If it took more than one shot, you weren’t using a Jakobs.
“The following is a contributor post by the Off-Centered Earth Mage.”
After seven long years, the wait is finally over. Borderlands 3, Gearbox’s most anticipated mainline entry into the Borderlands series, is finally here. If you’re anything like me, it’s all you’ve been playing since the moment you got your hands on it.
This time around, you take on the role of yet another team of Vault Hunters. A team of… well, heroes would be the wrong word, so let’s go with fighters. Yes, that feels much more appropriate. Similar to past games, these Vault Hunters have once again been recruited for, you guessed it, vault hunting. Along the way you’re going to meet some new friends, some old, and some mortal enemies. And no, I don’t mean ClapTrap. Since the demise of the villain of a generation, Handsome Jack, this time around you’ll be going up against the Calypso Twins Troy and Tyreen. Many would argue that nothing could fill the hole that Jack left, but the Calypso Twins surely give it their best.
After that brief introduction, let’s dive right into the review.
Borderlands 3 comes across as a pinnacle of evolution to the Borderlands formula, while at the same time being more than familiar to returning players. Fans of the series will be more than familiar with the general mechanics, but for new players: Borderlands 3 is, at its very core, a semi-open-world looter-shooter. Minute-to-minute gameplay is taken up primarily with regular combat encounters. Usually, you’re going to be moving towards a specific goal rather than defending the same place against hordes of enemies. If anything at all, the hordes of enemies are defending their own base against you. I have to commend Borderlands 3 for not falling into the well-known trope of ‘walk over there, press this button, defend against a few hordes of enemies while this door opens or this specific thing is done, and then move on’. Gameplay instead feels fluid, imaginative and open-ended. One major improvement over past entries to the series is the addition of a slide. Not a waterslide, which would ultimately be a brilliant idea and something every developer should be working on, but a simple combat slide. Past Borderlands games could often become quite monotonous over time; you’d get into a combat encounter, your shield would drain through taking damage, you’d take cover and wait for your shield to recharge, and then you could get into the thick of it all over again. The addition of a simple slide, however, helps to keep combat moving forward at a fast pace.
As well as the additions to combat, a big thing this time around is the overall verticality of the mission areas themselves. In past entries, you would have to jump from place to place freely, whereas with Borderlands 3, the simple addition of a mantle/ climbing animation makes it feel like moving up in the world, pun intended, is something you’re actually supposed to be doing.
The only reason that the overall gameplay for me isn’t a perfect 10/10 is that at times it can all be a little bit too much to focus on. While not necessarily a negative or a shortcoming, sometimes combat encounters can feel more cluttered than they should and almost as if they were thrown in for the sake of it. This feeds into my feelings on the overall challenge as well as replayability.
This is a bit of a strange one. The argument could be made that Borderlands as a series isn’t necessarily supposed to be challenging. While there is a lot to be said for this, Borderlands 3 either kept me wanting just a tad more challenge at times, or there were massive difficulty spikes from seemingly nowhere. As is common with looter-shooters, you are always progressing as a player in some way, whether it’s finding the next best gun after every combat encounter (it’s Borderlands: there’s literally billions of guns), or upgrading your character through your preferred skill tree. However, more often than not, I found myself feeling like I was either mowing through enemies far quicker than I should be, or, there was suddenly an enemy that felt difficult to the point that it was out of place.
Without spoiling the story for anybody, I came across this one boss fight through a not too difficult side-mission. Although this boss by himself wasn’t particularly hard, there was this one area of effect that he had which simply couldn’t be dodged in any way. To make a long story short, at various times throughout the fight he would electrify the floor of the boss arena. More often than not, it was every single inch of the floor that was electrified and unless you had the perfect amount of health to survive this attack… you couldn’t.
As with previous entries, progressing your character in Borderlands 3 is something that cannot and should not be taken lightly. For the first couple of hours, I found myself not paying a whole pile of attention to the specific stats of my weapons as well as the different skills available to me in my chosen skill tree. This was a huge mistake ultimately as I was having a far more difficult time than I should have been, purely because I wasn’t optimizing my character-specific skills, playstyle, and abilities.
