Developed by: Gearbox Software
Published By: 2K Games
Platforms: PS4 / Xbox One / PC
Reviewed On: PS4PRO
Seven years ago, Borderlands 2 came out and most critics and fans agreed that it was a positive and much-improved sequel over its predecessor. Borderlands 2 also introduced fans to one of the best pieces of DLC content that have ever been released for a videogame. But that was then and year after year passed by without any news from Gearbox Software on if fans will ever see the next Borderlands especially since the focus of the company seemed to have shifted to BattleBorn for a time. Lucky for fans, Borderlands 3 was officially announced at Pax West 2019 with this trailer;
It’s a Beautiful Day, Full of Opportunity
It’s been several years since the defeat of Handsome Jack and the Hyperion Corporation is also no more. Due to the nature of the Vaults and there is always someone wanting to harness that power, the power vacuum left is filled by siblings Troy and Tyreen the leaders of the Children of the Vault (COV). They are in search of the Great Vault and will stop at nothing to get what they want. With new adversaries, there should be new Vault Hunters as well and players are introduced to Fl4K the Beastmaster, Amara the Siren, Moze the Gunner and Zane the Operative. There are plenty of returning characters as well like Lilith, Marcus, Earl, ClapTrap, Rhys, Vaughn, and new ones that are introduced like Ava.
It took me around 50 hours to finish my first playthrough as I wanted to do every quest, side quests, collect Typhon Logs and Eridium Writings just to get the full picture on how the world has expanded and grown for Borderlands 3. I prefer the story in Borderlands 2 only because Handsome Jack himself was a very strong villain. Not to say that Troy and Tyreen aren’t good villains, they just didn’t feel like they were designed as central ones. It’s like it always feels like there is a hidden puppetmaster behind them that never showed up. It never really feels like the player and the villains are in a race to get to the Great Vault. It always seems like the player arrives too late to a location but somehow manages to come out ahead only for the villains to appear out of nowhere and steal their thunder multiple times. Now I’m not saying the Borderlands series is known for having very strong writing. It rarely takes itself seriously and prides itself on being inappropriately funny even though half the jokes don’t really land. There were some moments in the game that required a bit more emotional weight but there just wasn’t any. Some important characters die for no reason only to introduce new ones that aren’t interesting. Even in the end when a great sacrifice was made it just didn’t do anything for me and the shame of it is it should have because everything else about the game was pretty damn good.
A Whole New World(s)
If there is one thing that I appreciated about the game was taking risks to move beyond Pandora and really show that the series can grow bigger and better. Players will visit four other planets besides Pandora among which are Promethea, Athenas, and Eden-6. Each planet has its own distinct identity as well as the enemy variety that really differentiates itself welcomingly. Promethea is a futuristic city home to the Atlas Corporation which is under a hostile takeover from the Maliwan Corporation. Athenas is a peaceful colony that clearly has Asian influences and Eden-6 is a swampy forest location home to the Jakobs Corporation. In each of these worlds, there are also multiple areas to explore fully (except for Athenas) and I found myself being constantly surprised by how many areas there were. I would always think “okay that was it surely I’m coming to the end” then going “wow there actually is more”. I’m not saying that it is always a good thing though as some areas do feel like they go on forever.
I must admit I also really appreciated that the developers took their time to really try and differentiate each world. I like how they have their own style and even a variety of enemies that players will face. Pandora is known for the standard variety of enemies that players are accustomed to but then the gallery of enemies grow exponentially more. I never found myself bored out of my mind shooting the same thing because it never felt that way. Every enemy has a different tactic to deal with and it really feels refreshing having so much variety in them. However, I did find some out of place unbalanced areas. I suspect it had something to do with the developers trying to accommodate players powering through the main quest only so there are these areas that are not over levelled but even then the areas right after that were 10 levels higher so it did leave me puzzled. I did all the side quests in the area so I was constantly over levelled but finding these under levelled areas just made me run through them without exploring due to how little exp gain I got from killing enemies there.
