Borderlands 3 has probably been the most anticipated looter-shooter game in recent years. The hype around it has grown exponentially ever since the big reveal at Gearbox’s PAX East 2019, mainly thanks to Gearbox releasing bits and bites of information every so often to keep the fan-base fed and healthy.
Surely enough, we have gotten games in this genre that have been enjoyable and have attracted loads of players to their folds, Destiny 2 being a fine example. However, nothing has ever gotten quite as close to the people’s hearts as the Borderlands franchise ever has. You can never quite go wrong with it. There is no middle ground when it comes to the random comedy action-paced atmosphere that envelops it: you either hate it or love it. This is a statement that has always been true – tried and proven – for the franchise, and Borderlands 3 is no exception to the formula. Knowing what to expect precisely out of the game, I dived in looking forward to the endless gun grind, accompanied by high expectations for the ever so controversial comedy aspect and a very steep set bar.
It’s worth noting, however, that my playthrough was done on the PC, though this review applies to all systems.
BAZILLIONS OF GUNS
When I say Borderlands, the first thing that comes to my mind is the impossibly vast arsenal of deadly – and sometimes borderline stupid – weapons that the game can potentially provide us with. Emphasis on “potentially”, however, because just like every prior Borderlands installment, finding the right guns can be a dire task all on its own. Offering the delicious looter-shooter formula that people are so madly in love with, the variety of weapons is a blessing, and a frustrating curse. It’s the thrill of the hunt. That one never-ending treasure hunt that we all always feel drawn to. Except you are never truly satisfied with the results, because you know the game can offer you more, and you want more. That’s because, usually, whenever you happen to find a good gun, one you truly click with, taking a step back to settle for the mediocre just doesn’t work.
As we all know weapons in Borderlands 3 come in different tiers: Common as Whites, Uncommon as Greens, Rare as Blues, Very Rare as Purples and last but not least, Legendary as Oranges.
They also added Anointed Weapons, which replaces the Elemental weapons of old. They aren’t an entirely new tier, but rather a way to add more spice to already existing guns. It grants them unique perks that impact your character abilities significantly.
FALLING BELOW THE SET BAR
After the sideways step that the Borderlands franchise took with Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel back in 2014, we definitely avoided another bullet with Borderlands 3.
If we were to draw a line, and at the opposite ends of this line we had Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel and Borderlands 2, Borderlands 3 would be leaning somewhere closer to Borderlands 2. Still not as close to it as hoped. Of course, Borderlands 3 has a more or less satisfying story. It grants character continuity so that many of the fan favorites could come back for more action in the Borderlands universe. And yet, it still falls short in fulfilling the delivery aspect.
Story-wise, we once again fill the shoes of a Vault Hunter of our choice between the four given characters: Amara, the Siren; Zane, the Operative; Moze, the Gunner; FL4K, the Beastmaster. On our way to opening the Vaults, we meet the villains that will be accompanying us throughout the journey: Tyreen Calypso and her twin brother Troy. While getting to know the spotlight villains, we’re showered with most-of-the-time cheap humor that fails to hit the mark – falling into what could be defined as a frequently more cringe-worthy and underwhelming experience. The jokes are flat, with no dimension to them whatsoever, and the voice actors trying to deliver them sound like they are forcing themselves into it. Even during what would be a serious conversation, the characters always seem on edge, waiting for the right moment to hit the player with poorly thought gags.
This roller-coaster accompanies the player the whole time. I won’t lie, but sometimes it got challenging for me to keep listening to the conversations that were being had in the background. Probably also because the characters aren’t as engaging anymore. Returning ones almost seem like they lost their spark and aren’t as appealing as they were in Borderlands 2. New ones just don’t live up to the expectations I had carried on from the earlier installment in the franchise. Tiny Tina – now only Tina – is an excellent example of that flame slowly going out.
The Calypso brothers are riddled by a similar problematic. They stand somewhere in-between dull and exciting. There are a mixture of some great ideas behind their personalities, yet none of those ideas truly shine, leaving them perceived as somewhat incomplete and void. It’s hard to like them, but then again, maybe they weren’t made to be liked to begin with. They are a parody of the streaming community. The embodiment of the most controversial figures we can find out there and a silly representation of the power they could have over the masses.
Or maybe it’s merely because we haven’t had the chance to connect to them for as long as we could with Handsome Jack, a villain that people hated, loved, and loved to hate.
The Calypso brothers fail to deliver their story-line to the player, and, almost as if it were a domino effect, everything else collapses with them.
THE PLAYABLE FOUR MUSKETEERS
Like I’ve pointed out before, our playable characters this time around are four: Amara, Zane, Moze, FL4K. Each of them with very different abilities and deadly professions to specialize in. Each has three skill trees to choose from. All the characters but Zane can have only one active action skill at a time. Zane can have two, sacrificing, however, the usage of grenades altogether: a fair trade considering the amount of gunpower to be gained out of that.
Borderlands 3, much like every installment before it, gives a lot of freedom when it goes to personalizing each character and messing around with many potential builds. All it takes is some in-game cash, and every skill tree is as good as new. In that sense, no character feels restricted to be playable solely in co-op or single-player, and they are all viable in each situation.