I would advise anyone thinking of picking up Borderlands 3 to look up a couple of character-specific builds and decide what feels right for you. For me specifically, I played through as FL4K primarily and leaned towards optimizing my critical hit stat as much as I could.
I am in no way saying that you can’t play through Borderlands 3 in a more casual and relaxed way. The depth is there if you want it, but not 100% necessary to enjoy what’s on offer. But please, for your own sake, don’t put points into random skills and stats because they’re there. Please.
So progression is a mixed bag, and the difficulty of fights is a bit hit and miss too. Borderlands 3 could have had a perfect score as far as challenge is concerned, if only it stuck to its guns. Not every boss battle is flawed. Some are truly amazing and impeccably designed to give you a sense of accomplishment. But these are few and far between and, sadly, their counterpart is essentially the feeling of a wave crashing upon a cliff face. Keep coming back long enough and you’ll eventually win, but is that really a challenge at all?
As far as audio is concerned, this game is an utter masterpiece. Dialogue alone has been so impeccably designed that not once was my immersion broken by a voice that felt out of place, or a strange balance between too loud and too quiet. Borderlands 3 does this very simple yet brilliant thing with its dialogue in the sense that it dedicates each conversation entirely to directional sound. Move too far away from the character you’re talking to and they’ll become quieter and quieter until they end up patching through to your long distance communication device.
As far as general sound is considered, it has to be said that in a game with so many guns, it would have been more than easy and in a way even forgivable for every one of them to sound the same. However, this is not the case. Every single gun feels, looks and sounds different. Speaking of how this game performs visually… forgive me for this fangirl moment.
Borderlands 3 truly looks absolutely perfect. In a game set across multiple galaxies and planets, not a single one of them is anything at all like the one that came before. Throughout your time with this game, you’re going to be moving from a desert wasteland to a cyberpunk style neon city, to a jungle filled with dinosaurs and a multitude of other critters, and more. This is especially noticeable when entering into the next big boss arena. Each boss fight, as far as visual design is concerned, is completely different from the last. This brings an air of much needed personality to what could have easily been just another bigger enemy with a bigger gun than the last. Each boss brings their own style of fight to their arena and, more than often, you’re going to find yourself getting distracted by the beautifully designed surroundings while at the same time shooting and dodging millions of bullets while being both on fire and encased in a block of ice. No, that is not an overstatement.
However, no game in this day and age releases in a perfect condition. With so much going on at once, the frame rate drops badly from time to time, as well as taking on this strange motion blur. Ultimately, this is a minor grievance with an otherwise perfectly designed visual palette, one I’m sure will be ironed out through various patches and updates.
First of all, this is not supposed to come across as a bad score. Borderlands 3‘s story is one that I more than enjoyed and at times became incredibly invested in. This is not a “bad” narrative but is one with definite shortcomings.
For a game that places so much importance on its playable characters, it fails to make the player feel important as a part of the story. A lot of the time, I felt like the game’s main story was happening around me more than it was happening because of me. Pretty early on in the game, you’re dubbed “Killer” by one of the other main characters, a nickname that sticks all the way to the end. While, at face value, this is just a simple nickname, with more than half a second of thought I came to realise that this was all that your chosen character served to do. Kill. This left me feeling that if I had never existed in the world of this game, the story would have happened exactly the same way. This is not always the case, especially in sidequests; in my own opinion, these are where the narrative of this game shines all the clearer. Each and every sidequest is unique in its own way and, at times, is far more interesting than the main story itself. Again, it’s important to remember that I enjoyed the overall narrative of Borderlands 3. This is in no way a bad score. However, much like with the challenge of the game as a whole, at times I was left wanting more.
