Borderlands 3 is here and with it, we’re given a seemingly fresh take on the series with newly added mechanics, characters, and some familiar faces, but can Borderlands 3 stand out from its predecessors?
+Graphical improvements bring forth Gearbox’s unique art style
+Audio designs are bigger and louder than before
+Tons… And tons of weapon varieties
+New post-game fun adds to the chaos
-Performance struggles are alive and well for split-screen and online play
-Quests can be hard to complete due to missing objectives or unresponsive NPCs
-Mission types mostly consist of “go here, take out the target, return with key item” versus anything else
Let’s be honest here. I planned on NEVER playing Borderlands 3. To be frank – I barely spent time with Borderlands 2 once the DLC began to make its way out the door. It’s not because I don’t like Borderlands by any means necessary. It’s the fact that I’ve been there, I’ve done that, and some reason, I’ve been called to do it again.
But I began to grow curious after reading only a handful of reviews about the game, if Gearbox actually pulled it off or if this was some fluke that a handful of publications had going on. After all, only a handful were given review copies of the game. Even fewer content creators were given accounts ahead of the games official launch.
To top it off – they didn’t even get to keep the game for further coverage post-release. With seven years having passed since Borderlands 2, some things can be a little unsettling about that approach, which is why a copy was purchased for the sake of this review.
To be honest, I’m still a little unnerved by the behind-the-scenes stuff with the game, which left former Borderlands voice actors out of a job for this title, and even made our famous CL4P-TP not feel the same ever again. So, let’s get to our actual review.
Borderlands 3 is more-or-less the same game we’ve been playing for… Well since Borderlands.
When you first start Borderlands 3, one thing becomes very clear: Nothing has changed at all. Marcus still opens up the game telling us a story we never wanted to really hear – or did we? We also once again get slammed into an unskippable cut-scene where the opening events unfold – our arrival to Pandora – of course.
From there, you pick your character, which is previewed as one of the models standing before you. Oddly enough: They feel all-too-familiar. You have the gunner named Moze, Vane the Operative, Amara the Siren, and FL4K the Beastmaster. Again, like before, nothing has really changed.
We’ve felt this familiar feeling before in the previous two games. Just like Gauge, FL4K controls a minion, they can “cast” spells, and control the playing field by overwhelming their enemies. Sure, their ability to go stealth is fun and all, but their real highlight is by their job title as a Beastmaster. The downside? They’re also a blend of Mordecai for those of you who had the chance to use him in the original entry.
While the formula still holds-up to some extent, it doesn’t mean it always works, which makes wanting to be drawn into this brand-new bunch a little harder than it should be. Moze, however, attempts to break that mold with her giant mech which can wield an abundance of weapons including a nuclear-launching rocket launcher, a railgun, or even a machine-gun of sorts.
But again, not a lot has changed, and it all feels all-too-familiar. While it does eventually lead to fun, it begins to make us wonder: What happened to the uniqueness that was Borderlands: The Presequel? The classes there were fun. They were diverse and not a single-one felt nearly the same as to ones we used before.
Well, for the most part anyway. Even the story feels much-the-less the same. You’re called to aid Lilith and her Crimson Raiders against the Children of the Vault, a new cult led by the obnoxiously irritating twin livestreamers Tyreen and Troy Calypso. Just like everyone before them and after them, the Calypso twins are hunting down the Vaults. They want their power, and they’re not going to stop until they are done.
The one twist to this all? They’re crazier than Handsom Jack, they aren’t near as funny as him, and they can also leech powers from Sirens, Vault Guardians, and one another: This includes Lilith who loses her powers from the very start. Just like any entry in the series, the story is much the same using the “And then…” approach, which somehow works better than it did before, drawing players in as they depart from Pandora to explore other worlds.
Just don’t fall in love with anyone single character. It seems that the team took inspiration from George R.R. Martin and has decided to silently re-name the title game Game of Vaults behind the scenes.
Jokes aside, Borderlands 3 takes loot-shooting to an all-new level
Unlike previous titles, Borderlands 3 is much bigger than its predecessor titles. It’s massive in every way possible, which includes the arsenal you’ll get to wield, the type of mods your weapons will have, and what the manufacturers have actually done to their weapons to make them stand out from one another.
Within my first fifteen hours, it was hard not to appreciate the newly-found attention to detail. One core aspect of the game I can appreciate more than most – is the fundamental changes in how weapons actually work and are designed to reflect those that made them. Torgue’s weapons just like before are all about the explosions. Can it rain fire? Check. Can it explode? Check. Can it rain fire AND explode? Double-check.
Hyperion, on the other hand, is quite different; they’re all about defensive capabilities within their arsenal, opting to favor survivability over damage, allowing the user to take out their targets without having to risk their lives (spoiler: You’ll still die). Then you have Jakobs, which face it, is all about classic firearms themselves. Sporting rifle? Check. Magnum? Check. Hand-cannon turned blunderbuss? Duh.
It’s hard not to appreciate these details. They’ve gone further ahead than previous titles, giving each weapon its own unique feel, especially when you get into legendary gear, turning your entire arsenal from purple to orange, allowing for your weapons to do as much damage as they had before – except one thing – it doesn’t stop there.
There’s anointed gear now, which I had to read the Polygon Gear Guide for before I knew what was really going on. This gear isn’t your average gear, it’s gear designed with a specific ability kept in mind, amplifying the weapon or the abilities effect based on the criteria it has stored upon it.
Personally, if you’re me, you’ll find a setup you like. You won’t want to get rid of it, which makes it difficult as there are so many legendaries to actually get to know and enjoy. Want a rifle that shoots snowballs and freezes the CoV jerks before you? Well… There is one, you just got to find it. Want a rocket launcher that will flambe your enemies in both acid and in fire? You can do that.
