It’s been almost ten years since we first set foot on the bandit-infested world of Pandora. In that time we’ve witnessed the opening of a couple of vaults, defeated the monsters within them, took down the leader of the Crimson Lance, defeated the leader of Hyperion, saw the rise and fall of said leader of Hyperion, and prevented the destruction of Pandora. However, a vault hunter’s job is never done as long as there are more vaults to open and it just so happens there are, so sit back and let Marcus tell you another story. A story about a new group of vault hunters and their mission to find some vaults before a pair of self-entitled social media streamers get their hands on them. Welcome to Borderlands 3.
Much like with the previous games, Borderlands 3 has you running around trying to find pieces to a vault key, open the vault, and claim what’s inside after destroying whatever beast lies inside (I mean we are two for two so far with monsters in vaults). This time though things are a bit different. The game no longer takes place on just Pandora as you’ll be traveling to several different planets looking for vaults and the keys that go to them. How is this accomplished? By traveling around via a spaceship appropriately named Sanctuary. We also have not one by two primary antagonists this time around: The Calypso Twins Troy and Tyreen, a pair of self-entitled brats that like to stream their exploits via social media, and you’ll be hearing those exploits via your ECHO devices throughout the game. Troy and Tyreen lead a cult called the Children of the Vault and their followers will do anything for them…even if that means sacrificing their lives trying to defeat the Vault Hunters, so their just as mindless here as they were in the previous games. Fortunately vault hunters are good at taking down bandits and as with previous games you can play solo, split-screen multiplayer, or via online with friends or even matchmaking.
The core gameplay of the previous games mostly remains the same. You’ll choose from four vault hunters, each with their own action skills and skill trees, and begin your quest for loot and vault keys. However, there are some new game’s mechanics to keep things interesting. This time around each vault hunter has not one, but three action skills to choose from. It looks like at first that each action skill has its own tree to work through, but you can pick any of the three trees and any of the three action skills to use and develop. Each tree has some skills that revolve around its particular action skill along with special augmentations such as changing the default element of the skill or how the skill behaves, so it might benefit going down whichever tree belongs to the skill you wish to use, though you can mix and match. I like this addition as it gives each vault hunter more play styles than if they were stuck with just one action skill. You’ll eventually come across your main hub for the game, but this time it’s a ship as opposed to a random town on a planet. As stated Borderlands 3 takes place across a few different planets which is a nice change to not have all of the action take place on Pandora this time. Even Fast Travel got an upgrade as you can now not only fast travel to any vehicle you personally spawned from a Catch-A-Ride system, but you don't even have to go to a Fast Travel station; just open up your map and choose a Fast Travel station you've come across on any planet.
There are also some minor changes to some existing mechanics and some minor ones added, such as a slide ability. Holding crouch as you’re running will make you slide a bit and you can hit enemies with your foot while doing this (some artifacts can even add elemental damage to your slide). While slag damage is no longer around, radiation damage is now in the game which kind of acts like corrosion where the enemy will take damage over time, but they’ll also have a small radiation cloud around them when affected that can damage nearby enemies (corrosion is still in the game for the record).
The guns themselves have some new functionality as some have two functions similar to something like Perfect Dark. Hitting down on the D-Pad will swap between the gun’s two functions if it has them. Hitting Up will place a temporary waypoint on an enemy if you’re aiming at them to keep track of them and using Left and Right will switch between any missions you have so you can track the objectives more easily. However, this does mean that you can no longer use the D-Pad to swap to a specific equipped weapon meaning you have to hit Y to cycle through your weapons to get to the one you want to use.
