Borderlands 3 Narrative Design: Typhon DeLeon, the First Vault Hunter
The following article contains major spoilers for Borderlands 3.
I wasn’t sure whether fans would love or hate Typhon DeLeon. After all, the Vault Hunter is one of the most pervasive myths in the Borderlands Universe. It’s an aspiration. Vault Hunters come in all shapes and sizes of course, but one thing they all have in common is that they’re badass, which—contrary to how he is portrayed on theater posters and such—isn’t an obvious descriptor for Typhon DeLeon the first time you see him.
His journey from son of a turd farmer to legendary Vault Hunter is less Indiana Jones and more Forrest Gump. Typhon is a genuinely good guy and not a natural fighter; to survive, he follows his intuition and rolls with the punches. He doesn’t let the darkness of rival corporations and wars and betrayals get him down. He’s a different kind of hero, one who fails but keeps picking himself back up again. Unfortunately, Typhon went missing decades ago searching for the Eridian homeworld. Or so we think.
IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF GIANTS
We first hear of the legendary explorer Typhon DeLeon early in the game when we come across a historical marker – the first of a series of ECHO logs documenting his journey from Pandora to becoming the First Vault Hunter and beyond. In addition to serving as advice for new Vault Hunters, Typhon’s journals are a narrative delivery device for lore, delving into topics we as players have been curious about since the first game.
Pandora’s a strange and harsh place. Sometimes, I get the feeling the whole planet is tryin’ to shake us off like a tick-infested skag. But I’ll tell ya one thing: if I do find the Eridian homeworld someday, I’m gonna finally get some answers! “Hey, aliens,” I’ll say. “What’s so freakin’ special about Pandora?”
In order to sell the idea that “heroes come in all shapes and sizes,” we needed Typhon’s voice to be down-to-earth, the Pandora equivalent of blue-collar. Part of the charm of characters like Forrest Gump is that they survive, even persevere, in spite of their limitations. In Typhon’s case, being from Pandora is that limitation. But it’s also his advantage. From his humble upbringing, Typhon gains curiosity and instinct, traits that serve him well throughout his adventures.
Unlike many traditional heroes, Typhon DeLeon’s pursuit of the Vault isn’t for fame or glory. He’s driven by curiosity itself. He’s an explorer’s explorer, driven to unearth the secrets of the universe. But as Typhon quickly realizes after finding a Vault for Atlas, the corporations don’t share his values.
Wish I could say finding that Vault did some good for the people of Promethea, but that ain’t true. At first, it sure seemed like it, though. Atlas started building subways and planetary tracks. But when they didn’t find another Vault, the corporation stopped investing in the planet, and Promethea became a craphole again. Be careful who you work for—corporations, they’re like assholes. They ain’t any prettier from the inside. And, if you stay near one long enough, they’re gonna crap all over you.
UNRELIABLE HEROES AND LORE
Although Typhon DeLeon’s surely an unreliable narrator (most are), there’s a lot of lore packed into his journals. In writing these ECHO logs, we tried to vary them between explicit lore (Typhon gives Jakobs its trademark slogan, “If it took more than one shot, you weren’t using a Jakobs”) and intentionally abstract lore (Typhon wondering why the Vaults exist in the first place). It’s up to you to determine what’s true and what’s a tall tale.
By tracking down Typhon’s journals, we literally follow in his footsteps. In doing so, we get a rare opportunity to see what the galaxy was like decades ago. What was happening on Pandora before the events of the first Borderlands? How did Atlas Corporation become the dominant power on Promethea? Why did no one discover the Vault on Eden-6? Part of the challenge of writing Typhon’s ECHO logs was the knowledge that some of you wouldn’t rest until you’d consumed the entirety of Typhon’s story, while others will experience far less. So, each ECHO log ideally stands on its own, but also contributes to his larger story.
Ultimately, we wanted Typhon to be an unlikely hero. He’s supposed to be rough around the edges, yet likable. A tad crass, but with a heart of gold. Humble, but a legend. Part of the joy of the Borderlands universe is that despite the dark shadow cast by the ruthless corporations, despite the pervasive greed, some good remains. It’s just a glimmer of hope, but to many, that hope is all that keeps you from giving in to the darkness of the universe. Vault Hunters seek the Vaults for reasons beyond greed and self-interest. To seek the Vault is to discover who you are, what you’re made of, and what ultimately drives you to go on.
TYPHON DELEON: FAMILY SECRETS
If you know what to listen for, Typhon’s journals reveal not only his past journey but reveal some of the game’s major plot points, including the true goal of the Calypso Twins. One of the themes of Typhon’s story is storytelling itself. As Typhon says later on in the game, “A story can be a dangerous thing in the wrong hands.” It’s no coincidence that your race to the Vaults against Tyreen and Troy Calypso follows Typhon’s own journey. Lilith and company sometimes wonder how the Calypsos and their Children of the Vault are always one step ahead.
After defeating Troy Calypso, we learn that Pandora is actually “The Great Vault,” a planet-sized Vault that contains a monster of unimaginable power within: The Destroyer. What’s so special about Pandora indeed, Typhon? Of course, the Calypsos have known this from the very beginning. Our journey to stop Pandora from releasing the Destroyer sends us to the Eridian homeworld of Nekrotafeyo, and once again we follow Typhon DeLeon’s footsteps.