From playing a couple of hours in the co-op campaign, I can safely say that the majority of people out there right now are rolling with FL4K, the Beastmaster. However, FL4K is also the most picked character for single-player. Probably because of how amazingly useful their pet is during fights, and how much survivability it grants FL4K players. Not to mention that one of their skills allows you to turn invisible and lose aggro on enemies instantly. All in all, FL4K can dish out a crazy amount of DPS on every occasion.
Solo players will also love Zane. A solid choice for those who don’t fancy the idea of venturing in the co-op campaign that much, but that might be interested in trying that somewhere down the road. Like I previously mentioned, Zane is the only character able to use two action skills at the same time, out of the three available. Zane can deal a massive amount of DPS, especially during late game, when his skill trees are more thoroughly explored and developed. His action skills are respectively, a clone, a sentinel drone, and a shield. Having mained Zane during my first playthrough, I can safely recommend him as a fun and entertaining choice, not to mention the excellent voice acting behind him.
Amara, on the other hand, is more of a co-op character. She is a straight-up melee brawler, and she definitely shouldn’t be left in the back, shooting from the rear. She’s got some great skills. For example, there’s one that grants Amara Second Wind every two minutes – which is great because, while the chance of dying when trying to punch enemies in their faces is still there, at least she’s not totally doomed. This, however, doesn’t mean she’s totally useless when playing alone. She can also stack up quite a lot of health and is armed with a decent amount of survivability skills herself.
Last but not least, we have Moze. Her lack of defensive skills makes her a tad risky while playing solo, but risky doesn’t mean impossible. She’s all offensive, all the time, and can dish out some crazy amounts of mech damage. Shooting and sprinting? Moze has that covered. We can have a blast playing any of the characters in any way we want. And that’s honestly all that matters in this case.
GAMEPLAY MEETS MAYHEM
The idea behind Borderlands 3’s gameplay is the same formula that has accompanied the franchise ever since its baby steps. The main difference comes from the ability, throughout the story, to set foot on different planets other than Pandora alone. This allows for a much-needed change of scenery every now and then. The enemies, however, don’t exactly vary much between one location and another. Every planet is divided into more areas that can be fully explored and completed to their 100% for the most passionate players out there. In fact, every zone has some collectibles – listed as “challenges” – that can be found.
We’ve got Dead Claptraps to collect, aiming towards the end goal of allowing Claptrap to have a friend (Are we sure we want to do that?). We have Typhon’s logs to find and listen to, to unravel the adventures of the very first Vault Hunter. Upon finding the 3 Typhon logs that every zone has, Tannis will kindly let us know the location of the treasure that was hidden by the man himself. In short, more loot. We can also sometimes find challenges from Zero and Hammerlock, both requiring you to kill someone or something. These can usually be considered mini-boss fights, although they are nowhere as challenging as actual boss fights.
Even then, boss fights themselves aren’t exactly challenging, or hard. Surely, they are more “complex” than they were in Borderlands 2 or previous installments in general, and that can be seen right away with Mouthpiece. Sometimes the bosses get locked behind some sort of mechanics. Even so, these mechanics don’t really require the player to actively do something other than merely waiting for the annoying Immunity phase to be over.
Another significant addition to Borderlands 3 gameplay was the possibility for players to choose between two modes: Cooperation and Competition. Competition lets you savor the standard Borderlands co-op experience of joining a friend and basically wreaking havoc on anything and everything in their world. Meanwhile, your friend probably lagged somewhere behind and died continuously. Cooperation, on the other hand, allows you to keep enjoying the game alongside this very same friend, who might be severely underleveled compared to yourself. The game scales enemies and drops to your own level on your side and maintains them at your friend’s level on theirs.
New game modes such as Mayhem mode were also added to the game. Mayhem is a high-risk-high-reward formula mode that makes the game incredibly more challenging but way more rewarding in return. There are respectively 3 Mayhem modes, and they can be unlocked once having fully completed the main story. Then and just then Tannis will walk you through the necessary steps to get into the Mayhem.
SO HAPPY TOGETHER, INDEED
All in all, Borderlands 3 delivers to the fan-base exactly what we were expecting.
Hours of absolutely random shooter-looter action, packed with not-as-great comedy. Nevertheless, it’s a great game, and I personally have been loving every minute spent in it. No matter how underwhelming the narrative aspect might feel at times, the good old looting formula that made Borderlands so great in the first place outweighs all the bad. The voice actors themselves are great and did a fantastic job with the characters, leaving the jokes and puns aside. The music is amazing and really gets your blood pumping throughout the game and during boss fights. The combat is engaging and fast-paced as always, even if perhaps it felt slower than Borderlands 2 at times. The bazillion guns promised are there, and they are greater than ever, allowing for so many different play styles and builds. The release was smooth, and there haven’t been any major game-breaking bugs to report.
Last but not less important, Borderlands 3 is a game that is made for replayability, and it shows. It never lets you grow tired or bored with the mechanics or the grinding-looting routine. To every long-time fan of the franchise, this is going to be like jumping back in the past, but with all the improvements that make it an outstanding and enjoyable game.