**SIDENOTE: This review of Borderlands 3 and its content is based entirely around a playthough with Moze. This may make an impact in whatever critiques I have to say about the gameplay.
Also, beware of minor/major spoilers. They’re necessary to talk about.**
This series that needs no introduction, I believe. Gearbox’s unprecedented hit saw unimaginable success in 2009, with its second entry only multiplying in fame. Aside from those, Gearbox has on other projects and franchises, including the recent Battleborn, Duke Nukem Forever, and Aliens: Colonial Marines.
You play as one of four mercenaries who have come to Pandora once again for the promises of vaults. Right away, you are treated to contempt by one God-Queen Tyreen, a former streamer on the ECHOnet who has managed to create a planet-wide following by the name of “Children Of the Vault”. Together with her parasite brother Troy, they’re both planning to open several vaults dotted around the galaxy– with a final “Great Vault” being rumored to open after all that– and you have to gather a “Best Of” team to stop them.
Now, something about this plot seems almost… similar? I dare say one would get a certain sense of déjà vu emanating from this plotline, because it’s the same thing as the previous three games, including Tales From The Borderlands. One would say, argue, and defend that narrative isn’t Borderlands strong suit, but that’s a point I want to come back later.
Before all that however, there’s the gameplay to talk about, in all of its generic flavors. If you came here looking for the Borderlands experience to end all Borderlands experiences, then you came to the right place. Borderlands 3 is full of slightly visceral violent combat with a hint of strategy and insane frame-rate drops when you decide to panic ult .
This is not without slight innovations made, despite their cynical execution. Sliding has finally made its way into the last AAA FPS franchise, but it’s not really something you’d use in any context. Borderlands A.I. is fairly accurate, and since you’ll mostly be dealing with hitscan weaponry, it’s just going to be another way you get hit. That is, however, unless you use it to find cover, which… no. I wanna feel like the righteous bad-ass the press kit promised I’d be.
Weapon manufacturers have also seen a massive overhaul, which tends to over-complicate what was originally a simple procedure. They’re all still here– Atlas, Vladof, Maliwan, Hyperion, Jakobs, etc. — but now they’re dedicated to making specific weaponry designed to add several thin tactical layers. For example, Atlas only makes inaccurate weaponry that needs a tracker dart placed on the enemy in order to hit properly. Maliwan only makes elemental weapons that you have to charge up with each shot or burst in order to gain their full potential. Jakobs only makes coachguns, single-shot repeaters and revolvers that rely on critical hits for their best outcomes, so on and so forth.
In truth, this is a genius way to actually flesh out the weapon manufacturers, which have a much stronger placeholder in the world of Borderlands than you’d think. If you also go into the game knowing this, then you’ll have a much better time, because realistically, you don’t wanna be mix-n-matching various types of weaponry like this. You don’t wanna get used to Jakobs dealing high damage quickly with accurate blows, only to wait for a Maliwan to charge up in order to deal the same DPS.
With that said, I’m disappointed by the growth of DPS. You definitely feel like you’re wasting a lot more ammo than usual here, and not just because every enemy is a fucking bullet sponge now. Clips seem to run out way too quickly, and when you see the numbers relentlessly pop up while spraying for easy crits, they never feel like they add up to a massive number like before.
In fact, the game only feels bigger than its previous entries with the worlds they’ve provided. You’ve got planetary travel now, with Pandora being a simple entree for the player. What confuses me, however, is that these new planets may as well just be locations on Pandora.
Promethea looks and feels like Handsome Jack’s Hyperion city from Borderlands 2, but with more neon and Maliwan’s logo all over it instead. Eden-6 feels like a cop-out of re-used assets from the “Zombie Island of Dr. Ned” DLC, and the Eridian homeworld just feels like an underground part of what was once originally Eridian grounds on Pandora. Putting a giant floating cube in the middle of it doesn’t change much.
Speaking of, for all of these “great” innovations made to Borderlands‘s formula, it is quite humorous to see these new planets host new life that looks and acts oddly similar to Pandoran wildlife. Bullymongs? Oh, they don’t exist anymore, but we have Jabbers that throw poo instead of snowballs. Skags? Soooo last year. We have Saurians instead. Look! They have an outer skull to deflect headshot crits!
Also, anyone who tells you that this game is a 50-plus hour game is lying through their teeth. For one, even with side missions on board, I clocked in a final time of 35 hours by end game. For two, I’m not counting the absolutely shit commutes made by trying to understand the awful navigation tools used in this game as “playing time”.
Honestly, you thought the maps in the 2016 iteration of DOOM were bad? Look no further than here. Everything is on the same level, and there’s no clear distinctions made between travelling to underground or above-ground. On top of all that, you also have to deal with a GUI that’s reverted back to its original 2009 clumsiness.
Christ on a cross, trying to deal with the sub-menus in this was a nightmare. Lagging transitions, icons duplicating, a lack of proper management when it came to your inventory items, tiny fonts. Every single sub-menu and challenge with getting to grips with the interface was a joke.
Still, this doesn’t detract from the numbing catharsis that Borderlands can provide, even though it’s adding toll booths at every junction of progression. You can still have vague modicums of fun blasting away at whatever-the-shit a Skag is nowadays, but there’s self-sabotage in play, and that’s in the narrative.
