Borderlands 3 (Impressions)

It was surprising just how many years players had to wait for Borderlands 3 to arrive. Considering the popularity of past games and how well developer Gearbox has supported them but it finally arrived in 2019 followed a year later by an Series X/S enhanced update. With that it seems like a good time for me to return to Pandora again and play Vault Hunter.

For those new to the franchise, Borderlands 3 in a first person shooter set in a (mostly) open world when your goal is to complete missions by travelling far and wide while shooting at an almost limitless number of bad guys who go out of their way to ruin your day. To start the game you have to select one of four new “Vault Hunters” – mercenaries with their own wildly different ability sets for you to unlock when you accrue experience during play. A lot of replay value can be pulled from playing as different characters in both solo and co-op modes as their abilities differ enough to require alternative approaches to combat. The real stars of the games have always been the guns and the random number generators behind them which seem to spew out an endless supply of weapons with their own unique stats and sometimes abilities too. That feature is pushed further now with characters which spew out large numbers of items as you shoot at them. Reminds me a lot of the thieves/elves in Golden Axe that you’d have to kick for bonus items.

The environments in the game have been given a major touch up though you may not know it at first. Starting again in Pandora may be good for continuity but doesn’t immediately dazzle you even when playing in 4K… the cel shaded styling does look mighty fine though and the characters benefit the most from the increase with plenty of detail. A couple of hours into the game new planets do present themselves which helps a great deal in providing much needed variety in your travels. Most people likely still think of the deserts of Pandora when it comes to Borderlands (I do) so seeing this was much appreciated. One thing that hasn’t really changed is the humour which I think still borders on the juvenile side but I don’t mind it. Borderlands is the shooter equivalent of that kid in the back of the classroom that makes weird noises with their armpits: you know you shouldn’t laugh at it but sometimes when it strikes gold it’ll get a response out of you. The new villains (Troy and Tyreen Calypso) do give you a focal point for your enthusiastic aggression even if they’re played out as overly evil social media influencers. I still think the high point in writing in the franchise is still the adventure Tales from the Borderlands and it does feel like that game has had a positive impact here too… not talking a seismic shift or anything but a gentle nudge in the right direction.

Things I like

  • Still plays like Borderlands – I’m happy with the “go here, shoot stuff, get loot” gameplay loop and nothing here changes and the gunplay is still as good as ever. The “second wind” feature where you are downed but have a chance to get back into the fight if you successfully kill an enemy is fantastic way of keeping players going and potentially avoiding death and a checkpoint restart.
  • The game runs really well – playing at 4K/60fps is a great experience and I haven’t seen anything yet to suggest it strays far from that target either. Considering the visual style I don’t think it would have mattered if those numbers were lower – I believe it’s consistency that makes the difference for most people.

Things I don’t like

  • Maps still broken up into zones – since the first game there’s been one thing I felt broken immersion was how you’d find traversing between one area and another (NOT fast travel) by having to interact with a holographic “door” to load into the new area. I’m not saying all load screens need to go – fast travel, returning to your ship, checkpoint restarts players expect some delay – but once you’re down on the planet being able to travel around uninterrupted would be a huge improvement.
  • I do miss the old Vault Hunters – if I could play all the games as Roland (from the original game) I probably would because I enjoyed the play style of using a turret and barrier for support. I’m currently using Zane who has a drone and clone (!) combo that offers something similar but still not quite the same.
  • Not a fan of the villains – I know there were many not fond of Handsome Jack (from Borderlands 2) either but the Calypsos (to me) don’t make a good fit at all. I understand what they represent in their own silliness but not sure yet if they serve as a good driver for the player to progress.

If you’re expecting a a major upgrade from Borderlands 2 then Borderlands 3 is definitely not it. There were some expectations prior to the game’s announcement that it may move into Destiny territory and have a stronger online focus but this game doesn’t stray too far from its roots. Co-op is still there too which is always good and you can even have four player split screen on the high end consoles which is a nice touch. Expanding beyond Pandora suggests that the developers have plans to take things in a direction to allow for multiple locations to explore in the future so maybe that’s something we may see in the future. But as it stands right now Borderlands 3 is pretty much what I wanted: more of Borderlands while also looking damned good on my new console.

Borderlands 3 is out now for PC, Xbox and PlayStation platforms. Played on an Xbox Series X.

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