Borderlands 3 Review — Siren Song
Borderlands 3 comes with great growth in gameplay, but a safe story that had the opportunity for so much more.
Xbox One, PC
Review copy provided by the publisher
After a long seven-year wait, Borderlands 3 is finally here and it is exactly what I wanted as a fan of the series. It’s more of that delicious looting and shooting that players can spend countless hours investing in. Developer Gearbox Software attempts a return to form following the unfortunate failure of Battleborn and, for the most part, I think they have succeeded. With implementing new weapon features, a lost loot system, and more customization than ever before, Borderlands 3 feels like a step forward for the franchise. On the other hand, the narrative lacks any compelling substance along with a predictable plot and inconsistent humor, wasting the potential of another great Borderlands story.
At the end of Borderlands 2, Lilith and the vault hunters defeat Handsome Jack and retrieve the vault key along with a map showing numerous other vaults on other planets. Followed with Commander Lilith and the Fight for Sanctuary, the heroes lose the key and Lilith. The leader of the Crimson Raiders tells them to leave Pandora and find any information they can about the vaults. In Borderlands 3 there are four new classes that players can choose from; Zane the Operative, Moze the Gunner, Amara the Siren, and FL4K the Beastmaster.
“Borderlands 3 is finally here and it is exactly what I wanted as a fan of the series.”
The vault hunters are recruited by Lilith to get to the vaults before the Calypso Twins, Troy and Tyreen, who happen to be Sirens. Sirens have special abilities with some having unique capabilities that no other Siren has. The twins have influenced all the bandits on Pandora to culminate into one planetwide faction know as Children of the Vault (COV for short) through streaming and portraying themselves as Gods. You learn early on that the Calypso Twins can steal the power of other Sirens after taking Lilith’s away from her. After finding the vault key, the Crimson Raiders take to space and find the vaults.
I decided to play as Moze the Gunner, or should I say Moserah Hayussinian Yan-Lun al-Amir Andreyevna (I’m not kidding). Moze is a former Vladof soldier who was continuously told time and time again that she only had to do one more mission to be free from her service along with her mech Iron Bear. It isn’t until the most recent mission she is assigned that her squad is wiped out and she decides to leave everything but her trusty mech behind her and head to Pandora.
Naturally, Iron Bear is Moze’s Action Skill, but there are so many choices on how to customize it. Two weapons can be attached to Iron Bear, one on each arm. The three options that players can primarily choose from are a minigun, railgun, or a grenade launcher. I went with dual grenade launchers, but you can mix and match. Additionally, depending on which skill tree is being fed points, Iron Bear can get variations of the three main weapons like a flamethrower.
With each character, there are so many customization options that players can unlock and choose from. Equipped with the new ECHO 3 now are skins for the device giving it more of a creative look. I went with the skin I was rewarded for being a part of the Vault Insider Program. Other new options are weapon skins that can change the look of your guns and weapon trinkets that are little keychains that hang off your weapon.
After so many requests from the community, players don’t have to worry about grabbing the loot before other people in their group take it for themselves. There is now an option for all loot designated for a specific player instead of shared loot like in past titles. That being said, if you happen to prefer the shared loot system, it is still an option in Borderlands 3 so everyone can play the way they want. For players that have friends that are looking for specific items, or if you just want to send them something cool, there is also now a mailing system. This is where all the corporations will send you free guns after killing numerous enemies. The loot that is sent by friends will also appear here and is also where you send it to them.
I tried out co-op for a short time and it worked well, but when I went through the story alone, I dealt with a handful of technical issues. Borderlands 3, like a lot of AAA games recently, has a Performance and Resolution mode option. I began with Resolution to see its visual capabilities on PS4 Pro and boy, is it pretty. With 4K HDR graphics the colors are great across the board and I love looking at particles pop and sizzle during combat. My time in this mode fell short though after facing consistent frame drops. After switching to Performance mode, frame drops were still present, but way less frequent. The visuals did take a hit but with the franchise’s cel-shaded art style, it didn’t matter much.
As for other bugs, I had some missions where checkpoints did not trigger forcing me to reboot from the main menu. During a side quest where an NPC jumps off a giant cliff, instead of reviving him at the bottom as planned, he became stuck in midair making me unable to finish the quest without restarting my save. The game also completely crashed on me in one instance.
