Borderlands 3 Review

An Excellent Sequel That Does a Lot Right but Performance Issues Hinder the Experience

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*Some content in this review tackles spoiler territory. We have tried our best to avoid any possible spoilers but some areas of the review will talk about mechanics that you may not know of. SPOILERS AHEAD*

Borderlands 3 was a long time coming. It was a game highly anticipated by many, including myself. The Borderlands series doesn’t require an introduction. Setting the standard for a genre is no easy task. In 2009, the looter shooter was pretty much non-existent. Borderlands defined looting and shooting your way through a desolate world. Borderlands 3 accomplishes some of the objectives set by its predecessors at the cost of awkward design choices and performance issues.

Story –  Cool Yet Unsatisfying…

Telling a narrative has never been the focus in Borderlands. The story that is there has always been serviceable. Storytelling hit it’s peak during the events of Telltale’s Tales from the Borderlands. I knew from the moment I jumped in, that this game wasn’t going to be Tales 2. Seeing some of the characters from that game however placed uncertainty in my mind. All that aside, I enjoyed the story in Borderlands 3. Compared to other games in the series, it does a good job at being ”cool.” Is that the phrase that all the kids are saying nowadays?

The weakest part of the writing in BL3 is the main threat, the Calypso Twins. From a comparative perspective, they are disappointing following the likes of Handsome Jack. Jack set the standard from what I like to call an ‘in-your-face villain’. He was constantly teasing you. Mocking every move the Vault Hunter made. At the time, it was unlike anything I ever played. Tyreen and Troy Calypso attempt to replicate that charm. Sometimes their quips land very well and generate a chuckle from myself. Other times, however, see me punching myself in the face. It’s a two-way street with this game’s writing but that doesn’t effect the engaging moments outside of this awkwardness.

Without going into too much detail, one moment in particular is extremely emotional. For this particular series, this sort of thing rarely occurs. It had me in literal tears. As a Borderlands fan it really hit the right notes. Other moments come close to this level of emotional turmoil but this one stood out from the rest of the crowd. Certain missions can only be described as ‘awesome.’ At its peak, Borderlands 3 is up there with the best of the best in its respective series. The characters, interactions and many elements of the games lore make up for some of the lost direction.

This is a common theme throughout the games story. One moment you are embracing something truly spectacular. While others see you grinding your teeth over how its making you cringe. The final encounter at the end of the game is built up to be the strongest being in the universe. It gets you hyped up, raring to go, only to be disappointed with the games anti-climatic ending. So far, it seems like I’ve eviscerated the games story. However, I genuinely liked parts of the narrative. However the ending, and some rough writing left me hungry for something greater.

Gameplay – The Best In The Series but…?

In the game play department, Borderlands 3 is the best the franchise. After Borderlands 2 you would of deemed this impossible but it somehow improves everything. It’s more Borderlands but with many quality of life (QOL) changes that make it a lot more fun to play.

Gunplay and QOL

Gunfights are of course the most important part of what makes Borderlands, well…. Borderlands! The gunplay is both smooth and consistent. Every weapon has a unique trait that makes it different from the last. However, the biggest change from BL2 is the addition of alternate firing modes. Let’s use the Torgue Manufactured weapons as a example. Majority of these formerly explosive guns can do either Impact or Sticky damage. Explosive is no longer an element in Borderlands 3, but Torgue gear still retains the same ideas. For example, I obtained a legendary Torgue Pistol with the fire element being its focus point. Combining the explosive nature of Torgue guns with new possibilities is simply crazy.

Borderlands 3 is more of the sameness but in a good way? Hear me out here, sometimes you can’t fix what isn’t broken. In this games case, it does improve upon already existing ideas. The map system for example has been altered to allow Fast Travel without leaving an area. Huzzah! Yeah, I know I got overexcited about that but its a necessary alteration. Other mechanics see changes such as being able to swap between missions on the fly. It’s a refined Borderlands experience. This is exciting considering how near-perfect its predecessor was.

Vault Hunters and their Skills

Before we start playing, we’ve got to choose our class right? Unlike previous titles, each character has three action skills compared to one. For example Amara the Siren has Phaseslam, Phasegrasp and Phasecast. The latter of the abilities launches an astral projection, dealing damage to those in Amara’s path. Each skill resides in a particular skill tree but it doesn’t stop the player from mixing and matching skill point allocation. It makes Borderlands 3 one of the most re-playable titles in the franchise because of the various possibilities and combinations. Alongside this are skill-augments that enhance the outcome and properties of specific action skills. It adds a new layer of depth to the series while sacrificing the simplicity of them. For the purpose of this review, I’m going to discuss two characters that I played and my experiences with both of them.