There are always ways to enhance your loot-grinding fun, but it comes at a cost, which long-time Diablo fans should be rather familiar with since, well – ever.
Borderlands 3 is massive and it’s hard not-to-enjoy it, but it is at the exact same time
One thing that has bugged me about Borderlands 3, still does from start-to-finish: There’s almost too much to do once you complete the base-game experience. Sure, you can go through the story in True Vault Hunter Mode, which does unlock new gear and items you can earn, but it also makes loot drops better. From there, there are different challenge modes, and you can even tweak the overall difficulty of the lobby you are in once you put the annoying Calypso twins and the chaos they unleash upon the universe to bed.
The downside is, those wanting a hardcore challenge won’t get to have it from the very start. You have to earn it. There’s no increasing the difficulty as you play like Diablo III has done since the launch of Diablo III: Reaper of Souls. You can’t just turn Mayhem Mode on and run about blowing things up with reckless abandon. Instead, you have to earn it, which to be honest, kinda sucks.
Once you hit level 23-30, the game becomes a breeze, making badasses and their cohorts feel like cannon fodder while bosses offer a truly unrivaled challenge. I will admit, I had a lot of fun visiting the Tibetan-like planet of Athenas, the swampy-and-stinky marshes of Eden-6, and even the beautiful and cyberpunk-esque city of Prometheus, which, let’s be real, is one of the coolest of them all.
Their downside? Each planet has multiple zones, each planet is also absolutely massive, and each planet has a crap-ton of things for you to complete. Some of the maps are linear dungeons, some are open-world endeavors that require you to clear out every imaginable enemy possible, before heading back to turn in a quest or six. The sobering part of it all? Pandora is the only one that felt like home with its wide-open areas, massive hordes of enemies lying in wait, and massive bosses just around the corner.
The others felt like narrow hand-held zones, each one having you kill a group of enemies, kill the next group, and then head for the… Wait for it… Planet’s boss before moving on to the next one. The repetitiveness feels half-baked and it doesn’t bode well for our latest title. I would have settled for a title with a tunnel-visioned focus on better content, not bigger when it comes to being said and done, but the overall aesthetics for each and everyone is a welcomed change. I really wish we had gotten more of the Jakob’s Mansion.
The mission formula’s don’t change much at all
While navigating worlds that feel completely fragmented can be bothersome, but one formula that becomes more bothersome should bother you more than it bothered me. Mission’s don’t change. They’re a simple design of “go here, kill this guy, collect his loot, report back to base, and done”. There’s not much change to the formula what-so-ever and the fact that’s a key element is a little off-putting for the most part.
There’s not much in the form of “find this piece, open this puzzle, move onto the next area, and let’s see what we can do from there”. There’s no traveling from one planet to the other in order to complete a mission you’d enjoy while darting across the Eridian solar system itself.
It’d been nice to see some of the most unique moments of the game being put on the forefront, emphasized upon even, which could include things such as the hidden Typhon Deleon echos, CoV radio towers, and even CL4P-TP parts for our little obnoxious buddy. The only drawback is they would feel like a chore for console users due to some unexpected performance issues.
Borderlands 3’s technical issues are beyond problematic on consoles
Whether you are on PlayStation 4 Pro or Xbox One X, there’s been one issue we’ve experienced ourselves, and we’ve heard a lot about: Performance. Performance is a major issue and it should be a top-priority one at that when it comes to updates. It’s not uncommon to see your game freeze, chug, or even stutter more than any other game actually does.
This is because Borderlands 3 is borderline absurd. Weapons can easily break the game, shooting off dozens of bullets, grenades, and elemental sprays across the screen, each one hindering the performance of the consoles themselves. Splitscreen is even worse, being almost unplayable for those wanting to play with a pal on the couch.
Aside from performance, there are even a few bugs that make some quests almost impossible to complete without simply restarting the game altogether. Some would get stuck inside the map, requiring a restart of the game, others would be that objectives wouldn’t spawn or the objectives couldn’t be interacted with, leading my coop partner and myself to voice our disgruntlement before starting over once again.
Then there are the insane load screens, while short, do take up some of your precious time and break the immersion you should have when enjoying one-such title. It’s hard to justify it, but it happens even if it is irritating, to say the least. Let’s just hope for a framerate fix sooner than later, especially since the graphics aren’t all that much better than Borderlands 2 or Borderlands: The Presequel.
One second – I have another Vault to raid
While our review has seemingly been more about the bad than good, it’s because you know what you are getting into with a Borderlands title, and as someone who has struggled with the series in the past, I had certainly hoped that a third try would be the charm, which it has been – once you begin dusting off the New Game+ content, which is where the true meat of the game actually is.
It’s just a downer that you have to grind out nearly 25-to-30 hours of a story before you really get into the meat of things. Whether it’s loot grinding, taking on the challenge modes, or even simply exploring with your friends, Borderlands 3 has a little bit to do for everyone, and it’s hard not to say the game won’t grow on you, but if you’re looking for an overall change to the series, this isn’t where you are going to want to go – nothing’s really changed.
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One
Version Reviewed: PlayStation 4
Release Date: Available Now
Cost: $59.99 | $99.99
Well, except that you can now mantle on ledges, get a gun that runs, cusses, and chases your enemies as it blasts away at their health bars, this is just Borderlands being Borderlands, with a slightly upgraded-coat of paint.
Our review is based upon a retail version that was purchased by the writer for the review of the game. For information about our ethics policy please click here.
About the Writer(s):
Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the borders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.