It’s been seven years since Borderlands 2, and this long-awaited sequel takes us back to the dry deserts of Pandora with a new roster of Vault Hunters and a whole lot of guns. Taking place well after the end of both Borderlands 2 and the spin-off Tales from the Borderlands, it focuses on new villains, the twins Troy and Tyreen Calypso and their bandit cult, the Children of the Vault as they endeavour to find the Great Vault.
This sees you as one of four new Vault Hunters; Amara, FL4K, Zane and Moze, attempting to foil the twins’ efforts as it becomes apparent that them finding the Great Vault would be catastrophic. The planet-hopping story won’t win any awards but is paced well, has some heartfelt as well as hilarious moments and constantly has you visiting new environments and characters, many of whom return from previous games including some fun and surprising cameos.
Gameplay-wise the game feels very much like more Borderlands which is no bad thing: a lot of Borderlands’ mechanics and overall appeal has been buffed to a sheen at this point so expecting wholesale changes was unlikely. There have been plenty of tweaks and adjustments to the games’ formula that make an appreciable difference to the moment to moment gameplay however.
For starters, each of the four classes now have a much more elaborate perk tree setup, giving access to three base action skills compared to being designed around a single skill. This is expanded on further by having various modifiers for the skills that become available as you spend points in the trees. This opens up a much more interesting set of options for build diversity.
Amaya is the classic series staple, the Siren, who can Phasegrasp enemies similarly to prior games, locking them in place as you deal damage. However this time around you can opt to have her use a Phaseslam, a fancy ground pound that throws enemies into the air or Phasecast an astral projection into enemies in her way. These three abilities alone change how you play her in a quite dramatic way and this holds true for the other 3 characters as well.
The classes also change things up in a general gameplay sense compared to the earlier titles. FL4K for example is a Beastmaster; he has a pet (from a selection of three) alongside him at all times with his action skill working in conjunction with them. Moze’s ability sees her using a mech, the Iron Bear, as a temporary damage boost, reminiscent of D.Va from Overwatch. Zane rounds out the group with his attack drone and cloning abilities, and he can also choose to replace grenades with a second action skill.
This makes for an eclectic set of characters who cover a wide variety of playstyles without feeling like they are something we’ve seen in other entries. Even Amara as the Siren - which is arguably the most represented class in the series overall feels fresh here thanks to the skill changes. On top of the sweeping changes to class skills, there are also smaller but just as impactful changes to a variety of other systems.
Movement is the most obvious place where changes have been made. You can now do a sprint-slide which not only looks cool but makes getting from place to place feel faster even if it’s not. More importantly though is the addition of mantling; that’s right, you can now climb ledges in Borderlands 3. This actually makes a huge difference in how the combat areas have been designed and how active moving around now feels.
In prior games a lot of the areas encounters took place were very flat with very minor elevation changes in general. Being able to climb has allowed a lot more variety when it comes to how spaces are laid out, as it opens up a lot more flanking opportunities and strategic decision making during fights. It can’t be overstated how much better the environments are to fight in compared to previous games in the series.
The gear you get from all this killing has also, as you’d perhaps expect, seen a massive overhaul. In general, there is a lot more variety in weaponry now thanks to new modifiers like being able to have secondary fire modes, under-barrel attachments or multiple elemental types to switch between. There are also changes to manufacturers and gun types. Shotguns can now actually knock enemies off their feet, Hyperion guns can now project a shield in front of you and Atlas make a return with their weapons firing homing shots!
Gunplay still feels as solid as it ever did, although how you feel about enemies that are the very definition of bullet-spongy might affect how you feel about the combat overall. This isn’t unusual in looter-shooter style games of course, but if you aren’t used to it and haven’t played similar games like the prior Borderlands games, Destiny 2 or The Division 2, then it might just feel weird when a guy can take 400 bullets to the head.
The overall setting of the game hasn’t changed much. While Pandora and the other locales you visit are great to look at, the game still has a similar look to the previous entries however the level of detail has been ramped up considerably. The audio is also top-notch and Jesper Kyd’s soundtrack is easily the best he’s done for the series which was already pretty stellar. The voice acting too is up to the series’ generally high standard with some top quality delivery, with FL4Ks voice (provided by YouTube creator ProZD) being a surprisingly great performance.
The series’ brand of humour is still intact too with jabs at everything from streaming culture to Apple. I will say that some of the one-liners and references to other games had me genuinely chuckling out loud and yes, that probably says more about me than anything else. If you’ve enjoyed the humour in the earlier games then you’ll most likely enjoy it this time too.
It’s also a pretty lengthy game, especially if you go out of your way to complete side quests which I highly recommend you do as they have some of the games best moments, from pun-laden bounties like ‘Kill Dinklebot’ and ‘Kill Wicky and Warty’ (yes, you know exactly what these are) to the ones that have you getting new character Lorelei her coffee and burger fixes.
There is also a vast amount to do in the game, once you’ve seen the credits roll you’ll be able to continue levelling up to level 50 by entering True Vault Hunter Mode (Borderlands’ New Game Plus equivalent), and you’ll also be able to toggle what the game calls Mayhem mode. This is essentially a risk/reward mechanic that scales the enemies difficulty and adds an assortment of modifiers in exchange for lots more loot.
This time around there is also the option to matchmake into the Circle of Slaughter, a horde mode where you have to survive five rounds of escalating madness and the Proving Grounds, which are kind of like mini gauntlets where you have to survive three areas before taking on a boss within a strict time limit. These additions, especially Mayhem mode, give the endgame of Borderlands 3 some meat and should satisfy fans of the earlier games.
The game isn’t without flaws however, after four games, Borderlands 3’s intro sequence and tutorial are still unskippable on new characters. I can understand making them mandatory on your initial playthrough, but it should really let you skip them when you make more characters, as it basically adds twenty minutes before you get to do anything. They let you skip them when you enter True Vault Hunter Mode so it doesn’t seem like too much to ask.
The UI can still be a little cumbersome when trying to switch weapons or select a quest objective. It’s a little sluggish moving from screen to screen, and your button presses sometimes feel like they are being eaten which makes it feel less responsive than it should. Compared to Borderlands 2 though there is a lot more useful information on screen so there’s that.
I also encountered an annoying performance issue on PC that will hopefully get fixed in a patch but still affected my time with the game, with really bad stuttering occurring when I aimed down sights on any zoom scope. It would correct itself after a second or two but it basically made using ADS pointless for me with scoped weapons. No amount of fiddling with settings seemed to help eliminate it which is unfortunate, it made me adjust weapon choice so I didn’t encounter it as much.
Other than that though Borderlands 3 is an excellent game, especially for fans of the series. The story as mentioned at the top won’t win any awards, but there are some character moments that hit me surprisingly hard for a silly game with dancing robots in it. The characters in these games often feel like stereotypes but they are all written in a strong, affirming way and it’s surprising how attached to some of them I’ve become over the years.
Borderlands 3 is the best the series has been. The changes, whilst subtle in the big scheme of things make a large difference overall, and it’s a great wrap-up to the trilogy so far and I’m curious as to what is coming up as DLC as well as the future for the series. Sometimes more of something is fine when that something is fun to begin with.
Borderlands 3 (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
A strong return for the series with enough changes to make combat feel fresh and exciting, some great new characters and an awesome soundtrack. A fun time from start to finish.