Borderlands was a seminal franchise in my development as a person. Firstly, it cultivated my humour to the point where I find the word “seminal” hilarious and secondly, it was a franchise I put a frightening amount of time into. The quest for better loot and that sweet rush of euphoric delight as you’re making slow incremental progress is an intoxicating thing that can really grab you when you’re a kid with nothing but time.
The games had a simple formula for success: Shoot, loot and have a hoot. The story didn’t take itself too seriously and the characters were memorable, funny and oddly deep despite a shallow initial surface. They did this clever thing where everything felt satirical and crazy while there was this small thread of sincerity that you could find yourself relating to. Also, it was just a blast to play. Shoot some bandits and creatures in the face with increasingly wild guns and have this frantic gameplay experience in every encounter with all the special skills that are available to powerful vault hunters.
So, enough reminiscing, what does the long-awaited Borderlands 3 bring to the table? Well, I mostly described it in those two paragraphs up top. All that has really changed is that I’m not a kid anymore. Legally, at least.
So, you want to hear a story, huh?
Borderlands 3 is easily the most ambitious of the series in terms of its narrative. The central conflict this time revolves around the maniacally evil Calypso Twins and their quest to become the most powerful beings in the universe or “gods” as they were so fond of saying. In order to do that, they used their online popularity to recruit a gigantic cult called the Children of the Vault that will bend to their every will and revere them as celestial beings, not unlike the Kardashians. Naturally, the cult is made up of maniacs (not like cult members are usually stable) and these psychopaths will happily throw themselves into a fire in order to appease their masters.
Good payoffs, good sendoffs and everything in between made this a story that fits very comfortably into the franchise’s legacy
Troy and Tyreen Calypso then scour the universe in search of the mythical vaults in order to suck the power right out of them and ascend themselves to true godhood. Since you play as a vault hunter, you quickly get sucked into this conflict and end up butting heads with these symbiotic sociopaths once you join the legendary but decrepit Crimson Raiders. Getting the villains right in a Borderlands game is like getting the sauce right in making a pizza. It complements everything else on the pizza and serves as the base that will affect all the other aspects of the pizza experience. I would say that the Calypso Twins are a classic tomato sauce that has a bit too much pepper.
Their performance is admirable as two totally batsh*t crazy warlords, but they lacked the charisma that we saw in previous villains of the franchise and often when they harassed me on my ECHO, I just ended up rolling my eyes more than anything else. Still, they made a valiant attempt and there was nothing truly horrendous about their inclusion, they were just a little bit run-of-the-mill and to stick with our pizza analogy, they lacked the special sauce.
This is a heading that breaks up the text wall, you’re welcome
But Borderlands 3 focuses a lot more attention on its existing beloved characters. So many different figures from the franchise come together to face this new threat and I would say that this was the game’s version of Avengers: Endgame where every character you got to know and love from the previous stories all coalesce into this one huge epic. If you are invested in the Borderlands Cinematic Universe, you will get quite a kick from seeing these awesome characters get a little time in the spotlight and work together with you to put a stop to evil.
This is where the game’s story really shined for me since I am one of the people invested in this cinematic universe and the game progresses through multiple planets now instead of just being stuck on Pandora. It creates this massive epic feeling of a journey across the cosmos while still retaining the rag-tag nature of this dysfunctional family of loonies. We get to meet some new faces as well, of course, and some of them are rather charming. The jokes in this game are a little less clever than they were in the past with some that would easily fall in the “cringy” camp, but there were still some momentary shines of comedic genius too.
The game is paced really well and the big missions on each of the planets are suitably epic and satisfying with huge setpieces, crazy events and big boss fights. The story is the length of an epic as well (I’ll stop saying epic) since it’ll take you about 25 hours just for the story alone, not accounting the plethora of side-missions. While we’re here, the side-missions were also surprisingly robust and often you’d get a quest that would sound simple at first glance that would soon turn into something crazy on its own. When all was said and done and the credits rolled, I was thoroughly satisfied. Good payoffs, good sendoffs and everything in between made this a story that fits very comfortably into the franchise’s legacy.
Shoot, loot, put a boot up their caboose
Borderlands 3‘s gameplay experience is the definition of if it ain’t broke, don’t f*ck with it. But they did do a little foreplay that makes everything just a little bit more tantalising. It plays exactly as you would expect a Borderlands game to play. Big guns with crazy modifiers that you use to shoot down some bad guys while you use your unique skills as a vault hunter to get the upper hand and lay waste to your enemies. I played as FL4K since he’s a chonky boy obsessed with death (very relatable) and in one of his skill trees, he focuses on critical hits and long-ranged attacks which fits my style of “always aim for the head, no matter how many or where” quite comfortably.