At one point in the game, I was thinking that it is strange how we are moving away from Pandora now only for the game to circle back and have the player open more areas so it was like a nice call back that no matter if the universe is bigger now Pandora is always where the home is. I thoroughly enjoyed the level design in the game.
Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder
I was slightly disappointed that all the early previews of the game were clearly of the PC version of the game. Although it doesn’t quite match the graphic fidelity of its PC counterpart the game is still quite gorgeous on the PS4. I enjoyed how they managed to maintain the cell-shaded aesthetics the series is known for and really upgrade the character models and environments to show that the Borderlands belongs in this generation. The HDR is one of the best implementations in videogames and I am just really delighted it was done exceptionally well.
Unfortunately, I can’t really say that the performance of the game holds up impressively enough. For the PS4 Pro, at least players have two options which are Resolution Mode and Performance Mode. Resolution mode is to bump up the image and provide a much cleaner image of the game but locks the game at 30fps. Performance Mode focuses on providing higher framerates closer to 60fps. I will just say right off the bat that it felt like Resolution Mode was well below the locked 30fps. Even from the start of the game where nothing was going on at all the game was chugging along, I switched to Performance Mode and didn’t look back. Now I am also not saying that Performance Mode was smooth like butter as it still dropped frames occasionally but at least it was more enjoyable. The game feels like it requires more optimization as the further along in the game you are, it will be obvious how often and how long it takes to load the map assets up each time you teleport to a new area. Also, I found some character models (the eyes especially) to be really freaky mostly due to the lighting.
The Hills are Alive
If there is one thing that truly took me by surprise in this game is how the soundtrack in this game is absolutely fucking on point. Everything from the main menu music, different planets overview music, boss fights music, every damn piece of music was perfect! I found myself at times just bobbing my head and not killing bosses too fast because I just wanted to let the tracks go on longer. I truly cannot gush enough the amount of a phenomenal job Raison Varner, Jesper Kyd, Michael McCann, Finishing Move Inc and the team at Gearbox have accomplished here. The sound design for guns as well as ambient noises was also well done. The only true gripe I may have is the sound profiles don’t really push the capabilities of a soundbar, so I played more with my headphones on.
So Who Is Coming?
Is the question Marcus asks the players that at the beginning of the game. All characters play differently but all are incredibly fun in their own way. I played Fl4k and really enjoyed messing around with different types of builds for him and settled on a critical focused build that was fun.
The gameplay evolution from Borderlands 2 to 3 was noticeable from the get-go as the gunplay is just significantly better this time around. It feels punchy and well balanced that really gives players the freedom to play how they want. I also really like the myriad of quality of life things that were added into the game. Things like being able to change quests on the fly with the d-pad, being able to teleport to your vehicle, the social systems were all really much-needed additions to the game.
As mentioned earlier I finished the main campaign at around the 50-hour mark with my character being at level 50 as well with all quests done. This included hunting all the Typhon Logs, car parts, Legendary Hunts, etc. Funny enough as big as the maps are, I felt like there needed to be more things for players to chase for. I don’t mean ridiculous Ubisoft level of map activities that look too cluttered but just more unique activities for the players to do. For instance (well for me anyway), there just was not enough Legendary Hunts as it is always relegated to just one or two per area.
Circle of Slaughter returns this time with three different variations being Circle, Cistern and Slaughterhouse 3000 to test the mettle of players. I can confirm that even on normal difficulty the Circles of Slaughter will be tough as nails but so satisfying to beat when you do so prepare yourselves. The latest addition to the series is the Proving Grounds which is basically where players need to progress past a few areas and kill the final boss. The catch is to get extra rewards players will need to complete the entire level at certain time limits and complete other conditions. It isn’t as hard as the Circles of Slaughter, but it can be a challenge due to the time limits.
