The late-night grind is back.
There is something wildly satisfying every time I storm an enemy encampment in Borderlands 3. in the case of Bandits, they start every encounter yelling at my arrival, shouting their intent to smash my head in, but it always ends in them screaming in pain as I’m setting them on fire, or chucking money grenades by the dozen, seeing showers of cash explode all around their flaming corpses, to say nothing of the elemental effects and abilities brought to the table via my fellow Vault Hunters. Borderlands 3 may just be more of the same experience we’ve had before, but damn if it ain’t a blast.
I lost count at how many times I shut my Xbox off at 2 or 3am after we’d agreed to “just one more quest” and five or six quests later we would be approaching a vault boss and just blindly pushing through, rarely checking our phones until after we’d retreat back to Sanctuary and be shocked at what time it was. It’s been an age since a game has made me lose track of time so often, but Borderlands 3 just has that addictive charm about it that the series is well known for.
Surrounded in a vast array of controversy, mostly around its CEO, Randy Pitchford, and that of its Epic Game Store exclusivity on PC, Borderlands 3 has been a repeated talking point through many gaming outlets, twitter rants, Jimquisition videos, and various Reddit forums for years now. Despite this, Borderlands 3 has been one of 2K’s fasting selling titles ever, and frankly, there is a good reason for it. Borderlands 3 may feel outdated in some ways compared to the modern gaming landscape, but it brings with it much of what gaming used to be about; a fun experience you can have with or without friends that rewards you the more you play. While the ability to purchase cosmetic items is going to find its way into Borderlands 3 eventually, the typical rollout of scummy loot boxes or paid currency is currently not in the cards for the title, to much surprise. That said, there is a vast array of skins and other cosmetics that you just earn by playing and killing enemies like you would be doing anyway. Currently, I have well over a few dozen skins and various weapon trinkets filling up my inventory to allow me to change up my look at any moment.
Borderlands, in many ways, was the original looter shooter. It had engaging gunplay mechanics with a Diablo-style loot system that was so incredibly satisfying when you found that one perfect gun that made you feel like an absolute badass. With each iteration, the addiction grew, the weapon variety bigger, and Borderlands 3 tops what’s come before it with even more options to customize your character. There are more weapon manufacturers, more stat tables, more unique traits, and even hidden perks to many of its legendaries. You now have weapon trinkets to add to your arsenal, as well as a huge variety of weapon and character skins to unlock and earn. The gameplay loop Borderlands pioneered is still here and is wildly satisfying with incredibly satisfying shooting, in more ways than many of its imitators just haven’t been able to copy, apart from maybe Destiny. As you push through the campaign, you’ll unlock new difficulty tiers and new game plus systems that increase the odds at better loot given you’re up for the added challenge.
Apart from its varied loot, Borderlands has always been a series based around humor and the crazy situations that our beloved Vault Hunters would find themselves in. One of the most defining aspects to why Borderlands 2 is still my favorite of the core Borderlands games is through the hilarity that came with writer Anthony Burch. The characters he created and the type of humor was genuine and actually funny. While much of it was snide commentary and crude humor, it rarely ever felt like it was throwing everything at the wall and expecting something to stick. Here, Borderlands 3 lacks Burch and what he brought to the series and while much of what is here is and can be funny, most of it feels tired and forced, like everyone in the room had a joke they wanted telling at that moment and no one could silence themselves for the better laugh. You have a character like Vaughn, returning from Tales from the Borderlands, who has a few good laughs, but then his shtick is driven into the ground a dozen times over and it never lets up, losing the impact his humor once had. For a character I was excited to see show up early in the game, I eventually got to a point where I just wanted him to shut the hell up and go away.
While the writing here for the story is solid with some surprisingly touching moments, it can be fairly predictable and much of its bland and unfunny humor can get in the way. Now, that said, there are some quests that really work, with some well-written segments like helping an AI stuck in a teddy bear voiced by Ice T break into a ship, or when you go back to Pandora to stop a series of Bandit leader auditions. There’s even a quest where you’ll attempt to save someone from the clutches of an entire bandit family that had me stitches that really shows there is some quality stuff here. Borderlands 3 has a metric ton of side quests and engaging activities, it’s just a shame that many of them feature some cringe-worthy dialogue alongside them. There are a few moments to the main story that I saw coming, mainly due to certain aspects of the game featuring a bit too prominently to not be some sort of tell. Also, across all cutscenes present in the game, your Vault Hunter is not featured in any of them. In fact, despite the story requiring you to move events forward yourself, no single story cutscene features you at all, despite your character being present during those events. When some of these events drastically change the status quo, it feels odd that your character is not involved in preventing these things from happening, or at least there and failing.
While Handsome Jack became quite the iconic villain throughout the series, the Calypso Twins, Tyreen and Troy, are fairly interesting but lack that charm Jack brought with him. These two poke fun at the Influencer movement that is currently happening in gaming culture with their nods to followers and numerous live streams. They are entertaining, but Troy gets the short end of the stick through the main narrative unless you take in several of the side quests where he’ll have a much larger role there through a series of voice recordings. As Borderlands 3 is packed full of fun and engaging boss encounters, his was less so, while Tyreen’s was quite the struggle and was vastly enjoyable. I will say that out of the entire boss lineup, Killavolt, and The Agnoizer 9000, which features a duo of characters I was delighted to see show up, were the highlights of the game for me, standing out as the best encounters hands down.
