After many years of patiently waiting for Gearbox to conjure up the best possible Borderlands experience, Borderlands 3 has [finally!] arrived. With consistent series staples from the franchise that brought you looter-shooters, Borderlands 3 contains many things that you would expect for a sequel to the previous Borderlands 2. However, despite my enthusiasm for the franchise and the obvious time and effort spent on the development of this game, there are issues with the game which, sadly, cannot be ignored.
Despite these issues, most will find something which you may not have experienced in a game for a while: a fantastically fun time with your friends shooting, looting, and playing through some of the weirdest and funniest missions you’ll come across in any video game. If you’re a fan of the series, I don’t have to convince you to purchase this game – you’ve already started your second playthrough. Like you’re supposed to.
As one of four new vault hunters you join the Crimson Raiders, in single-player, split-screen or online co-op, in their 25-40 hour (depending on how many side-missions you do along the way) quest to defeat the seemingly invincible Calypso Twins and their hunger for God-like powers. Gathering followers in their ‘Children of the Vault’ cult, it’s not long before you realise just how dangerous this duo is – demonstrated best in cinematic cutscenes which are acted out well. It is a sad reality then, that the game does not feature many such story-driven cutscenes.
Despite this, the twins prove to be very good antagonists in their sibling dynamic as, ultimately, children. Children with far too much power to understand the consequences of their actions, and a far too simple moral outlook to ever be convinced to stop committing their atrocious acts against the Crimson Raiders and the rest of the galaxy. Those acts being streaming murder and destruction across the galaxy using their propaganda machine. It is an interesting premise within the plot, which helps bring a sense of presentness to the story and the Calypso’s motivations.
The plot is a little slow in the first 10-hours or so, but once you start getting some serious firepower, the pacing issues melt away. Apart from Eden-6 which is far-too-long of a stretch within the campaign. But from the get-go, it is obvious that the locations are bigger, the set-pieces are more impressive, and Borderlands 3 is the most polished launch Borderlands experience.
Getting to experience this polish across not just Pandora, which has grown a little old at this point, but other planets across the galaxy executes on a much-needed change of scenery for the series. I just wish that we had more planets to visit because the likes of the soaring skyscrapers of Promethea and the traditional Athena’s are so wonderful to explore. Here’s hoping that the future updates and DLCs will do just that.
The story of Borderlands 3 is smart in how it ties the franchise together, in a similar fashion to how Borderlands 2 tied the original Borderlands into its plot using clever and unpredictable ways. That being said, there are moments of poor writing which brings down the caliber of the story. Especially when you’re listening to Tyreen Calypso or Tina who are absolute standouts. As laugh-out-loud as they are lethal, hearing their dialogue defines how all Borderlands writing should be written and how all the actors should be directed moving forward.
Most of the characters we’ve seen over the years in the Borderlands universe do make wonderful appearances in Borderlands 3, though some seem to be under-served considering their relevance and history within the series. Moreover, characters are missing from previous games for no clear reason, and you may be overwhelmed with the sheer number of characters within the game if you haven’t gotten to know a few before playing Borderlands 3.
A change in some of the voice actors can also be a distraction but all actors perform great in their roles – with genuinely funny deliveries from one-off bad-guy lieutenants and generals who have no right in being as interesting as they are. This helps equal out one of my main gripes with Borderlands 3: the fact that there are characters in-game who have known each other for years, not seen each other for ages, and yet, don’t acknowledge each other’s existence. At all. Some consistency with the character arcs would be nice considering the overwhelming sense of conclusion this game has. And justifiably so as it earns my attachment to these characters and the story we’ve played a huge part in over this past decade.
Picking a vault hunter in Borderlands 3 has never been more difficult due to them each feeling fairly equal in their strengths; a first for the series. The vault hunters also have a witty voice-over giving them much-needed character. Each still have their unique skills, but each vault hunter is looking cooler, with better abilities, and a more balanced palette, making the choice as hard as it could be for the player. You shouldn’t fret too much though as multiple character playthroughs is a player-norm for the series – and you can understand why players would want to do just that, especially when you get used to the addictive gameplay loop that Borderlands has mastered from the very beginning.
The staple of Borderlands 3 is getting loot – i.e. better guns – in order to defeat harder enemies, to then get better loot, before rinsing and repeating. You can sell your useless loot for cash to buy SDUs which will increase important stats such as your ammo allowance for each type of gun and backpack allowances to hold more loot. The core formula for Borderlands has and likely never will be forgotten because it is still the main drive which keeps you playing the game over and over again.
