Review: Borderlands 3
The Borderlands games are in a genre of their own if I can have my say, and they're unlike any other franchise out there. A lot of that is due to their humor, cel-shade graphics, and great RPG elements, but does the third game evolve the series, or at least improve upon the older ones? Well, it's safe to say that both new and veteran players will be very satisfied with 2K's latest [crazy] Borderlands game. I've spent several hours in the game, bumped my level up more than a dozen times, and killed an unhealthy amount of bandits - I have a ton of things to talk about.
Platform: Xbox One S Introduction The game begins the same way every other Borderlands game does, with Marcus telling the story of the Vault Hunters, though more focused on the new ones and their mission where they're answering Lilith's call (a Siren) on her quest on finding a map that
leads to different vaults in the galaxy, briefly giving me some insight into what the Planet of Pandora has been through, and also sort of introducing me to the latest (as well as the most dangerous yet) threat in the series, the Calypso Twins. As soon as the story is told, another cinematic is shown where we are officially introduced to this game's playable Vault Hunters, starting with a bandit being run over by a car after standing in front of a billboard, stepping in Skag feces, and being distracted by a flyer. The cinematic continues, and I see the car that just ran over the bandit,
filled with, well...more bandits, headed to the place that the Siren's call is originating from, which of course also is the place our beloved Vault Hunters are headed to. All hell breaks loose, but the Hunters triumphs. The scene ends and trusty old Marcus shows up to pick up the Vault Hunters in his bus. This is the official starting point of the game, and also where I'm able to choose the Hunter I want to play as. Visuals/performance Going from Borderlands 1 and 2 (as well as The Pre-sequel), that were made with hardware from last generation in mind, to essentially a next generation Borderlands game like the third one, delivers one noticeable difference,
but is it all perfect throughout? Definitely not. First in line is no other than the resolution, and to start off; it's not even running in native 1080p, despite the fact that it's using a dynamic resolution scaler, that actually ranges from somewhere around 760p, all the way up to 900p. It's off to a bad start, but the good news is that there's a very noticeable graphical difference, and it really is a visual treat for fans that have been there from the beginning - mostly when it comes to effects, textures, shadows, and lighting.
The effects are super vibrant and vastly improved upon (FL4K's Rakk attack is insanely gorgeous), textures are more clear but also of a high resolution (though there were some textures that had a sligth loading delay), shadows are more defined, topped off by light sources/lighting that looks great, and a lot more realistic than before. Graphics in general are improved upon a lot - still consisting of a cel shade art style but this time with colors that are greatly vibrant, much similar to Crackdown 3,
with both games showcasing great work done with it, as well as signs of it being evolved from past games. You'd think that the resolution being lower than it should be would be enough, but Gearbox managed to mess the performance up as well, at least for the time being. The framerate is capped to 30fps, which alone is actually sort of weird cause the game can easily run at 60fps on the Xbox One S with a dynamic resolution in place, but the horror doesn't stop there, as the game has an inconsistent framerate that can see drops down to around 25-26fps, and huge boss fights with a lot of action, enemies, effects and explosions around can drop the framerate down to an even lower number. We're not done yet, though, cause the game suffers from bad frame pacing, but also from an UI/menu system that is laggy and slow.
