There’s something magical when a video game franchise defies expectations.
The God of War series is a prime example of this, as the reboot managed to iterate on the original series while jettisoning the game to never before reached heights. Borderlands 3 is not that kind of game, and frankly, that’s okay. It’s a prettier, slightly faster sequel to Borderlands 2, complete with the same fantastic gunplay and co-op antics, and the unfortunate cringe-inducing humour that the series prides itself on.
The story picks up on the familiar planet of Pandora, where you take up the identity of one of four vault hunters, as you join the crimson raiders in your quest to find the great vaults. Basically, it’s the same setup as every Borderlands game, although the scope does feel a tad bit grander. The previously planet-bound safe-house known as Sanctuary is now outfitted as a planet-hopping ship, and you’ll spend a good chunk of the game’s 30+ hour story hopping on and off of it. Thankfully, you’ll spend the rest of the game exploring four diverse planets, full of different vegetation and structures. While you’re generally engaging in the same running, shooting and looting cycle on each planet, there is a real sense of personality to all of them. Pandora has the same differing climate as in previous games, Eden-6 is a bayou inspired planet full of dinosaur-like creatures, Athenas is a temple covered world featuring monks, and Promethea is a cyberpunk inspired world of the future. The pace in which you switch planets keeps the game feeling fresh, even when you’re dealing with the same enemies over and over again.
The vault hunters that you get to play as are a varied lot and each has their own distinct abilities and personalities. There’s Moze, a Russian Mercenary who pilots a twin shooting mech, FL4K, a robotic looking Beastmaster who commands three different pets and can pet them all, Zane Flynt an Irish James Bond-style mercenary complete with a wide assortment of tech, and Amara, a Siren who makes use of energy constructs. I spent the largest chunk of my time with Borderlands 3 playing as Moze because she reminds me of Overwatch’s D.vA, which is my go-to character. Controls wise, her ultimate ability involves going into her mech and unleashing ever-increasing barrages of energy as you level up her skill tree. The mech, unfortunately, doesn’t have any boosters and is rather slow, to begin with, but you can upgrade the movement speed as you progress.
Speaking of skill trees, there is a nice variety of branching paths to the abilities in Borderlands 3 that helps make your character truly feel unique. You get one skill point every time you level up and you can use them to grant your character upgrades, like additional incendiary damage, or extra ammo when you score a critical hit. The good thing is that you can see the entire skill tree from the get-go, complete with what each ability does when it’s unlocked. That being said, if you want to go back and change the path you took in a skill tree, there’s a machine on Sanctuary that refunds all of your skill points, and at a rather modest price point.
The gunplay in Borderlands 3 is once again the best part. It very much represents the bar that the humour is aiming for as it’s, fast, frenetic, always changing and a whole lot of fun. It’s easily one of the best looter shooters in existence, as there is a real sense of progress that comes with the constantly expanding catalogue of weapons. In addition to the diversity the guns look and feel great, adding a real sense of personality to the player experience. There’s also a fair bit of strategy to deciding when you should use certain guns, as there are not only different weapon types but also different ammo types.
The Calypso Twins are the main villains of Borderlands 3, and they’re not all that memorable. Compared to previous game villain Handsome Jack, the twins are noticeably less menacing and their constant streamer-like antics and cringe jokes gets old rather quickly. They do remind me a bit of the twin brothers from the old Gi-Joe cartoon who could feel each other’s pain, which does give them a bit more charm in my book, even if their humour falls flat. The humour as a whole is easily my least favourite part of Borderlands 3. If you’ve played a Borderlands game before then the humour is nothing new, and that’s a bit of a problem when you consider that Borderlands 2 came out over seven years ago. Borderlands 3 features many characters from those previous games and it’s no surprise that they feel significantly more dated in 2019. The game features a barrage of tired sex jokes, random references and repeated dialogue that is thrown at players at a breakneck pace. Playing alone made me contemplate muting the dialogue entirely. I never want to hear the phrase,’ let’s chuck some boom’ ever again in my life and there were dozens of moments in my playthroughs where I was genuinely burned out by the humour.
That being said, that annoyance did often transfer to laughs when I played co-op, as being able to talk to someone about how absurd and dated some of the jokes in the game are managed to give them a sense of charm. I still don’t like the humour and wish that the series had seen some growth on that front, but co-op is very much the best way to play Borderlands 3. A nice feature for co-op players is that the game keeps track of what missions you play, even when you’re playing on someone else’s save file. As a result, when you go back to your file and encounter a mission that you’ve already played with a friend the game gives you the option to skip it. This helps alleviate the potential frustration of having to grind through levels that you’ve already played. Also, in addition to the story mode, there is a Survival mode called Circle of Slaughter and a boss mode called Proving Grounds which serve as welcome distractions.
I did experience a couple of crashes during my co-op play-through of Borderlands 3. The crashes both occurred during boss battles, around the 15 and 20 hour marks, respectively. The crashes didn’t cause me to lose any save data but did make me start the boss encounters over again. Other than that and some overlapping mission voice prompts, I didn’t experience any other technical breaks in Borderlands 3 and it was a smooth experience overall.
While it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, Borderlands 3 is a fun, fast-paced shooter that is one of the best co-op games out today. Its various planets are a joy to explore and the overall package manages to succeed in spite of the dated humour.