When I first played the original Borderlands, it changed how I thought about cooperative games forever. Instead of just playing with each other at the same time we were building characters and arsenals, growing more powerful together. There wasn’t just a boss to fight, there was an idea for who you wanted your Vault Hunter to be, and as my friends and I continued through the story we would marvel at our own and each other’s newfound abilities and crazy guns.
Borderlands 3 capitalizes on that old feeling that you'll remember from the very first game in the franchise, at the cost of remaining mostly the same in its other aspects. If you’ve heard remarks on this entry in the series that go something like “welp, it’s more Borderlands” then you’ve heard the truth. At its base, Borderlands 3 continues its legacy of being an outrageous looter-shooter. For better or worse, it's still gratuitous in every way while having so many guns that it’ll make your head spin. That being said, there’s enough new content brought to the table that a return to Pandora and visits to its neighboring planets are more than worth it.
Would it really be a Borderlands game without butt jokes?
A Nonstop Planet-Hopping Joyride
Unlike the previous Borderlands titles, this one throws you in right from the start. Instead of hopping off of the bus and exploring a town or trying to find an NPC, you’re immediately greeted by Claptrap and set off on your first quest. From there you’re introduced to the Calypso Twins, a siren duo hell bent on opening a “great vault” and becoming gods. They’re everything you’d expect from a Borderlands villain: over-the-top, egomaniacal, poorly written jerks. Although you may want to fight them for the downright evil things they do, you’re much more likely to want to silence them just for the peace and quiet. Compared to the well-written antihero Handsome Jack of Borderlands 2, I can’t help but feel that the Calypso Twins are more like one of the game’s side bosses. Made just to be hated and shot dead, nothing more.
The Calypso Twins exist to irritate and berate you; all the more reason to find and fight them.
As you adventure across the galaxy in a race to beat the twins to ancient vaults that carry untold power, the game carries you off the bleak and brown-shaded world of Pandora for the first time in the series. Exploring locales like the gorgeous retro-futuristic metropolis of Promethea and the swampy bayou of Eden-6 are a refreshing change of pace. Although the content throughout these wonderful new locations won’t be anything unique, blasting your way through bandits and robots feels better with a new backdrop.
What you’re doing in game won’t change much from your first level to the last. Missions are cookie-cutter at best, starting with some character pleading with you to kill someone or get something, you doing that, and then returning for a reward. There’s a lot of running around in between but plentiful enemies keep the jaunt to your next reward interesting enough.
Blasting psychos in cool new high-tech cities are a nice change of pace at least.
As the story played out I found myself getting more involved, but only when it was unfolding in front of me. When a plot point occurred I was hooked, but as soon as the mission or cutscene ended, I was back to my personal quest of growing my character and arsenal of weapons. The story of Borderlands 3 only exists when you see it, and you don’t see it that much. When it’s there it manages to get you involved, make you feel and react to what’s happening, and that goes double if you’ve played the previous entries in the series. It doesn’t send a message or make you reflect on the real world, but it strings together the various areas where you’ll grind enemies into dust for experience and loot drops. Simply put, Borderlands 3 is just a good time that doesn’t ask that much of you.
More Borderlands, More Everything
Borderlands 3 revels in its excess. When the game can do more, it does more, and then does more than that, then never stops. Like I said before, there’s so many guns that it makes your brain hurt, and finding the next weapon to keep in one of your four designated slots is a never-ending task. Every time a firefight or boss battle finishes you’ll scour the ground for the next drop that will change your class and the way you play the game forever. Or at least until you find something that’s even better.
Those battles are also the most hectic fun the game has to offer. Playstyles vary between the four main Vault Hunters, though no matter who you pick you’ll be popping enemies left and right while activating skills and building kill bonuses. I played as Moze, the gunner who can spawn in a giant mech with two attachable weapons, and my playstyle with her was pure run and gun. I’d hop over enemies and obstacles like a deadly acrobat, blasting away with explosive weapons and shotguns. A skill that let me shoot while I sprinted was all the encouragement I needed, and I kept running and gunning for the whole game.
Bullets fly, people explode and loot drops: just another day in this crazy universe.
When you throw another three players into the fray firefights become ever more chaotic, with elemental bullets flying all over the place and your teammates pointing out the badass enemy that just spawned. Although you can go through the game solo, playing with a full squad is the way to go. The game’s not so difficult that you always need another body with you, but it’s a well appreciated pleasantry. Having someone to talk to so you don’t have to listen solely to NPCs is also a bonus; Borderlands humor hasn't changed much since the original game, so a lot of those lines sound a bit familiar, just coming from different faces.
