Don’t get me wrong: I like Borderlands 3, but we’ve had a rocky relationship since launch. While I was initially extremely excited for it after seven years of waiting, I found it difficult to keep an interest once I had it in my hands and played it. It never really clicked for me, in part because the main game is too much like the two previous mainline Borderlands games, which I love dearly. However, after playing Moxxi’s Heist of the Handsome Jackpot, the first story expansion for Borderlands 3, I felt a fresh sense of Borderlands excitement again.
As a long-time Borderlands fan, I was thrilled to see the (sort-of) return Handsome Jack. Without going into spoiler territory, Handsome Jack’s sneering visage is everywhere in the new DLC in spite of the fact he’s been officially and unequivocally dead since Borderlands 2. But Moxxi’s Heist is set on Jack’s space casino, so it makes complete sense – his narcissism wouldn’t have allowed for anything less. That massive ego also gives us the origin of one of the new characters, who bears more than a passing resemblance to the villain of Borderlands 2, but that’s about as deep as the character gets.
As the name suggests, Moxxi is putting together a crew to pull off a heist of the casino. Its ownership has been in limbo since Jack died, and while Moxxi has rightful claim, new villain Pretty Boy stands in her way. To infiltrate the casino compound you first have to round up the right people for the job: there’s Ember, a former exotic dancer obsessed with fire and its many useful properties; Freddie, an out-of-touch computer hacker with a sick mullet and equally sick fashion sense; and Handsome Jack’s former personal tailor and current mayor of a psuedo-Marxist collective living in the trash dump beneath the casino.
Of the major new characters, Freddie is easily my favorite, thanks in part to his distinctive fanny pack and puffy, high-top sneakers. Through the main story their personalities are explored only so much as it serves the task at hand, but the supporting cast here is better than the one in the main game, including villain Pretty Boy, whose motivation stems from greed but also humiliation at Jack’s hand. While not fleshed out much, I prefer Pretty Boy to the Calypso Twins as far as antagonistic Borderlands baddies are concerned. That being said, I don’t think any of the newly introduced characters will land on my list of all-time Borderlands favorites. They’re just not up to the standard of classics like Jack or even Colonel Hector from the Commander Lilith and the Fight for Sanctuary DLC for Borderlands 2.
The story itself isn’t great, but it’s fun and has some solid jokes. There’s an excellent sequence that made me laugh out loud, literally, by leaning hard into the inherent ridiculousness of Borderlands and the premise of a 1980s-style heist movie, but it comes so deep into the campaign that it’s too little, too late to really elevate Moxxi’s Heist above the norm. I wish there had been more of that distinctive style of writing, but the jokes, like the gameplay, stay extremely close to what is generally safe and works in Borderlands 3.
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The main story took me around eight hours of leisurely play to complete, a timeline that accounts for straying occasionally from the main path for some side tasks and exploration, and the same kind of annoying backtracking and pointless item placement that bugged me about the main campaign. So while I generally liked playing Moxxi’s Heist of The Handsome Jackpot the whole way through, it took a while for it to really gel and rope me in in a way the rest of Borderlands 3 didn’t manage to – but once it does, it’s peak Borderlands.
In one mission, I approached a desk with a Casino Bot, but had to ring the service bell at the adjacent desk to get the bot’s attention. The bot then directed me to the other desk, where it had just been, because I was paging the wrong department. So I walked over to the desk I had originally visited and rang the bell there, and the bot floated back to where we started to help me. It’s a decent enough goof, but it doesn’t work when you’re in control of the action.
The bot instructed me to go to a door down some stairs to complete a minor objective… which I did, only to have another bot instruct me to go back to the desk and speak to the customer service bot again. This sort of interaction makes a brand-new game feel like something from 2012, and it happens more than once. Walk to a character and retrieve an object, walk three steps and place the object, walk back three steps and speak to the character again.
However, once the heist allowed me to stick to the core of what makes Borderlands great – shooting, looting, shooting some more, looting some more – I felt the same kind of joy I did playing Borderlands 2 with friends. In the trashdump beneath the casino, I got a definite Caustic Caverns vibe, just with rivers of fetid trash water instead of lakes of deadly acid. Its pacing in the final-third is flawless and more than makes up for a jittery start. It reminded me of some of my favorite moments from Borderlands 2, and while it doesn’t do anything new, it doesn’t have to. I felt a familiar vibe reminiscent of missions like “Where Angels Fear to Tread,” and it got me excited to get a group of friends together to play online like we did all those years ago on our Xbox 360s. Once this story stops interrupting and opens itself up to unbroken chains of mayhem, it’s wonderful. The complete lack of the Calypso Twins also helps.
You can read James Duggan’s full review of base game here, or watch the video above.
I found the loot during the main quest a little disappointing – I got lots of sniper rifles of middling quality and nothing really jaw-dropping after boss fights – but I did get my hands on some impressive (and incredibly useful) corrosive weapons, some of which I’ll be using for a long time. I’m looking forward to revisiting the DLC to find more loot and finish the side-quests, as well as run it all with some friends. Boss fights aren’t particularly notable, although some of their designs are a delight, and just like everything else in Borderlands, it’s always more fun to play with a crew. Because after all, isn’t the real loot in Borderlands the friends we made along the way?