Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Genre: “Call it a comeback” loot-and-shoot action RPG
It’s hard to talk about the major third entry of a landmark loot-savvy action-shooter RPG franchise by just going through everything on a surface level. You know, the kind you see on sites that got the review codes prior to the game’s release.
No disrespect to my peers who got an early copy and got their reviews out on the 9th September in the late evening, but odds are they dabbled a bit with each class and just mained one guy/girl for the rest of the campaign.
One really needs to take a long-ass approach of at least getting the playable classes -hunter FL4K, gunner Moze, operative Zane, and Siren Amara- to a substantial fleshed-out level. There’s also the sidequests that flesh out the stories and lore of Pandora, the game new antagonists, the new settings and planets, and a ton of other things to unpack.
I doubt a broken pre-release version of the game that’s garnering Metacritic first dib scores will do the game justice. So I’ve decided to formulate my entire review in an F.A.Q format and play it the old-fashioned way: with people who have the game at launch. It’s way too easy to review this game as a critic because you can just pull out “if you like Borderlands, you’ll love this” card. Or the “this game won’t change your mind if you hate loot-and-shoot games” card like everyone else.
It’s better that I just take my time with the game -thanks long weekend in Malaysia- and do my best to answer everyone’s inquiries. Without further ado, let’s fire away!
I loved Destiny 2, Warframe, The Division 2, and Anthem. Will I love this game?
First, you’re lying about Anthem. Shame on you.
Second, yes you will. Borderlands 3 is hella fun gameplay-wise considering the series started the genre that Bungie, Ubisoft, and EA duplicated and imitated from. Everything that made Borderlands 2 magical – the core loot-and-shoot mechanics and “one more session” addictive feel when in a group shooting psychos, skags, and other beasties in sight- is amplified further in this sequel.
Gearbox clearly took some mechanics from past shooters and other loot-and-shoot imitators in the past three years to perfect Borderlands 3’s combat and movement. Sliding, mantling, and pinging: these are welcome additions to an already-improved rewards-based gunning experience.
The additional heft and feel when controlling characters and using the plethora of different guns just feel really good, whether you’re on keyboard and mouse or on a controller. Your pistols are light but they fire fast; even the ones with low fire rates like most Torgue guns. Some of the manufacturer’s guns have alternate firing modes you can switch between.
Personally, the shotguns here are given their due; they occasionally knock back lighter enemies if you do critical damage, and some of them even shoot out exploding elemental orbs like mini-mortars. Brilliant, really!
Even if you have problems jumping and grabbing ledges, you can select “auto mount”. And thank god for pinging, because there are times I don’t want to waste my breath telling people about bad guys and hidden loot stashes.
How are the new Vault Hunters this time around?
As kids these days usually say, they’re lit as all heck. One really cool thing about Borderlands 3 is that everyone has up to three different action skills to choose and play around with. This opens up many, many gameplay possibilities.
Apart from cloaking, my FL4K can just dish out a lot of elemental damage by summoning a horde of Rakk. And after much experimenting and finding out that the Rakk attacks are hot garbage, I just decided to put all my skill points in making the most out of Gamma Blast. This means I’m hulking out my Skag and powering the both of us up with yellow buffs aplenty.
You ain’t lived until you’ve teleported a raging giant carnivorous dog-mutant thing into a group of psychopathic bandits, squirting radiation and all sorts of disgusting debuffs like a casting call with Ron Jeremy.
My Moze just sets everything on fire; double Salamander flamethrower action with criticals that replenish my magazines so that I can keep on firing. It’ll take a while for the Iron Bear mech to just drop to the ground and unleash hell, so I’ll have to make do with my guns.
I made sure that she carries only Vladoff and Dahl guns to get that damage bonus from one of her skill tree skills, and be certain that their magazine count is high. She also has an easier early game because most enemies within the first 4 hours are susceptible to incendiary/fire.
My Zane is the best guy to bring solo because of his teleports, shield, and digiclone shenanigans. The fact that he can also summon a flying harassing SNTNL bot helps a lot too with my lone gambits while I’m matchmaking for Proving Ground and Slaughterhouse multiplayer PvE modes for overleveling purposes.
