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Inspired by games like Diablo, the first Borderlands introduces players to the loot-driven shooter-RPG hybrid gameplay that proved to be extremely successful. Borderlands 2 did it even better. The Pre-Sequel is also pretty good but does come with some odd design choices. The Pre-Sequel released in 2014 along with the start of the episodic spin-off called Tales from the Borderlands which details some events that occurred after Borderlands 2. But we wouldn’t see another main entry for quite some time. Developed by Gearbox Software and published by 2K Games, Borderlands 3 was released for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One in September, 2019, and Stadia in December of that same year. For this review, we played the PC version.
After Handsome Jack’s death and the discovery of numerous vaults on other planets, twin siblings Troy and Tyreen Calypso form a faction called the Children of the Vault consisting of bandits and psychos and they search the galaxy to find and open every vault which will result in mass destruction and devastation. Lilith, the leader of Crimson Raiders, recruits a new group Vault Hunters to stop the twins. Borderlands 3 is another showcase for the brand of humor the series is known for, however we felt that most of the comedy fails to land. New campaigns were added in via DLC and I can’t say we disliked the storylines any more than the main story but the attempts at humor still mostly fall flat. The Vault Hunters will help Moxxi take back a casino, attend a wedding, defend a town from a gang of outlaws, and enter Psycho Krieg’s mind.
Much of the writing aims to be satirical with jokes and pop-culture references that are often not funny or even clever and some characters are terribly written like the twins for example. A lot of they’re actions are a parody of influencers and streamers but the writing never says anything clever and as a result, they just come across as uninteresting and annoying. The voice performances are on par with the previous games and Borderlands 3 does feature some celebrity talent including Ice-T and Penn Jillette.
Borderlands 3 is a looter shooter and retains much of what made the gameplay in the previous games great. We feel the gameplay is the best the series has to offer up to this point. The gunplay is phenomenal and most of the refinements and new additions and changes are excellent. Movement in general does feel a more fluid. You can pull yourself up onto ledges, slide, and perform ground slams. Badass Rank was replaced by the Guardian Rank system which is unlocked after beating the main campaign. It’s similar to Badass Rank, tokens and all, and now you can spend tokens on various rewards. Beating the campaign also unlocks the True Vault Hunter mode which is like new game plus and Mayhem Mode which allows you to increase the challenge for better rewards.
If you’ve played the previous games, much of the gameplay will feel very familiar. There are four Vault Hunters to choose from, each with their own skill trees and abilities. As you earn experience and level up, you’ll be able to pump points into various skills. Each character can utilize one of their action skills or abilities with the exception of Zane who can utilize two and these skills can also be augmented which changes how they behave.
You kill enemies, explore locations, and complete missions to earn loot and experience. Loot is what it’s all about and comes in many forms and rarities. You can equip up to four weapons, a shield, grenade mod, class mod, and artifact which provides bonuses. You can play solo or with others and the game does support cross-play. Best of all, there are different types of multiplayer modes and we played via Cooperation which means all loot is unique to you as in it can’t be stolen by other players. We also found the loot drops to be the best in the series so far. I was constantly finding legendary equipment and swapping stuff out frequently enough to keep things interesting. At least until after we beat the main campaign. That’s when we started playing through the DLC campaigns and I found myself sticking with certain equipment for much longer stretches and in many cases, it was because the loot that was dropping simply wasn’t better than what I already had equipped.
Borderlands 3 features an excellent variety of weapons from multiple manufacturers and some come with alternate fire modes. I found it best to have an arsenal of different weapon types and sometimes weapons that can inflict different types of elemental damage. Weapons have excellent visual feedback and are accompanied by cool visual effects so most feel powerful and satisfying to shoot. It also helps that enemies can be blown to bits and often gush blood when shot. I also really enjoyed the many weapon styles and aesthetics. From arm-mounted rocket launchers to sniper shotguns, a lot of weapons look and feel awesome.
The Gold Chest which usually contains good to amazing loot returns and once again can only be opened with Gold Keys which can only be acquired from SHiFT Codes. If you acquired the Director’s Cut add-on, you can take advantage of an additional progression system in the form of Vault Cards. You select a card and level it up by playing and completing challenges. Once it levels up, you can acquire loot unique to that card and sometimes you’ll be rewarded with Diamond Keys or so I’ve read. I believe they’re very rare. In all the hours I played, the only Diamond Key I received was from a SHiFT Code. You need them to access the Diamond Armory which contains special loot.
Sanctuary is a ship that acts as the hub area where you can travel to other planets, buy and sell items, customize your character, spend money on upgrades, spend Eridium on weapons and cosmetics, and access the Lost Loot machine which accumulates any loot you missed. You have a room on the ship that can be customized with decorations and weapons and is where you can access your bank to store items. In typical Borderlands fashion, each planet consists of numerous areas separated by loading points and you can fast travel to any discovered fast travel stations. Some areas contain Catch-A-Ride stations where you can spawn vehicles and you can now customize them with different parts like armor, weapons, and wheels among other things. Vehicle parts can be acquired by hijacking vehicles in the environments and bringing them back to the stations to be scanned.
