- Best gunplay in the series
- Good music
- Diversity in character builds
- Plenty of things to do
- Typhon DeLeon
- Humor is hit or miss
- Menu lag can be horrible
- Co-op has some issues
- Mediocre story
- Doesn't change too much from past entries
Back in 2009, Gearbox Software released a game that would become a basis for a sub-genre of games called the looter shooter. The first game was a hit and would help launch the Borderlands franchise, spawning not only two more sequels, but a pre-sequel and another visual novel-type game. The series really took off with the second entry, cementing the comedy that Borderlands became known for, as well as the wealth of content. The Pre-Sequel was a game that, while they had help from the main Gearbox team, it was mainly developed by 2K Australia (which no longer exists). Borderlands 2 released in 2012 and while the Pre-Sequel helped a bit, it wasn’t until 2019 that fans would get another game that felt like an actual sequel, with Borderlands 3.
The game begins with Lilith, one of the playable characters from the first game and now commander of the Crimson Raiders, who is after the universe’s vaults. These vaults, which was thought to contain treasure of immeasurable worth, are not what they seem. Enter the antagonists of the game, the Children of the Vault, led by the Calypso Twins, Tyreen and Troy. With them after the vaults, too, it’s up to the Crimson Raiders and the four new Vault Hunters to put a stop to them. Of course, the story takes some turns, some of which are kind of out of nowhere, especially considering the events leading up to them.
The game takes the established characters, introduces them for a few missions, then tosses them to the side, never to be seen again. Of course, the game focuses on a set cast and doesn’t really deviate from them, with a few other characters showing up later in the game. One of those characters is highly annoying, too, and shouldn’t have had the spotlight on them at all. Bringing the attention to the main antagonists, they are kind of like Youtuber/Streamer personalities, as they will periodically pop up during the game with their “live stream.” They’re not too bad, but they could be better and you will likely hate them for the wrong reasons. I guess it is kind of hard to top Handsome Jack, who was one of the better bad guys to debut in a game, though.
Borderlands 3 retains that cel shaded look of the previous games, but it does look a lot sharper, especially considering this is a 2019 game. There is quite a bit of detail on the characters and environments, and you will notice the improvement in graphical fidelity from the special effects alone. Once you delve a little deeper into the story and start gaining elemental weapons, the effects will start flying. On the other side, Gearbox decided to go with a 3D map for Borderlands 3, which can be kind of hit and miss. It’s logical, considering that a good portion of the maps have multiple layers, but it can be somewhat difficult at times to tell where you’re going with the map system in this game. Also, the scrolling on the map itself could have been a little faster, as the cursor moves a little too slow.
Overall, the game runs pretty smoothly once the action starts, with nothing really slowing it down, framerate-wise. There might be a few little hiccups here and there, but it’s not going to affect your solo gameplay. However, when playing with others, you will definitely see the game chugging sometimes and it will skip here and there. The biggest problem with Borderlands 3, though, is definitely the in-game menus for your inventory and skill trees. There is lag when opening the menu, which is one of the worst things, considering how often you go in there to check your weapons, skills and even the map. This menu lag is present in single player and gets even worse in co-op play, with the skill tree page taking upwards of 6-10 seconds before it’s fully loaded.
Moving onto the sound design in the game, the music is actually really good, with the biggest surprise being the music played during bosses. There are a few tracks in there where you might be bobbing your head along to the beat, but a lot of times, you might not even be paying attention or forget that music is playing when out exploring or during normal fights. Let’s just say that a few of the boss themes might even make your Youtube playlist, but music is entirely subjective and it might not be your thing. The other aspects of the sound are well done, with sound effects sounding like their thing. You might never get tired of hearing bandits screaming after they’re engulfed in flames or being electrocuted.
Lastly, while the majority of the voices are fine, the newcomers to the game can be hit or miss. Tyreen’s voice, for example, can be a bit grating, although Troy’s voice was executed well. Also, for those curious, Claptrap’s voice actor was changed for this entry and while you could tell the difference in some spots, the other times it wasn’t even noticeable. The majority of the other returning characters are pretty much the same, too, but the one true shining spot was Typhon DeLeon, who you hear if you seek out one of the game’s collectibles. Not only was his voice spot on with the character, but the humor from what were essentially ECHO recordings was one of the better things character/story-wise in the game.
Speaking of the actual game, Borderlands 3 is definitely the best one in the series, from a mechanics standing. Now, the basics of the game is pretty much the standard Borderlands formula, which revolves around running and gunning, while doing various missions. You have the choice of four different Vault Hunters, like every game, which all play very differently. Amara, for example, is the game’s playable Siren, but is more of a brutish, in your face, melee character. That also brings up the point that all four playable characters have access to three different Action Skills, which are the primary abilities. You can switch between them at any time you want, too, by simply going into the skills menu and choosing another one.
