The King is Dead, Long Live the King
There is little doubt that the success of the Borderlands series has had a significant influence on modern game design. For years, developers tried to emulate its most popular features with mixed results. Gearbox captured lightning in a bottle and everyone else was scrambling to catch up. Now, after half a decade of waiting and countless other looter shooters, the iconic series is making its return. Bolstered by modern hardware, Borderlands 3 promises to be the best looter shooter yet.
At its core, Borderlands 3 is not that different from its predecessors. It's a first-person looter shooter that revolves around childish humor, an incomprehensible number of guns, and semi open-world gameplay. If there is a flaw with such a combination, it's that things can get a little repetitive. However, that is an inherent problem of the genre more than anything else. To say that nothing changed after all these years would be misleading.
For starters, the modernized gunplay is much more dynamic than before. It's not an exaggeration to say that Borderlands 3's smooth shooting puts it in almost the same league as many purpose-built FPSes like Halo or Call of Duty. The most notable new gameplay mechanics, sliding and climbing, open up so many possibilities for exploration and combat. Running up to cover and awkwardly crouching is a thing of the past. Instead, you can now run, slide into cover, and then leap over it in one smooth motion. Such moves can also be used aggressively, giving you the chance to rush enemies without losing momentum. In general, combat feels incredibly fast, especially when compared to what many competitors offer on their first playthroughs. The reload animations are beautiful, the sound design is mostly fantastic, and the visual effects are stunningly and sometimes excessively vibrant.
Meet the new people, animals, and robots of Borderlands 3
Hostile NPC design is fairly good as well, at least for a looter shooter. As one may expect, your first playthrough will be filled with the typical assortment of RPG enemy archetypes. This includes generic cannon fodder, beefy heavy weapons enemies, and mindless melee minions. Nothing particularly revolutionary stands out as far as normal enemy design or behavior goes. For what it's worth, there are no blatant bullet sponges in the first playthrough either. For normal enemies, the general rule is that they look cool. They aren't exactly reinventing the wheel here.
By comparison, the boss design is where Borderlands 3 really shines. Boss fights are truly exhilarating, with unique health stages that build upon their theme. Some revolve around environmental attacks, others rely on elemental damage, and there's a couple that has their own level up mechanics. For the most part, bosses are beefy and dangerous with clear patterns, generally fair attacks, and identifiable weaknesses. Since you have a whole new set of movement abilities, boss fights are no longer just a contest to see who has the best hiding skills.
Given that Borderlands 3 is the first of the series to run on this generation of hardware, it should come as no surprise that the graphics are very pretty. The series' distinct art style and usage of bright colors certainly contribute to this feeling. For once, traveling to different worlds actually means a significant change in scenery and map design. Pandora is the same desert wasteland that we all know and love. The city of Meridian on Promethea has more than enough neon and concrete to make any cyberpunk game jealous. Or it would if there wasn't an interplanetary war going on. Then there's Eden-6 and its vast array of murderous animals and winding paths, which fit a jungle planet to a tee. Each planet is home to plenty of unique wildlife too if you were looking for a rather literal interpretation of world-building.
Borderlands 3 has guns, lots of guns
By now, you may have seen the claim that Borderlands 3 has an arsenal of some billion guns. You may be wondering if this is an exaggeration. It is not. Every gun, grenade, and shield has a set of randomly generated parts every time they drop. For guns, this includes things like scopes, barrels, barrel accessories, magazines, stocks, and so on and so forth. Then there are the manufacturer perks that give each gun a signature appearance and trait. This can mean bottomless magazines, auto-tracking bullets, guaranteed elemental effects, or some other perk. The end result is that while two guns may be functionally similar, their actual performance could be drastically different. This isn't even taking into account the red text effects of legendary and named weapons, which are often delightfully wild. The system simply doesn't allow boring loot to exist.
Of course, guns are only one way in which you can eviscerate enemies. You also have access to a very comprehensive skill tree. Each character has a unique ability and three skill paths that promote a certain playstyle. In previous Borderlands games, your unique ability more or less fulfilled the same role from beginning to end. A turret at level five was functionally identical to a turret at level 20. In Borderlands 3, you have access to six different ability modifiers. These modifiers then have another handful of potential upgrades. For example, Moze can summon a mech as her ability. You can equip any combination of machine guns, railguns, and grenade launchers onto this mech. Invest enough points into the right skill path and you can also equip flamethrowers, rocket launchers, or a giant fist. Needless to say, new skill trees have a lot of room for experimentation.
Borderlands 3 also has story. Lots of story
Unfortunately, you can't measure a game's greatness by how many guns it has. The people behind the trigger and their journey matter too, and this is where Borderlands 3 is relatively weak. Compared to the antagonist of Borderlands 2, Handsome Jack, the Calypso twins are practically one dimensional for the majority of the story. Their motivations are simple, and their backstory is borderline irrelevant. Whatever mystery surrounds the Calypso twins is quickly dispelled by their comically evil nature. The heroes of our story are much more interesting, though it may be due to how a large number of them are returning characters.
Indeed, the writing, in general, seems to have been pushed to polar extremes as far as themes are concerned. You can sum up the story as the unholy marriage of butt and poo jokes and warnings of the dangers of unrestrained capitalism and zealous new-age celebrity/religious worship. On a side note, Borderland's art style seems to be terrible at conveying grief as a facial expression.
There are also a number of miscellaneous faults that afflict Borderlands 3. The most obvious of these faults are the replacement of Rhys and Claptrap's voice actors (Troy Baker and David Eddings, respectively) due to internal corporate insanity. The new voice actors aren't bad at all, but it's not the same. Seeing as how Claptrap is such an integral part of the series as a whole, the entire situation seems unfair to everyone. In less pressing news, there are a nonzero number of backtracking and timed delivery side quests.
Regardless, Borderlands 3 is an excellent example of what a sequel should offer, for better or worse. If nothing else, it makes a compelling case of why many consider Borderlands the ultimate looter shooter. For longtime fans, their dreams have been made into a reality. Newcomers might be less impressed, depending on their tastes, though the mechanics are still objectively quite sound. The largest hurdle lays in the coming months as people start to complete the 20-30 hour-long main questline and eventually get into the endgame. It is then that we shall see whether or not Gearbox can overcome the bane of modern looter shooters: an invested audience.
- Loot is Never Boring
- Interesting Boss Fights
- Diverse Enemy Design
- Deep Skill Trees
- Unbelievably Long Main Questline
- Mildly Repetitive
- Humor is Not for Everyone
- More than One Backtracking Quest
- Writing is Hit or Miss
- Alleged Technical Issues on All Platforms