A patch will most likely rescue the game very soon, but it's clear as day that the game reaks of lazy or bad optimization, and that's not good at all. Audio design and the soundtrack is in no way bad, though, as the game sports effect sounds, voice acting, vehicle sounds, songs, and much more that sounds generally just like it should in a Borderlands game - over the top, loud and brilliant in every way. While the game does have some enviroments that deliver much of the same as before, the level design and its scenery is actually pretty darn good looking for being a Borderlands game. Gameplay It sure is a Borderlands game, and that's transparent in more ways than just the humour that the games are all about. In every single aspect, Borderlands 3 is the ultimate Borderlands game, partly due to how much more high quality gameplay that's in it now. Like usual, it's played in first person, but the option of seeing, as well as altering what my character looks like, is always just a customization booth away. It's a tad deeper this time, giving the player more ways to alter the character, but also weapons with skins & charms, and vehicles with parts, for the first time. General gameplay is the same as before; shoot a lot of bad guys, loot everything you see, complete quests (including side-quests), progress through the story, explore all the different planets and enviroments,
meet weird & hilarious characters, take part in boss fights, level up, upgrade skills, laugh a lot, and of course more. It's all a step-up in every way possible. Combat is a lot more fun, fluid, hectic, and engaging, but the AI seems to be the same. Guns behave more realistically, there's so much going on at once in fights, enemy types are varied and they come in all types of shapes, sizes & looks, enviroments gives the opportunity to flank if needed so there's never a linear path, and it's all pretty dynamic. Guns work the same way they always have,
using stats like damage, I was pleasantly surprised to see that vehicles handle a lot better now, and that they're even more enjoyable to drive than before, but not only is it better, there's new vehicles to drive, too, like the Cyclone. A huge game like this is bound to have a lot to explore, and it does, resulting in me seeing all kinds of different as well as vast enviroments in the likes of colorful & vibrant cities, old but gold places on Pandora, moon-like planets that have no gravity, and beautiful ancient villages that look amazing.
It's a very big game, offering tons of hours in exploration alone. Co-op is great fun, and works really well, though there might be some connectivity issues for some. A Borderlands game wouldn't be one without its iconic skill tree system, and in the third game it's even bigger, with there now being bonus skills that unlock after a certain point reached within one tree, but it doesn't differ only there as the skills are more varied, diverse, unique and simply better than before. There's a special, somewhat satisfying feeling when leveing up in Borderlands games, and I get that exact feeling in this one, too. Before you say anything: yes, there's a CRAZY amount of guns in Borderlands 3, and it's honestly almost surreal - some can walk, some can talk, some have different modes, and many have different attachments,
ranging from shotguns, pistols, sniper rifles, to SMGs, assault rifles and rocket launchers. As it's a shooter-looter (shlooter?), there's of course loot, and believe me, it's everywhere: I saw a constant drop of guns, shields, mods, ammo and health in each fight, so much so that it's hard deciding what items to actually use. When you're constantly changing equipment, there's something significant about the loot & its variety, cause this is exactly the way the game works, and I'm not even complaining. Boss fights are back and they're a lot of fun, but can also be hard to overcome, just like they should be. Changes like full ragdoll physics and being able to see the character's feet when looking down are smaller but welcomed ones. The humour is important in Borderlands, and I'm glad that it's still very featured, with hilarious moments by Claptrap, corny one-liners, and just overall funny dialogue by many characters. That includes the amount of gore, it's just as brutal as in older titles.
The game feels more robust than previous titles, and while it consists of pretty much more of the same, it's not a bad thing, cause that's at least what I wanted - a Borderlands game that feels like older titles but with gameplay, story, RPG elements, and graphics that has been improved upon, while staying true to what made it into the franchise it is today. It's a Borderlands game on even more steroids! I've enjoyed the upgraded gameplay a lot in Borderlands 3, and I can say for sure that it's the most diverse installment yet. Story The story centers around a new set of four Vault Hunters, FL4K (Beastmaster), Moze (Gunner), Amara (Siren) and Zane (Operative). The third game is very much connected to the older games, immedietly indicated by that the group answers Lilith, the Siren from other installments, and her call of help in finding a vault map that leads to vaults all over the galaxy, as well as to keep it from getting in the wrong hands. The team soon finds out that they're not the only ones who have the map in their sights, as it's closely tracked by the Calypso Twins, a duo that is equally as fixated on securing their fame with their livestream show as they are on being dangerous. Realizing that the Twins acquiring the map would be very bad, the Vault Hunters decides to help Lilith, but it doesn't take long for their plans to become scrambled after finding the map.
Lilith finds herself surrounded by the Calypso Twins before trying to get away from Pandora by a space ship, resulting in a fight where Lilith unfortunately doesn't win, so the Hunters helps her up but the Twins gets the map. With not much hope left, the team travels away from Pandora, and begins their journey on finding help. Honestly, the story is very good in Borderlands 3, and might be the best one yet. The antagonists are sort of original, and their personalities are pretty fitting for villains, but I kind of feel like they're missing something. I'm very happy that these antagonists are different to what we've seen before, though, cause there sure is diversity with them.
