September 18, 2019
It almost goes without saying that Borderlands 3 has been a long time coming, and with seven years passing since the last mainline instalment, you might expect that a lot has changed. Happily, for fans of the series, not all that much has. Pandora is still a barren, desolate wasteland, bandits still run rampant throughout, there are still countless guns to be looted, and at its core, Borderlands 3 remains an utterly silly, over-the-top, kill-everything-that-moves affair.
Familiar it may be, but Borderlands 3 actually has more than a few new tricks up its sleeve that lift it above and beyond what's gone before, not least a story that's actually quite engaging. Traditionally, Borderlands has been more focused on its offbeat characters than delivering memorable narrative beats, but Borderlands 3 somehow manages to achieve both. The Calypso Twins – Tyreen and Troy – prove to be villains you'll love to hate, their 'echo streaming' shenanigans soon developing into something far more dangerous as events unfold.
From Pandora, you'll soon find yourself boarding planet-hopping ship/hub area Sanctuary, visiting a range of diverse celestial bodies filled with new allies, a few old faces, and a plethora of different activities to partake in. Borderlands 3 is a far more varied game than its predecessors; environments are jam-packed with life and detail, as well as native beasties keen to chomp your face off. It's this diversity that makes BL3 a more palatable experience when playing solo – you seldom feel like you're blasting away for the sake of it, as there's always something new to discover.
Playing alone is a viable option, of course, but ideally you'll want to enjoy BL3 with friends and co-op is obviously the perfect way to play the game. It's also your best shot at beating the challenging endgame content that awaits once the credits roll, including wave-based blasting in the Circle of Slaughter and the short but sweet dungeon crawl and ensuing boss battle of the Eridian Proving Grounds. That's before you take into account the masses of fun side missions and other challenges, like Zer0's kill list or Sir Hammerlock's legendary hunts.
Every one of Borderlands 3's planets harbours secrets and stories to uncover, some of which you won't be able to access until later in the game. Certain abilities are acquired with each Vault you raid, unveiling mysteries you'll have previously picked at, wondering what they are exactly. While exploration can be its own reward, more accurately, the wealth of weird and wonderful guns are the real reward, of which there are loads. About a billion or so, to be precise (we didn't actually count).
In Borderlands 3, guns feel a bit more distinctive than they did previously, each manufacturer specialising in a specific type of weapon. Inevitably, there's crossover and you'll find guns that are very similar, but you'll come to favour a certain brand or preferred type. You might like a Torgue gun that fires exploding saw blades or a sleek Maliwan number that has the ability to toggle between shock and corrosive damage.
Perhaps you'll opt for the simplicity of a Jakobs revolver instead, a reliable all-rounder Dahl or Vladof rifle, or an Atlas rocket launcher with tracker tags so that your projectiles home in on their target. You might even prefer a weapon with an underslung blade to inflict massive melee damage or one that doubles as a sniper rifle and triple-barrel machine gun. We're still searching for that fabled cheeseburger gun, though.
Even vehicles have been punched up a bit with additional customisation options and parts to find by hijacking enemy rides. There's not one part of Borderlands 3 that hasn't been 'juiced up' to some degree – missions and environments are more interesting, and visually the game is a real treat. Even the celebrity cameos are well executed, one particular boss fight involving a well-known duo being a memorable highlight. As for the new Vault Hunters themselves, they're fantastic.
Primarily, I chose to play as new Siren Amara, but also tested FL4K and Moze extensively. Amara, is truly formidable, her multi-armed attacks making her well-equipped to fulfil an all-out assault role. FL4K is better suited to range, with their pets able to do their bidding. Moze and her Iron Bear mech, meanwhile, make for an utterly devastating combo. Zane the Operative is more of a trickster, able to deploy a hologram decoy, equip an extra Action Skill, and dual-wield weapons. All four have their strengths, and choosing which to play as is genuinely difficult – they're all great.
Unfortunately, there are some technical issues that put a dampener on things, and during our 50-something hours, we had several occasions where the game crashed, a handful of isolated instances involving choppy frame-rate, and a couple of times we fell through the floor. It's by no means perfect, then, but what Borderlands 3 does it does very well indeed. And while the hitches we did run into while playing are nothing that a patch couldn’t hopefully rectify, it's a shame that, despite a five year development cycle, BL3 hasn't launched in a more polished state.
Niggling problems aside, Borderlands 3 is proof positive that Gearbox's anarchic series is still the king of looter-shooters, brimming with more of everything you could possibly ask for. As the old adage goes, 'good things come to those who wait'. And Borderlands 3 is a very good thing indeed; most definitely worth the wait.
Much of the dialogue is shouted at you in typical Borderlands fashion, and the music is perfectly atmospheric. Voice performances can be irritating if you're not on board with the humour, but there's no disputing that they're excellent.
Borderlands' distinctive, crisp, hand-drawn style remains a joy. Environments are more varied, more colourful and generally more inviting, while character models are slick. Occasional frame rate issues and other technical hiccups are an unwelcome annoyance.
Quite possibly the most enjoyable Borderlands yet, with distinctive guns, a thoroughly entertaining story, great side missions, and a cast of Vault Hunters boasting very cool abilities. Now and again, a sense of repetition can creep in, but you'll be having too much fun to really notice. Modern trappings like mantling and sliding bring BL3 bang up to date.
Normally, I wouldn't be all that invested in a Borderlands narrative, but this one had me hooked from beginning to end. Across several different planets, Gearbox manages to deliver an exciting journey filled with meaningful stuff to do. There is some filler, but for the most part, almost everything is made to maximise the fun factor. Again, dodgy technical bits scuff an otherwise polished game.
Not the most imaginative list in the world, but an undeniably solid one, covering all of the requisite bases. There's ample incentive to keep playing once the story is over, with trophies attached to endgame content and finishing every side mission.
Is Borderlands 3 the best one yet? Not quite, but it's incredibly close. While it may not eclipse Borderlands 2, Gearbox has crammed Borderlands 3 with more chaotic gunplay, more ridiculous guns with which to wreak havoc, and more silly humour. More of everything, then? Yep. Borderlands 3 is one big bundle of fun.