I am happy to say that despite the mission design being relatively unchanged, there is a lack of backtracking. That’s not to say you won’t have to go back and forth between areas ever but it never feels excessive here. Plus, you don’t always have to travel back to the mission givers to turn them in. The planets and environments are diverse but the map screen can sometimes be confusing mainly because of how it shows different elevations. Also, we found Sanctuary in particular to be frustratingly confusing to navigate. We invested over forty hours into this game and despite all the time we spent in Sanctuary, I still have trouble finding specific locations and NPCs unless there’s an icon to identify their location on the map. It doesn’t help that the ship is small and claustrophobic. It’s also worth mentioning that navigating around some of the menus can be cumbersome.
This time around, money as opposed to Eridium is spent on upgrades like increased inventory space and ammo capacity. Eridium is still a rare resource and can be spent on cosmetics, weapons, and other specific things. The developers did place a bigger focus on cosmetics. You can unlock not only various character skins and heads but also echo and weapon skins, trinkets that can be attached to weapons, emotes, and room decorations. Some cosmetics can be purchased at Sanctuary and many come in the form of loot. Aside from the concept of loot in general, all of the customization items, including vehicle parts, give Borderlands 3 a collect-a-thon type of quality which I think is cool. Unlike typical loot, the customization items are permanent additions for your character or profile and you can accumulate enough cosmetics that changing the appearance of your character, weapons, and vehicles can become addictive if you’re into that kind of thing.
Borderlands 3 does feature some of the most diverse locations in the series and the environments are worth exploring. Not just for loot but also for logs, legendary hunts, claptrap parts, and Eridian writing among other things. There’s a lot to see and do and there’s all kinds of enemies that populate areas including bandits, psychos, various alien creatures, and robots. The enemy AI still isn’t great. Many foes rush you and depending on your equipment or if you’re underleveled, some can feel spongey. One thing we do appreciate is that when playing cooperatively, enemies will scale with your level so everyone is equally challenged. Unfortunately, a lot of bosses are tedious because of their numerous invulnerability phases which only seems to pad out the battles. You drain a certain amount of damage and then they’re invulnerable until you take out whatever other enemies appear or do something specific. Rinse and repeat. Depending on your equipment, level, and stats – a boss may or may not be challenging and based on our experience, it wasn’t often a boss gave us a lot of trouble and I can’t say the invulnerability phases make them more challenging.
In addition to everything the base game has to offer, more content was added in the form of DLC and seasonal events. Only one event can be active at a time and they all mix up the gameplay in various ways and feature exclusive rewards. I, personally, enjoyed the Revenge of the Cartels event because it takes you to a cool-looking villa. The DLC campaigns take you to several new locations ranging from areas in the mind of Krieg to a western-themed planet featured in the Bounty of Blood DLC.
Visually, Borderlands 3 is easily the best-looking game in the series up to this point. The series signature visual style is retained and it’s a very colorful experience. I particularly enjoyed how certain colors were implemented into several areas in the Guns, Love, and Tentacles DLC campaign. The visual presentation is very slick, detailed, and diverse. From futuristic urban areas to desert wastelands to swamp lands, there’s a lot to see. Furthermore, the gore and visual effects like blood gushing, muzzle flashes and explosions all look great and help to enhance the action. The gameplay is accompanied by a great soundtrack. Personally, I think Borderlands 3 features some of the best music in the series. There’s a great mix of different tunes. Some are dramatic and tense, others sound more ambient, and I even heard some cool jazzy tunes here and there. On the technical side, we did encounter frame rate dips from time to time when things got really busy along with some other annoying shit.
I do want to restate that we did play the PC version. Three of us played together via LAN. On several occasions, objectives didn’t trigger forcing us to exit the campaign and then go back in which wouldn’t be so bad if the load times weren’t atrocious. Any time we had to travel to a different region, we were forced to stare at a loading screen for a minute or longer. Just launching the game takes a ridiculous amount of time. Even running the game on an SSD didn’t help all that much. One of us was playing from the Epic Games Launcher and the save file got corrupted at one point. There were multiple instances where we lost all audio except dialogue. We also encountered glitchy cut scenes with missing audio. In fact, this occurred during the intro cut scenes for every DLC campaign.
The three of us agreed Borderlands 3 has the worst story but best gameplay in the series so far. It is exactly what you would expect from a Borderlands game and then some. It’s packed with content and the numerous progression systems and loot system make for a very addictive experience. And we love the wealth of customization options. However, not everything has been improved. The enemy AI is still average at best and the core gameplay is relatively unchanged. You run around areas looking for loot and killing a bunch of baddies. Rinse and repeat. It does get repetitive as expected. You’ll never be required to strategize or even coordinate with others so it’s easy to become numb to the action as you go through the same motions over and over. But at least the more fluid movement and better gunplay make it a cut above the rest. It feels great and is a blast to play. Navigating around menus can be cumbersome and sometimes confusing and the numerous technical issues we encountered did hinder our experience somewhat.
Ultimately, we would recommend Borderlands 3 because despite its issues, it’s still is a great time. The gameplay is a big improvement over its predecessors. It retains much of what made the previous games so enjoyable and features a lot of new stuff that makes for a really fun experience. It’s a game that can be enjoyed solo or with others and all the content should keep you occupied for a while. You get plenty of bang for your buck. Definitely check it out.