponent from the very beginning. For example, in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Ezio started the game by confronting Cesare Borgia, and in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Genichiro Ashina is put as a wall that players will have to overcome.
Another thing the Borderlands 4 villain will need is a strong backstory. Handsome Jack may have been a comedic, joking character, but under the facade he had a backstory full of insults and other dark topics. This helped to substantiate the stupidity of the character and Borderlands 2 in general, showing that even in a comedy game, a tonal shift can work wonders.
Finally, to move this character away from Jack’s clone or parody, Gearbox can give him traits that the Borderlands 2 villain never had. For example, Jack wasn’t physically imposing, so a character who could match the player in terms of combat could add to the threat he radiated. Instead of being a rich oligarch, the new villain also couldn’t be the leader of a large group, as working alone would separate him from the other antagonists in the main games.
Although Handsome Jack is a character that Borderlands fans remember fondly, a new villain is needed to help the series move on.