Since Borderlands 3 involves planetary space travel, the home base is a spaceship known as Sanctuary III. While on Sanctuary, players can do a variety of activities. Whenever returning to a mission, there is the lost loot machine that will spit out several items that were left behind. With the limited amount of space that I could carry, I would only pick up loot if it was of purple rarity or higher. Anything lower than that was common enough that I never gave it a second thought because I knew that some would be waiting for me on Sanctuary. In case you didn’t know, gear is tiered starting at white, then green, blue, purple, and orange respectively.
From none other than Marcus Munitions, can players purchase storage upgrades for ammunition, backpack, bank, and lost loot. Previously, these upgrades were sold by Crazy Earl that required Eridium, but this time around the currency used is just cold hard cash. Instead of selling storage increments, Earl now has a vending machine of his own that is located solely in Sanctuary. With the machine, I was able to purchase “anointed” weapons. These weapons give players a buff after using their action skill for a temporary amount of time. I only purchased one item the entire time I was playing through the story and honestly, it wasn’t worth it. If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, Crazy Earl himself also has a store if spoken to directly. His shop focuses on customization items such as class skins and emotes.
“The narrative lacks any compelling substance along with a predictable plot and inconsistent humor.”
Sanctuary is also home to the legendary Golden Chest that players can open using golden keys. These keys are obtainable by SHIFT codes posted by Gearbox in real life to later be entered in the game via the menus.
In the long run, there isn’t much to do on Sanctuary that is new compared to older titles. Of course, there is Mad Moxxi’s bar where I can gamble and tip her until she gives me a shiny new weapon, but rarely will I ever do that. Normally, I hop in, sell weapons, store anything if I need to and hop out. The ship is big with a lot of space so it would have been cool to have more things to do.
In Borderlands 3, Gearbox has added numerous quality of life improvements. While shooting guns, there is an actual kick with every shot making it feel more satisfying than previous entries. Additionally, some guns now include an alternate firing mode. By pressing down on the D-pad, the gun will switch over to its secondary feature. The mode is dependant on what brand of gun it is. Atlas weapons can hit enemies with a tracker making every bullet go to them regardless of where you’re aiming. In Maliwan fashion, their weapons will switch between two elemental types. My personal favorite by far though has to be Torgue weapons which can stick onto enemies waiting to detonate until I decided to reload, causing all the pellets to explode at once. The gun deals an obscene amount of damage and feels incredible to use every single time.
The map system has also been overhauled a bit to offer a little more detail on where everything is located. In previous titles, the map is set on one level so it was hard to tell whether or not an objective was located up higher or down lower. Borderlands 3 has made it so that players can see each level of the map. This time, however, each section must be explored completely to know where everything is placed.
Progressing through the story, I explored numerous different planets all in their unique environments. Promethea features a neon metropolis that is the home of the Atlas corporation while Athenas showcases a monk monastery. One of my worries going into Borderlands 3 was whether or not it would have the same charm that I’m familiar with on Pandora. Thankfully, that charisma is still present on each planet.
Naturally, you have to explore these new planets in vehicular style with Catch-A-Ride. With the loss of Scooter in Tales from the Borderlands, his business has been inherited by his sister, Ellie. This time around, there are more options as to how players want to build their vehicle. The Cyclone is the newest form of transportation. A singular wheel which you pilot prioritizes speed over durability. There are variants of each vehicle, but to unlock the parts, a vehicle with those parts must be hijacked and scanned into the Catch-A-Ride system.
There are many new enemies to shoot and kill throughout the game, but COV is by far who you’ll fight the most. I don’t mind that, but I do wish there was a little bit more variety. The boss battles, on the other hand, were thoroughly fun but aren’t the best the series has to offer. One boss fight, in particular, felt relatively epic and cinematic in scope implementing mechanics that I would never expect from Borderlands. The final boss fight is sadly mediocre at best and, in my opinion, one of the worst in the game.
The Borderlands franchise generally has good side quests. Not all of them are great, but most include a fun character or two to help out while learning more about them and possibly a little more optional information regarding the main story. A personal favorite of mine in Borderlands 3 features an Atlas spy undercover as a Maliwan soldier. His legs were cut off causing him to slowly bleed out, but before his inevitable demise, he wanted me to finish his recon mission for him. Oh, and he wanted to be known as Gonner Maleggies. It caught me off guard making me burst into laughter. The series is also known for making references to pop culture. This time around you can find parody character of Tommy Wiseau from The Room, Steve-O from Jackass, as well as comedic magicians Penn and Teller.
