Score: 8/10 | First-Person Shooter | RPG | MAYHEM
“Borderlands 3 delivered a final product that left me feeling many different emotions.”
*I’ve noted in this review an issue found almost immediately after publishing that does affect the score by 1.
As someone who has personally been part of the launch journey since it’s announcement, Borderlands 3 was a different kind of game to review. With 6 and a half hours worth of pre-launch hands on time I had a pretty good idea of what to expect at launch in terms of how it handled and what could possibly make it a successor to Borderlands 2. Of course these were just crumbs compared to the larger adventure that Gearbox and 2K had in store for us. After my 40 odd hours through the campaign and into its endgame content, Borderlands 3 delivered a final product that left me feeling many different emotions.
Set 5 years after the events of Borderlands 2, the story opens up to 4 new vault hunter recruits hopping on an all too familiar bus in the wastelands of Pandora. Joining the Crimson Raiders your adventure is led by Crimson Raiders’ new leader and vault hunter alumni, Lilith. As per usual you’re tasked to hunt down treasure filled vaults. To get there you’re going to need a vault map which is the first task Lilith gives you. Once again you’re not the only ones who are after a piece of the loot. Meet The Children of the Vault, a cult led by two obnoxious live streamer twins Troy and Tyreen Calypso who are interested in two things, followers and vault treasure. The Calypso Twins have already caused quite the mayhem across not only Pandora but the entire galaxy. They’ve taken over every bandit camp whilst continuously taking in every new member they can, who they aptly call Fanatics. Like any other influencer they want as many Fanatics as possible to not only Like and Follow but also Obey. This of course means helping them stop the vault hunters getting to any of the vaults first. This soon takes you on galactic adventure into space and across various planets via Sanctuary 3, you’re new spaceship hub.
For the first time (a part from going to the moon) we finally get to leave Pandora and discover new planets and new surroundings. But new surroundings isn’t anything new as we saw a bunch of different looking locations within Pandora during Borderlands 2. This isn’t to say these planets don’t look great. Athenas was probably my favourite and one the most unique looking in the series giving me Nepal temple vibes. There were a couple of locations though throughout that gave me flashbacks to Destiny.
The whole crew is back for all the crazy mayhem too. Well, almost. Brick, Mordecai, Ellie, Hammerlock, Moxxxi and even not so tiny anymore Tina have come along for the ride! There’s a few other alumni who were missing from all pre-launch materials and strangely this story too. Axton, Salvador, Krieg and Gaige don’t make an appearance nor do I remember even a mentioning of them. Fingers crossed they possibly make an appearance across the 4 future DLC’s.
I don’t want to spoil too much more of the story. Compared to the previous games, Borderlands 3 feels a lot more story heavy. It has the right balance of comedy, drama, ROMANCE and action packed chaotic mayhem. It relies a lot more on cutscenes this time around than just your typical in game banter between characters which is a nice change. They really help set the tone in situations and showed a lot more character depth. Even by adding situational dialogue to the vault hunter you’re playing helps give them more personality than I had expected. There’s still plenty of radio banter throughout. As well as those unexpected classic lines mid-mission that will have you either chuckling or blushing. Depending how naughty your sense of humour is. You’ve been warned.
The only thing I would have changed in regards to story execution is the home stretch at the end. As spoiler free as I’m trying to be it becomes an unnecessarily dragged out final chapter. It made me want to rush through it to be honest. Understandable that without it a part of the story and some twists would be missing. But it could have been done in probably half the time or even merged somehow into the previous chapter.
Without spoiling any major plot points here are some extremely spoiler free adventures from Borderlands 3. You help a coffee addicted NPC get her daily fix. You go grave robbing with an angsty teenager in the hopes of finding hidden eridium. Want to find out if you’re a gun slut? Take Tyreen Calypso’s test to find out. In case you’re wondering, I’m a MAJOR gun slut myself.
The first few hours of the game help to slowly open up the story while exploring the more polished and, in my opinion, classic brown and dusty Pandora that we first got to know. She got an upgrade this time around. Graphically Borderlands 3 looks better than ever. Thanks to the Unreal Engine textures and lighting look amazing when running on AMD Hardware. While my times hands on pre-launch were spent on high end PC’s, I reviewed the game on Playstation 4. I can’t tell you how it shapes up on the PS4 Pro but my first gen Playstation 4 didn’t handle some aspects of the game as smoothly. I found textures rendering slowly when loading into areas or even when approaching vending machines and NPC’s. On some occasions it felt slower than previous Borderlands titles. Menus also loaded up slowly even when flicking between each tab. Which was probably the most annoying occurance since it’s one of the more simple objects of the game. A part from performance there were only a small amount of technical issues. One of my quests completed a task when I returned back to the quest area (part of me doesn’t call this an issue though.) The other was me falling through the game and into the nothing after a cutscene. The rest of the game however ran fine with next to no frame rate drop during large cases of mayhem.
And there is PLENTY of mayhem to be had. Fights in Borderlands 3 have a lot more kaboom to them thanks to a big upgrade in the overall feel of weapons. Guns actually have some weight to them and sound a lot more mechanical and realistic. Hearing guns parts move while you reload followed by what would be an eardrum shattering bang from a powerful pistol or shotgun, to put it bluntly, was very creamy. Along with the newly added slide maneuver and being able to hoist yourself up onto platforms, combat in Borderlands 3 does feel same same but different for the better.
