Borderlands 3 Review: Everything You Ever Wanted & Nothing More
I’ll be the first to admit that I have not been a fan of the Borderlands series since day one. I didn’t jump on the poop train from the very first station, and I certainly didn’t appreciate the series until much later when Borderlands 2 came onto the scene in 2012. But Borderlands 2 was a game changer for me. I had just graduated college and my then-girlfriend (now wife) and I were on completely opposite work schedules, thus I had all the time in the world to sit around and play games. Until then I had mainly been a Call of Duty guy. Having RPG elements in my shooting experience was not something I was used to and it absolutely blew me away. The idea of using abilities, mods, stats, and So. Many. Weapons. opened up a whole new world of gaming for me. Borderlands 3 brought that magic back in every way I could have hoped for. The game doesn’t make some of the fundamental steps forward that I could have hoped for, but everything that I loved about Borderlands 2 has been turned up higher and harder than I could have imagined and the end result is nothing but a good time.
The story of Borderlands 3 is centered around the Calypso twins, the not-so-subtle social media metaphors that are looking to rally their millions of followers to help them unlock the power of the hidden vaults across the galaxy. By absorbing the power of these vaults, the twins are looking to literally become gods and rule the galaxy under the thumb of their unmatchable Siren might. There are some interesting twists and turns as with all of the Borderlands stories but ultimately, the story is fairly straightforward. Since this is a campaign that is going to be run multiple times over (more on this later), I think it’s actually a good thing that the main plot points have been kept pretty simple.
One element that I really appreciate being added to Borderlands 3 is the introduction of more lore. Lore is a reference to the story of the world of the game as a whole. How did things come to be the way that they are? How did characters that are in the game act or what did they experience before the events of the game began? The main way this lore is communicated is through the Typhon DeLeon podiums. Hidden throughout all of the open world maps, these podiums give a voice over from the “first vault hunter” of how he found his first vault, his first love, and many of his experiences in between. His clips are easily some of the most fun and interesting tidbits of info that ultimately tell a deep story of the finding of all the vaults and how major plot points of the campaign come to pass. I urge you not to sleep on these. Some are more challenging to find and reach than others, but all are worth making the effort.
From a visual perspective, my experience with Borderlands 3 has felt mostly lukewarm. I can see that in some aspects, the graphics of the game have improved dramatically. Visuals like Siren abilities and boss battles are particularly inspired, but due to widespread technical difficulties, I don’t feel I have been able to appreciate the game to its fullest. Borderlands 3 was supposed to be a high resolution, high frame-rate game when in reality, I had many issues with textures not loading or looking fuzzy/unfinished, and many instances of dropped frame-rates and slow-loading of gameplay. I feel like there will be optimization patches soon that may render this complaint moot, but until then, I don’t feel like the game looks much better or different than the recently remastered Borderlands 2.
Looking past the technical limitations, Borderlands 3 has gone above and beyond creating new places to cause mayhem. Through the story we see more of Pandora, a new city planet, a murky jungle estate, the surface of a laser-shooting asteroid, and more (no big spoilers). The variety of worlds we get to experience is wonderful and lends itself to gameplay that never feels boring or drawn out. Just when I feel like I’ve had enough of a certain aesthetic or enemy type, I’m whisked away to an entirely new area for a fresh challenge. It should also be noted that due to the game looking entirely cell-shaded, it will likely age very well as previous titles have. It’s impossible to look at Borderlands and complain that things no longer look realistic compared to current standards if they never looked truly realistic to begin with. This was a decision made long before the release of the original and it is still paying off in a big way for Gearbox.
Where Borderlands 3 really shines and completely separates itself from previous titles is in how the game feels to play. Everything about the game from guns, to sliding, to reloads, to mantling and so much more contributes to a massively better experience playing this new title compared to older iterations. All facets of shooting feel tighter, more crisp, more precise and significantly more gratifying. The guns pop, feel weighty, and sound better than ever before. Not only do they feel amazing, the volume of unique weapon archetypes is incredible.
With many different weapon manufacturers all making even more different versions of the already many types of guns, you’d expect there would be some crossover in how it feels to fire each of these weapons. I’m extremely happy to say that this is not the case. Everything feels like it fits into the brand that it came from. Jacobs has their old-school revolvers and shotguns which feel like they’re straight out of the wild west. Maliwan’s elemental weapons charge up into laser spitting machines, Atlas and their high-tech but efficient tracking bullets, and even Vladolf and their “more bullets is always better” attitude is so clearly communicated through every weapon they make. There were many instances throughout my 50-ish hour playthrough that I would find a gun with lower stats, but start using it for a while just to enjoy how different it felt to play with compared to other weapons I had found. I urge you to be flexible in your gear. You might find something that you love to use that you hadn’t expected.
All of this talk of varying gear and builds, and it doesn’t even begin to touch the intricacies in gameplay supplied by the skill trees for each character. To preface this report, all of my time playing so far has been on the Siren/Brawler Death Machine that is Amara. All three characters have a three part skill tree where each of the three branches caters to a specific style of play for that character. In Amara’s case, this translates to a stacking gun damage tree (blue), a tank + melee bruiser akin to Brick (Green), and an elemental Siren similar to Maya and the Firehawk (Orange).
