Borderlands 3 Review
Y’all have grandmas, right? Cool, same.
My grandma loved making food. She loved making food almost as much as she loved seeing us eat it. I still have dreams of meatloaf on Sundays after church. But, there always came that moment right after the second plated was licked clean, and the dessert was finished. There was just no more room. But, my loving grandma would urge me to finish the potatoes or have another piece of the pie. How could I say no?! Soon after, my initial joy would slowly give way to this slightly uncomfortable sense of duty, propped up by my general enjoyment of the overall experience. That’s where I’m at with Borderlands 3. Let’s dig in.
What Did I Love? Honestly, a ton, but I’ll keep it to three.
The gunplay is much improved, and when your game relies so heavily on that aspect, it makes a big difference in the entire feel of the gameplay. The gun variety is off-the-chart as fans would expect, but I think they've even surpassed those expectations. I would tweak and tune my strategy to account for the way a new weapon or new grenade handled.
There seemed to be extra emphasis on giving each manufacturer a more distinguished aesthetic and feel with their weapons. Because of that, I quickly found myself testing out every gun I came across, just for the experience.
Another thing I loved was the number of unique bosses in the campaign (bosses being any battle preceded by a cutscene and title card). There are easily more than a dozen in the game. Each one has some memorable feature that sets it apart from all the others. There was a great variety of sizes, attack patterns, environments, and special abilities to challenge you.
Lastly, the world design was impressive. We knew that there would be new planets from the ending of Borderlands 2 (BL2), and the game delivered in a big way. It was a great avenue to shake things up from the typical wasteland of Pandora. However, above the aesthetics, what resonated with me the most was how the world design was so intertwined with the story and the characters of that particular planet. Eden-6, the home planet of the manufacturer Jakobs, whose guns have a classic wood and steel aesthetic, is almost entirely swampland, with gigantic trees dominating the landscape.
What Did I Appreciate? Picking up ammo and cash is now automatic once you’ve opened a container. The same goes for the shield boosters that some shield variants drop when depleted. Now, you purchase storage and ammo upgrades with cash from Marcus. The cash payment is a great addition as it finally gives cash an actual purpose in the game as opposed to BL2. Even with five million dollars in my inventory at the end of my second playthrough, I can still "save up" for something worth purchasing. Crazy Earl will now sell you weapon and character skins for your hard-earned Eridium, with an Eridium-themed vending machine offering top-tier weapons as well.
Each weapon you pick up now comes with a “Score” value at the top of the info card. I found this particularly useful, especially early on, when I was loading up my inventory with new weapons. The upgraded Catch-A-Ride system offers plenty of customization. A lot of these go past decorative, with different boosters and weapon mods available with a bit of exploration.
Lastly, the side missions did a great job of adding that extra value to the game. Some missions fill in backstory, others introduce interesting characters or enemies, and almost all of them end with a high-end gun or similar reward. What more could you ask for?
What Did I Dislike? Like BL2, you have an Echo device that serves as your hub for inventory, maps, quests, etc. You’re jumping in and out a ton. There’s always a delay when switching into the inventory tab, possibly because they feature rendered models of your character. That simple delay, multiplied by the number of times I needed to get in and out of there, became a nuisance right away.
The second is another interface issue. When you go to pick up a weapon, if it’s in a certain position, the top of the information card will be cut off by the top of your screen, forcing you to finagle your character’s position to get a better look.
Aside from the technical aspects, I found some of the plot to be derivative. Through my first playthrough, and much more during my second, that the story was using some of the same mechanics to generate conflict. For those of you that played BL2, you’ll notice a lot of similar story mechanisms in BL3.
Lastly, I was disappointed in the treatment of the returning BL2 characters in the story. I understand that leaning on Tina, Brick, and Mordecai in the campaign would probably piss off just as many people, but I think that could have been done with more tact, especially because…
What Did I Hate?
…some of the new NPCs are hot garbage.
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably checked out other reviews already, most of which have probably said something similar. Knowing this, I’d like to avoid the “They did this, ergo they suck” portion and try to offer a deeper take. (Borderlands 2 Spoiler Warning)
Why did we love Handsome Jack? Why did the video game community agree that he was one of the Greatest. Video Game. Villains. Ever. The full answer would fill a separate article, but here’s my abridged version.
Jack had depth. Throughout the BL2 campaign, there are moments that reveal Jack’s vulnerability, his humanness. His daughter dies. His girlfriend dies. He goes ballistic at the mention of his wife (who his daughter accidentally killed). We come to learn Jack’s grandma was sadistic and abusive. Each one of those discoveries added layers to Jack’s personality, his goals, and his motivations. He resonated with players because of his constant struggle on the path to success.
Writers Digest sums it up best in their article on crafting compelling characters. You need a motivation, a secret, a contradiction, and vulnerability.
I looked for those in BL3 and came away with next to nothing. Troy and Tyreen are sirens, supernaturally powered from birth. Troy is said to be a weakling “parasite”, only kept alive by Tyreen’s sharing of power, but other than one cutscene where he needs help getting to his feet, I never felt that? I never saw Troy's fear? I didn't see Tyreen have to truly choose between her goals and the life of her brother? Not to mention, that whole parasite story arc goes dead before the halfway point of the campaign.
Couple that with their gimmicky, over-the-top influencer dialogue, Vaughn’s annoying bro-ness, Ava’s teenage angst and general uselessness, and you create a story that feels hyper-millennial.
Buy the game. If you played BL2, you’ll love the changes that BL3 has to offer. If you’re completely new to the series, this game offers a completely one-of-a-kind FPS experience, largely due to the expansive loot system.