- Game: Borderlands 3
- Consoles: Xbox One, PS4 (Reviewed), PC
- Publisher: 2K Games
- Developer: Gearbox Software
- (A review copy of Borderlands 3 was supplied by the publisher)
Borderlands 3 has been one of the most entertaining and frustrating games I’ve played in years. After spending nearly an hour attempting to beat one of the game’s most difficult bosses, I finally memorized his attacks and cut this foe down with a hail of gunfire. On the cusp of victory, as loot poured from his body, the game bugged and sent my Vault Hunter careening through the floor. Infinitely falling, I was forced to quit out of the game and reload, losing all of my well-earned loot.
This is Borderlands 3, a game of nearly immeasurable highs, brought swiftly down to earth by some horrendous bugs. While it may not be a perfect game (or even the best looter shooter currently on the market), Borderlands 3 is a testament to the “easy to learn, hard to master” design philosophy.
Set some time after the events of Borderlands 2, you pick from one of four unique characters called Vault Hunters. Moments after stepping off the bus, these colorful protagonists are thrust into a war between a local resistance (dubbed the Crimson Raiders) and a cult full of bandits called the Children of the Vault. Led by siblings Tyreen and Troy Calypso, the CoV are determined to ascend to godhood by raiding various, alien temples called Vaults.
While this may sound like an easy excuse to hop across the game’s collection of gorgeous planets, Borderlands 3 tells a surprisingly emotional story. Characters such as the Crimson Raider Lilith and siren-in-training Ava get the majority of the character development. Ava, in particular, is a superb addition to the cast. Her journey is remarkably compelling, even if the writing quality is shaky at times.
Tyreen and Troy serve as decent antagonists, largely due to how different they feel from Borderlands 2’s Handsome Jack. They’re the bandit equivalent of modern-day influencers, telling their followers to “Like, Share, and Obey” after successfully streaming a brutal assault. Enemies will constantly talk about the duo, screaming their names as they charge into battle. It can be pretty jarring to see just how much control these two have over the game world.
Unfortunately, Borderlands 3 is a few hours too long thanks to a fake climax that zaps all the tension and drama from the plot. Instead of ending in a thunderous boom, Borderlands 3 meanders its way to the final fight. There are also some late story revelations that absolutely did not need to be in the game, as it does nothing but drags the plot down because the writers didn’t know when or where to finish.
Thankfully, Borderlands 3’s superb gameplay remains engaging even if the story falters. Each of the four Vault Hunters brings something completely different to the game via various abilities and lengthy skill trees. The Siren, Amara, controls the battlefield with her magical abilities and specializes in punching foes into pulpy explosions of flesh. Moze brings a massive Titanfall style mech filled with a huge arsenal of customizable weapons. Zane focuses on deception and gadgets while the robotic FL4K commands three different pet beasts.
Each one boasts three skill trees, all of which can be mixed and matched without any repercussion. Borderlands 3 heavily encourages experimentation, allowing users to fine-tune their build through stat-boosting artifacts, weapons, and abilities. This ensures that no two playthroughs are the same, even if you use the same Vault Hunter. Additionally, every playable character has unique in-game dialogue, yet I wish the game focused a bit more on fleshing out these four heroes.
Of course, the big draw of Borderlands 3 is its claim of having literally millions of weapons. While this may sound like hyperbole, the sheer amount of combinations, stats, manufacturers, and archetypes is staggering. In my nearly 50 hours with Borderlands 3, I’ve found a bazooka that shoots cheeseburgers, a pistol with infinite ammo, a shotgun that triggers explosions when you reload, along with so many other wacky firearms.
Weapons have their own distinctive personalities, thanks to the different manufacturers. Jakobs weapons can ricochet rounds if you score a critical hit, while Torque weapons all revolve around explosions. Atlas weapons allow players to tag enemies with a tracker dart causing your bullets to always hit and Teidore guns either explode or turn into walking turrets when reloaded. Understanding how these firearms function is critical in Borderlands 3 since they can drastically alter how you approach combat.
Broken up across five rarity tiers, hunting for the right weapon for your particular build is quite addicting. Grinding for weapons could easily slip into tedious repetition, but Borderlands 3 shakes things up by offering a rather robust endgame. Along with a new game plus mode, players can participate in the Circle of Slaughter or Proving Grounds. The former is a wave-based horde mode that tasks users with surviving up to five rounds of escalating difficulty. For those wanting something shorter, the Proving Grounds is a collection of mini-dungeons capped with a unique boss fight.
Both are quite enjoyable, especially the Proving Grounds which serves as an excellent place to test new team compositions or character builds. Sadly, all of the dungeon layouts are static, so don’t expect anything super crazy. With only a small handful of maps available, we desperately hope that the Proving Grounds dungeon roster gets expanded upon.
Bolstering this content are three Mayhem modifiers, each of which adds a plethora of buffs and debuffs to the world. Since the drop rate for high-tier gear is increased, there’s a big incentive to always have one of these modifiers on. It’s a nice way to raise the stakes if you don’t mind the game becoming more challenging. I just wish there was a way to tweak the modifiers so I didn’t always feel so punished for having a specific loadout.
Alternatively, players can play through Borderlands 3 again via new game plus, here called True Vault Hunter mode. Consisting of 23 chapters, the campaign offers a nice assortment of missions, most of which involve either collecting something or shooting enemies. There’s also a wide variety of side missions which typically involve one of Borderlands’ supporting character. The quality is hit or miss, with some of them putting you squarely in the middle of a hilarious scenario while others lean heavily on just running around the world looking for things.
The boss variety is much better, with many of them having their own special gimmick or multiple phases. With a little over a dozen core bosses, only a few sport truly frustrating mechanics. Battling against a boss that can just electrocute the entire floor goes from challenging to downright frustrating. However, most of the bosses are extremely entertaining to fight since they can provide a significant challenge. Every boss is a massive puzzle, forcing users to quickly adapt to changing attack patterns or even health bars.
Yet, for all its entertaining gameplay, Borderlands 3 is weighed down by some seriously nasty bugs. Having played the majority of my time on the PS4 Pro I was shocked at the number of glitches and technical errors I came across. Just in one play session I had my audio completely cut out, an NPC glitch into the wall, a co-op partner’s character model vanishing, and the game hard crashing in the middle of a quest. It’s an inexcusable amount of glitches that can quickly sour anyone’s time with Borderlands 3.
Borderlands 3 Takeaways
Borderlands 3 is a complicated game to recommend. It’s a technical mess that is flooded with bugs and sports some pretty mediocre writing at times. On the other hand, it boasts terrific gameplay, characters, and endgame content. If it wasn’t so marred by glitches, it would be an easy contender for game of the year. While we are sure this game is a perfect evolution for the Borderlands formula, we wish Gearbox spent a bit more time polishing the product.
Borderlands 3 would have hit the bullseye if the gun didn’t misfire and explode when you pulled the trigger.
Our Borderlands 3 Score: 8 out of 10