For almost a decade, “Borderlands” has managed to remain the king of the somewhat niche looter-shooter genre, and the third entry in the series does little to change that, for better and for worse. The first game in the series hit store shelves in late October, 2009, and was an immediate success. It’s unique artstyle, thousands of crazy procedurally generated guns, and a quirky sense of humour set it apart from its contemporaries, and being able to experience the whole game with three other people certainly helped. This popularity only continued to rise with it’s sequel (and it’s creatively titled “Pre-sequel”) both of which managed to refine the classic “Borderlands” experience without completely reinventing it, and this pattern remains true in “Borderlands 3.” I have a deep appreciation for these games, partly due to nostalgia, but mainly due to their addicting gameplay and writing. In fact, launching into “Borderlands 3,” my biggest fear was that trademark“Borderlands” humour was not going to hold up as well in 2019 as it did in 2012, but I am pleased to say that for me at least, it absolutely does. Just as in previous games, every character you meet has a distinct personality and brand of jokes that go along with them. I never forgot a single character’s name, and I can typically recall at least one of their lines. From returning classic characters like Cl4trap, to the game’s big evil duo, the Calypso twins, every character is memorable. The writing in “Borderlands” games is not for everybody, and I understand that. Some characters in this game were obnoxious, even to me, but really you either love the writing or hate it, and I love it.
As for the actual main story of the game, you play as one of four uniquely talented vault hunters (just as in the previous games) as they join the Crimson Raiders on a fight to free the galaxy from the “Children of the Vault.” A crazy cult led by the siren Tyreen and her brother Troy. The main story is about what you would expect from a “Borderlands game,” not amazing, but not horrible either. While it was impossible to recapture the brilliant character of Handsome Jack from the second game, the Calypso twins served their purpose, and are hardly the worst villains I’ve ever seen. The story has enough twists and turns to propel you forward, but I doubt I’ll remember too much about it.
As a nice change of pace, in this game you are not only saving the main planet of Pandora, but rather the whole galaxy from baddies. These new environments are welcome after three games of hauling yourself across desolate wastelands. From jungle planets to massive cities, and all sorts of places in between, these unique locales attempt to give the style places to shine, but this is one place where this game can fall flat for me. The style that once sold copies now seems tired. In an era where a “Uniquely style indie experience like no other” comes out every other day, I’m a little drained on the same cell shading I’ve been seeing for a decade. I’m not suggesting that it would be better with a realistic style, I just feel like they could have added some new flairs to the style that demonstrates the ability of modern technology. Additionally, the animations in this game are very stiff. They look virtually no different than in previous games, and were really disappointing. You would imagine that the stylized nature of the game would facilitate really inventive and zany animations, but they’re entirely cookie cutter, even inside cutscenes. The sound design on the other hand, has received some major love. There was clearly a lot of time put into making each gun sound unique, and the game is that much better for it. From the metallic p-twangs of Jakobs revolvers, to the deafening kabooms of every Torgue weapon, each gun sounds just as you would imagine. Additionally, the soundtrack is noticeably better than in previous entries. Featuring tracks by industry veterans such as Jesper Kyd (“Assassins Creed Ⅱ”) this was the first game in the franchise where the soundtrack stuck out to me. The presentation in this game can be very hit or miss, but that isn’t really why most people play the game.
While many people may initially be drawn to the game for it’s peculiar artstyle and clever marketing, the reason people stay comes down to the gameplay. And by gameplay, I of course mean guns, lots of guns. “Borderlands” is not a complicated series. While your movement options may have been expanded in the latest entry (adding the ability to slide, and mantle over walls) the core gameplay remains a simple point and click shooter, with RPG style progression. The gunplay itself has changed very little from previous games, I assume because it was already perfect. Every gun is responsive, and behaves exactly as you would expect just from looking at it. The staple procedurally-generated weapons are back, and better than ever. The game hits all of the main weapon types, assault rifles, shotguns, rocket launchers, you’ll find all of them here in droves. However, what really makes the weapons unique is the different manufacturers. Each manufacturer offers a unique gimmick with their weapons. My personal favorites are the Tediore brand, which function as throwable grenades when they run out of ammo, and the Jakobs brand, which are all old fashioned, and made me feel like a space cowboy. Of course, all these guns would be useless if you didn’t have anyone to use them on, and luckily the enemies themselves are also quite varied. Hi-tech Maliwan troops behave like a structured military, taking cover, using shields and such. The classic bandits behave like a disorganized guerilla group, rushing you with crude weapons and screaming the whole time. Even the various creatures of the galaxy are just as vicious, although the animals unfortunately tend to be less varied as the game progresses. The AI is nothing groundbreaking, but it is more than enough to facilitate your morally questionable murder fantasies. You may forget it during the moment to moment gameplay, but “Borderlands” is an RPG. At the beginning of the experience you get the chance to choose from one of four different classes. I have played two characters so far. For my first run I choose Moze, the gunner, who can deploy a mech for a short period of time, and has skills that focus on improving her firearms. For my second run I chose Zane Flint, the operative, who can use a drone to attack enemies for him, and abilities that focus on movement and stealth. I did not play the games magic class, Amara the Siren, or the games companion class, Fl4k the Beastmaster. These characters offer a reason to play the game multiple times, as each of them offer drastically different experiences, and their skill trees offer many options for varied gameplay styles. If you don’t have time for experiencing all of these different characters for yourself, playing with friends can give you a glimpse of what the other characters are like. Co-op has been one of the main focuses of the franchise in the past, and this entry does improve upon it slightly. Gearbox has introduced mechanics like tagging to make communication easier, as well as individual loot drops, and individual enemy scaling to make it easier for players of different levels to play together. I didn’t play most of the game on co-op, since none of my friends were willing to play at the pace I had to keep up to finish this review on time, but from my limited experience I can say that co-op is the best way to play this game. You will still have a blast in singleplayer, but co-op can keep you entertained during the sections where the game gets repetitive, and it can get repetitive. This was a problem in previous games, but as you get closer to the end of the game, the constant shooting galleries can get dull. It’s not a deal breaker, but be prepared for a lot of really basic combat arenas with little respite in between.
I should mention that I played this game on a mid-range PC, using a Nvidia GTX 970 card, and 16gb ram. The game ran a smooth 60 FPS at ultra settings throughout my entire playtime. I had two hard crashes during my time with the game, but other than that I had no technical hiccups. I have heard others have not had the same smooth experience, so if your worried whether or not you can run this game I would advise waiting for the first couple of patches to come out before you make the investment.
In my eyes, “Borderlands 3” is worth the sixty dollar entry cost. If you enjoy fighting your way through hordes of enemies with friends, grinding through lots of loot, or just like to laugh, then this game is for you. My only gripe is a nagging feeling that it’s stuck in the past. The artstyle no longer enchants me, and the mission design can feel like a mid-2000s experience. This entry met my expectations for a new “Borderlands” game, but it did not exceed them.