Borderlands is all about guns, poop, and dick jokes, and you can look forward to a ton of all three of those things in Borderlands 3. Where many series seek to innovate, Borderlands 3 delivers more of the same for better or worse. At least this time around you can get off the tan hell that is Pandora and visit some other planets.
I don’t mind a good loot shooter, but Borderlands 3 continues some design decisions that make the game incredibly frustrating to play. The gunplay is a bit tighter, and Gearbox added an item score, but the writing is atrocious, and the characters are unlikable and boring. Other than a chortle or a quick intake of air here and there I found the whole script to be on the verge of insufferable. But, there’s enough good gameplay here to salvage the experience, at least somewhat.
Borderlands 3 Review | Bad, bad, bad, terrible, writing.
You start as one of a crop of four new Vault Hunters. There’s Amara the Siren, FL4K the Beastmaster, Mose the Gunner, and Zane the Operative. They all have their own little inconsequential backstories, but for all intents and purposes, they’re just four sets of skills for you to select from.
Spoiler alert, Handsome Jack is dead, so you can’t really fight him anymore. Instead, you have to wage war against the Children of the Vault who are led by brother and sister duo Tyreen and Troy Calypso. Tyreen is some sort of weird Siren vampire who keeps her brother Troy alive with her powers, and the two have united all the bandits in the Borderlands under the banner of the cult. Their goal: seeking out vaults for nefarious purposes.
I need to take a minute to express how much I hate the Calypso Twins as characters. First of all, they’ve got that weird anime thing going on where they’re brother and sister, but the way they act towards one another makes you think they’re going to start making out at any second. They’re “social media influencers,” and they’re always sharing “viral videos” of the atrocities they commit. I guess this is supposed to be some sort of commentary by Gearbox, which is ironic given the fact that part of the massive marketing campaign for the game included recruiting tons of streamers and influencers. As antagonists, Tyreen and Troy are not intimidating. Instead, they’re just annoying, randomly popping up over your comms to screech some lame lines at you before disappearing for another few hours.
For some reason, Borderlands 3 is obsessed with having you meet every character from the previous games but refuses to do anything interesting with 80% of them. Most “cameos” are someone popping up, being zany, and then promptly sitting most of the game out. Most of the time they’ll end up chilling on your home base/spaceship, Sanctuary 3, so at least you can walk up to them and tap the interact button to pull their string for a line or two.
The characters that do get more than a ten minute or so segment are some of the blandest in the Borderlands lore. You have to join Lilith’s anti-Children of the Vault militia, the Crimson Raiders, and then the whole damn game is about Sirens.
Now, I want to preface this whole thing by saying I enjoy the well-written characters in Borderlands 3. Hell, you’ve got Ellie, Moxxy (who doesn’t even get a proper introduction), Tiny Tina, Hammerlock, Wainwright Jakobs, Ice-T Bot (Balex), Marcus, Claptrap and more. All of these secondary characters make for an entertaining bunch with tons of personality who each get about 5 minutes of dialog apiece, a scrap of story, and then they get to sit out most of the rest of the game. There could have been a whole game’s worth of zany hijinks had these characters been utilized correctly. Instead, we have to play Sirenlands, with Lilith, Maya, Little Maya (Ava), and the Calypso Twins. I’ve said how I feel about the Calypso Twins, and Lilith and Maya might as well be a palette swap of the same character. Newcomer Ava is just an annoying brat version of those two older Sirens and the game would have been better had she been excluded.
The story in this game is forgettable, the jokes flat, and the majority of the cast is underutilized in favor for a bunch of boring characters who just whinge around humorlessly. When Borderlands 3 finally gets around to the series trademark humor, it has to really rub it in with a constant succession of “OOPS, THAT DIDN’T SOUND RIGHT,” or, “NOW I DIDN’T MEAN IT THAT WAY.” I grew up in church, and I always remember that people would do the same thing whenever they’d make a risque joke as if you were too stupid to realize the entendre. That’s Borderlands 3, a game so insecure in its own humor that it forgets to actually be funny.
Borderlands 3 Review | Guns and gorey glory.
In contrast to the trainwreck of a story, the gunplay and loot in Borderlands 3 are the best they’ve ever been. The controls have been tightened up to modern standards, and it feels excellent to hammer on goons with shotguns, rocket launchers, grenades, mechs, and all the other deadly goodies the game gives you.
I played as Mose the Gunner whose specialty is piloting an immensely powerful Iron Bear mech suit. The Iron Bear has two arms that can be outfitted with different weapons, and each of the suit’s three skill trees focuses on a pair of armaments. I gravitated towards a combo of the flamethrower and rocket launcher arms, and it was incredibly satisfying even 30 hours in to roast nearby enemies while splattering those at mid and long-range with volleys of missiles.
One of the few genuinely new additions in Borderlands 3 is that some weapons have secondary functions now. This effectively doubles the utility of almost every gun and makes each pick up twice as interesting. You’ll find pistols with micro-missile launchers, rifles that can fire a smart tag to scan enemies and then fire smart-bullets to track them no matter where you’re pointed, and plenty of firearms that can switch between two types of elemental damage.
Because of how much utility the secondary functions add to each weapon, I never really found myself getting bored of picking up loot. I was always in search of the next big thing, and the enormous amount of variety in gear and gun drops had me constantly trying new combinations.
Another helpful new feature is the item score. You can think of this a bit like power levels in Destiny. All gear in Borderlands 3 shows a single numerical rating which helps you figure out what your best items are. This number isn’t always helpful because the added effects of shields, grenades, and guns can sometimes override raw power, but it’s a lot easier than comparing the stats of each item individually.
Borderlands 3 Review | A limited inventory in a loot shooter is a bad idea.
Of course, Borderlands 3 might have taken two steps forward with gameplay and gear, but it takes one step back with the horrendous inventory system.
The inventory remains almost completely unchanged from previous Borderlands titles, and it’s mediocre at best. Your inventory and item bank are extremely limited, which is absolutely terrible when you’re playing a game where you’re getting showered continuously with new things. Ideally, I’d love to get to play through an area and sort through my inventory afterward, but about every ten minutes or so you’ll collect enough stuff that you’ll have to stop what you’re doing and drop a bunch of items to free up space.
I have no idea why the UI is the way it is in this game. When Borderlands came out a decade ago, it wasn’t a great system, but we really didn’t know any better. Inexplicably, Gearbox just hasn’t seemed to notice that the inventory is horrible, and the fact that it has limit space is even worse.
Sure, you can buy storage upgrades on Sanctuary 3 from Marcus, but even once you’ve maxed out both your personal space and the slots in your item bank, there’s just not enough for a game that throws as many items at you as this one does.
Borderlands 3 Review | I hate that I like it.
I really went hard on the story, mostly because I hate it, but I did like playing Borderlands 3, regardless of my intense dislike for most of the main characters. The tertiary characters like Moxxy, Ellie, Hammerlock, and others are actually quite likable and interesting, and during those times when you can get away from the Calypso Twins and Lilith for a few hours, the game really shines.
The inventory system is atrocious, but man, I just loved getting more and better guns, so it was worth suffering through. I guess I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with this game. Despite the negative feelings I have towards a good deal of it, I couldn’t stop playing. In part, this is because I had to review it, but it’s also because Borderlands 3 has that loot hook that keeps you coming back. Despite its flaws, Borderlands 3 is worth playing, and it’s definitely no worse than the other entries in the franchise, which means it’s pretty darn okay.