At first glance, Borderlands 3 is not something I would be caught dead playing. I’m ambivalent towards looter-shooters, liking only The Division, and wasn’t crazy for a purely first-person game. But the Borderlands series has its own charm that will make you play them regardless of your misgivings, especially once you give it a chance. That’s what I did, and I had a fun time with it.
Full disclosure: before this game, I have not played any Borderlands title. I know the game, and I’m not impervious to its charm, but it just wasn’t in my list of “must play” games since ever. So I will be approaching this review from the point-of-view of a series noob who is not invested in both mechanics and lore. I have no expectations, no pre-conceived notions of what the series is or should be. All I want is for the game to give me a good time.
Which, of course, it did. Remarkably well. Initial reviews of the game wasn’t too promising, with the chief complaint was that it “didn’t bring anything new” to the table. But I have also seen some remarks from fans saying that this is precisely what they asked for: more Borderlands. It is quite understandable that in 2019, many personalities in video game journalism want their games to make a political stand, “push the envelope further” (whatever that means), and/or have a social commentary built into or around the game. If that is the case, then Borderlands 3 will definitely disappoint them because it knows – and is faithful to – its main reason for existing: more Borderlands gaming.
To be fair, there is nothing wrong with a video game containing socio-political truths, symbolisms, and social commentaries. If done right, these can make for a compelling plot. But not all games have to, because some of them are just there to entertain. Borderlands is a sci-fi looter-shooter peppered with comedic dialogue with a particular brand of humor. It rarely takes itself seriously, and the story it does have, while not exceptional, nevertheless works for this game.
Borderlands 3 is centered on the planet Pandora, which has been long-rumored to contain Vaults holding vast amounts of treasure and technology. In previous installments, the game is all about trying to find these vaults, and you play as one of these Vault Hunters. In Borderlands 3, you are dealing with the aftermath of the events of Borderlands 2 as twin siblings Troy and Tyreen Calypso are stepping in to fill the void left by the defeat of Handsome Jack and Hyperion. Their very own personality cult, the Children of the Vault (COV), was formed from the remnants of the planet’s many bandit factions to gain possession of – you guessed it – other vaults, especially the one called “the Great Vault”.
You have to hand it over to developer Gearbox Software, they made a seemingly mundane plot into something really enjoyable. Sure, it might just be that being a noob in the series means that everything feels fresh to me. But the plot really is appealing, if not spectacular. There weren’t any real plot twists, no rug-pulling reveal, no mind-blowing revelation, but everything falls into place pretty nicely. Having a new faction take over the ruins of an old, defeated nemesis to become the new bad is pretty much the basic plot of most games, but the humor, as well as the events in Borderlands 3 help not make it feel forced. There seems to be a natural progression from one story mission to the next.
Even though I haven’t played any of the previous games, I always did like the Borderlands series’ aesthetic. It serves as a sharp contrast to the average video game graphics. Again, it is nothing to write home about, but it is still pretty. It sort of reinforces in me the idea that you shouldn’t be taking the whole thing very seriously, even though the story is putting in very serious vibes at times. In an era where anything less than “visually stunning” is a disappointment, it is nice to know that Borderlands 3 made it important to retain the visual flair of the series, albeit a bit more sharper around the edges than the other titles.
I also like the sound clips from the game. The random bits of dialogue by enemies, even their war cries sound really good, if a bit tiring towards the end. Voice acting really got the cartoony aspect of the game down to pat, especially with the Calypso twins providing the cartoony villain with equally cartoony acting. It is fun, but only if you don’t take it very seriously. Although I can’t imagine how anyone would actually play a Borderlands game for an immersive experience, I could almost imagine some gamers rolling their eyes at the cheesy dialogue.
For someone who isn’t too fond of purely first-person looter-shooter games, I really had fun with this one. Sure, I’m not going to start switching my main genre from role-playing and open-world games to wacky first-person shooters, but I have a new-found appreciation for it. The last time I actually had fun like this was when I tried a little bit of Overwatch. Both are different games, but for some reason, I had the same feeling and experience with them. And I can’t believe I am saying this, but looting was really fun. Usually, I like my looter-shooters to be a bit more grounded like The Division 1 and 2 or a bit like Ghost Recon Breakpoint which is a military sim with looter-shooter mechanics than a pure looter-shooter game. This game? I don’t really mind. I don’t even stop and check on my weapons that much. If the damage is higher than the previous one, I’ll probably get it.
While most of this game and its various modes are geared towards online or split-screen coop/competition, that doesn’t mean that single-player aficionados won’t have fun going through the campaign solo. However, the game’s preferred “style of play” isn’t exactly a secret. I would even go as far as to say that you would not really play Borderlands 3 if you haven’t at least tried the multiplayer modes at least once. That said, it’s good that the game at least makes an effort to keep all kinds of players happy. Solo players will definitely enjoy the available characters for selection, since each has their unique skills to keep each playthrough feeling fresh. My first choice, for example, is Moze because in these types of games, I prefer tanks, and Moze has a mech she uses as her unique skill.
As for technical issues, I haven’t encountered anything major. Just the pop-ups and the occasional frame-rate drops, but I did not encounter anything game-breaking. I don’t think the game is very taxing to the PS4 graphically, but I guess the chaos and mayhem during play can make it tough on an older unit. Mine held up spectacularly well.
It is easy to see why this title became publisher 2K’s fastest selling game, selling more than 5 Million in its five days, generating over US $1 billion in total. Despite the controversies, despite the series’ very particular brand of humor, people liked what they saw and had fun with it. And that’s my takeaway from this game. If a series noob who isn’t fond of first-person looter-shooters with attitude can have a lot of fun with this game, then it probably did its fans right.