When we arrive, we meet the First Vault Hunter in person. He’s… perhaps not exactly the heroic visage of his movie posters, but he’s still the same decent man we’ve come to know. Typhon fills us in on what happened to him in the intervening decades. As the story goes, he and Leda crash-land on Nekrotafeyo. They learn of the Vault Monster within Pandora that the Eridians trapped, and The Machine. They have children. Special children. Conjoined Twin-Sirens, a boy and a girl. Something the universe has never seen before.
See, when me and Leda first saw Troy and Tyreen’s tattoos, we knew we had to protect ’em. Sirens. The rarest thing in the universe, and there were two of ’em right in our arms. The only way to keep them safe was to stay here. Forever… For a while, we were one happy family. Then Leda, she, well, she died. And I had to raise the kids alone. I thought opening a Vault would be the hardest thing I’d ever do. Was I wrong!
Typhon must raise his children on his own. And because he knows what the corporations would do if they ever discovered Troy and Tyreen—enslave them, conduct horrifying experiments, and probably much worse—he decides that the best way to protect them is to keep them on Nekrotafeyo forever.
Thing is, Typhon might be a legendary explorer, but that doesn’t mean he knows how to raise two children alone — a heroic undertaking in itself, let alone on a dangerous planet like Nekrotafeyo. Typhon does the best he can under the circumstances, though as the children get older, they start to grow restless and test the boundaries of their planetary cage:
The boy, he got sick all the time. And my daughter talked circles around me! Only time they’d sit still was to hear about my adventures. Killing monsters, opening Vaults, being a hero — they couldn’t get enough! …. I filled their heads with all sorts of stories. Even told ’em about the Great Vault… heh. That was a mistake! A story can be a dangerous thing in the wrong hands.
Part of storytelling is deciding what to make explicit, and what to leave in the imagination of the viewer. We know Typhon feared what might happen if his children ever left Nekrotafeyo. Did he think that his stories would be enough for Tyreen and Troy? Why didn’t he foresee that his stories might have the opposite effect of what he intended? The tragedy we wanted to set up was a man who’s gotten through life by the skin of his teeth, through perseverance and more than a little luck. But as Typhon admits, “I was a first-rate adventurer but a third-rate pops. What kind of hero are you if you can’t even raise your own kids?”
Hidden on Nekrotafeyo are two ECHO logs in which Tyreen and Troy conspire to leave Nekrotafeyo. In these, we discover that the stories have instilled in Tyreen a sense of destiny. Sirens are special, and because her Siren ability is to leech lifeforce, the Vaults represent the ultimate potential manifestation of her powers. Troy, however, is clearly hesitant. It’s not immediately clear to him that Tyreen’s plan is to leave their father behind. But when confronted with the choice, Troy realizes that he’s bound to Tyreen. Without her, he’ll die. What choice does he have but to stay by her side?
Armed with a lifetime of knowledge on the corporations and Vaults, they plan their takeover. As a symbolic gesture, they choose to take their mother’s surname: Calypso. As homage to their mysterious upbringing, they name their cult The Children of the Vault. Their birthright. Meanwhile, Typhon remains stranded on Nekrotafeyo, forced to watch what his children have become, and burdened with the guilt that he shares some responsibility for what they’ve done. Which leads to a central question of the story: Why does Typhon forgive us for killing Troy? It’s no small thing to learn that your son is dead, let alone to meet his killer. In the end, Typhon has been forced to see the truth about his children. It’s not an easy thing to come to terms with, but as he notes, they’ve become monsters. “And Vault Hunters kill monsters.”
Early on in their lives, it seems clear that Tyreen was the instigator, and Troy the follower. But the root of his villainy is in how he enters this world. Conjoined to his sister. A Siren in tattoos only. Troy is broken, and completely dependent on his sister’s powers. That dependency is what twists his view of the world. It’s what compels him join Tyreen in abandoning their father. We can imagine that after his children abandon him, Typhon experiences a type of grief not felt since Leda died.
By the time we meet Typhon face to face, he’s been forced to confront a harsh reality. He chose to tell his children stories to protect them, but in doing so, he might have doomed the universe. His personal grief becomes secondary to the fate of the universe. He knows that if Pandora opens, his home planet will be ripped apart. And if Tyreen leeches the Destroyer, she’ll become unstoppable. Part of Typhon’s uniqueness as a hero is that the moral failure is not on us for killing Troy, but on Typhon for not seeing his monstrous potential sooner.
Ultimately, Tyreen appears to stop us from closing The Great Vault. For a moment, she’s transported back to her childhood, and what it was like growing up the children of the most famous man in the galaxy, the legendary Vault Hunter Typhon DeLeon. But her journey has twisted her. The power and the fame have corrupted those childhood dreams into something darker and more insidious. These dreams of stardom have consumed her:
When Troy and I were kids, we’d stare up at the night sky and dream of becoming stars. The brightest in the galaxy, Troy always said. So we left this place behind. Went to Pandora to become Vault Hunters ourselves. We’d open the Vault of Vaults and become the biggest stars in the galaxy. They seem so small now, our dreams. Not befitting a god. Now I’m gonna devour every last star in the universe, one by one, until nothing shines but me.
Typhon attempts to stop his daughter, but she’s grown too powerful for even him. His generation is fading. It’s up to the new generation. As he dies, he asks us to make a promise. “Don’t be the last Vault Hunters.” To pass the torch, you have to let go.
*This article originally appeared on Borderlands.com. All images copyright Gearbox Software/2K Games.