Borderlands 3 is a pretty great time. Despite some glaring issues, I’ve had a blast with both co-op and solo since Friday, and our own Eric Switzer awarded it a 4 out of 5 in his review. Gearbox has tapered down its penchant for mining Know Your Meme in lieu of actually writing a script, placing a square focus on both mechanical polish and stellar art direction.
But what stands out the most is the game’s robust cast. It’s a diverse collection of lovable oddballs and misfits, comprised of both familiar faces and newcomers. For me, though, one character in particular stands head and shoulders above the rest: the foul-mouthed, ill-tempered, and generally violent Lorelei.
At first blush, Lorelei comes across as a bit of a cliché. She’s grizzled, angry, and driven to wage a destructive rebellion against an evil corporation – essentially, a very British Sarah Connor. But after spending some time with her outside of the main narrative, it’s clear that Lorelei’s writers put a great deal of thought put into the character.
This starts at a conceptual level. Writer Sam Winkler has gone on record to state that Lorelei is a nonbinary character who uses female pronouns but has seriously considered undergoing transition – there are hints to this throughout the game. The writer has said that Lorelei intended to undergo FTM transition but put that off due to the outbreak of the Corporate War.
“[When you can] walk into a booth and change your head and things about you and have access to (such) tech on a daily basis,” Winkler told The Washington Post, “she realizes transitioning is more than changing your physical body. It’s an emotional journey during which you need your friends around you.”
An excellent performance from actor Ciarán Strange brings to life this complicated internal turmoil. He plays the character with the perfect blend of blind rage and sardonic humor and underscores Lorelei’s vitriolic and dynamic presence with genuine pathos. This comes through when Lorelei reminiscences on wishing the world could go back to the way it was – how she misses her job slinging coffee. She feels remorse over all her losses since the war began. Lurking beneath the brash, flirtatious exterior of this character is a broken, sad human being struggling to make sense of this chaotic world. Strange does a fantastic job depicting this murky turmoil and gives one of the year’s most standout gaming performances.
Her design exemplifies that sense of grungy ambiguity. Lorelei’s basic appearance is a beautiful synthesis of clashing aesthetics that come together and frame the complexities of this fractured character. Her hair color and cut is hewed from cyberpunk media, as is her cutoff leather jacket and shoulder pads – which evoke the iconic Major Motoko Kusanagi from 1995’s landmark Ghost In The Shell. However, her design is a good deal dirtier and grungier than Kusanagi, taking obvious inspiration from Charlize Theron’s Furiosa in 2016’s Mad Max: Fury Road. The result is a character who embodies both futuristic dystopian and post-apocalyptic aesthetics.
In a way, this makes Lorelei the perfect representation of Borderlands as a whole. The series has its roots in aping Mad Max, gradually changing to something more decidedly cyberpunk with each passing entry. Lorelei stands somewhere at the crossroads between these two extremes – a character that bridges genres and aesthetics.
While I have my issues with Borderlands 3, which are almost entirely mechanical and fixable, its cast and narrative are not part of those. Lorelei is just one of the many fascinating, complicated characters in this game. But she stands out as one of the reasons I’m so compelled by the strange, violent, humorous world that Gearbox has built.