Previous Borderlands games had various issues with different leveled players grouping up and problems with the overall loot system because of it, and Borderlands 3 fixes all that by allowing any level of player to play alongside anyone with individually leveled enemies and their own instance of loot. A level 5 player will encounter level 5 content while their co-op partner, who is level 40, will have enemies and loot that match their own level. This allows anyone to play alongside their friends who have already hit level 50 and they themselves have just installed the game. Loot can be changed from shared to individual drops, allowing everyone to get their own instance of loot instead of one player swooping in and grabbing all the good drops.
Gearbox has stated that no future DLC will add new characters, so the four new Vault Hunters were designed around offering three unique versions of themselves through a series of three skill trees. You have Amara, the Siren, who possesses phasing abilities such as using her phase arms to erupt from the ground, slam enemies around, or even grab onto them, keeping them in place. Amara is who I mained during my playthrough as she’s just a riot to use for some serious damage. FL4K, the Beastmaster, is a robotic threat that can call on the help of three unique creatures. You can also summon rakks to dive-bomb enemies, or depending on the skill tree you’ve chosen, enlist the help of other local creatures as well. Moze, the Gunner, is designed around close combat and jumping into her highly destructive mech for some insanely fun shooting. Lastly, is Zane, the Operative. Zane has the unique ability to swap out a grenade for an added skill, making him twice as lethal while also having the ability to deploy a clone of himself, let loose an attack drone, as well as some insane health regeneration. Even with just four characters, the vast differences in the skill trees truly make each build stand out in a way that you could have a team of four of the same character and have them all act, look and offer different abilities on the battlefield.
While Borderlands 3 starts on the well-used backdrop of Pandora, you’ll be planet-hopping across the galaxy to several other planets. You’ll visit the futuristic metropolis of Promethea, home to the Atlas headquarters, Eden-6, a backwater swampland, and the once peaceful mountain range of Athenas, which sadly is only a fraction the size of the others. Each location, apart from Athenas, has a wide range of connecting locations that are incredibly massive and offer numerous secrets and dozens of bases to explore and conquer. The sheer scale of how many locations to explore across them all is staggering and can make clearing the map a huge time sink. Thankfully, to get around these massive locations, you have a wide arrangement of vehicles to unlock. As you hijack enemy vehicles and bring back those you haven’t seen before to the catch-a-ride, you’ll unlock new components to create custom vehicles of your own. The hijack system is vasty fun and makes for some insane action moments when you’re caught in the thick of vehicle warfare and jump out of yours to claim another for yourself.
Once you’re done with the campaign, Borderlands 3 offers a wide range of activities and features to help you get the most out of the game and your character. Upon wrapping credits on the story, you’ll unlock Guardian Rank, which is similar to Badass Rank from Borderlands 2. Presented as a second experience bar, you’ll sink points into various stat increases that unlock skins, perks, and other items the more points you put into a certain category. You’ll be able to inject more experience into your character by either jumping into harder tier difficulty modes through mayhem, or by the two additional modes; Circle of Slaughter, and the Proving Grounds. Circle of Slaughter is a wave-based mode where you’ll join alongside other players in an effort to keep pushing through increasingly harder waves of enemies on a variety of different planets. Proving Ground is more akin to a Destiny Strike where you’ll fly through a series of enemies to get to a boss by completing special objectives to earn better loot. These modes are wildly fun and given that the mayhem mode ups the loot chance the harder you set it, it gives you a ton of chances to see even more legendary weapons drop at your feet. Just make sure to have individual instanced loot on when playing with randoms as they will often neglect enemies to snatch away any and all higher tier loot.
There is yet another song added to its opening, a standard inclusion to the franchise, but I really didn’t care for it, especially as to play as each of the characters, you’ll need to push through its opening and that song a total of four times. While I’m glad to see Ashly Burch back as Tiny Tina, who isn’t so tiny anymore, It’s sad to see that Claptrap and Rhys have been replaced, and while the voices are similar, some lines do stand out as not even close. The rest of the voice cast consists of industry vets, some fairly well-known Youtubers, Cosplayers, and Singers; fleshing out characters such as FL4K himself, played by Sungwon Cho, and even Cosplayer Liz Katz as a deranged bandit named Bloodshine.
Borderlands 3 from a visual standpoint is about what you’d expect from the title without it coming off as massively impressive. Graphics are a bit sharper and while some blurry textures exist, this is still a very good looking game given its art direction. Regardless of which console you play it on, resolution and framerate spikes hit dramatically and can often result in terrible slowdown and despite the Xbox One X having two performance modes to assist where it can, this game was clearly not optimized in any regard. It still looks nice, but it’s clear that patches are needed to get this game running considerably smoother, especially since split-screen on any console runs incredibly piss poor, especially when someone tries to bring up their menu. While I can’t attest to other problems on other platforms other than the Xbox One X/S, it is the painfully slow menu’s that can cause the game to slip into single frames. That said, I’ve also had the game lock up numerous times while accessing my inventory, as well as when navigating the poorly designed fast travel map system.
Borderlands 3 loves its references and frankly, many of the jokes do work, but when they don’t, they are beyond cringe-worthy and make me miss the humor that was so perfect in Borderlands 2, and even Tales from the Borderlands itself for that matter. Again, that said, I did enjoy the story here despite your Vault Hunter not really being a part of it visually. The Calypso Twins are fun for what they offer, and while they don’t quite live up to the legacy of Handsome Jack, they were solid additions to the series. With a metric ton of locations and secrets to discover and some very enjoyable endgame activities, Borderlands 3 is a tremendous success despite some questionable technical hiccups that just shouldn’t have existed. While Borderlands 3 is still more of the same, it is still downright amazing and you can consider me addicted all over again.
Borderlands 3 was purchased by the reviewer and played on an Xbox One X.
All screenshots were taken on an Xbox One X.