Borderlands 3 Review

Third time, less charm.

Playing a sequel to a game you remember loving is always a bit nerve-wracking, even more so when that game came out the better part of a decade ago, back when you were young and full of hope, not beaten back by life and still full of beans and fart jokes.

Ah, simpler times. More innocent times.

Borderlands 3 has been a game that many of us, myself included, have wanted for years. It’s hard not to look back at the joy of meeting Mr Torgue or the heart-wrenching sorrow of hearing Tiny Tina’s back story without rose-tinted glasses. That’s especially true as the remaster of the first game only came out a few months ago and helped reignite the hype for this latest entry.

It’s always been a bit crass, but the humour always felt like it was layered on in an entertaining way. I’ve got a soft spot for the way Hammerlock talks about being impossibly cruel to puppies in a former life, as a way of explaining how he’s ended up dealing with Claptrap. Then you have the weird family dynamic of Moxxi, Scooter, and Ellie, and the confidence that all three radiate, or the weirdly touching story from Borderlands 2’s DLC of Mr Torgue getting upset when the other geeks tried to gatekeep him out of the game because he was hench. The jokes were almost always self-deprecating and a little knowing, and while it was loud and brash, it felt like it had a lot of heart.

Borderlands 3 opens with a bandit stepping in some poop and then sniffing it; it follows that up with a bandit wanting to use Claptrap’s head as a toilet. If you’re looking for toilet humour, then here it is. I don’t remember this being the case previously; I feel like the humour was better, more interesting. Sure some memes were outdated, but the characters had a little more nuance to them than being called Tumourhead because they have a tumour in their head. Didn’t it?

I mention this all upfront because while gameplay is usually the thing that takes centre stage, the writing here is so overwhelming obnoxiously in your face that it feels like the main focus of the game. Monologues take far too long, and you have to wait until they’re done before you get the next quest or mission marker. I got impatient once and had to backtrack to grab an item from the body of a Bandit I’d just killed, which wasn’t there before. It’s not game-ruining stuff, but the fact that it happens constantly definitely kills your buzz.

The good news is that this is rarely an issue when playing co-op with friends, which has always been by far and away the best way to play Borderlands. After all, chatting with your mates is a sure-fire way to ignore the assault of stupid jokes and clichés (and terrible Rick and Morty jokes), letting you just soak in the series’ shooty looty action that we all love.

The addition of both mantling and sliding is a nice one; both make movement feel much better and improve the game no end. Then you’ve got how different the Vault Hunters feel from one another. The new Action Skill system – with its wealth of upgrades and tweaks – is genuinely excellent, but even here there is a tinge of sadness as most characters get one action skill from a choice of three. Zane doesn’t though. Zane can equip two at a time.

He’s a god damn revolution, and playing as him will immediately fill you with regret. Why don’t the other characters also have two action skills at once? That would genuinely change how the game plays, it’s such a small thing, but it makes such a big difference. While it’s cool that that’s Zane’s thing, it’s irksome that other characters don’t get it too.

The nigh on endless guns are a highlight of the game’s combat, with many of them having useful modes to switch between and an incredibly enjoyable feel. If you want gun feel, then Borderlands 3 has it in spades. That being said, the inventory system is abhorrent, and the limits to your carrying capacity are far more annoying than they were before, probably because other games have done it better.

The core gameplay loop is one that will hook you, but it’s hard not to want a little more from Borderlands 3. We’ve had a lot of cool innovations since 2 came out, and seeing some more of them adopted into this game would have been nice, even if just to spice things up a little. When Ellie forlornly mentions the fact that she just had to eject the grappling hooks and jet packs into outer space, I’m just left thinking they could have broken up the pacing and made traversing the huge open spaces more enjoyable. It’s still a fun game to play, it gets a lot of the fundamentals right and refines them further, it’s just not advancing the series as much as you might hope.

Then you’ve got the final puzzle piece of any Borderlands game, which are the bad guys. The Calypso twins are the worst. They aren’t endearing in the way Handsome Jack was, they’re just a perpetually annoying presence that could have been a scathing commentary on YouTube and Instagram culture if it wanted to, but isn’t. It lacks the teeth and depth necessary to have that effect.

Visually the game is very easy on the eyes, the trademark cel shaded style is gorgeous, and there are a near infinite number of cool touches that show off how talented the team behind it are. Pulling out a water pistol to cool down an overheating gun is charmingly silly, flicking a switch on your weapon to enable a different firing mode is terrific, and there are tons of little enemy animations which just make them more interesting. A special shoutout to the team that did the Skag petting. I’ve never felt more attached to an in-game pet, especially one that poops from its mouth.

Music has always been a strong point in the series, and Borderlands 3 is no exception to that. An early battle that has you fighting a DJ is a real treat for the ears. The music manages to add to every moment of action brilliantly and enhances each second. The weapons all sound great as well. It’s all very satisfying to hear the unique ‘clunk’ of reloading a Jakobs gun or the sound of a gun screaming as you throw it away.