Every character has access to three skill trees, the standard in any Borderlands game and they really shine here, making the characters feel even more unique. New to Borderlands 3 are special add-ons that you can equip upon unlocking specific tiers in a skill tree; these are off to the side on each skill tree. Using Amara as the example again, her default element for her Action Skills is electric, but she can change these to the other elements using those add-ons. Some of them even completely change the Action Skills, like Phasecast turning from a projectile into a ground attack that leaves behind an elemental puddle.
This gives you some incentive to test out various skills and builds, with the ability to respec characters from any New-U station for a fairly cheap price. Not only can you test out all of the Action Skills without having to respec, but you can change the add-ons, too, so the only reason to respec is to change the actual skills in the trees. Since there are so many different synergies and ways to build a character, it gives you a lot of incentive to actually do so and play around with things. Long gone are the days of the basic skill trees in the original Borderlands game.
Of course, a game like Borderlands that revolves around shooting means the gunplay must be amazing. Well, the gunplay is definitely the best it has ever been in the Borderlands series with this entry. Returning to Borderlands 3 are the various weapon manufacturers, with each one having their own unique characteristics. Maliwan is still the king of elemental damage, but their weapons also have a slight charge up time before they start firing. A returning manufacturer from the first game is Atlas, which has the distinct characteristic of placing tracker tags on enemies, then having your bullets home in on that enemy. The only true new manufacturer is COV (Children of the Vault), which have unlimited clips, so you literally just continue firing until the weapon overheats and breaks or you run out of ammo.
The missions system in Borderlands 3 pretty much functions the same, with there being main story missions and optional ones. The latter are marked on your map as yellow exclamation points, with some of them having optional objectives that actually give you good rewards at times, unlike the extra money from Borderlands 2. While there might appear to be not as many optional missions as the second game, there end up being almost as many as in that game’s base package. Some of them, too, seem a little more fleshed out than in previous games, with them throwing out extra objectives when the mission is seemingly finished.
While the game largely remains the same as older titles, there are some little things added that improve the quality of life. For example, all characters can slide and mantle up on objects. Sliding can help in getting behind cover much more quickly, while mantling is especially useful in allowing more verticality to the game. Whether this was something that carried over from the low gravity of The Pre-Sequel or not, it does add to the game quite a bit. Another small, but huge in terms of quality, is the ability to refill your ammo at a vending machine with a single button; this is something the Borderlands community had been clamoring for since the first game.
Overall, the game’s story will take around 20-30 hours to finish, depending on any optional missions you feel like doing during your playthrough. Each map in the game has something called Crew Challenges, which are basically collectibles. Also, each map has more stuff to do, like finding the locations (something that’s been in since Borderlands 2), opening red chests, and a few other things. Once you finish the game, you will have more options open to you. More missions open up, such as the trials, which allow you to fight through what are essentially small areas, with a boss at the end. There’s also Guardian Ranks, which are similar to the Badass Ranks of previous games, but it’s designed for the end game this time.
In addition to that, you have the traditional second playthrough of the game, called True Vault Hunter Mode, where you keep everything from the first playthrough, but enemies and loot will be better. New to Borderlands 3 is something called Mayhem Mode, unlocked after finishing the game. There are three Mayhem tiers, with each one increasing your rewards, while at the same time increasing the difficulty of the game. To add onto this, Mayhem Mode will add modifiers to the game, some positive and some negative. You might get a -20% normal bullet damage, but a +50% elemental damage, as an example. Of course, the main draw of Mayhem Mode is to get the better loot drops.
For fans of the series, they will find that Borderlands 3 is a comfortable game, as it doesn’t really do too much to improve on the basic loot-n-shoot formula already established from the series. The quality of life features certainly makes the game much more enjoyable to play, so it is a no-brainer to anyone who was interested in Borderlands from the beginning. Of course, some of the technical problems can put a damper on your playing of the game, since you’re using the in-game menu so often and if you’re adventuring with friends, then your experience might be a little worse. Those new to the Borderlands series might want to wait a little bit until they’ve ironed out these issues, but at its core, Borderlands 3 is an incredibly fun experience.
Borderlands 3 is the return of the king of loot shooters, with enough familiarity there for fans. The gameplay is the best it has ever been in the series, so get ready to blast some bandits. There’s just a few things keeping it from being a truly remarkable game.