The Borderlands series has come from humble beginnings. The original released without any expectations of being a smash hit and went on to become the mother of looter shooters. Two games and a load of DLC packs, a spin-off and a Telltale series later, we now have Borderlands 3 and it is everything you could ever expect from the series. No matter how far gaming has come since the original’s debut, Borderlands has still been unmatched when it comes to silly shooting and its emphasis on sweet, sweet loot.
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In short, Borderlands 3 could be one of the best games I have played in 2019 thanks to its sheer emphasis on fun and enjoyable gameplay. Its deep class system, billions of guns and large focus on end-game content mean it is a package you will invest hundreds of hours into. My first playthrough clocked in well over 30 hours just for the story alone. Sure, I completed every side mission and farmed a few bossed for their unique legendary gun, but the value here is rare to find in 2019.
We then have the quality of life changes and additions which successfully elevates the dated series into a modern game. The social aspect, lost loot, fun multiplayer and asynchronous online features make every session with the game feel like one big intertwined universe of players with ever overcomplicating the core of the game. But Borderlands 3 is far from perfect. Apart from its major performance issues, the game’s biggest missed opportunity comes in the form of its antagonists which, while they start off strong, develop into a major drab.
Borderlands 3 takes place a couple of years after the death of the better villain in the series, Handsome Jack. The Hyperion Corporation is in ruins and the planet of Pandora is still full of secrets. At the end of the second game, we learnt that Pandora was not the only planet to host these rare “Vaults” and they were actually scattered around the universe. Seeing an opportunity after Jack’s death, the Calypso Twins, Troy and Tyreen formed a group of crazies called the COV (Children of the Vault) and have taken over not only Pandora but other planets too in an attempt to open all the Vaults and leech the power of the creature inside of them in order to open the true vault.
The COV form part of the game’s many factions of enemies and creatures that you fight along the way. The roster is quite vast and every planet has its unique enemies and people to meet that add layers of charm to the experience. The Pyschos are still as crazy as ever and while you are running around killing them, they all scream dialogue that made me chuckle. We then have the new and returning characters from the past games and as much as I enjoyed having them around, I wish they played a bigger role in the game’s plot.
Many characters just appear in an epic intro and then vanish again. Maya, Brick, Hammerlock and even Crazy Earl. The familiar faces are plenty but the content surrounding each of them could have been pushed up a notch. You spend so much time tracking them down to only forget you ever fought alongside them for one mission.
Still, the sheer amount of personality that oozes into every corner of the game is what makes the Borderlands narrative so great. The jokes, the ruthless attack on pop-culture topics of today and the cliche and slightly offensive remarks. It would not have been a Borderlands game without me having to explain what party the “Fist Union” was having on the other side of the door to my brother while we delivered a cake with explosives to the door.
It also helps that each of the four playable classes deliver a unique narrative approach to each playthrough. Dialogue and responses vary depending on your class and the things you hear throughout the game will leave you chuckling under your breath.
The four playable classes all offer a fantastic approach to the game with Amara being my first main character. I don’t believe in respeccing during a playthrough so I stuck to building a corrosive tank with some crazy-fast movement speed, a deadly teleporting melee attack and a large emphasis on shotguns.
But that is just one way to build her. If I wanted to switch her style I could have easily spent some cash and refunded all her 50 skill points to create another build focusing on shock damage, SMGs and healing. My brother, who played the entire campaign with me built a Fl4k, the new pet-summoning class with an overpowered ability that automatically hits critical targets. That, doubled up with a Jakob’s smasher pistol that shot 5 bullets at once, meant that all five shots were hitting criticals and everything just died.
The classes are fun to play and I will no doubt try and get each one of them to run through the story at least once so I have them readily available for any future Borderlands 3 content. But the abilities are only half of what makes Borderlands 3 so damn great. The guns being the other half lay the foundation for everything you do in the game and every single one of them felt and looked different.
From a rocket launcher that shoots hamburgers to an overpowered pistol that refunds your magazine when you shoot critical shots, to a shotgun that shoots fireworks, Borderlands 3 has it all. The excitement of finding a new gun which looks cool to only shoot it and realize it is extremely weak was present well into the end-game. You can build your class around your guns and vice-versa and the combination of the two work in perfect harmony.
The shooting also feels fantastic and is just as satisfying as ever. Every gun’s unique firing style and the game’s focus on elemental damage makes it all a massive explosion of colour and fire. The creatures and enemies you face all have their own unique way to be countered and you will also be looking out for those weak points. The same goes for the epic boss fights that required a fast trigger finger and a bucket load of ammunition.
This synergy created by the class system, the fun combat and the awesome weapon system is carried throughout the various planets you explore throughout the game. Main and side missions take you to the dark corners of the ancient vaults and are all scripted and delivered brilliantly. Every map is vast and filled with secret chests to discover, trials to unlock and ECHO logs to track down and listen to which gives you an insight into the story in the area.
Not to mention the game looks fantastic with its award-winning art style delivered as stunning as ever. HDR also helps bring the bright colours of the lasers and ancient monuments to life like never before.
There’s also Sanctuary 3 which acts as the game’s main hub. You will find yourself travelling back to this ship quite often to catch up on the story, sell all your goods and maybe open the golden chest using a rare key obtained through the SHIFT Code system.
Where Borderlands 3 shines the most is during its co-op where you and your friends are all going at it using your preferred weapons and perfectly-crafted classes. The game’s online system works well and lets you play the entire game with up to three friends. This is the way I prefer to play Borderlands.
The true challenge of it all and everything I have discussed up to now comes down to its end-game features which let you up the difficulty to different Mayhem modes. Loot drops are increased but you take more damage and enemies are tougher. This is carried across the Proving Grounds where players will run through dungeon-like encounters killing enemies and the boss within a certain time limit for rare rewards. There’s certainly a lot to do in Borderlands 3 and it is all extremely fun to experience.
But not everything in the game is sunshine and rainbows. Borderlands 3 had two major issues for me. The performance and the villains – both of which sucked. The game runs quite well most of the time but there’s no doubt some major frame rate issues going on.
Menus lag and freeze while trying to navigate them and the frame rate drops can be frustrating. As for bugs, I only encountered a handful of them which were mainly just a mission refusing to progress. A simple exit to the main menu fixed this. There were also reports of input lag which I never experienced at all. Even with HDR enabled on the PS4 Pro on Performance and Resolution Mode, the issue never happened. Regardless, there’s no getting around the fact that the game has some serious performance hiccups.
As for the second thing I hated, the villains. After Borderlands 2’s crazy-awesome Handsome Jack, it was a shame to see Gearbox falling so far behind while developing the Calypso Twins. Instead of dark and twisted, we got cliche and boring. This is mainly due to their one-dimensional personality. Tyreen’s voice was like nails on a chalkboard and her reused “like, subscribe and obey” voice line became a complete cringe moment after a while.
The game tries hard to develop these two characters but after the credits rolled, I was just left underwhelmed by their presence. Unfortunately, they deliver forgettable roles which bring down the entire cast and plot.
Bad villains and performance issues aside, Borderlands 3 could be one of the best games I have played this year. It’s just a giant package of enjoyable looting and shooting with a well-delivered universe to explore. Gearbox Software has built the game to last and the True Vault Hunter Mode will be my next challenge after I grind for some more Queen’s Calls.
This Borderlands 3 Review was based on a code sent to us by 2K Games
Available On: PS4, Xbox One, Epic Games Store | Reviewed On: PS4 Pro | Release Date: 13 September 2019 | Price: R960