Sure, you may have to forsake using a grenade to have these two unique skills, but one of the SNTNL’s skills lets it drop a grenade now and again, so you won’t miss that at all.
And finally, my Amara just brings the smackdown up-close and personal. If she gets shot at, she can summon a small elemental globe that tracks and explodes. Her damage output goes up the closer she is to a target, which makes her melee attack a potential one-hit kill tool. She can groundpound and affect everyone within a radius. My personal favourite is modifying this move so she can do a “Hammer of Dawn” laser satellite move in the air before diving to the ground and wrecking stuff up. She even gets melee, gun damage, and health buffs for a few seconds after said elemental Phaseslam.
Like I said, those aren’t the only ways you can play the game with the classes. The beauty of Borderlands 3 is that with these action skills and the constant respeccing, you’ll find that sweet spot to play the game either by yourself or with three others.
What about the loot?
Yes, there is a ton of loot. Lots of it, and it puts many imitators to shame.
For classic Borderlands fans, the Conference Call shotguns, the corrosive-savvy Hornets, and the Bitches SMGs are back and are arguably better than ever thanks to the improved gunplay.
New weapons include a cousin to the Conference Call shotgun, the Brainstormer, that draws enemies into a Shock-filled vortex of fun and death, a Jakobs rifle that shoots out additional four-way explosive shots when it hits its target, and an ode to a Siren’s OP Corrosive-savvy kill skill in SMG form.
Personally, the ones worth keeping are the novelty legendaries. Like this Super Mario Bros. tribute below. It’s really exciting to find out what you’ve discovered when you hear that Purple or Legendary drop sound.
Somehow, I seem to get a lot more pistols than usual in my first playthrough. However, that feeling usually fades away once you see how purple and orange loot drops at an exorbitant amount if you’re in the endgame and if you turn on certain parameters.
This is where Mayhem mode comes in. After you’re done with the game’s well-paced yet questionably-written story campaign (more on that later), you get to put in difficulty modifiers in your current game to amp up the challenge and loot drop rate. Each level of Mayhem (up to three) lets you beef up your enemy health, make them impervious to most weapon fire, and even weaken your character a tad in favour of better loot drops.
Protip: don’t complete ALL the sidequests during the campaign; you’ll want to save most of them so that you can level up your character against enemies scaled to you post-campaign.
Sounds like gameplay is a huge improvement.
Almost. The bosses, while cool-looking in design and fun to fight, are tailored for co-op play. Most of them have punishing attacks that can waylay you straight to Fight For Your Life mode (ie the bit where you’re keeling over and dying and you can only revive yourself by killing something nearby). Some of them have HP and shield up the Mars Bars wazoo; hello Killavolt and The Warden!
Still, the game chucks a bunch of minions near you so you can FFYL your way out of a jam. But really, it’s no shame to get a buddy or a random person helping you out here. It’s an odd design choice really, but it does encourage you to team up.
Bottom line: it’s hard to return to Borderlands 2 after playing 10 or so hours of Borderlands 3. Assuming the game runs just fine.
Does it run fine?
Well, yes and no. My current i7-8700 and NVidia GeForce GTX 1060 6GB PC setup is running the game at 60fps just dandy. However, there are a ton of UI, display, and in-game bugs left and right. NPCs moving funny, your companions “glitching out” halfway in a stage, fast travel buttons being a bit wonky, some graphical glitches, and stuff like the video below.
Even with these issues, they do not completely hamper the experience. It’s definitely due to the aforementioned gunplay, diverse skillsets of the new Vault Hunters, and the accessible co-op modes and matchmaking.
Speaking of which, is the co-op experience enhanced?
Yeah, because you don’t have to worry about matchmaking with someone over or underleveled than you. Borderlands 3 implements a scaling system for co-op where everyone in a game is set the host’s stage level. Which means my level 50 FL4K can join up with my level 10 or level 20 peers without me one-hit killing everything with my Incendiary-powered Crossroad SMG, thus making the game less fun for everyone.
Of course, if you prefer it that way, you can always toggle Co-Opetition mode on and keep it old-school.
Can you play offline? And splitscreen?
You can play online and offline Borderlands 3. You can even play on the same screen, but it’s horizontal. And it has problems on PS4/PS4 Pro.
