Unlike a certain other franchise that we shall leave unnamed, Borderlands finally counts to 3 and has been one of the more highly anticipated releases to end 2019. September is packed with a huge number of high quality games such as Monster Hunter World: Iceborne, NBA 2K20, and Link’s Awakening. Because of that, the battle to gain hold of your attention and hard earned funds is at an all time high. Can Borderlands 3 win the fight or will you be looking elsewhere for your gaming fix? Let us help you make that decision easier through this review of Borderlands 3!
Borderlands 3 starts out pretty much the same way as previous titles. The art direction is the same, the crazy narration, the weird personalities… Why fix what ain’t broken? If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought that I was playing Borderlands 2. It’s that similar! I get it, the foundation of Borderlands is rock solid, and I can see how it’s hard to mess around with the formula. If you’re a player that’s looking for a brand new and refreshing experience, you’re not going to find it here. On the other hand, if you’ve been aching for more Borderlands, you’re in the right place.
“Are you open minded?”
Lilith could have probably used that opening line on me and I’d still say yes. To what, exactly? Well, the game starts off as you’re being recruited to be a member of the Crimson Raiders, a group of adventurers and vault hunters such as you, to find a map so important that it leads to countless treasure vaults across the galaxy. Soooo important, in fact, that of course another group is after it as well. The Children of the Vault or the COV, led by the Calypso Twins, believe that finding the map will lead them into finding “The Great Vault” and have been on a rampage because of it. It’s a bit of a crazy premise, but we’re talking about Borderlands, so we’ll bite.
My first problem lies in the fact that the Calypso Twins aren’t really compelling villains. Granted, Handsome Jack is a tough villain to succeed and if you’ve played Borderlands 2, he’s really one of the reasons why that game was such a fantastic experience. Somehow the Calypso Twins, Tyreen and Troy, don’t make the cut. Their characters are very representative of the streamer / youtuber / vlogger culture, with very laughable antics but falls short due to shallow writing. It’s hard to really care about them as you trod along the story, which takes you to different planets across the galaxy…
Which is a new addition in Borderlands 3. After a couple of hours into the story, you’ll be prompted to blast off into space and visit another planet. Previously, you’re only able to roam around Pandora exclusively but now, space travel is on the menu and you’ll get to visit places such as Promethea, Eden-6, and Athenas. The environments are quite varied and although it’s not much, it helps ease the grind a bit. Seeing different locales and settings make the game bearable as you shoot and loot your way to vault hunter glory.
Changin’ it up
Speaking of vault hunters, you are one of them and you’ll have the unenviable task of choosing one to use throughout the game. Take your pick between Amara, a siren similar to Lilith that has magical elemental powers and my personal favorite, Zane Flynt, an operative that specializes in trickery and chaos, Moze, who uses a mech named Iron Bear to help her wreak havoc, and Fl4k, who has control over beasts that thirst for the hunt. Your chosen character will define how you play the rest of the game but the interesting thing about Borderlands 3 is that each character is different enough from one another due to their skill trees.
Each character has a skill tree which you may spend your skill points in. You gain skill points as you level up and you’ll have to spend them wisely or else you’ll have to respec for a cost. Let’s take Amara for example. Her 3 skill trees are Mystical Assault, Brawl, and Fist of the Elements. Each character has an “Action Skill” and depending on the skill tree you choose, the effect of your Action Skill changes. If you choose the Mystical Assault tree, your Action Skill takes the form of Phasecast, which allows you to shoot an astral projection in a straight line. Choosing the Brawl tree will give you Phaseslam, where you jump into the air and slam into the ground dealing area of effect damage, and the Fist of the Elements tree will give you Phasegrasp that traps and enemy in a bubble that holds them there for a few seconds.
Each of the skills under a certain tree will increase your capabilities and will add effects to your Action Skill. Brawl focuses on getting you in the thick of the action, giving you skills that increase your HP and adds damage to your weapon the closer you are to your target. So on and so forth. There is indeed a call to create builds that will suit your playstyle and Borderlands 3 is more than willing to provide you with the tools to do so. You’re also not restricted to spending all your skill points in just one tree, especially if you want that juicy passive skill from the other. That said, you’re free to switch between trees for your Action Skill but it has to be said that it won’t be as effective as you want it to be, since you’ll probably have spent points on a different tree already.
Borderlands 3 promises a HUGE number of guns in the game and they play a big role into customizing your playstyle as well. As you may have known, the weapons here have manufacturers (Vladof, Maliwan, Hyperion, etc) and each weapon they produce have manufacturer trademark abilities on top of alternate firing modes. Maliwan specializes in elemental weapons and you may switch between elements as its alt fire mode, perfect for my Phasecaster Amara. In the early game Hyperion guns will aid you a lot because as you aim down your sights, a shield will pop up, with some shields being able to absorb damage and turn them into ammo. These manufacturers also have mods for your grenades and have varying effects as well. In short, character builds are highly encouraged here and it makes for all sorts of interesting combinations that really fall on the imagination of the player.
Smash that dislike button!
