Borderlands 3 is Gearbox Studios’ newest entry in their looter-shooter series. It continues the comical gear-grinding saga, though it fails to meet some of its own standards. Released on Sept. 13, 2019, the game is available on PC, PS4 and Xbox One for $59.99.
Some spoilers ahead.
Back to Pandora
Borderlands 3 is the highly anticipated sequel in the on-going series of ammo-fueled chaos. Voyaging off of Pandora, the entry takes its maniacal bandits, mutant monstrosities and nonsensical guns to the stars. Everything about the entry works to homage all the elements of its bloody past, including a few of its weakest points.
The formula that binds Borderlands together is still here, and it is excellent. With the addition of secondary gun functions, every weapon has some flavor of kickass sprinkled in it. Even common guns can bring something fun to the fray.
Weapons all have a certain versatility and wackiness that allow for many types of play. Snipers can charge and release a cloud of electric doom. Shotguns launch enemies in pain before detonating in a gore-y 4th of July display. SMGs and assault rifles tear through waves of “tinks,” eliminating opposition before they yell their many odd phrases.
These variations make weapon brands feel more distinct. Atlus allows for tracing shots, marking enemies and homing most smart-shots at targets. Jakobs ricochets critical hits off enemies to smack nearby baddies. Tediore still allows you to throw and digistruct a new gun, but the results are more varied than in Borderlands 2.
Not all guns are made equal, unfortunately. Many heavy weapons struggle to make massive dents in an enemy's health or shields. Rocket launchers and flamethrowers all feel like they do less damage than similar grenades or explosive shotguns. Sniper rifles are fine, but they are just fine. There are rarely any sniper rifles that feel quite as excellent as other weaponry.
The new Vault Hunters, Moze, FL4K, Amara and Zane, all arrive on Pandora with sets of abilities that feel much more defined than previous playable characters. This is thanks to flexible sets of skill trees.
Active abilities and some extra features, such as FL4K’s pets or Moze’s Iron Bear cannons, are mix and match in execution. Many skill trees account for customization, meaning there is often not one perfect way to build upon an ability. With a more in-depth set of cosmetic options, making your chosen Vault Hunter truly yours is easier and more rewarding.
|Vehicles also have an incredible layer of customizability.|
Want to soar the dusty Pandoran roads with laser wings and a screeching car horn? Go for it.
I thoroughly enjoy all the new characters, something I can’t say about previous Borderlands entries. Whereas I only like playing the Siren and the Psycho in Borderlands 2, I always look forward to changing around characters in Borderlands 3. It is the first time I am hyped to hit level 50 with each Vault Hunter.
Leveling does not end with hitting the level 50 cap. Borderlands 3 adds two new endgame functions that help extend the game even further.
Replacing Badass Ranks from Borderlands 2, Guardian Ranks take over the cross-character buffs. This works similar to Diablo 3’s Paragon system. After beating the story, Borderlands adds experience to a separate meter, awarding tokens every Guardian Rank. These can be used to buy randomly generated buffs in three different trees, buffs ranging from extra gun damage to better loot drop chances. Hit a milestone in a branch and gain a new perk or skin for all of your characters. It’s a really nice addition, and it makes rushing through the campaign with different Vault Hunters less monotonous.
Mayhem Mode is another fantastic post-game addition. Players gain the ability to “augment reality,” increasing the difficulty. There are three tiers: Mayhem I, II and III. Each mode arranges mobs a bit differently, buffing them while occasionally debuffing the player. Loot quality increases upwards of 500%, making the challenge all the worthwhile.
|Shields also have some new tricks. Some take advantage of the smooth movement mechanics,|
allowing you to project your shield while sliding.
Coliseum battles, like the Circle of Slaughter, make a return as well. Players can fight waves of enemies in different arenas. These usually end with some spectacular boss battles and massive amounts of loot.
Proving Grounds adds tiny endgame dungeons unlocked after re-exploring each world. Similar to Circle of Slaughter, enemies come in waves, but players are tasked to proceed through each dungeon while accomplishing different goals. That includes beating the boss in under five minutes or finding a secret Guardian. It helps add an extra option for grinding, even if short-lived.