The campaign tries new things, takes risks, and introduces us to new characters, but it all serves as one huge throwback at the same time with familiar characters popping in all the time, such as Claptrap, Lilith, Marcus, Zero, Tannis, and even Rhys from Tales of the Borderlands, which is something I'm really liking. It gives me a sense of not leaving the older installments behind, and gives me a lot of nostalgia. Side-quests are original & fun to complete, and there's plenty of them - always giving me something to do whenever I felt like I needed to get some more XP for example, or if I just needed to find some new adventures. Characters, both older and new ones are just as great as I expected them to be, where I really saw that older ones have aged, altered their appearances,
and just generally changed, but as well as new ones that all have their unique personality. Some are hilarious, some might be a bit weird, and some are way too serious, but there's never a moment where I feel like a character is too much. Characters isn't the only thing that has changed, cause there's new locations and enemies, but there's also Pandora, a planet that has changed as well: bandits have now joined the Calypso Twins side thanks to their "influence" on the world, resulting in name change to Children of the Vault. I ventured through all kinds of locations, and the best part was that they were all so varied, all being different to each other in many ways: some were beautiful, a few were creepy, some saw me exploring caves, and many had a lot to explore. From post-apocalyptic looking enviroments on Pandora, cyberpunk-like cities like Promethea,
to being in space in a ship with awesome backdrops of planets, and fighting death spheres on Skywell-27. There's a lot of different places, but the most surprising thing with Borderlands 3 is that the character you choose to play as, now talks in conversations. FL4K, the character I chose, had his own lines, and actually had a really awesome voice. It's something I wasn't expecting to see, but it's a change that only does good. Borderlands 3 feels so much more like a real AAA experience now, and the new cinematic cut-scenes that play out during the story helps with that, as they're really enjoyable to watch, and they really do make the game feel like it's even more ambitious now.
There's a lot of different enemies in Borderlands 3 and each area spawns its own type of enemy. Some are huge, with some being small, many aren't human, and so it all differs in terms of the way they attack, look, act, and more. There's bandits, assault troopers, mechs, skags, spheres, Rakks, spiders, and a lot more. Within the campaign, I did favors for, and helped, many people, such as Rhys (he's actually a pretty big part of the campaign), a doctor, Claptrap, a Bandit that had turned good for the time being, civilians, Tannis, and bounties. Overall a very good story, with a lot of content, great characters with awesome voice actors, a ton of side-quests, and an insane amount of exploration. All in all The Borderlands franchise have always been the king in the genre due to its great RPG elements, unique yet simple cel-shade graphics, amount of fun to be had, funny characters, and overall & hilarious gameplay, but does the third shlooter really evolve the series? In my opinion, it does, and significantly improves upon every aspect, but performance needs work: combat is super fun and feels a lot better than before, the skill system is even bigger now, the visuals have gotten a very nice looking overhaul, there's a lot of variety in terms of enemies & weapons, exploration is even more satisfying, vehicles handle better than before and are a joy to drive, with a huge open world to explore to top it off. While the framerate and general stability of the game needs work, it never ruins the experience, and that's mainly cause of how overwhelmingly crazy awesome the game is. The co-op mode, and tremendous amount of replay value puts this game among one of the best shooter looters out there. In addition to all this, the game debuts some new and welcome changes, both smaller and bigger ones, like new vehicles, enemies, guns (an insane amount of them), altered gameplay, new characters, and I really do feel like it's the biggest, most high-quality, and ambitious Borderlands title yet. Not only does it stay true to itself by keeping the same yet improved humour and gore, but it also connects itself in a perfect way with the previous installments. I've enjoyed every second spent in Borderlands 3, I really can not recommend it enough to every fan, and to those who haven't played one before.
Borderlands 3 is available both digitally on the Microsoft Store, and physically, for a starting price of $60, all the way up to $90 for the Super Deluxe Edition. Are you interested in buying the game? That can be done here: Borderlands 3 - Microsoft Store.
A review code was provided by 2K for review purposes.
This review is written by Jesper Ingemansson, and is based on his honest opinion about the game.