Borderlands 3 is in an interesting position. The original Borderlands was one of the first games to mix first-person shooting with explosions of color-coded loot drops, and since then the genre has expanded in significant ways, giving way to franchises like Destiny and The Division. The last mainline Borderlands game, Borderlands 2, predates both of these, and now the follow-up, Borderlands 3, is releasing in a world where looter shooters are the norm. Does Borderlands 3 have what it takes to stand toe to toe with other genre giants like Destiny 2? Well, yes and no.
Game Name: Borderlands 3
Platform(s): PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Publisher(s): 2K Games
Release Date: September 13, 2019
Borderlands 3 is just more Borderlands. If that sentence excites you, then you’ll like this game. If the series hasn’t clicked with you in the past, it won’t now. The third entry in the series doesn’t do much to shake up the traditional formula of looting and shooting, but it does a lot to improve the mechanics and gameplay. Borderlands 3 takes the obscene amount of weapons from previous games and multiplies it by 100, and each weapon feels better to shoot than the last.
The gunplay has been improved dramatically from Borderlands 2. Each weapon manufacturer’s unique perks are even more distinct than before. Hyperion weapons now have mounted shields in addition to accuracy bonuses for example, and Maliwan weapons can switch between multiple elemental damage modes. Practically every aspect of each weapon is unique, and you can even inspect the weapons in detail to see what modifications your specific weapon has. There isn’t any attachment or part customization, but it’s nice to know what exactly each part of your weapon does to its overall stats, and it helps each weapon feel more unique.
In previous Borderlands games, I would skip weapons entirely if they were from certain manufacturers. I felt that certain brands like Dahl and Hyperion had weaker animations and sound effects than something from, say, Jakobs. In Borderlands 3 though, each brand felt powerful in its own way, and I found myself using weapons I wouldn’t normally equip like Hyperion shotguns or Dahl submachine guns. Everything feels powerful, and the audiovisual feedback you get from firing a gun has been improved dramatically, making the combat more enjoyable than ever.
Every weapon you find in Borderlands 3 will be different from the rest in some crazy way, and that goes a long way in making the game’s progression feel rewarding. The loot grind has been fine-tuned to near perfection. It feels like you get rare and legendary weapons often enough to keep things fresh but spread out enough to keep them valuable. Legendaries and red texts are more powerful than they’ve ever been, and some of their perks can have devastating effects. The absolute creativity and variety in the loot pool cannot be understated, and Gearbox has really nailed the looting aspect of the looter shooter here.
Not only are the weapons incredibly varied, but also the locations you’ll visit throughout Borderlands 3‘s roughly 20-hour campaign. While not the first game in the series that has you leave Pandora (that honor goes to The Pre-Sequel), Borderlands 3 does take you on a journey throughout the Borderlands universe, stopping at a handful of wildly different planets. From the neon cityscape of Promethea to the humid swamps of Eden-6, Borderlands 3‘s environments are richly detailed and full of quests and collectibles. Not being stuck in the brownish-gray wastelands of Pandora for the whole adventure helps keep things fresh, and as a fan of the series, I loved getting a deeper look at other parts of the Borderlands world.
Borderlands 3 also features the best group of playable characters in series history. While it’s difficult to top the original gang that went on to make up the Crimson Raiders or even the group from Borderlands 2 that took down Handsome Jack, Borderlands 3‘s cast of vault hunters are varied enough in personality and abilities to make them my favorite bunch. I played through the game as FL4K the Beastmaster, a robot that can equip one of three AI pets to fight alongside them. I also played up until level 20 as Moze the Gunner, who can call down a mech called the Iron Bear that can be outfitted with powerful weaponry. FL4K’s pets are unlike any other past ability in the series, and Moze’s mech is straight out of Titanfall. They really went above and beyond with the playable characters, and I can’t wait to jump back in and try out a Siren or Operative.
