In a lot of ways, the lead up to Borderlands 3 has been more bombastic than the game itself. From the many antics of Randy Pitchford, the CEO of Borderlands 3 developer Gearbox Software to publisher 2K’s own missteps such as allegedly hiring private investigators to intimidate a YouTuber for sharing information about the game, the pre-release drama surrounding Borderlands 3 has been eventful compared to most AAA games, even when you consider those announced and released in the short window like Borderlands 3 was. With the game finally out, was it worth the wait and the emotional spectacle that accompanied it?
Like the last three games in the series (yes, Borderlands 3 is the fourth game), Borderlands 3 doesn’t stray too far from the well-established formula. Thankfully its opening parts capture the major plot points of previous games so you don’t need to play them before this.
Like those titles, you’ll don the role of one of four characters known as vault hunters, kill an assortment of foes across varied landscapes, gain new abilities and weapons to make yourself more powerful and slay even more hostile lifeforms, rinse and repeat.
In this edition of the game, you’re a vault hunter aiding a group known as the Crimson Raiders in an attempt to stop two live streamers Troy and Tyreen from taking over the galaxy.
The writing and dialogue are toned down from the never-ending meme-a-thon that was Borderlands 2, and makes its characters a bit more bearable. That said, they’re still over the top, overblown caricatures, and the villainous duo is exceedingly grating.
Along the way, you’ll visit a host of new locations outside of series staple Pandora. These include the city of Promethea that’s turned in a battlefield between the Atlas and Maliwan megacorporations (two manufacturers of the game’s many guns), the tranquil and picturesque monastery of Athenas, and the swamplands of Eden-6.
They’re nice additions that give Borderlands 3 a sense of scale, but fall short as they’re presented as planets but you only play through a few interconnected areas.
However, what amounts to small improvements taken alone, add up to a big improvement. You get more invested in the motivations of its antagonists, which are drip-fed as you progress through the story and the new environments give you a much-needed sense of variety.
Tying all these pieces together is robust, entertaining moment to moment gameplay. There are two parts to this: first are the many guns in Borderlands 3. Guns in Borderlands 3 are satisfying to use and pulling off critical hits like headshots feel great.
The sheer number of guns and the variance between them means that each time you get one, it feels like a new novelty you just have to try. Crafted by the fictitious megacorporations that inhabit the series’ lore, they’re a veritable buffet of entertainment. From rifles that spew radioactive and fire damage, to pistols with legs, they range from utilitarian to gimmicky.
The second component that makes Borderlands 3’s moment to moment gameplay so good is its character types. You choose from one of four vault hunters to play as. Be it Fl4k the beastmaster or Moze the gunner, there’s a lot to love.
Some characters, like Amara the Siren, would be more familiar to anyone who played as Lilith or Maya in past games. My favourite has to be Fl4k due to their sheer versatility.
You can cloak yourself to pull off critical hits on enemies, summon a monkey-like gun-toting creature to aid you battle, or supersize said creature (or any of the others at your disposal) by summoning a radioactive rift that amps its attack prowess—so playing through Borderlands 3 becomes a treat.
What’s more is, Gearbox appears to have made given each class a sense of flexibility to make boss encounters and progression less of a pain. There are usually points in every Borderlands game that you simply can’t progress beyond unless you have a certain minimum level.
While you can try to take down what you’re up against, it ends up being a battle of attrition. Make no mistakes, the bosses and enemies you’ll encounter in Borderlands 3 are no pushovers, but you won’t need to endlessly grind side-quests to take them down. Usually, the solution lies in changing up your tactics.
For example: one endgame boss encounter that I won’t spoil had me flummoxed as my usual go-to abilities such as being able to cloak and using a spider centurion creature companion to aid me in battle were of no avail. Neither were my pistols and rifles, both of which were Jakobs variants that rewarded accurate shots by granting you bonuses to critical hits.
The answer lay in changing up my weapons loadout, swapping to Maliwan guns that did elemental damage and trading in my spider ally for rakks—batlike beasts that divebomb enemies at will.
And it worked, making a once tough fight a breeze. Usually, past Borderlands games made such situations nigh impossible, but Borderlands 3 has subtle game balance tweaks that rewards experimentation with your class type.
Other welcome but not so obvious additions have been made to traversal. In Borderlands 3, regardless of your character choice, you can run, slide, and mantle across the game world.
The last one is critical and Borderlands 3 makes it evident early on with an added element of verticality to Pandora’s structures. They’re a small but vital enhancement that makes Borderlands 3 a better game.
Performance-wise I didn’t face any issues on the Xbox One X. You can opt for better frame rate or higher resolution. The former felt uneven in busier sections with a few noticeable slowdowns and choosing the latter made for a more stable experience. The game has hordes of heady firefights and regardless of what I went with, it never got to the point of being unplayable.
On the surface, Borderlands 3 might seem like more of the same but in my 30+ hours with the game, its evident that Gearbox has put the time and love into making this the best the series has to offer.
The slew of nips, tucks, and modifications to the original formula, addictive moment to moment gameplay, and four fun classes to choose from make this intergalactic adventure worth checking out.