A big portion of the complaints that the game is getting is due to the fact that there are glaring performance issues across platforms. Personally, I’ve yet to experience something that really ruins the experience for me but players from all over the world have been reporting issues. Most noticeable for me is as simple as opening your Echo menu. Upon pressing the button, your menu won’t seamlessly open up, it takes a bit of time and you’ll notice frame skips while loading. This tells me that Gearbox did not optimize the game as much as they could, maybe to meet the launch deadline. Either way, issues like this are unacceptable especially since it’s been quite a long while since the last game.
Horizontal split screen is also an issue among fans of the game. With no immediate plans to add a vertical mode, this has been a sore spot since its release. To be honest, and I know couch coop is totally fun, but playing a game like this on any split screen orientation is really not optimal due to the lack of real estate. There’s just so many things happening at points in the game that you’ll really need all the space you can get just to make sense of what’s happening. While I understand that vertical split screen would be better, online multiplayer is really the way to go if you want to get things done with your crew.
Boss battles in Borderlands 3 are not exempt from the plague of the genre. Similar to The Division, the bosses in Borderlands 3 are walking bullet sponges with very little mechanics to speak of. They’ll do a few special attacks here and there but most often it’s really a battle of attrition rather than mechanics, something I would have loved to see. In Destiny, most raid bosses require certain mechanics to be executed and the whole battle is divided among phases which makes for an exciting experience that is satisfying to complete. In Borderlands, while the battle is fast paced and will keep you on your toes, there isn’t really much strategy to it which leaves much to be desired.
Lastly, you’d expect a game like this to have solid end game content. As they say in other games, life starts at level XX and Borderlands shouldn’t be any different. While there are quite a number of activities or modes, like Circle of Slaughter (horde mode) or True Vault Hunter (basically new game +), there really isn’t that “raid” based activity yet, some end game dungeon or boss fight that makes all your previous hardwork worthwhile. Sure you can level up guardian ranks, which is basically similar to Paragon Levels from Diablo 3, but unless some sort of real endgame content appears and I’m not talking about procedural endless dungeons or the sort, then it’s really hard to see what you’re playing for.
Or the like button, maybe?
Where there’s bad, there’s also good! There are quite a bunch of quality of life improvements that I loved in Borderlands 3. The first is being able to choose which quest to track without going into the menu screen. With just a flick of the D-Pad, you’ll be able to switch between quests that you have and your mini-map will instantly point you to the right direction via a marker. This is particularly welcome because as mentioned earlier, opening the menu is not the fastest thing to do in this game.
One thing you may or may not like is the amount of notifications you receive depending on the progress of your friends. You’ll be notified if they’ve hit certain milestones or have picked up some insane weapon via a pop up. It’s quite a nice way of keeping track of your friends and staying competitive at the same time, so I personally welcomed it. If you eventually get irritated of it, there is an option to turn it off so don’t worry about it.
Online multiplayer was a pretty seamless experience for me. I invited my brother to the game and within about a minute, we were blasting our way through COV installations and downing a boss. There are a couple of ways to go about multiplayer – “Coopetition” as the game calls it, is a callback to classic Borderlands rules. Loot is free for all and no level balancing. “Cooperation” on the other hand is when loot is instantiated between players, meaning your teammates can’t get your loot. Your call as to which mode you want to play on, but let’s probably all be friends and go full coop shall we?
In case things go crazy and you don’t manage to pick up all the loot you need to, there’s a lost loot machine that will take all of these items for you and place them in one handy spot where you can pick it up at your own leisure. It’s a fantastic feature that allows you to just run through things without worrying about leftovers.
Another great feature is called Second Wind, which allows you to pull off a last hurrah before you die. As your shield and health expire, you’ll be thrust into Second Wind mode where you’ll be on a timer to kill an enemy. Succeed before the time runs out, and you instantly get “Resurrected” with a portion of your health. Take too long, and it’s back to the last checkpoint for you, buddy!
What we liked:
- Each gun manufacturer has unique properties allowing for various styles of play
- Skill trees promote creative builds in tandem with firearms
- Gunplay is classic borderlands, solid and satisfying
What we didn’t like:
- Villains aren’t compelling, Handsome Jack is a tough act to follow from Borderlands 2
- Numerous bugs and frame drops
- Still hasn’t solved the dilemma of bullet sponge bosses
Verdict: Buy it!
Ok to be quite honest, this game is straddling the fine line between “Buy it!” and “Wait for it…”. On one hand, Borderlands 3 has been a long time coming and it’s not necessarily a bad title, just straddled with numerous hitches and bugs which can be patched. On the other, it’s inexcusable for a game that took that long to release with such shoddy quality and no sight of a real post-game. I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt for this in the hopes that these issues be fixed sooner rather than later. That said, Borderlands 3 is a game that isn’t hard to like. It has a ton of positives that outweigh the negatives, there are multiple ways to play depending on your build, and the myriad of guns to be had is mind blowing. The question is, are you ready to grind for all of it?
*This game was reviewed on a PS4 Pro via a review code provided by the publisher.