Okay, I’ve been told that “you’re not supposed to care about the story in Borderlands“. That it’s merely store-brand salad dressing to go on top of this store-brand salad made with moldy vegetables. If that’s the case, then why did they try so hard to make everything seem like it had a price? That this was something you had to fight for, that this was something the characters in-game would relentlessly drone on about every single mission.
It’s trying to do the Marvel thing, where endless jokes and quips were given a side-order of emotional reprise. Borderlands 2 did it, albeit not nearly to the same magnitude as it does here. Everything’s louder in 3, more abrasive and unstoppable in its attempts to tug at your heart-strings.
Real quick however, I will praise the character developments of three certain characters: Tannis, Hammerlock, and his new husband Wainwright Jakobs. Wainwright is a small character study into a man lacking the confidence to continue the family name, both in its manufacturer counterpart and the legacy the family has. It’s only through the reassurance that Hammerlock gives that he decides to give it a better shot, which is difficult with one eye.
Beyond that, everyone else falters at the attempts to give them more than what the previous iterations already had. Rhys’s return to the fray was short-lived and lacking… anything. Ava was an annoying little brat who was given such a predictable path to follow, that when the inevitable happened, you could hear the collective groans of every player who had reached that point. As for the villains? Well…
Tyreen and Troy could barely hold a candle to the effervescent performance of Handsome Jack. Every time the stupid little shitheels came out to blabber some more trash about how great they were, I was praying for Butt Stallion to return from the depths of the Hyperion ruins. Alas, no such luck, and Tyreen and Troy’s babbling bought forth two major failings.
For one, realistically, Tyreen and Troy simply are better than everyone else in this shithole galaxy. They’re both Sirens– which pokes a plot-hole in a line uttered by Handsome Jack in 2, but never mind, retcons are fine– and Tyreen shows more strength than every known one around. There is quite literally nothing stopping her from just going “Oh, wait a minute, I can teleport inside Sanctuary and break all of your necks!”. Why doesn’t she do it?
For two, they also messed up by not furthering the narrative of family, which was resonant throughout all of the dialogue until the last 5 hours of the game. Wainwright, Hammerlock, Ava, Kawagata, so on and so forth; the theme of family ties and what they mean to each of them stays for a while, and it almost results in a climactic disagreement between Troy and Tyreen. Nevertheless, nothing happened, and what did happen made me grit my teeth to nicotine-stained dust.
Finally, Borderlands 2 wasn’t full of memes like Reddit says it is. It’s surprisingly quite normal when compared to how other games approached internet humor. Alas, this might be because I now have at least ten years of memes ingrained into my cerebral cortex, but holy crap, I don’t ever remember 2 trying as hard as 3 does to gain cultural relevance with its knowledge of internet culture.
Every joke ends with a wink, every line has to give you a nudge to make sure you got it, every voice has to bellow the punchline like they’re afraid you won’t fucking get it. Yes, Gearbox, I get it, Esports is currently a thing, I understand that the internet’s love for Ninja is silly, I get that meme culture at the moment is confusing– but goddamn, will you give your tired complaints a rest?
This is probably why Borderlands 3 took so goddamn long to get made. They were waiting for internet humor to show at least some form of stagnation so that their critiques and confusion at their existence wouldn’t age like a turd in the summer sun. What does it result? Pandering bullshit written by a pedantic committee who thinks Scumbag Steve was a highlight of 2011. Nice try, chief, but we all know doge is eternal. Baneposting had a good run too.
Don’t even give that “it’s all ironic” angle either. If it was all ironic, then they would only punctuate Borderlands‘s supposed meme status in the trailers, only for the actual game to turn into a racist contemporary war shooter. Even if it was “all ironic”, while shitting in your hands and clapping would get a laugh from 12-year old, don’t expect anyone to shake your hands afterwards.
Attempting to finish Borderlands 3 was exasperating. Not because of the size, or the increasingly tepid combat, but because what writing talents that used to exist at Gearbox or Telltale have moved onto better things. We no longer have the quirks marred underneath a sea of brown like in the original, nor do we have the silly undertones breaking forth to give the world a bit of flavor like in the original. Now it’s all screaming and giggling, but with that Endgame tryhard sympathy attached to it. Get bent.
In the end, if you don’t mind awful writing, mechanical additions more cynical than innovative, a glitchy GUI that doesn’t care for your presence, navigation tools that only Sir Walter Raleigh could handle properly, and a sub-par Disney Channel Original movie plot, then you might have fun. As a defensive Facebook Meme Group comment would say, “itz 1 4 tha fans”, which sounds like an insult more than anything.
“Hey, gamers, we know that because you’re so conditioned to live on the internet, here’s a game relishing in the humor punctuated by outlined Impact Font. Don’t bother making your own memes of it, we’ve got you covered. Look, Claptrap’s still an asshole to you, and you relish for it, because self-deprecation is this generation’s greatest trait.”
This review of Borderlands 3 was based on the Xbox One version.
It's not the Borderlands sequel to end all Borderlands sequels. It is instead, a weak celebration of what Gearbox thought the game was to the masses, culminating in nothing but pitiful additions and an endless unfunny tidal wave of dad jokes.
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