As with all Borderlands games, it took me about 20-25 levels of progression for my character to really come online, but once she did, the synergies that you can start creating become incredibly powerful. Using abilities mostly from Amara’s green tree, I was constantly diving into the middle of the chaos punching everything that I could as every melee granted me health, every ability use granted more melee as well as dmg reduction. As long as I keep punching, I literally can’t die. It’s amazingly fun. On top of this, as I have more skill points to invest, I can imbue my weapons with elements catered to the enemies at hand to make my melees and shotgun shells even more deadly than ever before. I can’t wait to see what other gear I can find to make this build even more indestructible and overly powered. My only weakness right now are enemies that I cannot punch. If an enemy is in the air, behind a wall, or continuously pushes me back, I’m exposed and can’t use my main method of survivability.
This is the kind of situation where friends can come in handy. Borderlands 3 has addressed a large concern that players dealt with in Borderlands 2 by allowing players to experience “instanced loot”. What this means is that when an enemy explodes with loot, all of it is mine. Other players in my party see their own loot-splosion so we don’t have to worry about sharing any of that precious loot as we have in the past. Since each of the four vault hunters excel at so many different things, your party should never have a problem dealing with any mob or boss that comes your way. Amara with her elements and punches, Fl4k with his high precision damage, Moze with her scorched earth crowd control, and Zane with his shields and misdirection. Group play can be a blast and I highly recommend you hop in with some buddies for at least parts of the campaign.
One piece of the game I wanted to make sure to praise was how impressed I was with the boss design in Borderlands 3. While there were some that were very standard affair, most of them were extremely fun and introduced some really great boss mechanics that required you to pay attention to the boss and move quickly as a result. With varying patterns of enemy projectiles, bosses that bounce and move around quickly so they can’t be locked down, floors that light up with electricity and many more different things in play, the battles were rarely boring. I highly recommend you seek out as many as you can to make sure that experience everything the game has to offer.
The only major complaint I had about the bosses was their scaling. There were many instances where they would go down with a tough but fair fight, but in a couple of specific cases (Looking at you Kill-a-Volt!!) the boss was introduced in a time where my character wasn’t nearly ready to fight them and made the fight feel way too one-sided. I think this may be easily fixed soon with a balance patch, but we’ll see how Gearbox handles the player feedback.
As per usual the fun doesn’t stop once you roll the credits. With its signature “True Vault Hunter Mode”, you can rerun the campaign to continue building your character towards max level (I ended the campaign at about level 40). On top of this there have been two other major additions to the endgame experience. One is called the Proving Grounds: six different dungeon-esque experiences that you can unlock by finding the pylons located throughout the open world. These give procedurally generated enemies that allow you and your friends a chance at some frantic and chaotic swarms of enemies which is never a bad time.
Secondly there’s Mayhem Modes. Think of these as similar to the Torment modes of Diablo 3. They are increasingly difficult modifiers added to enemies that also increase the XP, Gold, Eridium, and Loot drop rates. This makes the game significantly more scalable allowing for really efficient farming once your build is up to par. Pair these new additions with having four different characters to play, all with different build focuses and you’ve got a TON of Borderlands content headed your way.
I feel like endgame content is where Borderlands could have really brought the heat. With such a focus on gunplay, this series is begging for Destiny-style raid content and there just isn’t any of that here nor is there any on the way according to the developers. Outside of the Proving Grounds and re-running the campaign, there aren’t any activities that are multiplayer-specific activities that might bring players together or do anything beyond “shoot boss, don’t die”. I would have loved to see content where players would depend on skill and communication to carry out task-specific goals. Maybe one day.
Finally, as expected, Gearbox has already laid out a short term roadmap of content additions coming to the game over the next few months including free seasonal events as well as paid DLC that adds new areas, bosses, enemy types, and of course, new loot. The DLC was the shining star of Borderlands 2 in my opinion with the Dungeons & Dragons themed fourth DLC signifying one of the best downloadable content packs I’ve ever played in any game. Needless to say, I’m very excited to see what kinds of shenanigans we’ll be getting up to over the next year.
Borderlands 3 is everything we could have expected from a sequel to Borderlands 2 and nothing more. It doesn’t feel like Gearbox took many risks with this game, but honestly, that’s entirely okay. They saw what people loved about Borderlands 2 and dialed it up to eleven in every aspect for those pieces of what made Borderlands 2 great. I just wish they could have introduced more new concepts to really drive the series forward in a meaningful way. Don’t get me wrong. Borderlands 3 is an incredible game, and if you enjoyed Borderlands 2 or if you didn’t and are looking for a new FPS/RPG/Looter-Shooter to try out, Borderlands 3 is an awesome experience that you should absolutely dive into. There’s so much to explore, see, hear, and feel in this game and I can’t recommend it enough. I just see so much more potential for this game as a platform and I hope that Gearbox can use this chance to bring more depth to Borderlands 3 in the future.
Guest reviewed by TyFighter, a Mixer partnered streamer and content creator with a strong interest in Destiny 2 and Borderlands. Check out his streams for some more interesting reviews, content and gaming knowledge galore.