“One boss fight, in particular, felt relatively epic and cinematic in scope implementing mechanics that I would never expect from Borderlands.”
Outside of quests, there are a few fun and simplistic objectives that scored me a good chunk of experience called Crew Challenges. Different members of the Crimson Raiders ask the vault hunter to look out for a specific objective across every planet. For example, Claptrap asks to salvage parts so he can build a girlfriend named Veronica. Sir Hammerlock, on the other hand, wanted me to take down one of a kind creatures so he can later display them in his room on Sanctuary.
All Crew Challenges are displayed with a green diamond and an icon which differs depending on what objective it is. As a big fan of the series, the most interesting side activity is finding ECHO logs from Typhon DeLeon, the first vault hunter. Some of the logs were honestly pointless, but others were about his experiences with the gun corporations like Atlas and Jakobs which I found educational. Additionally, whenever I got all the logs in a specific map there would be a treasure box to open potentially earning me some more sweet rewards.
As I said before, the story of Borderlands 3 is serviceable. I think that new players who aren’t familiar with the franchise will enjoy the story more than those who are returning. Those who have played through the entire series know that Borderlands has a huge, colorful cast of characters and, for some reason, a lot of them aren’t present throughout the entirety of the story in this third entry. Prominent characters from Borderlands 2, The Pre-Sequel, and Tales from the Borderlands are all missing with not even a single name drop. Commander Lilith and the Battle for Sanctuary was a solid setup for this story with everyone going to space, but then we don’t run into most of them. I just find the whole situation odd and questionable. Now, granted, there will be at least four DLC campaigns post-launch so they could appear there, but these missing characters should have played a role in the main story.
In Borderlands 2, the vault hunters brought everyone together from the original title to help defeat Handsome Jack, but in Borderlands 3, that doesn’t happen even though the threat this time around is even more prevalent. It gets even weirder after an important character dies and hardly anyone cares. By comparison, when Roland died in Borderlands 2, there was a quest specifically to speak with everyone while they are mourning his death which added to his significance to our heroes. None of those traits particularly feel present in Borderlands 3. There are numerous moments through the story that I could tell were supposed to be surprising, but due to a predictable plot and execution, they fell flat.
The Calypso Twins are an interesting pair of antagonists. They imbue the charisma that fans of the series expect after Handsome Jack, but they do not have the same level of characterization behind them. Most of the game, they are just taunting the vault hunter or fighting with each other as siblings do. By the time their background is more realized, it is so late in the story that it’s hard to care and is more or less obvious.
Don’t get me wrong though, I had a blast playing through Borderlands 3 and I plan on putting countless more hours into it. The gameplay is so much fun and being able to play with your friends is always a huge bonus.
“Borderlands 3 has everything that I think most players are looking for: great gameplay with high-replayability and a solid story.”
Once completing the main story, players can test their strength in trials known as Proving Grounds. To find the location for these trials, I had to scan Eridium writings located throughout every planet. Each trial is reminiscent of a horde mode where I went room to room killing enemies until you meet the boss at the end. After defeating them, I was rewarded with a chest with high-level gear. There are optional objectives to complete each trial faster and if you do, your rewards will end up more handsome.
With Proving Grounds also comes Guardian Tokens. Similarly to Badass Tokens in Borderlands 2 and The Pre-Sequel, these tokens gives a character permanent stat bonuses only this time, there are also Guardian Rewards. These rewards are more specific like when I kill an enemy my shield automatically begins to regenerate. It’s more costly than the bonus stats, but they’re active across every character a player has.
Borderlands 3 has everything that I think most players are looking for: great gameplay with high-replayability and a solid story. I have my personal gripes with the direction Gearbox took the narrative, but it isn’t objectively bad. I don’t know where the story is going to go from here and knowing that there will be future entries in the series I’m looking forward to seeing where they go. There is so much content here and many ways to complete all of it. I can’t wait to try new characters, play in new modes, and eventually go through the upcoming DLC. At the end of the day, I love Borderlands 3 for its addicting gameplay, but it had so much potential to accomplish more.