Boss fights also had an upgrade to their overall design. Which in my honest opinion was definitely needed. A lot of Borderlands bosses within the main campaign up until now have been the same stale “shoot shoot shoot, hide, shoot shoot shoot” rinse and repeat. A fine example was the less than engaging Destroyer fight at the end of the first Borderlands. Now they actually feel like proper boss fights you’d find in raids which come with proper but scripted mechanics. You end up spending almost as much time dancing around these bosses as you do shooting them. Mechanics can become a bit of a rinse and repeat but some of them are pretty neat. And if you’re not paying attention it doesn’t take much for these bosses to wipe you out.
I’d also like to add that as of this point, these bosses are lactose free. There ain’t no cheesing these fights. Or at least only the major bosses. Without giving too much detail on fight layouts and mechanics, it’s going to be hard if you want to bitch out and shoot from a distance or a safe zone. There are a couple of minor bosses though who were simple to manipulate.
Some may find these boss fights a lot more difficult than they’re used to, especially for a Borderlands game. But this is honestly the most fun I’ve had with boss fights in a long time. Not only have they evolved but they’re a lot more memorable than previous instances. I’ve only just started my True Vault Hunter Mode run but I’m excited and nervous as hell to go up against these bosses again on a harder difficulty.
Speaking of endgame, there’s more than just a TVHM run you can do to raise your level after the campaign. The brand new Proving Grounds as well as the classic Circle of Slaughter from the Moxxi DLC in the first Borderlands are two alternatives for leveling up and grinding for better gear. CoS was never my cup of tea pre-Borderlands 3 but I gave the Proving Grounds the ol’ college try. It’s a more challenging instance compared to CoS in regards to how strong these enemies are in each trial. But I can’t see myself grinding it over and over again solo. I’m sure doing it with a whole squad could be a different story. Mayhem is better when made with friends they say. If punishment (or mayhem) is your middle name, you can also activate Mayhem mode via Sanctuary 3 after the campaign. This not only makes enemies stronger but also equips them with different buffs which make encounters more strategic.
Reaching the end of the campaign also activates Guardian Rank. This has replaced Bad Ass Rank and I’m actually happier for it. This works similar to Paragon levels in Diablo 3 where gaining EXP increases your rank. Unlike in Borderlands 2 where you completed challenges and ranked up throughout the entire game. The same basic concept still applies. With each rank you gain a token. Tokens can be spent on placing bonus stats into whatever the game randomly offers you. I definitely prefer the Guardian Rank over Badass Rank since the whole concept fits endgame content more. Especially since the current level cap at the moment maxes at 50 and I was finishing my story run at level 39.
EDIT: Almost immediately after publishing this review I came across an issue with Guardian Rank where starting a new character after finishing the campaign brings Guardian Rank into effect during your new campaign run. Unfortunately this makes it work just like Bad Ass Rank and affects the overall experience after finishing your first character run. Hopefully this is an unintentional issue that gets fixed soon.
Along with the usual chaos, Borderlands 3 offers a lot more of a reason to explore. Which is something I didn’t think I would enjoy or intentionally seek doing in Borderlands.There’s so much ground to cover this time around since maps are much MUCH larger than previous games. Even after finishing the story there were areas I hadn’t even set foot on. The new multi-level map system gives you more to explore as well. As well as creating much larger more accessible areas on each planet with more nooks and crannies to find hidden treasures in. Again a fun and sometimes rewarding way to explore. However navigating in more built up areas may have some getting used to. Especially when you first start to explore Sanctuary 3. From the perspective of the mini map, everything is on top of one another. Using this as a guide is honestly annoying AF to begin with. Your best bet is to open up the main map and use the rotating view finder to get a hold of your bearings. Or do as I did and memorize where everything is. A design flaw? Not exactly. They’ve creatively designed a layout that crams the city that Sanctuary once was onto a Spaceship. It’s execution just isn’t friendly on the eye.
There’s more than just hidden loot chests that you can find by exploring every nook and cranny. Scattered all over these large maps are many different collectibles. And these aren’t just limited to audio logs that we’ve seen all around Pandora already. The devs have creatively incorporated collectable placement in each area with some requiring more effort than others. Markers show up on your map as soon as you’re in range one but they aren’t always where you expect them. Having to figure out ways of reaching Radio Towers for example were fun. Especially since it also incorporated jumping and vaulting atop of platforms with some taking a lot of patience to successfully reach. I didn’t put as much time as I wanted to finding every single collectable but I made it my mission to obtain every piece to build Claptrap’s new girlfriend. I do recommend completing this one. It has funny conclusion and rewards you with a legendary weapon.
One feature I was excited for since learning of it last month was Photo Mode. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to check it out since at the time of publishing this feature is only available for PC.
In my opinion Borderlands 3 is one of the best Borderlands games to date. It’s hard to top a classic like Borderlands 2 but with a few upgrades to the formula it’s succeeded in doing just that. The endgame content isn’t something I’ll be reaching for but I’m very keen to get every vault hunter to 50 and can’t wait for the DLC content to roll out.
Borderlands 3 is out now on Playstation 4, Xbox One and PC and I give it a 8 out of 10.