Unfortunately, that’s about as much praise as I can give to Borderlands 3. While it excels in the gameplay department, it falls short just about everywhere else, especially when it comes to the writing. Borderlands 3‘s humor is rooted in meme culture and pop culture references like its predecessors, but while that may have been funny in 2012, it’s not nearly as entertaining now. Out of the hundreds upon hundreds of jokes that Borderlands 3 spewed throughout the campaign, I can count the ones that made me laugh on one hand. Some people will find the game funny, but this type of humor is for a very specific set of people, and I found it annoying most of the time.
Even outside of jokes, Borderlands 3‘s writing suffers. The Calypso Twins are the main antagonists of Borderlands 3, and they are absolutely insufferable. They’re meant to parody obnoxious and loud internet personalities, but in doing so, they just come across as obnoxious and loud themselves. I hated the Calypso Twins, but for all the wrong reasons. There aren’t anywhere near as compelling as Handsome Jack, and while there are some interesting developments with them in the latter half of the game, it ends before anything substantial can happen.
The game’s story as a whole feels vapid. Borderlands 2, while still silly, had decently written characters and things to say. Borderlands 3 just feels loud for the sake of being loud. It really is just good guys killing the bad guys, and any attempts at character building fall flat on their face. Take Tiny Tina, for example. Tina had a ton of growth and character moments in Borderlands 2, especially in the Assault on Dragon’s Keep expansion. Similar things are attempted in Borderlands 3 with some new characters, but they ultimately fail to resonate in any meaningful way. It’s a shame to see this game double down on the obnoxious humor while ignoring the other aspects of Borderlands‘ story fans have enjoyed in the past
Borderlands 3 is also plagued by technical issues, the most grating of which being its unresponsive UI. In a looter shooter like Borderlands 3, you’re going to have to open your menu all the time, which is why it’s especially annoying that the game stutters and hitches every time you open your inventory or switch tabs in your menu. Inventory management is a pain, and you’ll be doing it so often that it’s hard to ignore this glaring issue. Other bugs like enemies spawning inside of walls or NPCs not opening doors also hindered my Borderlands 3 experience, but there wasn’t anything major. It’s just a lot of small things that add up to a lot of frustration.
The one major technical issue I did run into, however, was the framerate. Borderlands 3 runs poorly on everything. I played primarily on PlayStation 4 Pro, which has a resolution mode (4K at 30fps) and a performance mode (1080p at 60fps). Resolution mode is borderline unplayable, and I had to switch to performance mode to even be able to tell what was going on in combat. Performance mode never quite keeps a locked 60fps, but it stays in the upper 40s, which is more than playable. Ideal? No. Tolerable? Yes. I also picked up the game on PC and encountered terrible stuttering problems, even on the lowest of low settings. Whichever platform you choose, you’re probably going to run into some type of performance issue with Borderlands 3.
Despite its problems, Borderlands 3 is a really entertaining shooter, especially with friends. The guns feel great, and there’s an immense amount of variety in the weapons that you can loot. The different character classes offer incredibly unique playstyles too. Now that I’ve gotten through the story, I won’t have to listen to anyone talk to me anymore, so I look forward to jumping back in for some endgame activities. If I do choose to run through the game again on True Vault Hunter Mode, maybe I’ll just mute the volume this time around.
Borderlands 3 delivers on the looting and shooting, but everything else unfortunately falls flat. The four playable classes are the best the series has ever seen, and the loot progression has been fine-tuned to an impeccable degree. Obnoxious characters, painfully unfunny jokes, and numerous technical shortcomings make Borderlands 3 a hard game to recommend to anyone but existing fans of the franchise. If you already love Borderlands, you’ll like Borderlands 3. If you don’t, then this one won’t do anything for you.
- Great gunplay
- Awesome cast of playable characters
- Satisfying and rewarding progression
- Horribly unfunny
- Performance issues across all platforms
- Unresponsive UI