Available On: PC (Epic Games Store), PlayStation 4, Xbox One
There are three main pillars for the Borderlands series: co-operative multiplayer, a bombastic and goofy cast of characters, and lots and lots of randomized gun loot. Gearbox may have played it relatively safe with the highly anticipated threequel in Borderlands 3, but they absolutely nailed all the important components that make this such a beloved series.
Vault Hunters Assemble
The Mad Max-like, zany comic universe of the Borderlands series has finally expanded beyond the planet of Pandora, as originally teased at the end of Borderlands 2 back in 2012. The story still begins on Pandora, with the introduction of yet another foursome of Vault Hunters: Zane the tech-savvy specialist, FL4K, the robotic beastmaster, Amara the brawling siren, and Moze the mech-wielding gunner. Like previous games they are more player ciphers than real characters, though they do speak their own quirky lines that nicely reflect their personalities.
The world (or worlds, now) comes alive thanks to Borderlands’ colorful art and impressively deep roster of fun characters, from foul-mouthed, pint-sized robot Claptrap to easy-going engineer Ellie and the eccentric but lovable Tina. Series fans have enjoyed Lilith’s journey from a player character in Borderlands 1 to the respected commander of the Crimson Raiders at the beginning of Borderlands 3. It’s refreshing that a gun-toting, action sci-fi series has so many prominent female characters. In fact the initial crew on board the Sanctuary ship that serves as my mobile base of operations is almost entirely female.
As enjoyable as it is to see and work with these beloved familiar faces, Borderlands 3 completely drops the ball in the villain department, and the plot suffers for it. To be fair, Borderlands 2’s Handsome Jack has gone down as one of the greatest villains in gaming. But the new Calypso twins lean too hard towards pure silliness with internet streaming gags and memes. They’re instantly tiresome and come off as a bit boring, especially compared to the zany world and delightful cast around them.
Leaving Pandora for the first time isn’t quite the revolutionary change I was hoping for. The interplanetary vault hunt amounts to just a handful of other planets, including a large swamp planet and a metropolitan world, the latter made more interesting thanks to new wheel-shaped cars that are fun to zip through city streets in.
The gameplay is almost the exact same winning formula from previous games. Up to four players can join forces online (and two players locally via splitscreen) to embark on the galactic campaign for the vault, getting missions, exploring zones, shooting baddies, and finding piles and piles of randomized guns and other loot. Some of the new features are small but welcome, like the ability to quickly swap quests (and thus quest markers) without entering the menu. As someone who primarily plays local co-op, I love that local players can opt to see their own separate loot tables.
Other new additions are more sweeping, like giving each vault hunter three different skills to choose from, as well as the ability to further customize each skill, making skill progression that much more interesting and unique. Moze’s Iron Bear mech, for example, can be equipped with a number of different weapons, in addition to mixing and matching three different skill trees. Guns were also given a huge upgrade, expanding the signature abilities and styles of different manufacturers, like Atlas guns with tracker bullets and Maliwan guns swapping between multiple energy types, not to mention the addition of under-barrel and alternate firing modes, making the randomized loot even more enjoyable.
Exploring each area is also far more rewarding in Borderlands 3, with each zone scattering challenges, like hunting unique monsters in Hammerlock Hunts or collecting Typhon audio logs that can open up rewarding loot caches. In a refreshing antithesis to many open world games that cover the map in various symbols and markers (Cough*EveryUbisoftGame*Cough), these events don’t pop up on the map until you encounter them, motivating me to explore every nook and cranny of the fun level designs, from Pandora’s classic bandit-filled badlands and junkyards to Promethia’s Battle Royale-style Lectra City.
While previous Borderlands games have benefited from excellent post-game DLC support, Borderlands 3 has more robust post-game content out of the gate. Aside from the usual New Game Plus found in True Vault Hunter Mode, the new Mayhem Mode adds an interesting new twist to simply making all the numbers bigger by turning on scaling tiers of difficulty with challenging parameters, such as reducing gun damage or encountering enemies with certain immunities. High level players can also enjoy Torgue’s Circle of Slaughter with waves of enemies, and take on the Proving Grounds, which stand in as cooperative Raid missions.
A lengthy 30+ hour campaign, plus plenty of post-game content and (hopefully) quality DLC in the months and years to come should help make Borderlands 3 a mainstay for co-op looter-shooter fans.
Borderlands 3 is rated M for Mature, with blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, and Strong Language. It’s a violent, bloody game but the colorful art and general goofy tone makes it more like a blood-soaked comic book than an R-rated action film, though the level of cursing would certainly garner an R-rating!
Borderlands 2 was one of the greatest games of the last console generation thanks to its colorful world, memorable characters and gratifying loot-based gameplay. Most importantly it was one of the few big box games to continue to embrace split-screen multiplayer. While a few missteps and performance issues keep it from equaling Borderlands 2’s near perfection, Borderlands 3 is excessively similar to its predecessor in every way, and I (and my co-op partner) couldn’t be happier.