The Borderlands series started in 2009 to seemingly surprise acclaim: No one could have ever guessed that mixing Diablo-style loot gameplay with first person shooters would have worked out so well!
The overall story of Borderlands 3 is a step down from 2- that’s just inevitable when you have a sequel to a game with one of the most memorable villains in the last decade. Even outside the subject of villain, Borderlands 2 had interesting supporting characters like Tiny Tina who played a small role but still left a massive impact on the players. The Calypso Twins, the villains of Borderlands 3, are active live-streamers who began ruling over Pandora’s bandits as cult leaders. Tyreen and Troy Calypso have some humorous dialogue between the two of them, though they never quite reach the interesting highs of Handsome Jack from Borderlands 2. Battling against the Twins and their cult, you finally expand beyond the planet Pandora and go hopping along different planets to stop the villains from opening the Great Vault.
Borderlands 3 does have the trademark humor of Borderlands 1 and 2, with some missteps (yes, The Pre-Sequel was purposefully ignored). A lot of the jokes miss their marks, and a substantial amount of the humor is sophomoric in nature. There’s still a metric ton of laugh out loud moments in the game, but more than a few times you will be left wondering what this game’s obsession with poop is. By the end of the game, I, personally, felt like if I heard, “Turd farmer” or, “Turd” one more time, I was going to eat this game. I bought this on Steam so I don’t even know how that would work. Well, there’s a marketing pitch for Steam VR, in any case (“The taste you can FEEL”). After completing the story mode once, you unlock True Vault Hunter Mode, a more difficult story playthrough, as well as Mayhem levels which are harder, have special modifiers (EG: “Enemies take less shotgun damage, but take more elemental damage”) but higher drop rates for rarer loot.
Borderlands 2 was kind of an anomaly when it came to story, though, and while 3 isn’t exactly an improvement, the plot isn’t exactly why you’d play these games. Guns are front and off-center in Borderlands, and 3 is no exception to this rule. Each gun has a ton of different components that make them up, each part offering some kind of advantage over another. One barrel might give you higher accuracy at the expense of more weapon sway when fired from the hip, while a different grip might offer more damage but less accuracy. You can quickly check the stats of your equipped weapons against those on the ground, but to check against anything in your backpack you need to pick the gun up, open your menu, and directly compare.
Some guns get tossed on reload and explode- or even sprout legs and shoot enemies while maneuvering around like mobile turrets. Other, more mundane guns might feature bullets that split off and target other enemies on critical hits, or shots that split horizontally, or a gun that shoots excrement (that’s not a joke, it’s the Porta Pooper gun). On top of that, there are grenade mods which literally change how your grenade functions in substantial ways- some grenades might teleport to their target location, some may home on, others get lobbed or bounce.
Grenades can be your typical explosives, swirling bellows of fire, a chain of arced electricity that moves among targets, pretty much anything you could think of. Class mods provide special bonus to the characters, which can completely change how you play your class. Artifacts offer bonuses of vastly differing types, and are usually used to optimize end game builds- Elemental Projector artifacts can dramatically boost your elemental damage (especially if using the Siren and a Spiritual Driver class mod), Deathless artifacts can give some pretty major bonuses at the expense of your max health which can be worth it with specific characters and skill distributions.
Speaking of skill distributions, each of the four characters in Borderlands 3 have three of their own unique skill trees, and unlike previous Borderlands games you can utilize one of three different action skills (except in the case of Zane the Operative who can use two at the same time at the expense of his grenade). You unlock different modifications for your action skills the more points into their respective trees you invest- so for example, if you want your Siren to send forth an electrical projection of herself that also explodes, you need enough points in the skill tree of that action skill to utilize it. This dramatically opens up how different your character may feel as your progress through the game, which works well in tandem with the different class mods, artifacts, and anointments.
The gun play in Borderlands is still fine- there’s nothing actively wrong with it. People expecting experiences on par with Destiny may be a little disappointed as there isn’t really a PVP option (you can duel, but it’s quick, dirty, and terribly lopsided. Has been since the first game in the series), but there aren’t really many marked advancements that the series has made. If you liked Borderlands 1 or 2, you will like 3. That’s about all there is to it. You shoot, kite, backpedal, and circle strafe to deal with badasses when undergeared, and when you’re overgeared you just tear through everything and kill the raid boss in one magazine of your favorite gun that synergizes perfectly with your build- that’s just what Borderlands has always been about. It’s actually quite impressive that it’s still this fun despite this being the fourth game in which they’ve done this formula with little variation outside of the guns, themselves.
Enemy types are reasonably varied, at least in line with other looter shooters– there’s more enemy variety in this than Destiny 2 in any case. Enemies can have shields and armor, making it important that you use shock and radiation weapons to quickly chew through shields, corrosive and cryo weapons to melt armor, and incendiary weapons to burninate the village and all fleshy inhabitants therein. This kind of rock paper scissors works well into the late game where the bonuses for matching the appropriate elements actually become even larger, stressing the important of min-maxing a variety of gear unless using a super specialized character build.
The visuals of Borderlands 3 are vastly improved in a considerable way: Textures and overall polygon counts are improved everywhere, which is mostly to be expected when games are 8 years and an entire console generation apart. The sound design of Borderlands 3 is especially satisfying: Fleshy pods bursting give a satisfying squish, striking against metal yields believable clangs, everything works great on a sound design perspective.
Performance of Borderlands 3 seems to be pretty poor across the board, with microstutters present even on console. On PC, turning some options to low actually makes the game perform worse, and certain guns can absolutely tank performance (specifically, the Projectile Recursion which makes ricocheting bullets on crowds and can crash the console on PS4 if you use it against too many targets at once. You know, big crowds, the thing the gun was specifically designed to work well against). Crashes can happen all the time, but performance has actually improved since the Steam version’s release so that is something to note. This game was played for over 100 hours on an Intel system with an nVidia GPU, so AMD systems may have a different kind of experience, though. Crashes usually don’t result in losing any progress, however, as the game saves after seemingly every action, thankfully.
So what’s the verdict- is Borderlands 2 better than 3? Well, in some ways yes, but in other ways, no. A lot of the new guns are ridiculously fun and the addition of Mayhem levels which aren’t quite as overcentralizing as Overpower levels from Borderlands 2 has been well-received. The story is a clear step backwards from the overall more competent narrative of 2, but that’s not to say there aren’t funny moments and some pretty great dialogue in 3. There’s plenty of gear to collect, tons of sidequests to complete, powerful raid bosses to down, and a reasonable amount of build diversity to farm for make Borderlands 3 a great new entry to the series.
Fans of shooters and RPG-lites, or those looking for a chill cooperative game to play with friends will greatly enjoy everything Borderlands 3 has to offer. Gamers who didn’t like previous Borderlands games, especially 2, probably won’t find enough difference for this title to overturn your opinion on the franchise. This is more Borderlands for you to enjoy and even if the story isn’t as great as its predecessor, the gameplay definitely strikes the right balance of addicting shooter-RPG gameplay.