There are few series that are as polarising as Borderlands. There have been three main games so far and they have seen a wide variety of opinions from both critics and players. Some love the mindless fun, crude humour, and looting mechanics while others hate them. Borderlands 3 offers more of the same as it doesn’t do anything radically different than what has come before, so if you enjoyed those games you will undoubtedly have a blast with this.
The gameplay follows the same basic formula that fans are familiar with. You shoot down enemies using a huge variety of weapons to level up your character and find more powerful guns. Essentially, the game works like a first-person shooter Diablo and provides a satisfying gameplay loop that keeps you coming back for more. What is evident is that the team have worked on tightening up the gunplay so that Borderlands 3 feels like a more accomplished shooter. It is still not on terms with the likes of Call of Duty, but you have more control over what you’re doing, which is a welcome improvement.
The changes don’t stop there, either. While this franchise has always been famed for its large weapon arsenal, the guns this time around are far more diverse. Where you might have felt that many weapons in previous entries just had random stats to help boost the numbers, more of the loot you come across has unique characteristics. This helps to give you more ways to approach combat scenarios and take out enemies in even more extravagant methods.
There’s always something interesting to find and this encourages you to check out every weapon you come across in case it has special abilities. Highlights include the gun that sprouts legs and shoots enemies while running along or corrosive weapons that can be planted into the ground to become turrets that will flood the area in acid. I would often disregard many weapons without even giving them a second glance in the earlier games. Now I make sure to read through each item just to make sure I don’t miss anything.
Borderlands 3 has a new cast of vault hunters and the classes they bring along are arguably the best and most diverse in the series. FL4K and Moze, in particular, are great and their special abilities give you a different way to play the game. Using three different pets or jumping into a giant mech to fight opponents is more fun than it should be. The ability to put points into three different skills and switch between them also allows you to change up your playstyle and create a more customisable hero. Zane and Amara aren’t quite as enjoyable to play, although this could be because they are the most similar to classes we have previously seen. This is even more true if you are playing as Amara alone as her special abilities are more focused on support roles and put you in the thick of danger.
Gearbox have brought together characters from all previous Borderlands titles, including Tales from the Borderlands, while bringing some new characters along for the ride. The story takes a more prominent role and concludes the arcs of the individuals we have followed throughout the series so far. I don’t want to spoil anything here, although I do want to point out that Borderlands 3 finishes satisfyingly, even if the newly introduced characters fail to add any real drama.
That doesn’t stop missions, and especially side quests, from becoming very repetitive as you progress through the narrative. Too often, they devolve into fetch quests or just taking out a bunch of enemies without any of the charm that the franchise has shown in the past. On the other hand, the endgame content is good and will keep many players occupied until the inevitable DLC comes in the next few months. Mayhem Mode, which lets you add difficulty modifiers to enemies, is a nice way to get access to better loot and make the boss battles more interesting encounters. In a similar manner Proving Grounds is challenging enough to make it worth playing, as you battle through waves of enemies in a tight time limit. The only criticism about the endgame is that there is no raid boss in the same manner as Crawmerax.
One of the biggest features promoted during the last few months has been the addition of new planets to explore. The best thing about your search for new vaults is that it will take you to different environments, unlike the mostly dusty Pandora deserts. Obviously, this also means you will get to fight enemies you won’t have seen before. However, Gearbox missed an opportunity to genuinely mix up the gameplay and bring some fresh mechanics rather than just swapping out the colour and look. As it stands, going to one of the new areas only changes who you are fighting and the appearance of your surroundings.
There are a few bigger stumbles along the way as well. Being funny in video games is a tough task and there are not that many that have managed to nail it. While the previous Borderlands games hit some right notes, this instalment falls flat too many times. It is a similar problem that Duke Nukem Forever had, as the writers have tried hard to include as many references to pop culture and modern phenomena but it comes off as being too self-satisfied and superficial.
Nowhere is this more clear than with the game’s new villains. Gone is the suave and talkative Handsome Jack, replaced by the Calypso Twins who are about as shallow as characters can be. An obvious attempt to parody internet culture and streaming, they just end up being annoying to the point that you don’t even want to see or hear from them. Even worse, though, is that they are ineffective villains who don’t seem to have any grand plan or motivation for what they are doing.
Gearbox’s new game also has performance troubles on Xbox One. It has become more and more common for big games from major publishers to suffer launch problems, and Borderlands 3 has certainly followed in this unfortunate tradition. Many of you might have heard of the issues that some reviewers experienced with early copies of the game, and while these seem to have been cleaned up a bit with the day one patch, there are still a few problems.
Framerate drops are particularly noticeable, especially during moments when a lot is happening on screen. You will see the framerate stutter if playing four-player co-op when more enemies appear on the field of battle. Speaking of co-op, playing online seems to cause a huge amount of lag, regardless of how strong your connection is. A quick search online reveals that these are not isolated issues, with many users over on the Gearbox forums complaining about them along with save corruption errors. Along with infrequent crashes and bugs with the inventory seemingly moving around items all by itself, Gearbox has their work cut out to get Borderlands 3 in working order.
Unfortunately, nothing has been done to help make the inventory system even slightly more organised. Getting through all your weapons and equipment is still a slog that takes up too much time and effort. Another annoying complaint that has been overlooked is that you can still only track one quest at a time. When almost every other game allows you to mark multiple objectives it makes it look like the developers purposely want to make the game as difficult to navigate as possible.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing about all of Borderlands 3 is that it doesn’t try anything new. The developers have taken an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach. While that means it doesn’t lose any of what made the other games so great, the series has essentially stood still in a world that has moved on. Sure, there are a few improvements that make the gameplay more enjoyable, but nothing is revolutionary.
There has been no proper evolution in the seven years since Borderlands 2 despite the extended period that Gearbox has had to work on its sequel. Although it is a hell of a lot of fun and you will no doubt have a great time with it if you enjoyed the rest of the series, it’s hard not to feel that Borderlands 3 has been left behind somewhat.
A code was provided by 2K Games for review purposes
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Borderlands 3 brings all the fun and enthusiasm that the series is famed for while also introducing tighter gunplay and new locations to explore. Disappointingly, it fails to address some issues that have plagued earlier games and there’s very little in the way of innovative, refreshing gameplay.