I do feel that the quests lines in the series have not evolved enough. There is a noticeable stubbornness to stick with the tried and tested ways of Borderlands 2 when it comes to multi-part questlines. There are some that were done okay but there was quite a number that required players to run around quite a bit without anything significant happening except for artificially trying to pad the length of the quest. Some even go on for way too long. To make things worse the game maps are significantly longer yet for some reason Fast Travel stations can be in very short supply and require players to make the long trek to where they need to go. After a few times, it does get kind of tedious, especially when its very obvious where the Fast Travel stations should be.
The most important question though is how is the loot in this looter shooter (shlooter?) The loot is good my friends. It is expanded greatly with more variations because the developers have taken a really great approach in trying to make each gun manufacturer unique. My favourite was Jakobs guns due to how well they synergized with the build I was going for, but it is always a blast to mess around with other guns. I don’t know if other players noticed this, but I feel that there was much less emphasis on rocket launchers this time around. I think throughout my entire playthrough I found most of them to be completely useless. And just didn’t really provide the damage output there are most expected to be doing.
Being a game that can also be played with friends via the multiplayer option, I think it should be very important as well to comment on that and at this moment there are good parts and not so good parts. The great parts? I absolutely love the cooperation mode where if you join someone higher or lower level the game will still be perfectly playable to both of you and the loot can be instanced to the both of you. The difficulty is also scaled really well so that everyone feels like they are in a fair fight. It really is so perfect how that is implemented.
The not so great parts? There were times where the game progression would bug out once you leave your hosts game resetting your progress, crashes happened as well, and the framerate (especially menus) would really take a hit and cause the game to chug along. There are even reports about whole save files being corrupted so I’m thankful that never happened to me. Playing with my friends was generally a good experience but it wasn’t as flawless as it should have been, but I do hope that these issues will be ironed out in time.
What I Loved
- Soundtrack – it is one of the best soundtracks I have heard in a while.
- Gunplay – So much better compared to Borderlands 2 and I am so happy that it is.
- Vault Hunters – I had a lot of difficulties deciding who to play. I am currently doing my second playthrough with Amara and plan to do the rest.
- Loot – The loot really is great. The hunger to find better and better loot is real and by god is the grind satisfying.
- Bosses – Although they weren’t too hard, I really enjoyed all the boss fights the game had. It was both challenging and well thought out without resorting to cheap tactics to frustrate players.
- Cooperative mode – It really is one of the best things implemented in games like these which really encourages players to play together more regardless of level.
- Mayhem Mode – I do enjoy the new modifiers that were clearly inspired by Diablo’s torment levels and hopefully it does improve more in time.
What I Wished Was Better
- Story – Coming off Borderlands 2, The Pre-Sequel and Tales of the Borderlands, the developers had a chance to perhaps really improve on the quality of the writing but chose not to. I don’t think the intended humour is great, but it does fall flat a lot of times. There should be a way to balance out a funny and poignant moment without one overpowering the other as cleverly shown in Tales of the Borderlands. I know some people might say its Borderlands, but if it can be better shouldn’t it? Especially when it has been.
- Bugs – There were a lot of bugs and jankyness which is normal probably for a game of this size but after being in development for so long it does feel like a small let down.
- Photo mode – It is actually quite disappointing that for the console versions at least that there is no photo mode at launch as there were so many things I really wanted to get great shots of.
- Vault Hunter Voices – On one hand it is great that they are voiced now but on the other hand their interactions don’t really matter in the long run as more than once I noticed that a reply is done vaguely enough to be passable in the ongoing dialogue of the game. Then you also disappear in cutscenes like you don’t exist.
It has been a long seven years, but the wait has been worth it. Borderlands 3 is an incredible improvement in a lot of ways over the previous entry and is such a blast to play with friends. Maybe there was a fear that with other games that have come out over the years such as Destiny or The Division that there may not be a place for Borderlands anymore, but Borderlands 3 shows that that place can never be taken over by anyone. I for one cannot wait for the game to iron out issues, add new content and not to mention the DLC that is scheduled for release! I honestly do feel that if the game launched without the technical issues that many have discovered the game earns its rightful place to be on Game of The Year lists. This is a recommended purchase for fans of Borderlands as well as newcomers to the series.