Borderlands 3 actually has a lot in common with Catherine: Full Body. With Borderlands having at least 4 years between releases and for many it’s 5 or more, that’s plenty of time to change as a person. We also saw different experiences, like Destiny attempted to do a far more serious version of the core idea of Borderlands (loot and shoot) and whatever you want to call Anthem, making it harder for Borderlands 3 to just show up and be great. Based off the E3 showing it looked like they actually improved a lot and brought the series to where it needed to be, though it’s surprisingly easy to succeed in that setting. With so many eyes on Borderlands 3, is it a reminder of why the franchise became so popular or is it a relic of the past? Here’s our Borderlands 3 review.
Even by Borderlands standards the core story in Borderlands 3 is pretty bad. The Calypso twins are something of a commentary or at least a projection of the current YouTube/Streamer culture. This is made rather overt with a number of mentions of fans, increasing popularity and trying to top their previous heights. As a function of their goal being part “become a god,” a concept that is never really explained, and do whatever they have to for their fans, they don’t make a compelling antagonist.
Come the end of the day, it’s made perfectly clear the Calypso twins know more than the Crimson Raiders and can kill them at any point and time. So when you have an enemy that could win with relative ease, it makes narratives where they fall to their own folly underwhelming. There is no sense you beat the Calypso twins, as much as an overwhelming sense they let you win. A lot of small changes could make them a more compelling villain, but instead we’re left with a relatively low stakes story with two extremely annoying antagonists.
This can be seen in other parts of the adventure too. With newcomer Ava they set her up for big things, while also making her one of the most unlikable characters in the franchise. Thanks to her handling situations beyond her age and a wide variety of normal reactions to tough situations, it will be hard to redeem her in the eyes of fans. A number of fan favorites take more of a backseat, like Tiny Tina has practically nothing to do with this adventure, Torgue is reduced to nothing more than screaming swears and explosions and, oddly enough, Kreig, the playable Psycho DLC character from Borderlands 2, manages to be one of the most compelling characters through fascinating character logs.
It all wouldn’t be so bad if the jokes were better. Right now there is a large debate about what, if anything, is the problem and there is a wide variety of explanations. Going back to my opening, I think people growing past where Borderlands 3 wants to stay is likely the largest contributing factor, though explanations range from people forgetting what it was like to certain actors, such as Dameon Clarke, the voice of Handsome Jack, delivery being the reason why Borderlands 2 is remembered so fondly. Whatever the case might be, they have a divisive reaction to the community and something players should keep in mind.
Despite spending a lot of time looking at the story, Borderlands 3 is an experience defined by gameplay. While there is absolutely no denying gameplay received a significant improvement, a number of crucial elements fall flat.
Contrary to Destiny, loot is so easily obtained that it doesn’t take long for certain rarities to become useless. I believe around level 20 I stopped checking white, green and even blue rarity, sticking to just purple and orange (legendary). And, even then, it’s an experience where it’s entirely possible to hit a point where people are seeing five to 10 legendary weapons drop from a single source, making it a rather quick dash to find the perfect gear. Even if both games have very different approaches to, for lack of a better explanation, obtain Gjallarhorn, it isn’t really isn’t important in Borderlands 3.
Where Destiny made ultimate power useful through experiences like Vault of Glass, Borderlands 3 doesn’t currently have any content that necessitates the amount of power someone could theoretically obtain. And when some people already have enough power to down some of the most tanky bosses in the universe in seconds, finding that legendary SMG with gun damage or fire rate, plus the ultimate class mod that boosts the power of your favorite manufacture or abilities, combined with whatever else you find important just seems overkill for events like the new circle of slaughter.
I have no doubt the adventure will eventually lead to some larger foe, either through the upcoming Halloween or quite possibly the content update after or, if nothing else, the DLC expansion that follows, it just makes the adventure feel incomplete. And, given how bosses were designed to be a little bit more complicated than bullet sponges that spout silly one liners, the simple choice to make a weapon like Gjallarhorn important might make current work irrelevant.
Despite the rather negative impression thus far, Borderlands 3 is a legitimately enjoyable game, you just need to buy into the combat or desire to mess with weird weapons. The power fantasy can be had with relatively normal weapons, like I have purple rarity weapons with sub-optimal build and perks that can destroy most enemies in seconds, it just all builds to events that are not currently there.
Regardless of what Borderlands 3 does wrong, it still does a lot right. Every character seems to have a path to being overpowered in their own way and I didn’t feel like I had to build my character a specific way to be useful in most situations. You can build towards a rush approach, possibly a kill from shadows or simply explode a certain area. All this comes with some of the most amusing weapons around.
Even though there are countless legendary weapons and many of them are not viable in the grand scheme of things, they offer unique experiences. When one gun fires it mimics the iconic fire power in Mario, another replaces bullets with a knife, the season pass grenade is literally butt stallion flying through the air and it’s this silly nonsense that makes these weapons so fun to mess with.
Part of the fun isn’t obtaining the infamous Bee and Conference Call, as those weapons were actually more function over style, but rather figuring out what makes this weapon important. Some are more obvious than others, like you’ll literally see a massive change or something will happen when you kill an enemy but it’s the thrill that makes them interesting. Especially when, stats can give you an idea of when a weapon is better but it won’t always appear in practice. Simply causing more elemental damage or playing into specific skill sets are just as important, making that arguably pointless chase satisfying.
For better or worse, Borderlands 3 rides the line between amazing fun and horribly awful. The story is extremely forgettable, can’t be skipped, there is entirely too many pointless weapons, it lags when running through menus and the occasional glitch and currently builds to nothing. This is offset by fantastic gunplay, thrilling weapons, a lot more diversity in locations, plenty of ways to feel powerful and much more. Naturally, this makes it hard to recommend Borderlands 3, especially to newcomers. As much as I want to say it’s worth it for gameplay alone, I just don’t feel like the full package is currently there. I would suggest waiting to see what fruits future updates bear before purchasing, but I also think if you just want a really fun game where you shoot things and run around, you won’t regret your purchase.
[Editor’s Note: Borderlands 3 was reviewed on PS4 platform. The game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]