Of course, the guns in the game all about guns are fantastic. Each brand has their own feel, and you’ll certainly end up having a favorite. Jakobs weapons are heavy and loud, while Maliwan’s are sleek and futuristic. Every weapon is satisfying to use, especially legendary rarity guns that come with their own unique spin. These rare drops can change a whole playstyle if they’re good enough, and eventually you’ll want to fill your inventory with them.
An inventory full of legendaries is the true dream of every Vault Hunter.
As an aside, kudos to whoever it was at Gearbox that decided that explosions and shotgun blasts would send enemies flying. One of the only truly badass things I’ve done in this game is send an enemy into the sky with a shot and finish them off before they can touch the ground. It's a weird thing to say, when a game is all about giant explosions and big events... but after three games in the series, it starts to get harder and harder to top your previous antics.
There’s no one right way to play Borderlands 3. While my run and gun approach was best for me, a single loot drop could make a different playstyle much more interesting. No matter how you want to play, there’s a way to do it. Naturally, the downside is that you can only do what the loot you get lets you do, but in the time that I played I never felt restricted by what I could or couldn’t find.
The greatest success of Borderlands 3 is its ability to give you a nonstop feeling of progression. No matter what you’re doing, something is building, either in or out of sight. Everything you do gives you xp, each brand of gun has its own set of challenges that slowly fill, there’s never a moment when some meter isn’t going up. When it’s none of those, you’re earning cash, eridium or new weapons. This infinite dopamine engine never runs out of fuel, and once you get on it you won’t want to get off.
The Ugly Side of Insanity
Through your adventures you’ll explore wonderful and unique new vistas, however the enemies that you encounter won’t be as varied. No matter where you are you’re pitted against the usual Pandoran psychos and bandits, screaming the same one-liners when they show up and after you shut their lights. Besides their cringe-worthy lines, some of the enemies in Borderlands 3 simply border on offensive. The series has long made people with deformities or dwarfism enemies while your heroes are able-bodied or cyber-augmented. Gearbox may think that the new tink title for your smaller foes is better than calling them midgets like in Borderlands 2, but the visual effect is still the same. Not many lines are as groan worthy as the one for dying tinks who only ask to be remembered a foot taller.
Another downside arises out of the new massive worlds that Borderlands 3 presents: vehicles. Especially in the latter half of the game, driving plays a larger role. Although the catch-a-ride system has been overhauled with the ability to customize the three versions of cars in the game, there’s still not much fun to be had behind the wheel. Combat in vehicles is heavily weighted in your favor and lacks depth. In fact, it works much like the past titles. Most combat against other vehicles can be ignored by simply speeding past enemies. I found myself driving only when I had to and not really caring much for the customizations I’d unlock for cars, since I didn’t like them that much. I don’t know how vehicles and vehicular combat could be made more interesting, but being able to slap a new coat of paint on your car doesn’t cut it.
Since you can visit multiple planets in this game, returning to the wasts of Pandora feels like a nostalgia trip.
Just as uninteresting are many of the bosses you’ll face over the course of Borderlands 3. Most are carbon copies of the enemies you battle throughout the game, but buffed up and with flashy designs. The unique boss fights are fantastic, but are few and far between. If anything, these big baddies are best for grinding. Post-game, this grind continues on the game’s multiple mayhem difficulties, which add difficulty modifiers with the payoff of heavily increased loot drops. Even in their most unique instances, the best part of a boss battle is when your fallen foe explodes with loot.
A New Gaming Staple, If A Little Redundant
Sometimes there are games that come out and you know they’ll be part of your gaming diet for years to come, and Borderlands 3 is one of those titles. It’s a nonstop train of excitement that gives you plenty of reasons to start it up and none to shut it down. While the game has its faults and sometimes elicits the loudest groans I’ve made this whole year, it never stops being fun. Even in those cringe-worthy moments, I found that it’s hard not to have a good time.
Except for Vaughn, he's just cringe. Please shut up Vaughn.
It’s hard to not look towards the future when talking about any Borderlands title. The past entry in the series had a fantastic track record of DLC and was supported a year after its release with new story packs, headhunter packs and vault hunters. Although this title won’t be receiving any new characters, I’m excited to see how it will be supported in the years to come. If Gearbox treats Borderlands 3 right, I’ll be playing it until the next entry in the series comes out and loving every minute.