I’ll start out this review by saying something which has probably been said a thousand times in the run up to the release of Borderlands 3. There are no microtransactions at present, no pay-to-win to be seen here folks. This has garnered praise across many outlets and was one of the main pitches put forward by CEO Randy Pitchford. However, just because there are no loot boxes in here, doesn’t mean it should get an easy pass as a game, right? There were games before post launch monetisation and they were judged on their merits alone, so shall Borderlands 3. “You can’t fool me” he laughs maniacally whilst still massively overpaying for his broadband.
Pull the Trigger
The main loop of the game revolves around beaming down from your mothership to a foreign alien world, killing most inhabitants you see, and robbing them if their guns are better than the ones you currently have. Fight a boss, get some MacGuffin to move the story forward, beam back up to the mothership, rinse and repeat. It works for shorter bursts of play, with plentiful checkpoints and a predictable structure, meaning you can usually plan around inconvenient times to leave the house.
The guns on offer here are front and centre, they rain down from dispatched enemies and it always exciting to see a legendary tier weapon ‘ping’ from a fallen foe. Praise should be given here for the creation of a system which can randomly generate these guns, in line with your level, each with unique attributes depending on their manufacturer. It is always really cool to see what is going to be your next go-to tool of destruction.
I’m not sure why, but the gunplay in Borderlands 3 feels slow, heavy and inaccurate. In the old games this was aided by the skill point system which allowed you to increase movement speed or gun stability as you complete challenges – open 500 chests, get 100 headshots, etc. In Borderlands 3 however, this avenue to progression is blocked off until you finish the main story. You still earn the skill points though, leading to quite a frustrating first run where you have a bunch of these tokens unlocked but are powerless to use them.
This slow weightiness works in some games such as Killzone or Gears of War, however, it feels at odds with the sliding mechanics, traversal and smaller, faster enemies in the game. Maybe I just aren’t an elite gamer or something, but I found the shooting quite cumbersome.
A Whole Lotta Loot
The other issue that I faced was with the loot system at play here. I get having limited ammo and stuff, it makes sense in the game. It gives you something to pick up aside from the money and weapons, leading to more chests and boxes, the crux of the game. It also allows for that satisfying “ssssschuk” sound as you open a chest and all of the loot is sucked up into your backpack.
But limiting the number of guns you can hold seems kind of counter-intuitive, the whole game revolves around how crazy and whacky these guns are and “LOL randomness”, why would I want to have less of them? Not to mention it led to far more inventory management than I would have liked, especially when they break up the plentiful shooting segments. I’m sure some people will love min-maxing their inventory and firepower, but for me, there is a time and a place. That place is not in the middle of a battlefield facing off against a hoard of radioactive midgets. It should have been done aboard Sanctuary 3, a sort of hub world where all of your companions gather.
The Pen, Mightier Than the Gun
Why are all the characters such dicks? I get that this is how the universe is set up, and maybe it has always been like this, but it just felt relentless. There’s the narcissistic guy in his underwear, the annoying brat kid, the teddy bear who thinks he’s a gangster, the doctor who wants to rap, the list goes on. Usually this could be drawn up as “a colourful cast of characters”, but there is nothing interesting or fun beneath the surface. There are no redeeming factors to basically any of the characters, there is no room to breathe amongst all of the obnoxious dialogue.
This is before talking about the actual villains of the game, who embody streaming culture as their “thing”, so I’m sure that will age gracefully. They’re alright I guess, serviceable, but lost among the wide array of other characters who you end up hating anyway. This is how I remember Handsome Jack being a great antagonist, he was given room to be a jerk, The Calypso Twins just aren’t.
Oiling the Machine
There are a few quality of life improvements thrown in here to help raise this above previous entries into the franchise. As I mentioned earlier, ammo and money are automatically sucked up by your character when chests are opened. This is nice, it takes a bit of the hassle out of the looting process.
The guns are here in abundance and seemingly help iron out any crazy difficulty spikes, by picking up a new weapon, seemingly tough enemies can be turned to aerosol with a single round sometimes. That is satisfying too, having enemies previously giving you a hard time just to obliterate them in seconds.
I also really liked the gun elemental mechanics, although it’d be cool for more of this variety to be encouraged. For example, corrosive weapons are super effective against armour whereas electric weapons are strong against shields. This means that in some boss fights, switching weapons halfway though was encouraged and it felt pretty badass to always have a counter for the next foe. Unfortunately, this isn’t explored as much as I would have liked and only really matters in a few encounters. It’d be awesome to see this on the fly switching take more of a front-seat in the next entry, which I have to assume is on the way given some of these sales figures.
Additionally, fast travel is also much more prominent, at least I noticed it more. Maybe in older games I was more content with backtracking, but here, if I could warp, you better believe I was warping.
Why didn’t I click with it?
So why did this particular entry misfire with me? It is clearly the best the series has to offer, it has been receiving pretty decent reviews from what I can tell, but the whole thing just felt kind of average. The gunplay isn’t exactly exceptional, I mean, it isn’t Doom. I think it is just the fact that the moment-to-moment gameplay has been far surpassed by other games and Borderlands hasn’t really evolved in line with this. Couple this with more games than ever to play, some which have engaging stories, exciting gameplay loops and mechanics, Borderlands 3 just can’t compete. The gun variety and location changes do manage to keep the experience fresh across the lengthy runtime however and this will most likely be your driving force as you work your way across the galaxy.
It isn’t bad by any means, but there just isn’t that much remarkable about it. I don’t want to sound like a snob here. If you are wanting an absolute time sink, this will certainly fill that void. I have put hours and hours into Borderlands 3 which is a testament to the variety of missions available, but my time was never amazing. It all depends on what you are looking for from your experience, if your goal is to kill time, this will most