After dozens of hours scouring the wastelands of Pandora, the wartorn city of Promethea-6 and battling the deadliest bandits and listening to Ice-T explain why dating a homicidal military AI with commitment issues is never a good idea, one thing is for certain: Borderlands 3 is an old game, a sequel that isn’t so much as interested in raising the bar for loot-shooters as its first follow-up did, but is rather more concerned with cementing its legacy and reinforcing its core strengths.
In an age where every big budget game is a live service and pause menus have gone the way of the Dodo, that’s an approach that’s surprisingly great. It means that Borderlands 3 has a sense of familiarity that is normally reserved for your favourite sweatpants or well-travelled shoes, a perfect fit that any longtime fan will feel right at home in as they return to Pandora and finally go beyond the sandy dunes of the planet in pursuit of better loot.
At the same time, Borderlands 3 is also content to be a follower this time, running up behind some of the biggest names in the industry to deliver a candy-coloured kick to the pistols as it makes off like a bandit with a few liberal poachings and applies its brash personality to the mix, creating the most Borderlands product what ever Borderlanded the Borderlands.
It makes for an amazingly effective end result, one where the classic gunplay of yesteryear has been augmented with the bombastic pop of an E3 reveal that delivers on its promise to create an action experience to which few other established franchises can compare. Simultaneously, Borderlands 3 balances its superb spectacle with a story and dialogue that can only be described as total butts.
With Handsome Jack dead (easily the best villain that video games have ever produced) and the Borderlands in chaos, it’s up to an admittedly worse threat to step into the vacuum and rally the legions of braindead bandits to their cause: Livestreamers with a talent for murder and a mission to open the biggest vault left behind by the Eridians. With an army of disposable cannon fodder numbering in the billions and little resistance, it’s up to you to once again answer the call as you step into the fray. Guns! Vault secrets! Claptrap!
And a story so dumb that it defies logic.
Make no mistake, the journey between the first bullet fired into a surprisingly squishy bandit head and the final round let loose towards the ultimate threat, is about as blunt as Billy club in a sword-fighting contest. While the setup is intriguing and a few plot twists do creep up, Borderlands 3 may just have the most uninteresting cast in the entire series. The Calypso Twins are barely memorable aside from the piss-take that they represent on streamer culture without limits and Sanctuary’s main roster plods along like a collection of two-dimensional character traits.
But where Borderlands 3 drops the ball on properly fleshing out its cast in its biggest return yet, it more than makes up for it with the best dive into action this side of a Michael Bay fever dream. Everything in the interaction department just feels better when you wrap your hands around a controller and proceed to grease that input device up with hours of white-knuckle adventure.
Guns don’t just benefit from a sound design that is begging to be played with the best surround setup or dedicated gaming headsets, they feel magnificent. They’re a benchmark in their own right, an arsenal of death-dealing tools that are designed to always be powerful no matter the style of play you push forward with. Atlas guns allow for pay ‘n spray violence thanks to tracking bullets that allow you to empty an entire clip without aiming, Jakobs hand cannons are hard-hitting nail drivers and Maliwan is still the name in weaponised elemental damage.
Heck, Borderlands 3 even doubles down on the identity of weapons by allowing for many of them to be capable of switching between modes. Why shove lead into a psycho’s face when you can hand deliver some mini-rockets instead, or why waste ammo when you can pop a few headshots with firing toggles that allow for semi-auto gunplay?
It’s staggering to think that Borderland 3’s improvements on a seven-year-old formula don’t only feel great, they feel fresher and more dynamic than ever before thanks to these minor but numerous tweaks. Likewise, the overall flow of combat also feels like it has been substantially retuned to allow for a far more fluid and spontaneous sense of evisceration. Hiding behind cover is for Skagg-licks, and with a system that incorporates the best slide to shotgun manoeuvre in video games bar none, Borderlands 3 never feels dull to play so long as you keep challenging yourself.
That’s the real appeal here, as the drive to constantly improve your character by tackling dangerous foes and equipping the best skills feels deeper than ever before. My first playthrough began with Moze and her mighty Iron Bear mech, and by the time I’d finally reached the endgame my 30-odd character levels had helped me create a mechanised engine of destruction that I could climb into, pouring all of the bullets in existence into twin cannons that dealt more damage the hotter they got.
And that was just the one skill tree I’d played with. Moze’s other talents allowed me to respec her skills as either a railgun firing sniper in armour or I could transform her in a walking nuclear arsenal whose very touch would deliver a mountain of TNT right into the torso of anyone unlucky enough to cross her path. I could mix and match, try new builds and experiment with loadouts that were stupidly deep and that’s just one character.
At the same time, I’m beyond excited to see what I can do with the likes of Amara, Zane or Flak’s collection of pocket monsters. If Borderlands 2 was a game that allowed for seven years of play, Borderlands 3 is easily going to match that longevity thanks to its many quality of life improvements. provided that Gearbox can pour some much-needed post-launch fixes to a game that desperately needs them.
No matter what platform you’re on, Borderlands 3 has a mess of issues that range from mildly annoying to game-breaking. The first week saw cloud saves wipe out hours of progress, split-screen isn’t worth the effort currently thanks to severe frame-rate issues and the game is currently being outclassed on PS4 Pro by a base PlayStation box that delivers a more stable experience.
Beneath that though, you’re still looking at a game that struggles to consistently deliver and happens to be plagued with the graphical nonsense that belongs on last-gen consoles. It’s a pity, because Borderlands 3’s quirky art style isn’t done proper justice by bugs and glitches that hamper the sheer thrill of how good it can be when some oil is applied to its gearbox.
When it’s firing on all cylinders, Borderlands 3 is a masterpiece of mayhem. Having an SMG that I can throw to the ground and watch it sprout legs while it scuttles about screaming about death should not be this much fun. Slide-kicking my 12345th bandit into the air and then filling their belly with two chambers of shotgun should not make me hurt my face muscles from smiling this much. I should not be giggling like a pinhead in sex education when I face a killer DJ who wields weaponised dubstep music and yet I can’t help but grin.
For all its technical faults, characters who are beyond stupid and want me to hate them, it’s impossible to not like Borderlands 3. If the good does outweigh the bad, then the magnificent parts are clearly an overweight kid on a seesaw who just sent the negative scrawny bits of the game hurtling into the air with the sheer force of an unintended butt stomp of delight.
Last Updated: September 19, 2019