Borderlands 3 Review: Bigger and Better With Occasional Blunders

Borderlands 3 is, in many ways, a lot. From the start of the game to the point where you’ve spent full days playing, that statement remains true. There are a lot of guns, there are a lot of ways to get distracted, there are a lot of jokes, and there are a lot of moments that feel like they’re just strung together by various people yelling at you. Underneath this avalanche of absolutely everything is a shining spectacle of a looter shooter, a culmination of rewarding and challenging features chained together by a so-so story.

Having only the fondest memories of Borderlands and Borderlands 2, two hands-on sessions with the latest installment felt just like coming home to something familiar. It was hard to shake the question of whether or not the charm of Borderlands would hold up for more than just some short play sessions, but after investing hours into the game since its launch, its allure has persisted. Though I haven’t completed the story mode yet – we got our code near launch like many others, and I’ve done literally every side quest the game has thrown my way – one knows fairly soon in Borderlands 3 whether you’re going to enjoy the experience.

In fact, you’ll probably know how you feel about the game from the opening mission that serves as not only a tutorial but also as a slice of the whole game. Lilith is telling you what to do before you’re even off the bus, and the ever-divisive Claptrap is ready to bombard you with instructions and knee-slappers when you’re free to move around. Follow the NPC through the rest of the level, scavenge for the best weapons and gear you can get your hands on, dismantle waves of psychos, and beat up on a bombastic boss. You’ve now played Borderlands 3.

That summation isn’t meant to be a slight to the game, not by any means. After years without Borderlands, this opening and the game as a whole hits all the right buttons. Seeing a literal explosion of loot still triggers a rush of dopamine that makes you scoop up everything that drops, and the new instanced loot system means you don’t even have to worry about who gets what anymore if you’re playing with others. I want to put my grubby Vault Hunter hands on everything whether it’s green or purple or orange. Sell the guns, shoot the guns, stick ‘em in a safe or hang ‘em on your wall. There’s a reason why Borderlands is regarded as the premiere looter shooter, and the feeling of looting a battlefield never gets old.

Borderlands 3 Moze
(Photo: 2K)

As integral to the Borderlands formula as loot fountains are, humor is found throughout Borderlands 3. It doesn’t always succeed in eliciting a laugh, but it seems like it’s been getting a lot more flack than it deserves. Sure, Claptrap’s voice is as grating as ever and everyone’s always trying to make you laugh 24/7, but you’re not expected to laugh at every joke any more than you’re expected to smash every pile of Skag refuse and open every small container in hopes of finding the best loot. Borderlands 3’s humor didn’t age itself up over the years, and it didn’t really need to. Hearing Claptrap say he has an ass full of stars and seeing a swampy adaptation of Jackass end with a man being launched into space by a rocket-powered elevator make the many, many missed jokes worth it.

Where Borderlands 3 did grow is where its gunplay and movement features are concerned. The added effects to each manufacturer combined with the personalities behind each company mean you’ll become even more entrenched in your weapon preferences whether that means headshotting people with a Jakobs rifle or melting crowds with a Maliwan arsenal. Being able to slide around makes you feel like even more of the Vault-hunting badass you’re supposed to be, even if it’s a small change, and the grapple feature’s impact on the overall quality-of-life experience can’t be understated. No longer will you have to perch on top of a small pole to hit the corner of a building just right and then hopefully make it on a roof – just look for the edges of a building and the yellow paint and you’ll be scaling everything in sight. From playing as three of the four Vault Hunters and spending the most time with Moze, the unique skill trees, unique Action Skills, and very attractive Action Skill Augment options make this the most robust group of Vault Hunters yet even if you can’t replace the waves of nostalgia felt from seeing the others.

For all its strengths elsewhere, Borderlands 3’s story is just all right. The rewards are plentiful and the Calypso Twins are obnoxious in the way Borderlands villains should be, but the narrative isn’t particularly gripping. It’s got its highs and lows and occasionally succeeds in pulling the right emotions out of players, but it’s honestly hard to maintain the same level of interest you start with. The premise is easy to understand – everyone’s after the Vaults and what’s in them and is doing their best to survive, flaws and all – but when you circle back to the “it’s a lot” thing, it’s easy to go on autopilot during conversations until you get your next quest marker.

To that end, the game truly needs some way to expedite its conversations. Assuming we’re not expected to laugh at everything, it’d follow then that we shouldn’t be expected to sit through every conversation, especially in subsequent playthroughs. Cutscenes are one thing, but exploring an area while an NPC yammers on until they give you a new map marker or your reward inhibits the pace of what’s otherwise a game constantly turned up to 11.

Borderlands 3 Claptrap Voice Actor
(Photo: 2K)

Part of the game’s technical problems make it so that some NPCs are even more frustrating as well because they don’t even do their jobs. There’s been nothing more difficult in Borderlands 3 than having an NPC you’re supposed to follow choosing to just not move towards their objective. Multiple instances of this happening were solved each time by closing out of the game and starting it up again. It’s a solution that’s far from ideal and is exasperated by the fact that your enemies will have respawned when you load back in.

The performance side of Borderlands 3 also leaves something to be desired, though this and other problems can at least be resolved post-launch. Playing on a PlayStation 4 Pro should in theory be able to pull off a satisfying playthrough in the “Resolution” mode, but it was a pretty abysmal experience. It might’ve looked marginally better, but who can tell when everything’s jerking around when you try to look in any direction? Performance mode is the way to go until optimizations come through, but neither is suitable for split-screen mode. Given how important co-op has always been to Borderlands, those with fond memories of playing the past games on a couch with siblings and friends will be disappointed to see the headache that Borderlands 3 split-screen has become. These problems will hopefully be fixed since 2K is aware of them, but that can’t retroactively fix the letdown of trying to relive a traditional Borderlands experience at launch and being unable to do so.

Whatever the future might hold for Borderlands 3 regarding DLC, events, and optimizations, what we have right now is an absolutely stellar chapter in one of the most iconic series seen during this generation and the last. If you liked Borderlands and Borderlands 2, you’re going to absolutely adore Borderlands 3. Its shortcomings do little to diminish what it has to offer, and I’ll reload the game over and over and sit through a million Claptrap jokes if it means I get to keep looting.

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Rating: 4 out of 5

Borderlands 3 was reviewed on the PlayStation 4 Pro with a review code provided by the publisher. It’s available for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC with more info on its platforms and editions found on the game’s site.