THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS
Vault hunting through rose-tinted glasses
We’ve been waiting for a sequel to Borderlands 2 for just about seven years, and now, Borderlands 3 has released. It’s time to review the latest looter-shooter from Gearbox.
A fun game . . . when it’s playable
If you’re expecting Borderlands 3 to run smoothly the first time you load it up, you’ll be disappointed. Social media complaints range from frame rate drops to dialogue not playing and even in-game skills doubling reload times after use.
After having played through the base game in its entirety, I’ve encountered two out of three of these bugs. I’ve also met a host of others that have made the game tedious to play in the long run.
Gearbox, to their credit, have been releasing patches to try and address some of these bugs. However, over the two weeks I played the game, I saw minimal improvement overall.
The biggest hurdle by far was the poor frame rate throughout the game. Despite having a decent gaming PC, Borderlands 3 would consistently drop frames during playtime. This was especially frustrating during intense firefights. Honestly, the game is more comparable to a slideshow than a AAA game.
The other bugs I ran into included character drift, misplaced infoboxes for loot pickups and NPCs not appearing while not game-breaking. Overall, they totally sapped my excitement for the game.
All your favourite characters are back…for all of five minutes
Borderlands has four games’ worth of characters to draw from. Naturally, you’d imagine that Borderlands 3 would be a tour-de-force of Vaulting Hunters, Explosions and Witty Dialogue. Unfortunately, you’d be wrong.
BL3 does bring together characters from all the previous games, but not the ones you’d expect. Core characters such as Lilith and the Crimson Raiders reappear as your central allies aboard the Sanctuary-3 spaceship, but most barely interact with you during your time in the cold reaches of space.
The main cast of characters comprises of, Tannis, Maya, and Claptrap. The Calypso twins pop up frequently to annoy you, as only a PewDiePie style set of influencer twins with psycho personalities and space wizard powers can.
You’ll meet characters from the previous games as you explore each planet in the Borderlands. However, character interactions are limited to the planets they are on (with some exceptions as characters join you aboard the Sanctuary-3). This was probably one of my most significant issues with the game. It parades characters out one after another but does little to show you how they’ve changed during in the time between Borderlands 2 and 3.
The game has you starting out on the familiar planet, Pandora, somewhat mirroring the start of the first Borderlands as you disembark a bus and get greeted by Claptrap. Albeit with a different voice, courtesy of Jim Foronda, replacing the original voice actor, David Eddings.
This time around your big bad evil guys (BBEG) is the Children of the Vault, a cult of vicious psychos led by Tyreen and Troy Calypso.
The Calypsos are a pair of twin influencers that are a parody at best and at worst a direct translation of vloggers and streamers. You butt heads with the twins throughout the game. You race across multiple worlds to try and open up the Vault hidden on each planet before the Calypsos can get to it to absorb the powers of the vault for themselves.
It’s hard to decide whether the twins were written to be one-dimensional or if the script is simply that bad. The biggest problem I had with the twins was that each of their appearances was predictable. This would get frustrating when your allies are just standing around, waiting to get attacked.
Moreover, the main plot of the game is incredibly linear and repetitive. If you didn’t seek out the sidequests as I did, you could easily breeze through the game in a couple of days. As you progress, you’ll find yourself caught in a loop. You’ll go to a planet, meet a character from a previous game, have an obstacle tossed your way, and be challenged by the Calypsos and their minions to unlock a planet’s vault key.
The vaults themselves play out precisely like encounters from the previous games in the series. You’ll face a massive boss monster with a set of mechanics and weak points you’ll need to memorize to beat it. These fights can get very old quickly. After all, the only real issue taking down one of the creatures is their ridiculous amount of health. I found myself bored halfway through most of these fights. In all honesty, only the fantastic art style kept me going at times.
Slog through one of these fights and you’ll receive access to the aforementioned vaults. Each vault has an Eridian artifact for you to claim. Some of these give you abilities like being able to smash through Eridium shards. Others are more plot specific and don’t yield any significant gameplay changes.
As with vaults from previous games, you also get several Loot Chests to open. Still, don’t go expecting too much. The items I found inside these chests were rarely if ever better than the ones I already had equipped.
After you exit the vault, you’ll also be interrupted by the Calypsos yet again as they attack your companions. This issue links back to my earlier point on predictability. After the first time it happens, you’re left expecting there to be a twist where your companions turn it against the Calypsos. Unfortunately, that moment never comes.
The final boss battles are disappointing at best
The final battles against the Calypsos themselves weren’t terrible per se, but they followed the same pattern as every other boss fight in the game. You have to agree- ending gets anti-climactic when your mortal enemy is repeating the same three lines of dialogue over and over until you chisel down that third health bar.
And what’s your reward for all your hard work? Money? Fame? A diamond encrusted horse? Nope, it’s another vault with the same set of rewards as all the others. The only unique thing you’ll pick up is a special artifact that promises to make enemies more difficult and increase the rewards earned from replaying the game. Still, I couldn’t see myself using it until after having completed the game for the first time. It may be something I’d use if I were to revisit the game for a second playthrough down the line.