This is going to come across as really nitpicky but it has to be said. In every single cutscene, your character doesn’t appear once. Not one time. This wouldn’t be a problem if the cutscene was shot from your perspective, but the fact is that it’s like you’re not there at all. This is especially noticeable in cutscenes where enemies are attacking or other characters fall into sticky situations. More than a few times, I found myself looking at the screen shouting “Why is this even happening? I’m right there, why is it like my character doesn’t exist at all?”. This really drives down the believability of these types of situations as a whole. For example, the main antagonists, the Calypso Twins, show up in cutscenes from time to time to do just that: antagonize the main characters. This becomes a problem when the twins attack and or capture the main characters. All it would take is a scene of your character hiding behind a pillar or a wall or something. Instead, one must wonder if these villains can even see you at all? There is nothing more disappointing than watching a cutscene which seemingly has nothing to do with you, only to enter into a boss fight that seemingly has nothing to do with you.
Borderlands 3, first and foremost, is not a game that needs to be played solo, nor is it a game that needs to be played cooperatively. However, both work just as well as each other. I’m not going to go over my previous points on the narrative; however, not once during cooperative play did I feel as though, in the game’s eyes, I was playing as part of a group. Allow me to explain.
As with most looter-shooters, the ultimate goal is to work with a friend or through online play to work your way through the title’s story, side missions, and optional challenges. However, Borderlands 3‘s story is in no way optimised for a full team of four players. Yes, there are four characters to choose from, each one unique in their own way. However, each player will be treated as the player. It’s almost as though each player is playing through their own specific version of the game where they’re treated as the only player in that game. There is no allusion to there ever being more than one character. This becomes especially annoying as playing through the story with a full team can at times feel cluttered. This is not at all noticeable when moving through open areas but becomes annoyingly noticeable when stuck inside tight corridors and smaller boss arenas.
However, I will argue that if you have even one other person to play Borderlands 3 with, it’s more than worth it to boot up the cooperative play. When starting up, you’re given the choice as to whether you want to play in the style of cooperation or competition. This essentially means that you have the choice to play through sharing loot or with the game spawning player-specific loot. This can definitely be fun and once you get a group of people together, each one a different character with their own style of play, Borderlands 3 truly shines and becomes the essence of fun cooperative play.
Again, this is not to be considered a bad score. Not at all. In fact, depending on the person with their hands on the proverbial controller, this score could go both up and down. This is why I’ve gone straight down the middle.
Personally speaking, Borderlands 3 has enough replayability to warrant multiple playthroughs. However, that’s only in the sense that I would be able to experience the game itself as a completely different character with their own unique skills, style of play, and personality. This personality comes across through dialogue and, while you are not given any options for dialogue choices, each character will respond to almost everything differently. Characters like FL4K and Zane are the comedic types and, even in serious situations, will make you laugh. Moze and Amara are ultimately less comedically stimulating, but more than bring their own unique personality to the world around them.
As far as replayability is concerned, it will only suit the type of person who wants more than one character on the go for both solo and cooperative play. This is not a game that’s going to give you something drastically different between playthroughs, but it will definitely scratch some sort of itch.
My Personal Grade: 7/10
The reason that I’ve kept this separate to my overall score of Borderlands 3 as a whole is as follows. Borderlands 3 as a whole is, in my own opinion, an incredibly subjective game. Put this in the hands of somebody who doesn’t like looter-shooters and they’re obviously not going to enjoy it. Put it in the hands of somebody who adores looter-shooters and they’re going to love it. Personally? This is the type of game that I enjoyed while it lasted. I’m sure that, with the addition of new content, I’m gonna be pulled back in time and time again but until then I really don’t see myself picking this up much, if at all. At most, I’ll return every now and then for some co-op action. Why, then, did I give it a 7/10? Well, that’s exactly what it was to me for as long as it lasted. Not awful, not amazing. Well above average.
Aggregated Score: 7.6
The Off-Centred Earth Mage, known as Thomas Kearns-Horan in some parts of the world, or The Vague Maker of References in even darker places, can be found in any second-hand bookshop, game store, and occasionally the odd forest. Check in on his escapades here @thomasK_H for a bit of a laugh, and the odd dog photo.
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