Just a heads up for those who plan on getting the console version.
Ah yes, consoles. Which version has better framerate & performance-wise?
I’ll say this: it runs horribly on the base PS4 and Xbox One consoles. If you have the PS4 Pro or Xbox One, it looks just dandy in performance mode. You cannot play this game on 30fps or less; that’s so last gen.
Either way, the PC version is the best way to go. If you really need the game on console, you’ll need to fork out money for a PS4 Pro or Xbox One to get it running on a respectable current-gen level. Borderlands 3 is also proof of a triple-A company trend that refocuses their efforts away from base consoles. But hey, them’s the breaks.
Let’s talk single-player mode. How does it fare with the rest of the series?
The 7-year wait for a true sequel hasn’t been kind to Gearbox Software in the narrative regard. The campaign pacing and levels are fun and well-structured. True, you still get a lot of open-air spaces with different backdrops. But hot damn, these arenas are fun to trek around and jump on thanks to your new sliding and mounting moves.
The vistas and worlds themselves are top-notch, from the jungles of Eden-6 to the astral-looking pink-and-white motifs of Athenas. Granted, I would love to see more Athenas, but the last planet in the game will sort out everyone’s outerworldly eye candy jollies.
This is probably a small thing, but the posters containing sidequests now have this cool hologram popping out. It’s a nice touch.
Time for the story, which was a highlight in part 2. What’s it about this time?
Four new Vault Hunters help the Crimson Raiders led by Borderlands siren Lilith find Vault keys before main villains and twin sibling sirens Tyreen and Troy Calypso discover them for evil god-making purposes. It’s an easy story to pick up for newbies for the series and a nice callback for fans.
But as a capstone to the game’s narrative legacy? That’s an iffy subject we’ll get to….
Elephant-addressing time: are the Calypso Twins better villains than Handsome Jack?
Short answer: hell no. Then again, it’s hard to top one of video game’s most ruthless and memorable villains who is up there with Andrew Ryan, Jon Irenicus, Sarah Kerrigan, and Senator Armstrong.
Long answer: It’s a tough act to follow.
I get where Gearbox is coming from. In 2012, the team raised the bar of video game villainy with Handsome Jack. He had a tragic backstory fleshed out in two games, was utterly ruthless from start to finish in Borderlands 2 despite the game giving some insight to his origins and his time before he was “Handsome” to make him a tad bit sympathetic.
Tyreen and Troy are decent villains. They’re the worst aspects of streamer culture if a duo’s livestreaming efforts made them holier-than-thou and somehow manage to recruit billions of psychopaths to die for your cause for free.
And their kill count proves that their no slouches in the evil department. Later bits in the game showcased why they ended up as such; the term “broken upbringing” comes to mind here especially given their environment.
But to truly cement your place as a great story villain, you need to have charisma and relatability. The Calypso twins kind of have that, but the game’s writing doesn’t flesh it out in a clever way like part 2 did. Comparisons are inevitable, but it shows the strength of gameplay and writing working together to a point.
In fact, one sidequest late in the game (spoil it at your own risk) further proves that Handsome Jack left a huge void for Gearbox to fill. And the twins only filled it up a quarter of the way in.
In other words, no. They’re not any better, but they’re not completely one-note either. They still have their moments, particularly in the second half of the game.
I’m a Borderlands fan since parts 1 and 2. Will part 3 do its lore and humour justice?
Probably a little. Maybe. At least when consistency is concerned.
If you are a Borderlands franchise lore hound and loved the stories from part 2, the Telltale games, and the Pre-Sequel, you may be pissed off at some of the fatal choices the director and writers made here, especially with a particular fan favourite or two.
Even the game’s attempt at humour is incredibly divisive, and this is coming from a guy who appreciated the juvenile and meme-savvy bits of Borderlands 2. Humour is subjective, I’ll give it that, but the majority of it here feels try-hard.
And the less said about Vaughn the obnoxious abs-obsessed bandit leader, the better. And there’s still no skip cutscene button.
7 years and Gearbox still want to flaunt their story bits even for players who want to play this more than once.
