Gearbox Software hit the mainstream hard with Borderlands back in 2009, kicking off the looter shooter craze in earnest, which is something that now dominates the industry. And as Borderlands grew in size and scope and popularity, so too did Gearbox. But beyond Borderlands, they are also known for another property that is beloved by a core, dedicated fanbase. Of course, we’re not talking about Battleborn, and we’re definitely not talking about Aliens: Colonial Marines and Duke Nukem Forever. No, we’re talking about Brothers in Arms.
Founded all the way back in 1999, Gearbox actually spent the first several years of their life as a studio that worked on ports or side-chapters for other franchises, with everything from Half-Life to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater under their belts. It wasn’t until 2005 that they released their first original game, a World Wa 2 shooter for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and PC called Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30.
Immediately upon launch, the first game in the Brothers in Arms series was met with great critical reception from critics and audiences alike. At a time where the market was dominated by World War 2 shooters, most of which were too afraid to do anything that deviated from the rote formula that had proven to be successful in the market, Brothers in Arms came along and decided to do its own thing. Instead of fast-paced run-and-gun shooting, it placed on emphasis on tactical firefights where you would lay down suppressing fire and flank your enemies. Instead of telling a by-the-numbers Hollywood blockbuster plot full of explosions and high-stakes action, Brothers in Arms turned out to be a surprisingly emotional and effective portrayal of war. Instead of being all about the action Brothers in Arms placed its focus, first and foremost, on the characters, on their development, and on their bonds.
With their very first original title, Gearbox Software established themselves as a force to be reckoned with, and Brothers in Arms established itself as a property to keep an eye on. A sequel was pretty much guaranteed after the success of the first game, and it didn’t take too long to launch. In fact, it came out in the same year that the first game did, with a gap of just a few months separating the two of them.
Called Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood, the second game in the series was as well received as the first game was (though the PS2 version did fall significantly short as compared to the other two). It was praised for a lot of the same strengths as its predecessors, such as the strength of its non-scripted gameplay, its tactical firefights, and its emotional and mature storytelling, while critics also found that it had made some notable improvements to AI, making it, impossibly enough, an even better experience than the first game in terms of gameplay.
Brothers in Arms was only going from strength to strength, then. Its stock continued to soar, Gearbox continued to pick up the plaudits, and anticipation for an inevitable third game in the series continued to rise. Unlike the first two games in the series, there was a considerable gap separating the second and third instalments. Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway arrived three years after the second game’s release, this time releasing on the newer and more powerful consoles on the market. Unlike its predecessors, its reception on the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC was more or less the same. And how was that reception? Well, not nearly as positive as its predecessors- but not bad by any means, either.
Gameplay elements in Hell’s Highway saw major improvements over the first two games in the series, with stronger mission design and better enemy AI leading to combat that felt even more tactical and engaging. The squadplay element was also emphasized a lot more with a number of simple yet effective new mechanics. Where Hell’s Highway faltered was in its story- which, to be clear, was still a good one by and large, but was a lot more inconsistent than fans would have expected, especially in terms of the weird directions it took at some key sections.
Beyond that core trilogy, there’s been no shortage of Brothers in Arms titles- either Gearbox or other developers have made a number of spinoffs for various platforms. 2006 saw the release of Brothers in Arms: D-Day for the PSP, jointly developed by Gearbox and Ubisoft Shanghai, a game that received lukewarm reception at best, as you’d expect from a first person shooter on the PSP. The next year, in 2007, Nintendo’s handheld also got some love, with the third person shooter (a rarity for the series) Brothers in Arms DS for the, well, DS- which was better received than the PSP game, but barely so. That was also ported to N-Gage (remember when that was a thing?) in 2008, and was called simply Brothers in Arms.
Beyond that, there were also a couple of other mobile titles and a remastered compilation. 2008 was the busiest year in the series’ history, seeing a total of five releases – one of which was Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway, one was the aforementioned remastered collection, and the other three were mobile games. After that, the series tapered off significantly.
2010 and 2014 both saw the releases of a mobile Brothers in Arms titles apiece. Meanwhile, a new game in the series, Brothers in Arms: Furious 4 was announced in 2011 for the PS3, Xbox 360, and PC. That eventually got turned into a completely new IP, with Gearbox decided that it would work better outside the Brothers in Arms series- but it materialized into nothing, and eventually got cancelled (with many of its ideas and elements ending up in Battleborn instead).
So as it stands right now, 2014 was the last time we saw a Brothers in Arms game- and that, too, was a mobile title. If we’re talking about a mainline console entry, we’d have to go all the way back to 2008 with Hell’s Highway. We’ve all been waiting a long time to get our hands on a proper sequel- this is a series that, at least as far as its mainline titles are concerned, never fails to deliver, and clearly, it’s been successful for Gearbox. So where the hell is the fourth mainline Brothers in Arms game?
Well, the answer to that question, blessedly, is- it’s coming. We know it’s coming. We know there’s going to be a new sequel, and we know that it’ll continue to follow the story of Sergeant Matthew “Matt” Baker. All the way back in 2015, Gearbox Software said that they wanted to make a new Brothers in Arms game, and even though they didn’t explicitly say that anything was in development, it was clear that they hadn’t given up on the franchise. Later in that same year, Gearbox boss Randy Pitchford said that the studio was in the early stages of getting started on the project.
It wasn’t until 2017 that we started hearing concrete details on the next game in the series though. In an interview at E3 2017, Pitchford confirmed that it was in development at Gearbox, that it was going to feature Sgt. Baker, that it would be “authentic”, and that it would be published by Gearbox’s own label (with the studio having re-acquired the rights to the franchise when Ubisoft dropped them in 2012).
In that same interview, Pitchford also confirmed that it would follow the same tactical and strategic direction in terms of combat as its predecessors, and would still be quite focussed on storytelling. For the latter, Pitchford pointed out that thanks to Gearbox’s work with Telltale on Tales from the Borderlands, the studio had learned new techniques on how to blend storytelling and gameplay more effectively, which we would see materializing in the next Brothers in Arms title.
Then, in 2018, Gearbox confirmed that they were still working on the game, but said that they weren’t ready to officially announce it just yet, before re-iterating those statements just a couple of months later.
So, we know that a new Brothers in Arms game is in development, and that it’ll be out sooner or later- the question is, when will that be? Looking at the timeline of its development and at Gearbox’s other commitments, we might be able to narrow down that release timeframe. Borderlands 3 is almost upon us, which means that soon, the bulk of Gearbox will be focused squarely on Brothers in Arms. Sure, there will be people working on expansions, DLCs, and continued updates to the looter shooter, but the majority of the resources will now likely be going into their next project.
Brothers in Arms has been in development since at least 2017- since that’s when Gearbox first started saying in clear terms that they were working on it. Even if we assume that a large part of that year was spent in pre-production, that would still mean that principal production on the game has been ongoing for at least over a year, if not more. 2020, in context of all that, would seem like a pretty good bet for when it releases, which means that we should start hearing more concrete things about the game in the months following Borderlands 3’s launch.
All that is, of course, pure speculation, based on a lot of vague information. The only unequivocal truth that we know is that a proper Brothers in Arms sequel is very much in development- and the wait for it is going to be absolutely excruciating.