Disappointingly, regardless of how the game’s tone and gameplay speaks to you, it’s all undercut by a range of irritating technical issues. These can crop up occasionally to decimate your frame rate or stop a menu from being opened, and I even had one where my gun stopped reloading. I had the ammo for it, but it just wouldn’t load!

Summary
I’ve got very mixed feelings about Borderlands 3. Overall I like it and it’s fun to play, but it could have been so much more and the writing feels like time traveling back to your high school days and being surprised and a little disappointed at how immature everyone is. Few things in life are as embarrassing as the person you were five years ago. If you’re not embarrassed, then I’m sorry to say that you may well be the Borderlands 3 of your friend group; stuck in the past unable to grow or change in any meaningful way, relying on fart jokes as a stand-in for your personality.
Good
  • The guns feel great
  • The new Action Skill system is an excellent addition
  • Playing with friends is as fun as ever
  • Explosions!
Bad
  • Crass writing that lacks the heart of Borderlands 2
  • The Calypso Twins
  • Gameplay hasn't meaningfully advanced
  • Performance issues
6
Written by
Jason can often be found writing guides or reviewing games that are meant to be hard. Other than that he occasionally roams around a gym and also spends a lot of time squidging his daughter's face.

9 Comments

  1. Offft a 6…. I’d give it an 8 as I am loving it!
    I got lucky chosen as Zane and didn’t know other 3 characters cannot have an additional skill like Zane so lucky me. I do agree about Calypso Twins they are annoying and it is the world we are living in so might aswell get used to it lol.
    Weapons in this game are better than ever and as you said it was great to have an option to fire full burst or semi, aswell as choosing cryo or incidenairy depending on the weapons you have of course.
    Granted it does have some performance issues and frame rate really hate when I pop up my menu and it has that stutter effect…. but these can be resolved with a patch in the near future.
    I do wish I can carry 100 capacity lol but I am loving this game and I am currently on level 34 ^^

    • So, I hate to break this to you… but you might be the Borderlands 3 of your friend group.

      • I definitely am. I am ok with that.

  2. One of the vault codes is BONERFART.

    Nuff said.

    • That’s more of a callback to Borderlands 2 tbh – When Hammerlock was looking to rename Bullymongs, Bonerfarts was one of the names that was suggested (before reverting back to what they were called in the first place).

  3. “Gameplay hasn’t meaningfully advanced” – The much better movement system (faster, sliding, mantling) and incredibly improved shooting mechanics alone are very much meaningful advances over Borderlands 2. Just go back to BL2 after playing BL3 for a while and see how it feels.

    That’s not mentioning the far better loot system (gun randomization and variety as well as more varied item loot that takes advantage of new mechanics like sliding and ground slams [although the ground slams were in TPS]) as well as improved scaling system for weapons (still using a level 29 Purple pistol very effectively at level 34). Or the Co-op system that allows people of vastly different levels to play together normally, as well as get personalized loot that scales to your level even if you’re in someone’s game that’s lower level.

    Dunno man, sounds like a lot for meaningful gameplay advancements… Not gonna comment on the other negatives I disagree with because those are more personal opinion, except for the performance issues (which I’ve heard other have had too), as I PERSONALLY have had zero performance issues or crashing in my 30 or so hours so far. (GTX 1080 Ti, Ryzen 5 3600, 16gb DDR4-3200)

  4. Glad I didn’t get caught up in the hype and avoided it, not that 6 is a bad score, but it would’ve needed serious 9 or 10 to tempt me.

  5. Whilst I respect the fact that a review is one persons opinion (sometimes multiple) & I am not knocking the conclusions made, I am not sure I entirely agree with the minus points for it essentially doing more of the same thing. It feels a little like it’s being punished unduly for someone’s tastes changing.

    Personally, I am a big man child & enjoy the humour & having played multiple borderlands games multiple times (currently also playing the remastered first one as well), I don’t think that more of the same is a bad thing. In fact, that was exactly what I was expecting & wanting from it.

    Too many games try to reinvent the wheel in sequels & suffer for it & I am glad that they didn’t.

  6. I’ll be honest – I always come to TSA as my number one source for reviews (and will continue to do so as you lot are awesome) but I feel that with this one they’ve got it wrong.

    I’m absolutely loving the game, the changes to the movement system and the broader variety of guns and perks for those guns make it feel more shooter orientatated without losing the RPG element – which to me is a big step up from BL2.

    And for me the humour is often OTT and crass but no different at all to BL2. Playing as Zane however is often hilarious with the lines he comes out with (even the over-Irishedness of his voice actor comes across well).

    Luckily I’ve not experienced any bugs so far, but otherwise no real complaints. So far a 9-10/10 game for me, though plenty of story left to play.

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