There is no denying that the Borderlands series has garnered many fans over its decade long history. In an era where shooting games were often dour or realistic, came a colorful and humorous game that stood out. The wait for the sequel was long, and after a forgettable detour with Battleborn, Gearbox Studios finally announced Borderlands 3. A sequel that improves upon some of the biggest shortcomings of the series, while still delivering a fun experience.
Reports of multiple vaults around the universe have been surfacing, and many seek to raid them. Of those especially is a new threat in the form of the Calypso twins. The two disgruntled sirens used their powers to unite the bandits of Pandora in a cult known as “Children of the Vault”. A new group of Vault Hunters must stop the cult, and assist previous hunter Lilith and her Crimson Raiders to find the vaults first.
Perhaps the biggest pitfall of Borderlands 3 is its narrative. The sharp writing from the second game isn’t present here, as dialogue seem to rely more on frat-party humor. Granted, juvenile humor has been the series’ MO for the longest time, but the jokes rarely land to begin with. The Calypso Twins themselves can be annoying with their streamer-esque personas. Thankfully, they do pose a genuine threat as the story goes on. No matter how irritating they can get, they pale in comparison to Ava. A pre-teen aspiring Siren who acts petulant and whiny the entire adventure, making her a nuisance.
The main story juggles between uninteresting characters and forced writing, but it’s not all bad. Having Ashly Burch reprise her role as Tiny Tina elevates the game’s humor. Another surprising standout is Balex, a foul-mouthed Teddy Bear voiced by Ice-T. The side missions are also very imaginative and entertaining, which is a plus. Having to help a robot make coffee in order to appease caffeine-craving soldiers is unique to say the least.
As for the rest of the game, it’s the same old Borderlands, but better. There are four new Vault Hunters to choose from. Each one has three different action skills to choose from (as opposed to only one in the previous games). Choosing an action skill unlocks its respective skill tree. Players are free to choose any passive upgrades (like extra gun damage) or augments (altering an action skill altogether).
On my playthrough, I chose to play with Zane, the operative. Zane can use three different action skills: a portable shield, a drone that can shoot enemies, and a holographic clone that he can switch places with. He can also use two action skills at once, in exchange for not being able to use grenades. Despite the limitation, he also gets some unique augments. For example, Zane can use the “Winter’s Drone” augment that converts its bullets into cryo damage. This is just one example of a way to play as just ONE character. The amount of different ability customization with just a single vault hunter is astounding, and definitely a highlight.
It won’t be a Borderlands game without guns. From pistols to rocket launchers, there is a weapon for every situation. Gearbox overhauled the arsenal this time around, as weapons have much more usability. Guns can have two modes to toggle between. Pistols can shoot bullets or mini-grenades, and a shotgun with the ability to toggle between incendiary or shock damage. Having so many different mods to an already enormous selection of weaponry makes each weapon valuable in its own way… to a certain point.
Previous titles in the series eased in players when it came to weapon rarity. I found myself owning a bunch of rare blue weapons less than hour in, and able to buy an epic purple grenade mod right away. This lessens the importance of white and green weapons as better ones are available early on. Those are automatic fodder to be sold in vendors as there is no reason to keep a lesser weapon. I’m one of the few who liked the grinder mechanic in the Pre-Sequel since it gave lesser weapons some use, but here they are pure filler. In addition, weapons can’t be upgraded. This means a beloved gun can fall short to higher level ones despite its rarity.
Another crucial update is character control. Movement is less rigid in Borderlands 3, allowing for easier maneuverability. Characters can also slide while running, which can inflict some damage on enemies. Most important is that characters can finally grab onto ledges, allowing hunters to find treasure in elevated places. Platforming can be awkward at times, but thankfully it’s never obligatory.
One of the biggest issues of the previous games was traversal. Vehicles alleviated some of the backtracking, but it was still mandatory. Borderlands 3 finally adds fast travel to previous stations. On top of that, parked vehicles can also function as a fast travel spot. This is especially helpful parking in front of a mission location, and then teleporting straight to the entrance. This leads to another big quality of life improvement, as players don’t have to return to quest givers to complete a mission. This feature was a long time coming, as players can just finish a task and get rewards on the spot.
As aforementioned, Borderlands 3‘s vaults are scattered around the universe, meaning that Pandora isn’t going to be the only setting. Using a spaceship christened as the new “Sanctuary”, there are a variety of planets to explore. On one hand, the new planets provide a nice change of scenery. From the metropolitan streets of Promethea to the lush jungles of Eden 6. On the other hand, Pandora seems much smaller in scale, missing much of the character it used to have. That being said, planets have a plethora of side missions, even if some of the planets aren’t as iconic as Pandora.
There wasn’t a huge necessity to upgrade Borderlands’ visual style, but there are some improvements. Most notably character facial animations are much better, and some of the planets can look stunning like Athenas. There are some slight graphical hitches like textures popping in when the game loads a new area. Those have been present since the series’ inception, so it’s a shame it’s here as well. The music is perhaps the best yet. Veteran composers Jesper Kyd (Assassin’s Creed) and Michael McCann (XCOM) provide an electronic inspired soundtrack that keeps the blood pumping throughout the adventure. While it’s hard to hear through all the gunfire, it’s definitely a highlight.
Borderlands 3 makes some smart improvements over its foundations. A vast variety of weapons, tighter controls, fast-travel and other quality of life improvements make it the definitive installment. If the main storyline and the writing were up to a similar standard, it would’ve been even better. As it stands, Borderlands 3 is a great experience, whether you play alone or with friends. Even if you never ventured into the desolate horizons of Pandora, this is a great time to give the series a shot.