Furthermore, the gaming (and entertainment) climate since 2012 has evolved(?) into what seems to be a politically-correct culture overloaded with live streamers and influencers. It seems as if the writers here are trying to combine the mindsets and templates of the past with what’s “lit” this generation. It honestly doesn’t work as a whole.
Nonetheless, there are a few highlights worth salvaging from the dogpile. These include the sweet relationship between Hammerlock and Winthorpe Jakobs, the Family Jewels and Carnivora questline with well-casted cameos, the bit with the final planet with the funky name, and Borderlands 2‘s Zer0 and Maya doing their thing.
The team at least fleshed out the new Vault Hunters via their unique dialogue with the game’s NPCs. It helps make them characters you’ll want to invest in be it the loud-and-proud Amara to the robotic FL4K voiced by that Asian guy on YouTube who pokes fun at anime and gaming tropes in less than a minute.
Still, those aforementioned flaws can sour your experience if that’s what you’re looking for. Think of this like your favourite band making a comeback 7 years later. They still sound great but it’s somehow missing a few key band members that made it stellar.
I do hope Gearbox takes in future feedback when making their DLCs especially when it comes to the aforementioned fatal choices.
On that note, please keep Ice T on for further Borderlands, Gearbox, and 2K Games projects.
Does it still have those silly-looking Siren moments where Gearbox hires some cosplayers to stare at you and occasionally smile while they’re talking to you in your mind?
Yes, and it still looks stupid now.
Do the humanoid story bosses still scream bloody murder continuously if they’re waylaid with elemental effects?
Yes. That poses a problem if you are keeping an ear out for narrative bits in campaign boss fights. At least there’s no sign of ad nauseam sound clips ala “Look out, the lava’s rising! Get to high ground!”
I’m a newbie to Borderlands. Will I enjoy this?
Yeah, you will. If you have no attachment to the series, this is the best entry point despite the number 3 on the title. The story flows just fine for newbies and the game is designed with that in mind, even right down to the endgame.
I’m a PC user. Should I wait for Borderlands 3 to come out on Steam?
In all seriousness, if you’re really into checking out the gameplay evolution of a loot-and-shoot game with all the trappings of an improved co-op game with better classes, loot hoarding, and a ton of things to do, then you should get over your Epic Games hate and get the game right now.
Lord knows how long you’ll have to wait for the Steam version, but it is worth the money for fans of the genre. But if you’re in it for mostly the narrative, then don’t. And if you really, REALLY want those Steam achievements, then don’t.
Should my negative thoughts and feelings on Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford and Chris Hardwick (who voices Vaughn) affect my enjoyment of Borderlands 3?
No, it shouldn’t. Despite the fact that these men have done some crazy nasty s***, with Hardwick being an alleged case, it’s not a good reason to miss out on a pretty good return to form for loot-and-shoot games.
I’ll admit, the game isn’t such a transcendent experience to make one forget about the times Randy Pitchford lied to people about Alien: Colonial Marines and also pull the victimhood card because he doesn’t realize that microtransactions are not one-sided evil mechanics at the time. Still, it does prove that the game is good enough to not be tarnished greatly by the actions of its developer’s CEO.
Is this game an SJW fest?
God no; there’s no agenda here. It’s just a sci-fi epic with new Vault Hunters and the loot-hoarding shenanigans they’re involved in. Get over it.
How would you sum up Borderlands 3 in a nutshell?
Three steps forward, a couple more steps back. Still worth playing again and again.
Borderlands 3 is a great new start for the franchise after 7 long years, but it’ll need a couple more tweaks, game-changing DLC, and some more refinement to sit alongside its peer as the de facto loot-and-shoot experience. I’ll still play it after writing this, but it’s hard to turn a blind eye towards its incumbering flaws.
- Great gunplay and controls with big rewards.
- Diverse cast of playable classes with unique skillsets.
- Endless hours of campaign, sidequests, and endgame loot-farming action.
- Lovely-looking sci-fi world.
- Good story & campaign flow for newbies to the franchise.
- Story and villains are weaker than past iterations.
- Obnoxious NPCs galore.
- Bugs & technical issues, depending on which version you’re playing.
- Still can’t skip cutscenes.
FINAL SCORE: 70/100