This repeatability is emphasised with True Vault Hunter mode, which is another term for new game plus mode, and the guardian ranks. A system which will allow you to level up your character to an absurd amount, to the point where you would be eventually overpowering all enemy encounters. Thankfully, Gearbox have created a solution for this – Mayhem mode. Three different modes, suitably titled Mayhem I, Mayhem II and Mayhem III, each provide an increasing opportunity for legendary loot. At this point in the game, this will be your main motivation to continue playing, besides the guardian ranks, as there are plenty of incredible guns to grind for. And most of them are worth it.
However, the modes will also increase the difficulty of the game, thus enabling you to play Borderlands 3 without the worry of boredom for a very long time. But it doesn’t stop there. Gearbox has provided one of the most sought after and needed modes in all co-op games by allowing your character to face-off against enemies your level and get loot that is just for you at your level, in anybody else’s game.
There is therefore no more need to fight over loot, nor worry about dying in one shot in your friend’s level 50 playthrough while you trollop around as a level 8. The game will completely scale with you and will allow you to skip quests in your playthrough if you’ve completed them in somebody else’s. This is an incredible design feat for a game that was built for co-operative multiplayer and should be without question an industry staple moving forward. And what’s more is you can choose the traditional rules if you so desire.
This leads nicely onto the other quality of life changes in Borderlands 3 which quickly helps it become the best Borderlands gameplay we’ve seen thus far, things like: the driving which is more responsive and reactive, the automatic pick-up of ammo and health from containers, the reworked vendor and menu systems which are designed well in terms of buying, selling and comparing loot, and the fact that you can teleport to your vehicle on the map no matter where you are, helping to minimise long walks back. Even more impressive is that this is instantaneous.
Furthermore, the graphics still support the unique Borderlands art style, looking better than ever before with clearer definition and more detail. Character animations have been improved, including the vault hunter abilities which feel seamless and the character introductions which have always been a bit laggy until this third iteration.
The shooting feels great, the guns sound as satisfying as ever, and the bosses, which you can use your wide variety of gun loot on, are some of the best I’ve ever faced. It’s been difficult for other game franchises to create moments where you’re found throwing your empty weapon at a bandit boss – who is using soundwaves to damage you – and when the weapon hits the floor it turns on its legs, looks for nearby targets to shoot, and then explodes after a few shots against the bad guys. These are the moments which make Borderlands fun; perhaps more fun than most other games.
Lastly, the number of side missions has decreased, but the quality, length and memorable aspects of them have increased, giving us, perhaps as expected, some of the best side missions in Borderlands history. That is including but not limited to fighting in a massive monster battle between an augmented T-Rex and giant talking monkeys. I would recommend completing these side missions as you journey across the galaxy because they hit home just as well as the main missions, in terms of dialogue and, more importantly, loot.
As much as I would like to give Borderlands 3 a perfect score, issues with the UI, multiplayer lag, inconsistent character arcs and general hiccups prevent me from doing so.
The UI is unacceptably slow and laggy – doubly so when you’re playing with friends. You could find yourself waiting for seconds on end just for your backpack menu to load, which is a big problem for Borderlands because micro-managing your loot is something you do very often. There are also some texture loading issues where textures won’t load unless you get close to the object in question.
The matchmaking in Borderlands 3 has many needed improvements which will hopefully arrive in the form of patches sooner rather than later. Cancelling a search for a match can halt the matchmaking process and prevent you from doing anything multiplayer-wise until you quit and restart the game. The games I have joined online have been noticeably laggy which is sad and haltering from a gameplay standpoint, because of the responsive nature of single-player. Explosions only exacerbate the laggy situation online.
Splitscreen is a nice addition to the game yet the included multiplayer matchmaking modes are slightly hidden in the ‘Social’ menu. Those being Campaign, Circle of Slaughter (Borderlands horde mode but, at the time of writing, containing seemingly one or two glitches making some of them extremely difficult, if not impossible, to complete) and Eridian Proving Grounds which are short but satisfying dungeons. And then we get on to the score and soundtrack, both of which don’t just complement the gameplay, but also provide atmosphere and emotion, helping you grind away for more loot a lot easier. Especially if you’ve already played through the campaign.
Borderlands 3 on Xbox One is, unfortunately, not perfect, despite the many years we’ve been waiting for this game. Yes, there are moments where you would love for the game to surpass a lot of what has come before, but the fact of the matter is the Borderlands loop is so addictive, sometimes it doesn’t need to floor expectations for you to enjoy every single second of gameplay.
It delivers on its promise and then some, and if you’re someone who enjoys playing video games alone or with friends, and likes having fun whilst doing so, in that respect, Borderlands 3 is perfect.