One of my most anticipated games of 2019 was Borderlands 3. As someone who played the hell out of Borderlands 2, I was amped up for the long-awaited new entry to the series. Unfortunately, I was ultimately underwhelmed by Borderlands 3. The game is definitely not bad, but there a few questionable design choices that grow annoying over time. Moreover, as someone who values innovation, Borderlands 3 definitely disappointed be with its lack of improvement over its predecessors.
It has been a while since the last major Borderlands release. Eight years since Borderlands 2 and five years since Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. Despite all of that time between releases, only minor changes were implemented. Don’t get me wrong, I love the core Borderlands looter-shooter formula, yet Borderlands 3 does absolutely nothing that makes me want to play it over its ancestors. Ultimately, it’s more of the same. If you enjoyed any previous Borderlands games, then it’s very likely that you will like Borderlands 3, but don’t expect anything mind-blowing or revolutionary.
A few minor improvements were made throughout the gameplay that were noticeable, but they are not gamechangers. Movement in general has a few additions such as sliding, mantling, and ground-slamming. These are nice inclusions that make the game feel a bit smoother to play. High-rarity loot seems to be far more common this time around, I was getting legendary drops fairly frequently. Moreover, each legendary piece of equipment has some special effect that makes it fun to use rather than just being a huge stat increase. Boss fights are a far more integral part of the experience in Borderlands 3 than any of its predecessors. There are dozens of full-fledged bosses that are not simply bullet sponges. These bosses have telegraphed attacks and recognizable patterns, making their fights rely a little more on skill than just raw damage. Killing these bosses is also a great way to acquire those rare pieces of loot. Overall, all of these changes are fairly minor, but are nice inclusions that I hope get carried into the series going forward.
By far my favorite aspect of Borderlands 3 was the revamp on classes. In each of the previous Borderlands games there were 4 characters to choose from, each with a special ability and 3 skill trees to modify that ability. In Borderlands 3, each of the skill trees holds its own ability. Meaning instead of having a single ability with some slight modifications, now each character has 3 completely different abilities depending on which playstyle you want to pursue. Furthermore, as you progress down the skill tree you can unlock equippable augments for abilities, modifying them even further. All of this provides far more customization for how you want to play the game. You can easily reset skill points at any time so you quickly test different builds.
Despite there being a few positive changes in Borderlands 3, there were far more irritating quirks that were introduced. One of the biggest irritants was how often the game stops the player to spew dialogue at them. In past games, dialogue was often played while roaming around or shooting enemies. It was background noise that would be mildly entertaining, or at the very least you could ignore it entirely. Now, the game forcefully stops you in your tracks to listen. By locking doors, blocking paths, or outright making it so the player can’t move, Borderlands 3 insistently makes sure the player is listening to its writing. The worst part of it all is that the writing in the game is atrocious.
The undoubtably largest issue in Borderlands 3 is its writing quality, in both dialogue and overarching story. Borderlands as a series has always been known for its bombastic humor and ridiculous jokes. Borderlands 3 tries to follow the same legendary style, but it falls completely flat the majority of the time. With incessant pop culture references and crude humor, Borderlands 3 jokes felt outdated coming out of the gate. To make matters worse, gags go on for what feels like an eternity. Even if a joke is funny, repeating it a dozen times is a surefire way to make it annoying. It’s not just the poor dialogue which hurts the game, but the story itself is completely nonsensical.
The main villain of Borderlands 2, Handsome Jack, was iconic. Borderlands 3 on the other hand revolves around the twins Tyreen and Troy Calypso. These two are obvious parodies of internet influencers, as they gain followers by streaming their antics. Ultimately, they are trying to open vaults across the galaxy and gain the power within. It’s hard to properly explain why I dislike the story without spoiling what happens, so here are some ambiguous explanations: the villains “cheat”, there are some extremely annoying characters who are pushed to the forefront of the game, some foreshadowed events never occur, vaults feel devalued, and the player feels like a side character. To touch on the last point a little more, the game has the bizarre feeling that the player is entirely disconnected from the events of the game.
The player is essentially a hero, traveling from planet to planet and stopping an evil cult from amassing power. Yet every time you accomplish something, one of two things occurs: the villains teleport out of nowhere to somehow snatch victory while you aren’t looking, or the characters attribute the player’s accomplishments to other characters who did nothing. After completing a long and grueling quest, I want to feel like there was a point to it. To be rewarded. Something. Instead, there is always something waiting to rip away the feeling of accomplishment. The player’s character is never included in cutscenes or major interactions between the villains and the heroes. It feels like you are a spectator instead of a player.
There are a few nagging issues which I had with the game as well. For some reason, cutscenes are unskippable. I never skip cutscenes anyway, but the option should still be there. Especially since Borderlands encourages multiple playthroughs with different characters, I wouldn’t want to rewatch the same cutscene. The game has a fair number of irksome bugs, like the inventory displaying the wrong stats for items, or playing through the wrong dialogue when talking to a character. Lastly, when I played the game there was a Halloween event which proved to be frustrating. In game events which provide bonus content are great, as long as they don’t intrude on the rest of the game. This event would spawn ghosts when enemies were killed, and these ghosts would rush at the player, inflict damage and increase recoil. There was no way to turn off this event, so through my entire playthrough I had to deal with these annoying ghosts. Let me opt out of the event so I can play the game the way it was designed.
Overall, Borderlands 3 had high expectations but it missed its mark. The core gameplay of Borderlands is at its best in this entry, but the game is fairly disappointing in all other aspects. There is nothing that makes Borderlands 3 stand out for its predecessors. Both the dialogue and story are poorly written. And the game has a wealth of minor irritants. It is for these reasons I give Borderlands 3 a 6.5/10. If you like the Borderlands series, or just want to shoot n’ loot, Borderlands 3 is perfectly fine game. If you are expecting anything more, look elsewhere.