Shooting and looting, but that’s about it
The core gameplay mechanics for Borderlands 3 takes the best things from the previous games and combines them with fun new features. That is, you have an objective.
There are remarkably fewer sidequests compared to Borderlands 2, and this is a big letdown because the sidequests are often where the Borderlands games shine. There are still those moments to be had, but I had a lot of them ruined by glitches and bugs.
One notable example was during a mission on planet Eden-6, helping out my old pal Sir Hammerlock after rescuing him from a prison camp. I received the task of saving the friends he’d made in incarceration.
It was going well – until the quest broke halfway through. One of the opponents I was supposed to loot jumped to his death off the side of the world. While a bug occurred to stop this, I was always worried about it happening again.
The shooting mechanics have mainly remained the same. A few minor changes include some guns now have an alternate firing mode, e.g., tracking bullets, sticky bullets, grenade launchers, etc. These all work well. I found that I relied on the sticky bullets most often to take down some of the beefier enemies I came across.
Elemental guns make their return with the new element Radiation replacing Slag damage from Borderlands 2. There are also a lot more enemies with shields and armor, which requires you to think a bit more tactically when choosing which guns to equip.
Speaking of guns, Borderlands 3 claims to have a billion different combinations. However, the biggest problem I found during my playthrough was that nearly all the guns I picked up were incredibly weak or of poor rarity. This issue made it harder to take down some bosses. If it weren’t for the free SHIFT keys that get tweeted out by the Borderlands twitter account, I’d have had a much harder time completing the game.
As mentioned above, the rewards you get from chests have also been severely nerfed, with only special Red Chests containing loot worth talking about. But these chests are often hard to find and usually involve you solving a puzzle or two before you can get your sorely needed upgrades.
The vault hunters themselves are significantly improved from previous games, with more spoken dialogue and quippy one-liners that ever before. In my first playthrough, I chose Fl4K the robot beastmaster. This was mostly because I have terrible hand-eye coordination and having a sidekick who can dole out some damage for me is always a great help.
Abilities and enemies are a cause for chaos
The abilities you can use have undergone some slight tweaks. Some characters are now able to access a secondary attack, as well as their special ability. You also have free reign to mix and match your skills between skill-trees. However, if you want to re-spec, you still have to find a settlement and a New-U Station to reset your points.
Enemies in Borderlands 3 are a mixed bag. Some enemies, like the psychos, having undergone some significant changes to make them more of a threat. Other enemies, like Skags and Rakk, remain the same.
There are a plethora of new enemy types to contend with. However, this is both a blessing and a curse. You’re never sure if your weapons are going to be effective against whatever you’ll encounter. Additionally, it only gets harder to deal with as you move forward in the game. I’d recommend keeping at least one of every type of gun to be safe.
As mentioned above, bosses in the gameplay are very much the same. You’ll drop into an arena from above, have the traditional introduction cutscene (some missing the funny taglines Borderlands fans are familiar with) and then fight the boss. Nearly every boss follows the same patterns. They either become invincible after losing one of its three segments of health or leap out of the arena to throw hazards at you. There are slight variations here and there, but it’s clear the flair and creativity that went into bosses from past games aren’t quite there anymore.
The game is beautiful but hard to navigate
For all the negativity so far, I must admit that Borderlands 3 is ambitious. It features a greater variety of new landscapes then all of its predecessors, and the maps themselves are fun to look at.
Unfortunately, they are challenging to navigate. Often while running through Borderlands 3, you’ll find yourself in areas where the map overlaps on itself. In these situations, it can be incredibly hard to know which routes lead where. I also had multiple instances of quest markers not showing up on the map. This leads me to have to search through the map one location at a time to find particular objectives.
One of the more annoying problems with Borderlands 3 has to do with the puzzles. Whether it’s a jumping puzzle to get to a quest objective or a disconnected power supply, you must fix to access loot.
These things would be good if they were one-time occurrences, but they keep happening. It gets increasingly frustrating when you struggle through a hard area only to have the excellent loot locked behind another obstacle.
Something I found particularly perplexing was the inclusion of slabs of Eridian writing featured in every level. These stones are sometimes front and center as you progress through the game. However, it’s only after the game ends that they reveal mysterious audio logs. I can’t help feeling like this mechanic would’ve worked better if you could access them from the start of your journey.
Borderlands 3 is a worthy successor to the other games, but it is very rough around the edges. Whether Gearbox smoothes out those edges will determine if Borderlands 3 culminates in success or failure.
We’ve yet to hear any word on when the DLC for the game will drop. Still, Gearbox has confirmed that they currently have no plans to join additional Vault Hunters to the game (as they did for BL2 and Pre-Sequel).
Have you been playing Borderlands 3? What’re your thoughts on the game? Let us know in the comments below and feel free to hit me up on Twitter with your ideas.