Borderlands games are quickly becoming whatever the video game equivalent of comfort games are. There are heaps to do in them, and you have a good idea of what they are all about. All three of the games released thus far have been similar, except for Pre-Sequel, which tried a few new things much to the chagrin of the wider audience. Borderlands 3, for better and for worse, keeps it safe and does little to differentiate itself from its predecessors.
The game takes place after the events of the second game, where Handsome Jack and Hyperion are no more. Instead, twin brother and sister Troy and Tyreen Calypso have used the power of live streams and the internet to radicalise what’s left of Pandora into a violent cult called Children of the Vault. The two have learned of other vaults, on planets other than Pandora, and set their followers out to find them. As in every Borderlands game, you’re recruited as a Vault Hunter to stop the twins, but this time by none other than the OG Siren herself, Lilith.
The story and the humour of Borderlands 3 remain unchanged from the previous games, so your mileage may vary on just how many of the numerous references, jokes, and memes will land with you. It is a lazy comparison to make, but Borderlands 3 really does feel like the video game version of Family Guy – a pastiche of dated and soon-to-be dated references with little cohesion holding them together. Thankfully, I’m not the kind of guy to play a Borderlands game for its story, but Borderlands 3 really does feel like ground that’s been trodden three times already.
The Borderlands games are known for their bizarre yet surprisingly effective mix of science fiction and western elements but bolstered by an addictive loot driven co-operative multiplayer design. When it first debuted ten years ago, it was praised for mixing the best of games like Diablo with your favourite shooter. Throw in some edgy, now trademark (if divisive) humour, and you’ve got what is essentially a Borderlands game. It’s a great and effective combination, even to this day, though the humour is not for everybody.
From the beginning, you’ll select a character and customise the way they develop as you level up. Each character has their skill trees that can be invested in to unlock new abilities and buffs too. As an example, some abilities can immobilise enemies, while others might direct attention away from your character. There’s a wide variety of skills on offer here, and at least a few for your playstyle, whatever that may be. The nature of the game means that these abilities have great synergy too, with skills naturally complementing each other.
Without a doubt, the biggest drawcard of Borderlands is the loot. Every enemy you defeat, every container you open in Borderlands explodes with loot – whether it’s weapons themselves or components to buff your character – there’s heaps of stuff to pillage in Borderlands 3. The game boasts thousands upon thousands of combinations that are presumably randomly generated and subsequently addictive to collect, trade and sell. It highlights just how ahead of the time the original game was, as many other titles today try to capture the same sense of equipment progression.
Once Borderlands 3 gets its hooks into you – which is when you find your first outlandish weapon – it digs deep. I can’t even begin to pretend that every time that I defeated a boss and saw six to seven items drop out of them, that so many pathways in my brain just lit up. There’s something devilishly addictive about the Borderlands model of loot and progression that can’t be denied.
The significant addition to Borderlands 3 this time around is that you’ll be able to finally leave Pandora and explore the rest of the universe in a mainline game. At first, I was excited to land in the neon-drenched urban playground of Promethea. But as I moved on to the swampy bog of Eden-6 and the snowy mountains of Athenas, I came to a deflating conclusion. Yes, these locations all offer somewhere new beyond Pandora to loot and shoot. But they all fail to truly capitalise on the differences that these worlds could be bringing to the table. In short – they feel like entirely cosmetic changes that don’t add much new to the gameplay.
Games like Borderlands live or die on their post-game, and thankfully Borderlands 3 delivers. Once done with the campaign, which will probably take most players between twenty and thirty hours, there’s still heaps to do. For one, you can replay the whole thing in True Vault Hunter mode, which lets you take your character through the campaign again with higher levelled enemies and loot. Other additions, like Mayhem Mode, lets you amp up the difficulty considerably, while Guardian Ranks helps you to build you character well beyond the parameters that are placed upon you when you first start. It is admittedly doing the same stuff repeatedly, but people naturally drawn to this experience will appreciate it.
With one minor exception, Borderlands 3 is well presented and feels like the true realisation of the super stylised art direction the original three games were trying to go for. The variety in environments, by taking the action off of Pandora, lead to some stunning landscapes to loot too. It’s just a shame that for a game so concerned with equipment, that shuffling through your inventory is so slow and cumbersome. Presumably due to poor optimisation, opening your menu will bring the game to a bit of a crawl, especially so when playing split screen. It’s jarring, especially if you’re in the middle of a battle.
The voice work hasn’t changed much since the previous Borderlands games, so you’ll probably know what to expect if you’ve played the games before. If you haven’t, you can expect overexaggerated accents and a lot of shouting. And I mean a lot – Borderlands 3 is a very loud game visually, but you can expect to be listening to the obnoxious cast of characters regularly too – for better or for worse.
THE PLAYSTATION 4 VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED ON A PLAYSTATION 4 PRO FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. DIGITAL REVIEW CODE WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
Borderlands 3 is what you would expect from a Borderlands game, for better or for worse. It does little to innovate on the now ubiquitous looter genre it helped to define ten years ago and plays it safe. While it’s almost the same Borderlands it was those ten years ago, it’s still hard to deny that it’s a great romp with mates.