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Borderlands 3 Review: A borderline frustrated return

Borderlands 2 was one of the highlights of 2012 when it was released for the previous generation of games; combining the dopamine of collecting loot along with a competent RPG system and FPS gameplay. It delighted numerous players and was a major success for developer Gearbox Software. Seven years on, that same success has eluded them, which is probably why the company decided to finally return to the fan-favourite series with the release of Borderlands 3.

As with each new Borderlands game, Borderlands 3 introduces a new cast of characters for players; Moze the Gunner, Zane the Operative, Amera the Siren and FL4K the Beastmaster. Though all the classes essentially play the same when you are shooting guns, they all have a unique skill that sets them apart. Moze utilises a mech suit called the “Iron Bear” to wreak havoc, Zane makes use of barriers, clones and drones to gain the upper hand in battle, Amara demolishes enemies by summoning ethereal fists and FL4K controls an assortment of creatures to aid him. Each character brings different aspects to the gameplay, which is great for cooperative play.

The skill system itself has been given an uplift; now every character has three variations to their special skill, drastically changing how they play. You can also switch to whichever version of the skill to use any time you want, meaning that it is highly flexible. For instance, I mainly used Amara’s Brawl variation — a skill that has her slamming enemies on the ground with her fists after jumping —  during the length of my playtime, though I did switch into the Fist of the Elements variation, which locks enemies in place, from time to time based on how hectic the situation was.

Guns have also been given a change with the introduction of alternative fire modes. Most of the guns in Borderlands 3 have a secondary fire mode, which grants an additional feature to the gun. It can be something as mundane as increasing the fire rate or zoom distance, to ridiculous ones like turning your sniper rifle into a shotgun. 

The guns in Borderlands have always been wacky and the implementation of alt-fire adds another dimension to it. It also somewhat alleviates the trouble of sorting bag space. Now with alt-fire, a single gun can fire two different elemental effects, such as the newly introduced Radiation element which spreads and damages surrounding enemies.  

Pandora is not the only place that you’ll be making use of those guns. For the first time in the series, you’ll be hopping to many different planets; each one aesthetically different from the next. You’ll be gunning around in the Japanese monastery-inspired Athenas as well as the futuristic corporation-dominated Promethea to name a few. The size of the location varies but most have enough interesting side activities to do while you’re there.

This is where the new stuff dries out. Borderlands 3 is very similar to its predecessors, so similar that it inherits their problems as well. The game gives an illusion of a big open world to explore; in reality, there really isn’t much going on. There’s not much enemies skulking about or even places of interest to visit; it only serves to put distance between you and your next mission. There are optional challenges that include finding spare Claptrap parts and Typhoon logs to find out in the world, but there are only a few per location.

Where you will be spending most of your time roaming and dispatching enemies is in the sublocations that most of the planes have. They are usually found in the small corners of the map and you’ll usually be taken there by virtue of the story missions. It’s a shame that they couldn’t be implemented organically into the world as accessing them would have you be greeted by a long loading screen before actually getting in.

In fact, loading is a major problem in this game. Even after enduring the long wait before entering a different location, you will still need to wait a few extra seconds for textures to pop in and load into the world. Guns too have that problem when switching over to another.

These performance hitches also extend to cutscenes. It is not unusual to be greeted by a blurry mess before the textures start loading in a couple of seconds later, it really sours whatever action is happening on screen. In particular, I encountered a cutscene that slowed down so much that the audio was actually playing ahead of what was on the screen. 

Worse still is the menus. Consulting the map and inventory management is something that you will be doing for a good portion of your playtime and they will prove to be one of the most frustrating things to do. Opening your Echo device to view the map or check your inventory actually causes the game to stutter and slow down and is a pain to navigate through, especially for a game that requires you to constantly compare gun stats. Even something as simple as switching menus from the map to looking at your skill tree takes an age. 

Particularly hectic fight sequences will also cause the game to slow down to a crawl, especially if there is a good amount of projectiles and explosions happening on the screen. It makes the fight more difficult than it needs to be, and may, in turn, lead to more frustration after dying from something that was out of your control. 

For a big-budget game like this, these are issues you should not be seeing. Especially since they are known performance issues that have persisted in the previous games.

The game’s story is, as always, something that does not take itself too seriously. This time you will be tasked with eliminating the Calypso Twins, Troy and Tyreen Calypso, leaders of the cult-like Children of the Vault (COV) who are causing chaos in search of the Great Vault. The twins themselves are portrayed as obnoxious streamers, parodying the streamer culture that has been prevalent on the internet; one of many parodies in the game and a good indicator of what Borderlands humour is like.

The humour is something that is hit or miss with people; you either love it or hate it. Those who enjoyed the previous games, then it should not be a problem for you. I myself did enjoy the zaniness of the world, though not as much as Borderlands 2. The previous writer Anthony Burch did not return for this instalment, so it’s possible his absence has had an impact. 

Enemy variety though is not as colourful as the previous games. For a vast majority of Borderlands 3, you’re mostly facing human fanatics from the COV or fodder in the open world like Jabbers. Though they do have variations on their own such as ones sporting shields for the COV and Jabbers infused with electricity, it eventually gets tiresome fighting similar enemies again and again.

Once the credits roll, there is still much of the game to be played. Mayhem Mode is something that is almost immediately introduced and lets you ramp up the difficulty of enemies in exchange for better loot drops. Old favourite Circle of Slaughter, which is basically Borderlands’ rendition of Horde mode, also returns for you and your friends to tackle. Increasing your Guardian Rank also gives additional perks like increased critical hit damage or shield capacity.

The most exciting feature though is the new Proving Grounds for post-game. Proving Grounds are dungeon-like missions that have you facing waves of enemies with specific objectives, such as killing a certain enemy or finishing within a certain time. Completing the objectives grants you loot, and depending on the difficulty you’ve chosen, could give you the game’s rarest gear. 

Those wanting to start over can also try out True Vault Hunter mode which lets you keep your skills points, weapons and gear for the new game while fighting stronger enemies which drop more experience and better loot.

Conclusion

Borderlands 3 is a game that does not stray too far from its predecessors; same gameplay loop, same ridiculous characters, even the same performance problems. Ultimately though, the game is still the best in class at what it does, despite its issues doing its best to frustrate you. If you are looking for a light-hearted RPG that you can have fun with alongside your friends, it isn’t hard to recommend this game to scratch that itch.

Game reviewed on a PS4.

Visuals courtesy of 2K Asia.

8

Overall

8.0/10
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Russell Matthew Loh

Watcher of films and player of games. Dabble with writing in between.

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