Developer: Gearbox Software Publisher: 2K Games
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Review Platform: PlayStation 4
Borderlands 3 feels like the most refined version of the Borderlands formula, containing numerous quality of life improvements. While these minor additions may not revolutionise the Borderlands experience, it does a lot to help Borderlands 3 produce the best gameplay in the series. However, Borderlands 3 doesn’t quite stick the landing, with some glaring technical issues holding it back from becoming the crowning achievement of the franchise.
Borderlands 3 introduces a new threat to the galaxy in the form of the Calypso twins, Troy and Tyreen. Together they have united the bandits of Pandora under the banner of the Children of the Vault, a cult that worships the Calypso’s as gods as they stand united to help the twins open the fabled Great Vault. While both Tyreen and Troy are given a powerful introduction, where their powers are truly shown as something that should be feared, their characters never fully develop. Both Troy and Tyreen pester you as your adventure continues, but their dialogue becomes quite repetitive and forgettable. Despite both characters eventually given context for their goal of ‘become strong and rule the galaxy’, it’s too little and too late, and isn’t helped by an incredibly abrupt ending.
Despite these issues, the narrative overall is still strong, due to the fact Borderlands has such a rich cast of characters. Each character in Borderlands 3 are so unique, well-written, and hilarious that they are able to carry the story and the potential repercussions of failure brilliantly. Whether meeting previous characters in the series, or the introduction of new ones, Borderlands 3 absolutely oozes personality.
If (like me) you’re a Borderlands aficionado, and are worried you may not see some of your favourite characters from the series, fear not. Almost every character from previous games appears in some form, and if they don’t get screen time, they are referenced in audio logs that can be found throughout the world. I certainly appreciated the audio logs giving much needed context to certain unanswered plot points, but don’t expect every narrative thread in the series to be resolved in this fashion.
Each side mission in Borderlands 3 feels well-crafted to produce entertaining and enjoyable stories, which contains the iconic Borderlands humour in spades. Some side missions still come down to kill something, or fetch a certain number of certain items, but the stories told throughout each quest is fantastic. There are hilariously over the top missions, stories that help expand the history of certain characters, and some personal quests that truly pay homage to the world of Borderlands. If you truly want to get the most out of Borderlands 3, I implore you to try and play the majority of the side missions available. These well-written quest lines are some of the most hilarious and memorable adventures I’ve experienced in recent memory.
Borderlands 3 introduces four new playable characters, each offering a unique playstyle. FL4K is a Beastmaster and is accompanied by a pet companion; Moze is a Gunner who has her own mech by her side; Amara is a Siren who has the ability to call upon multiple arms; and Zane can create copies of himself to assist during battle. I played a majority of Borderlands 3 using FL4K, and his class is perfect for those playing through the adventure solo, as your pet can be upgraded to heal you if you purchase the required skill. Playing as FL4K I chose to be accompanied by a pet Skag, which I upgraded to be encased in Eridian. I also loved the fact there is a designated ‘Touch Pet’ button, so you can show you affection to your pet after a successful kill.
Despite playing in first-person you will see your character throughout menus during the game, and can customise your character with an array of unique head variations, character skins, emotes, and unique Echo Device themes. I’m also happy to say most of these unlock using Eridian found throughout your adventure, or simply found in loot drops. Killing an enemy in the wasteland only for them to drop a new skin was always satisfying, and reminded me of a time where loot boxes didn’t hide cosmetic items from reach.
The moment to moment gameplay is where Borderlands 3 truly shines, providing a refined, responsive, and super addictive experience. Borderlands 3 includes minor additions, such as the ability to slide, which adds fluidity to movement and the chance for some satisfying shotgun kills. From the initial enemy encounter, everything about the combat experience in Borderlands 3 feels sublime. Borderlands 3 is also no slouch in the challenge department (especially playing solo), with a variety of challenging enemy types. One enemy type (introduced during the second half of the game) is small, but has the ability to shield stronger enemies, making them almost completely impervious to damage. Being pursued by a band of heavies while they are shielded is intimidating, which forced me to make strategic plans on the fly to survive.
Borderlands is known for the insane amount of guns on offer, and Borderlands 3 continues that trend with some truly unique weaponry. Do you want guns with legs? You got it. Want to reload your gun, and then throw your previous gun on the floor as it hunts other enemies like a crab? Sure. Gun variety is no issue in Borderlands 3, and it helps make the already slick combat even more enjoyable.
One of my favourite aspects of Borderlands 3 is the insane detail implemented into each reload animation. These are incredibly detailed, as shotguns will be cocked open and slugs inserted one at a time, massive rocket launchers requiring the energy block to be dismantled and reinstalled, and even weapons that overheat and require to be cooled down with a water pistol. Most weapons also come equipped with a secondary function, which may turn your sniper rifle into a shotgun, or a weapon with two different elemental damage outputs. The options available to customise your walking arsenal of weapons are honestly endless.
The weapons available in Borderlands 3 are also visually diverse, with each manufacturer offering distinct weapon designs. You can also change the skins of your weapons on the fly; and yes, these skins can be unlocked through gameplay. Another strong aspect of the weapons in Borderlands is the fantastic audio design, which delivers impactful/powerful sounds with each shot. Some of the shotguns deliver incredibly satisfying audio with every round, and the fact shotguns can also send your enemies flying into the air, make them deadly and satisfying to wield. I also must mention the sound of your enemies flesh falling onto the ground after a successful shotgun blast turns them to mush, it’s gross, it’s satisfying, and I love it.