The game allows you to cater your combat experience in a huge variety of ways, but ultimately, it’s pretty close to what we’ve experienced in the previous games. The skill trees have some added flair with modifiers for your action skills and the ability to change up your playstyle as you progress through a particular tree, but there wasn’t a big change-up in how they functioned which was not really an issue for me.
Borderlands 3 doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it takes the already working wheel, polishes it up, puts some neon lights on it and attaches it to a pimpmobile that’s en route to funtown.
What I loved about the gameplay of Borderlands 3 is while it feels like slipping your feet back into a comfortable pair of fluffy slippers, everything is just very refined, streamlined and simply feels good. The guns have this real impact to them with excellent sound design that really makes you feel the weight of your shots while the animation quality of the reloading and handling is extremely high-end. Cycling through quests using the D-Pad is something I never knew I wanted but now can’t live without and they made the absolutely genius decision of allowing you to auto-loot ammo and money when opening containers which makes the efficient part of me just weep tears of calculated happiness.
Witness me, shiny and chrome
Since loot is such a big feature of these games, let’s talk about it for a bit. We still have the gigajillion guns, but as we know, about a tentajillion of those guns are of white rarity and of no use to anyone. However, we still have some awesome loot to be found with some of the most creative guns the series has seen yet and each manufacturer really feels different in terms of shooting experience. Since I love my critical hits and had a build for it, I stuck with Jakobs guns since they focused heavily on critical hits, but the Maliwan elemental guns have some crazy effectiveness while the Tediore guns that you yeet into an enemy’s face when it’s time to reload never get old.
The loot bug bites early and it bites hard and before long, I was just addicted to the rush of finding bigger and better weapons, very similar to how the previous games hooked me. It felt good to loot and since we didn’t have awful microtransactions or predatory systems to worry about, it all felt extremely natural and fair in a gaming world where those two things are usually in short supply. Loot remains one of the pillars of the experience and like with many other things in the game, they just nailed it.
Yes, there were some performance issues
Sadly, I have to agree with the consensus of the internet that the game does have some pretty shoddy performance problems. On the PS4 Pro, I had to play the game in performance mode because I couldn’t really stand the lower framerate in the resolution mode, but the performance mode had some significant stutters in framerate and would just feel sticky whenever there was a bunch of action on screen. In terms of bugs, I can’t say I had that many and the only egregious one I found was in the final cutscene of the game when my characters didn’t render properly (go figure). Patches are incoming very soon, so while still disappointing that these issues exist, they are hopefully just temporary. It might be a good idea to wait until the kinks are ironed out though.
Despite the performance hiccups, the game still looks pretty gorgeous. The cell-shading art style that the series is famous for is still intact and it’s been vastly improved. The lighting, in particular, saw a huge bump in quality which makes the game’s various diverse locations pop and feel alive. The gore has also been cranked a bit which makes my violent little heart happy because there’s nothing sweeter than a psycho’s head popping like a ripe cherry when you fanhammer your pistol into his or her face. Visuals were never really the focus of the Borderlands games, but for it to look as pretty as this is definitely a nice bonus.
Hey, it’s time for the only part of the review people actually read. Verdict time!
Borderlands 3 does exactly what I wanted it to. Give me more Borderlands just bigger, better and prettier. Borderlands 3 doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it takes the already working wheel, polishes it up, puts some neon lights on it and attaches it to a pimpmobile that’s en route to funtown. Is it perfect? No, not with all these performance issues, the Calypsos being a bit underwhelming, the jokes feeling a bit “2015 Facebook memes” and a couple of boring sequences in the main story.
But Borderlands 3 is incredibly easy to recommend. If you’re a fan of the franchise and have a Lilith plushy that you hug a little too tightly, you probably bought the game when it released already and you’re just reading this review to either validate yourself or get angry at me in the comment section. If you somehow never had your hands on a Borderlands game, there is a lot to love here for newcomers as well since it’s still a wonderfully solid FPS RPG experience with fun quests, addictive loot hunting and let’s not forget it’s the pinnacle of co-op gaming experiences even though I couldn’t test that because I have no friends.
In a gaming world where loot has been made into a commodity and solid questing has been replaced by boring checklists designed to make you stay as long as possible, Borderlands 3 is a breath of fresh air, despite how closely it sticks with what made it popular. If anything, you have to applaud it for that. It’s a good thing that it’s a great game too. Makes it a lot less messy.