Borderlands 3 has been out for exactly one week. I only managed to beat the admittedly beefy campaign myself last night, and that was after skipping most of the side quests. It was a good thing I did, too. Every enemy, repeatable boss fight, and side quest become much more rewarding after you reach the Borderlands 3 endgame. Clearing them on the way through the story is basically a big waste.
That’s because the new Borderlands endgame doesn’t begin until you beat the final boss. That was nearly 30 hours deep, in my case. You don’t have to worry about reaching the level cap. In fact, much of the current endgame is designed to help you reach said level cap. Wanna know why? Completing the Borderlands 3 story reveals Mayhem Mode, and it drastically changes the game.
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You may have heard about this by now. Developer Gearbox even deployed a hotfix to make the master difficulty award less loot. That’s how good it was at giving you gear. Even now, after the nerf, it’s far and away the best way to farm loot. Mayhem beefs up enemies and introduces positive, as well as negative modifiers (e.g. faster reload speed, less damage from Corrosive weapons, etc.). But it also doubles the quality of your loot and boosts how much XP you gain.
Once you beat Borderlands 3, and preferably turn on Mayhem Mode, enemies and activities scale to your level. Whereas they remain fixed until you beat the main campaign. Let’s say you haven’t beaten the story, for example. Then you do a level 10 mission while you’re at level 30. The rewards you get will still be at level 10. The guns and XP? Basically useless. However, if you do that same side quest after you beat the game, the rewards will shoot up to whatever level you are at that exact moment. Pepper on Mayhem and your drops will be even better!
There’s one other reason to beeline the story, too. That’s how you get Guardian ranks. These are more-or-less identical to Badass ranks in the previous Borderlands games. Except they’re no longer tied to specific challenges. Instead you unlock a second experience bar as soon as you beat the game. Anyone who has played Destiny might equate them to the Bright Engrams you get for “leveling up” past the initial cap. Once again, though, you don’t have to be at the level cap. It’s all tied to story progress!
Borderlands 3 Endgame Guide & Side Quests
You can cash in Guardian ranks for account-wide bonuses. These are small, at first, but basically unlimited. They allow you to boost everything from reload speed to Active Skill duration. They are the natural conclusion to the stingy arithmetic found elsewhere in Borderlands 3. Your Guardian rank may be incremental, but it adds up, and up, and up.
This is also the only real way to give alternate characters a head start. Even if you beat the game as FL4K, let’s say, you have to do it all over again as Amara to unlock Mayhem and True Vault Hunter Mode. The latter is basically the Borderlands 3 new game plus. Enemies are tougher, just like in Mayhem, but you can skip the intro and replay main missions for even further XP and better loot. The downside is that you have to beat the whole story again to unlock Mayhem Mode on top of True Vault Hunter.
The true Borderlands 3 endgame is when you layer all these factors on top of each other — unlocking the biggest loot and level boosts possible. Although there isn’t much to actually do with all this high-end gear at the moment. You can bet your bottom dollar it will all come in handy with the first round of Borderlands 3 DLC, though.
To sum things up: skip the side missions in Borderlands 3. At least you should at first! Save those little buckets of XP and drops for when they matter. Mayhem and Guardian ranks will both benefit from the extra patience. So will your sanity. The game is kind of a slog to replay. Leaving yourself some side missions to beat for the first time on True Vault Hunter Mode will give you fresh things to do on a second, more potent playthrough.