|System: PS4, Xbox One, PC|
|Dev: Gearbox Software|
|Pub: 2K Games|
|Release: September 13, 2019|
|Players: 1-4 Player|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language|
by Jenni Lada
Borderlands 3 is a game people have been anticipating for years. Titles like Borderlands 2 and Tales from the Borderlands have been leading up to it. Plus, there’s always this joy that comes from each installment, as fans know it’ll be a title that lasts for years, due to how enjoyable multiplayer can be and the replay value that comes from multiple add-ons and so many guns. Fortunately for everyone who has been wanting more, Borderlands 3 provides it. This is one instance where more of the same is definitely not a bad thing. Rather, it leads to something of a reunion show atmosphere, as old favorites reappear, while a new story helps us grow attached to new characters.
Borderlands 3 takes place on a Pandora where a new villainous pair is threatening not only the planet, but the galaxy in a quest for power. After founding a Children of the Vault cult that is weaponizing all bandits and baddies as their minions and stealing Lilith and the Crimson Raiders’ Vault Map, players are among the new hunters recruited as new members of the order. Your goal is to face off against the twins’ minions and try to ensure the contents of those vaults littered across multiple planets don’t fall into the wrong hands.
In a way, coming to Borderlands 3 after Borderlands 2 can almost feel like maybe a step sideways. Saying it is a step back would be going too far, because the storyline here does have some developments that help tie things up. Existing characters return, offering us resolutions to their storylines. Depending on how much time you have spent with the series and how connected you are, you might even find yourself experiencing some surprisingly deep emotions at plot developments. Tyreen and Troy don’t immediately come across as villains that are as engaging as Handsome Jack. He was this diabolical figure who you gradually grow to hate, especially as you get closer to his reveal, and we did have three games to get to know him.
But, perhaps it isn’t fair to compare them, given how much time we were given to hate Handsome Jack. Tyreen and Troy’s motives are as twisted, after all, and they commit acts that are just as heinous. (Though, one of the actions Troy performs that will hurt people the most feels anticlimactic.) Perhaps it is because Tyreen and Troy are written in a way that makes them behave like folks people find annoying in the real world, acting as live streaming “gods” to get legions of devotees. Maybe, as time goes on and Borderlands 3 establishes itself, we’ll grow to appreciate this depiction of evil and perhaps example of a cautionary tale of glorifying influencers. Though, due to the fact that they don't get time to get the proper development, I think they will feel permanently rushed and hollow and their most dastardly antics will not carry the proper weight.
Possible hidden fable aside, the character direction and writing in Borderlands 3 is mostly what you expect from a game in the series. Which is great for people who enjoy that sort of humor! It perfectly maintains the personality the series is known for. There’s a level of crass and absurdity there, especially with characters like Claptrap and Vaughn, but we also have more genuine individuals like Lilith who help provide the heart of the team. It never gets too “heavy,” but there is definite heart there. (Sadly, Claptrap’s new voice takes some adjusting to, as does Rhys’.)
As for gameplay, Borderlands 3 has that same loop that helps the past entries ensure. You are given a task by a colorful character. You head to the designated location, which is very likely filled by foul-mouthed individuals with a lot of guns. Once you defeat those people, you will get lots of guns and items, accomplish a goal, and head back. This gives you an opportunity to do it all over again. A wealth of different guns provides plenty of excuse to keep heading in and doing things over and over again. Especially if you also decide you are into collecting car parts as well as grabbing lots of weapons. Also, since grinding doesn’t feel entirely necessary, it can become more about pleasure than work. Though, it can get a bit repetitive since most missions involve go someplace, get an item or defeat a certain person, and return. (At least each of the four planets does have its own distinct look.) If someone is going through the campaign missions and taking on a sidequest or two, they could be fine. (Just try to be around level 35 as you near the end.)
Part of this is because there is such a sense of variety. The four Vault Hunters all feel like they could be useful alone or in a group. FL4K is especially good if you want to play alone, as his Guard Skag, Jabber Sidekick, and Spiderant Centurian “pets” offer a helpful ally on the field to attack and distract enemies. Moze is also fantastic if you play alone, as her summoning the Iron Bear mech can help with her durability and handling huge mobs. The grenade launchers and flamethrowers especially are good. While someone might want to go with Zane when someone else is around, since he’s more of a ranged character, it is totally possible for him to work in any situation. As for Amara, I liked her physicality when playing with someone else, since she can get up in someone’s face with melee attacks, but appreciated that her elemental options meant I would always have things like incendiary or shock damage and her Brawl tree had a Clarity passive that always regenerated health. Each works well alone or with others. You aren’t forced into one style of play.
Which helps since the enemies in the game are all pretty hazardous and provide a good degree of challenge. Foes are smart, making use of cover, knowing when to rush in to attack you, and sometimes realizing it might be wise to temporarily back off and regroup to attack from a certain angle. Bosses have certain attack patterns that you’ll come to recognize as you play, with some having distinctive abilities that seem to fit with their personality. Mouthpiece, one of the earliest bosses, is a good example, as he’s helping with the Calypso Twins’ latest live stream, has a shield with an audio visualizer built into it, and uses the speakers around the arena to attack.
While most of the balance in Borderlands 3 feels great, there is a tendency for things to gradually feel a little unfair as time goes on. The further into the game you get, the more the big bosses feel like bullet sponges. This is something that doesn’t really come into play during, say, the first five or ten hours, but by the end, it might feel like you’re only shaving the most minimal amounts of damage off of life bars. Fortunately, this is almost never an issue with ordinary encounters. Also, some of these bosses do have minions around, so you can always attack one of them to get a Second Wind to revive yourself if you’re about to die.
But, while balance might feel off in that way, in every other area Borderlands 3 feels exceptionally fair. It’s easy to fast travel anywhere at any time. If you are about to die and there are enemies around, you can kill one for a second wind that will revive you and give you another opportunity to jump into the fray. If you do die, you’re revived in the immediate area and quickly able to pick up where you have left off. There are easy and normal difficulty levels. The game is well balanced for all characters, making it possible to solo the campaign or work with others. It’s just exceptionally accessible. Especially when you also consider multiple control scheme options, the ability to set reticule colors for people who may be colorblind, aiming and movement options for people who could have an issue like maybe arthritis, and the ability to not only have subtitles and closed captioning, but also determine their font size and background opacity.
Another perk is that Borderlands 3 doesn’t have that many issues that hamper the gameplay experience. Sure, it has a few problems at launch. At one point in The Droughts, I fell out of bounds, regenerated at a station, but then had the warning alert constantly going off. (I had to completely close the game and open it again to turn it off.) The menu has quite a bit of lag to it, with the framerate dipping. More distressing is that there is no vertical splitscreen multiplayer. Instead, it’s horizontal. This isn’t exactly optimal, especially if you want to head into the already laggy menus to adjust your builds. Fortunately, online multiplayer is just fine and as fun as ever.
Perhaps the best way to describe Borderlands 3 is to say it is exactly the game you would expect it to be. There are plenty of familiar faces, and it has the same sort of ambiance and atmosphere. People will still keep going into quest after quest for the same reasons (loot). While it might be difficult to accept the new villains after a great one like Handsome Jack, the twins are fine. Most importantly, the new Vault Hunters work well and the game is as fun to play alone as it is with friends. It looks, works, and plays well, and fans of the series will be more than happy to join the Crimson Raiders.