All these aforementioned features of the gameplay, combat and weapons, combine to create the smoothest moment to moment experience the series has ever produced.
Those playing cooperatively will also appreciate the two variations of loot systems available, with one allowing each player to find their own unique loot, and the other an old school ‘first come, first serve’ mentality. One of the most impressive technical aspects of Borderlands 3 is the fact that when you play cooperatively, Borderlands 3 is essentially running two separate games simultaneously. Your under levelled partner is no longer a liability, as the enemies on your screen and theirs are scaled to each player’s level, meaning you may be facing a level 50 boss on your screen, but your partner is fighting a level 12 version of that same boss on theirs. The more I consider this feature, the more impressive it truly is. However, due to the added visual effects of an additional player, Borderlands 3 can suffer from regular framerate issues when playing cooperatively. I experienced more issues when playing on a standard PS4 console, but these still appeared while using my PS4 Pro.
Those who have played Borderlands previously will know that the true loot grinding experience comes from the post-game adventure, and Borderlands 3 offers many options to keep your post-game interesting and rewarding. While there is a Level 50 cap (at this stage), players who finish the story are introduced to Guardian Ranks; replacing Badass Ranks featured in previous games. Instead of challenges offering rank points, an additional meter appears and will continue to level up as you play, offering additional buffs to damage, health and loot chances. Players also have the option of activating Mayhem Mode, which will increase the difficulty of your current game, and offer improved loot, additional experience, and higher cash incentives. True Vault Hunter mode is still available, which allows players to bring their character to a new adventure, alongside all their weapons, skills and current rank.
I experienced a major glitch that made my post-game experience more tedious than I would’ve liked. At one point during my playthrough I joined a split-screen character that was just starting the game, using my main character as the cooperative partner. When I returned to my original game, every fast travel point I had unlocked vanished as an option, and required reactivation. This may not be an issue everyone encounters, but it certainly made my post-game a tedious journey. There is no word when the glitch is scheduled to be fixed, and it’s certainly hampered my enjoyment of the Borderlands 3 post-game, which is usually one of my favourite features of the series.
Borderlands 3 also suffers from a variety of poor user interface choices, and constant lag when navigating menus. Almost each menu screen has a half second to one second lag (in some cases more) when navigating your Echo Device, which is a pain when managing your copious amount of loot. Not only that, but the menu system is poorly implemented and many useful features are hidden behind unexplained button presses. After reaching level 50 and Guardian Rank 28, I still don’t know how to easily reach the Challenges menu to see my current progress. The same cumbersome issues plague the Progress Menu, which is broken at the time of writing this review. The progress numbers are inaccurate, stating I’ve completed more missions than are available in the game, and some percentage counters sit at 102% due to these inaccurate numbers. All these issues make managing your inventory a chore, and it will mean a lot of your time will be spent navigating some slow and cumbersome UI.
I also experienced 6 game crashes throughout my playthrough and on numerous occasions NPCs wouldn’t recognise certain mission parameters had been met, forcing me to restart the game. While the save points were always forgiving, these instances occurred too frequently not to be mentioned. I’m hoping a few patches can be released to help fix the number of technical issues I experienced in Borderlands 3, but at this stage (September 27, 2019) the aforementioned issues are all still present.
Borderlands 3 looks fantastic, with crisp visuals as far as the eye can see. There is the occasional texture pop-in, but a majority of the time Borderlands 3 looks pristine. Borderlands 3 offers a range of visually diverse locations, due to the variety of new planets you explore. For instance, the planet Promethea is a neon-coloured city scape that is the polar opposite of Pandora, while Eden-6 is a jungle world housing unique wildlife. The visual diversity of each planet is fantastic, and due to improved vehicle controls exploring each planet is made more enjoyable. Some larger vehicles still control like a tank due to the size, but the newly introduced Cyclone (basically a motorcycle designed as a big wheel) handles like a dream. The Cyclone was my go to vehicle, due to the precise nature of handling and the roaring and powerful engine.
Borderlands 3 delivers exhilarating moment to moment gameplay, which is an absolute delight to experience time and time again. It’s also great to see cosmetic items unlock from genuine gameplay, which is such a minor feature in hindsight, but something that is extremely refreshing in 2019. While the antagonists in Borderland 3 do not eclipse the iconic Handsome Jack, the narrative itself is strong due to the fantastic cast of characters. The side missions are also well-written, and offer a vast array of interesting, hilarious, and entertaining quests.
At this stage, Borderlands 3 has a lot of technical issues. The aforementioned game crashes, UI issues, and the frame rate problems, left me wishing it had a few more months in the oven before launch. It’s a shame because the moment to moment gameplay is incredibly smooth, but the game continues to let itself down technically.
If you’re a Borderlands fan, Borderlands 3 is well worth the price of admission and I highly recommend it. But if you’re not planning to play Borderlands 3 right away, there’s no harm in waiting for a few updates to hopefully stabilize the already enjoyable gameplay offering.