The endgame is where Borderlands 3 really shines. Content explodes. Weapons, class mods and Eridian artifacts have a chance of getting special abilities only found after the campaign. Encounters are wilder than before. It is when Borderlands 3 feels free to be experienced.
Gameplay rocks. I find myself often thinking of what I should try out next, returning to Borderlands 3 to see what character builds I can make. It is a shame how awful a slog it is to get to that point. Technical issues and terrible writing work against everything great in the game.
Over the course of my two playthroughs, I experienced several crashes, one completely resetting my PS4 Pro. These crashes usually occurred when opening the ECHO, the in-game menu. The ECHO often caused the framerate to fall and the game to freeze momentarily, even on the PS4 Pro's performance mode.
|The ECHO screen and parts of the environment can take a while to pop in.|
It can be immersion breaking at best, game-halting at worst.
Sound sometimes cuts out completely. Different parts of the audio, such as gunshots, car engines or music, will stop playing entirely. The only solution is exiting and reentering the game. It's unfortunate as Borderlands 3 boasts a killer soundtrack.
There is also an issue with some quests. NPCs that are meant to be followed can randomly stop moving. During some major plot moments, quest items and important power-ups fail to spawn. Like the audio, the only option is exiting and reentering the game, meaning redoing most of the quest’s combat.
None of this is quite as bad as the split screen co-op. Split screen manages to tear the game apart. Opening the menu temporarily freezes the game. Items scramble in the inventory, making it hard to tell what anything is. Dialogue will either not play, play over itself or play repeatedly. Most combat is a laggy mess.
The updated UI puts eyesight to the test with its small font. Text and maps appear tiny even on larger screens with no way for them to be resized. Subtitles and closed captioning have resizing options, but none so far for other UI elements. The UI only gets smaller on split screen.
|Enemy variety is great, and boss fights are sick.|
Too bad seeing enemy names in split screen is near impossible.
As of writing, a patch has been recently released to address some issues. On PS4 Pro, there is a slight improvement to some framerate drops and sound glitches, but many bugs still remain. One new issue is fast travel to Sanctuary III can crash the game. Expect an update if another patch fixes these bugs.
In its current state, split screen is hard to play, but online co-op is still smooth. The matchmaking system allows players to find others looking to explore the campaign, survive the Circle of Slaughter or run through the Proving Grounds. “Cooperation” mode generates loot for each player, so there is no need to duel over legendaries. Players can still choose to have one set of loot generate if they want the old Borderlands experience back.
Borderlands 3’s story is the weakest in the whole series. Main antagonists, Troy and Tyreen, serve as a lame commentary on social media influencers. They come across as edgy and flat, never expanding past "we're famous and powerful." Troy and Tyreen are the worst villains faced so far, but the game works overbearingly hard to make you believe they are the scariest.
To make twin villains seem godlike, Borderlands 3 pokes holes through its plot and lore. Characters who showed no mercy against Handsome Jack and Vault Monsters suddenly cower to the twins, afraid they may be livestreamed to death. It never seems natural, especially in cutscenes.
While it is the new Vault Hunters who progress the plot, cutscenes remove all mentions of players when it is necessary to prop up Troy and Tyreen. Cutscenes conveniently forget that 1-4 super-powered, mega-gun-toting, cosmic horror killing characters are in the room. Neither friend nor foe acknowledges the Vault Hunters, ruining the fun of being a part of the story.
The writing in Borderlands 3 serves to celebrate the new villains and heroes. Players are essentially there to do the dirty work, while everyone else pats themselves on the back.
The writing is not all bad. Several side quests strike emotional chords, while others are hilarious bouts of destruction. A lot of the best moments come from the quests hidden around different worlds, and I wish there was more of their humor in the main campaign.
Mayhem, at a Cost
Borderlands 3 offers a great dip back into its staple insanity, but its return comes with many bugs and shoddy storytelling. There is a chance patches may come to fix the technical issues, but the plot cannot be remedied. Future DLCs will hopefully give players more credit for their Vault hunting escapades.
For fans looking for their next Borderlands experience, they may want to jump in once more patches arrive or the game goes on sale. Those wanting to tackle the game in couch co-op should definitely wait until the game becomes more stable.
Final Verdict: Not Recommended (Wait for a Sale)
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