FL4K – The Beastmaster

FL4K is the character I sunk the most amount of time into. When I see a pet as an available option, you know I’m jumping for that. FL4K’s title is what it sounds like, as The Beastmaster he has access to a few pets. These are the Skag, Spiderant and Jabba. Each creature resides within a particular skill tree, with enhancements available once enough skill points have been spent. FL4K can be played in various different ways, he seems like a mixture of both Zer0 and Gaige from the previous game.

During my playthrough, I chose the Skag as my creature-in-arms and went down a skill tree which focused on Pet Damage. FL4K is extremely fun, but I often relied too much on my Pet in rough situations. For a solo-player, he is an ideal choice with skills that allow him to be revived by his buddy. However, FL4K will struggle in a co-operative scenario.

Amara – The Siren

Amara is insanely powerful. That’s all I have to say, moving on! With joking being put to the side, Amara is a very fun character to play. Although most of my playtime was spent being the master of the beasts, Amara was apart of my co-operative experience. Amara can be built to be a bruising melee character, deal insane elemental damage and even be a support character. For me personally I went after the punchy stuff, which meant running in and slapping psycho Joe in the face. As you level up, you can give Amara abilities such as being able to change the elemental typing of her action skills. It becomes ridiculous later on, trust me.

Performance

Borderlands 3 embraces craziness. It’s a game where too much is going on. While that is a good thing, it does like to hinder the performance. I was playing the Xbox One version of the game for this review, spending 100% of my time on the Xbox One X. For the most part Borderlands 3 runs like a dream, but when things start to get chaotic that’s when the performance gets hit by one of the psychos bullets.  It’s the frame-rate that takes the biggest bullet to the face. You’ll be shooting a couple of Varkids on Pandora for instance, then suddenly Borderlands 3 will start having a mid-life crisis.

Borderlands 3 has two different modes while you play. ‘Performance’ and ‘Resolution.’ For the purpose of this review, I tried both of these modes to see which one was the best. Resolution runs at a solid 30FPS, and of course focuses on the graphical fidelity of the game. This was the mode that I played on for majority of my 30+ hours with the game. On the other side of things, performance drops the focus on graphical prowess and instead attempts to hit frames up to 60FPS. It does not accomplish this goal consistently, often dropping to the low 20’s when the action gets insane. For me personally, playing at a steady 30 frames was my optimal way to play. Gearbox have promised a patch to potentially fix this in the future but it is annoyance for those wanting faster game-play.

Graphics and Level Design

Borderlands 3 is a very pretty game, it’s got some of the best environments that I’ve seen in a video-game. Pandora is still one of the deadliest landscapes in the galaxy, being home to that one psycho that demanded to be shot in the face. We are used to Pandora by now, its practically become our second home. This time around we can explore various planets including the Blade Runner-style dystopia of Promethea or the jungle infested lands of Eden-6. These additional areas make Borderlands 3 one of the most varied experiences in its respective franchise. Each area is distinct and unrelated to the last, with unique designs that are gorgeous to look at.

Soundtrack

The soundtrack in Borderlands 3 is great but it would sound better if you could hear it. There’s that much going on in Borderlands 3 that your hearing goes all over the place. Bullets everywhere, the psychos singing and Wilhelm screams make it difficult to appreciate the score in the game. However, the soundtrack is fantastic and tracks such as the Mouthpiece boss fight music are action-packed. It’s just a shame about the loud sound effects which feel unbalanced normally, but with a few alterations you can hear the music as intended.

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Borderlands 3

$59.99
7.8

Story

5.5/10

Gameplay

7.5/10

Graphics

9.0/10

Level Design

9.0/10

Soundtrack

8.0/10

Pros

  • The Gunplay is the Best in the Series
  • Some Narrative Moments are emotional and Engaging
  • Skill-Trees Have More Depth and Customization
  • Borderlands 3 Is A Gorgeous game, Like Seriously Its Beautiful!
  • The Soundtrack Fits When Its Used

Cons

  • Anti-Climactic Ending
  • Performance Issues
  • Troy Calypso Makes Me Cringe
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