I’ve heard a lot of people complain about the story and the Calypsos and even I have said to friends that it’s not quite as good as Borderlands 2 was. I still stand by that in a way. Don’t get me wrong, the story itself is pretty good and there are some twists that I certainly didn’t see coming, and that’s a good thing. I’m okay with the Calypso Twins as villains and they have a couple of twists themselves. I don’t mind the whole schtick of them being social media streamers with millions of followers as it’s kind of relatable…well, not the millions of followers that would die for you part, but you get the idea. My only real gripe with the gimmick is that now and then you’ll see their recorded videos of certain events and the little video clips they show are incredibly silly for lack of better term. While they’re demeanor is always happy and excitable while they’re “streaming”, they’re still serious about their intent. It’s hard to explain the contrast with them and their video clips without seeing it in person.
Much like with previous games there’s a lot to do besides the main story and side quests. Throughout each planet you’ll come across some challenges you can complete such as sabotaging radio towers for Moxxi, finding deactivated Claptrap units, defeating powerful creatures for Hammerlock, and even learn about the first vault hunter Typhon DeLeon. Once you’ve finished the campaign once you’ll unlock several new options. Besides the usual True Vault Hunter mode you’ll unlock Mayhem Mode. This allows you to choose from three different levels of Mayhem when active which gives you random mods to play with on whatever playthrough you’ve already completed. The modes will give you extra health and much better loot, but will also strengthen enemies by giving them more health, more damage, or even increased defense from certain elements. You’ll also unlock Guardian Ranks which are similar to the Badass Ranks from Borderlands 2. A pink experience bar will now appear above your yellow experience bar. When it fills up you’ll gain a Guardian Point to spend. There are three Guardian trees you can go down, each with their own bonuses and after accumulating a certain number of points in a tree you’ll unlock an item or ability. Each point you spend will give you two random perks from each of the three trees for a total of six perks to choose from for each point.
While the game is good overall, it’s also got quite a few technical issues. I’ve been playing on the Xbox One S and have heard about issues other players have had on other consoles and the PC. However, I’ll only be focusing on the issues I’ve had with the game. The big one is the drop in framerate now and then, specifically when entering into the menus. The worst I’ve seen it is when I (try to) navigate to the skill trees and a couple of times it’s taken up to ten seconds just to load the skill trees. I know the game is optimized for the Xbox One X but you’d think that this would have been smoother on any system since it’s just a menu. A couple of times the game froze up for a few seconds before crashing back to the Xbox dashboard. The worst issue I’ve had to far was after a particular boss fight the game then showed a cut scene. After the cut scene I had an objective to do in the boss area…except for whatever reason the game put me way outside the main platform and falling to my death…except I was also already outside of the death plane meaning I had to actually exit the game and go back in to continue. Not sure how that happened but I’ve heard worse things happening to other players so I think I kind of got off easy.
Finally I decided to see how Matchmaking was and if there was any technical issues there. For the most part there aren’t any, but I also didn’t get much of a chance to check it out. I was able to do a round of Campaign of Carnage before my teammates backed out for whatever reason, and I waited a few minutes to see if other people could randomly join a match in progress to no avail. Campaign of Carnage has you competing in several rounds of multiple waves of enemies, so naturally trying to do that solo can be somewhat difficult without proper gear and a good loadout. Then there was the Proving Grounds which I was able to eventually complete a run with three randoms via matchmaking…and holy crap was it difficult. I think on my end it might have been due to having Mayhem III on by accident (whoops), but at least the loot drops were good. Basically your group goes through a few rooms with a ton of enemies before finally taking on a boss. It was a pretty fun experience. Finally I tried to see how good split screen was for local co-op, but since I only have one account on my Xbox I really couldn’t get that up and running.
We’ve been waiting several years for a true follow-up to Borderlands 2 and Borderlands 3 delivered in a big way. That being said though the game is not without its issues. Sadly the technical issues does drag things down a bit for me (and thankfully mine weren’t as bad as others I’ve heard about), but even then I had a few qualms with the game overall. Maybe it was just me getting used to Borderlands on a controller again (something I haven’t done since the original on the Xbox 360), but it really felt like the enemies in the early going were bullet sponges and would just soak up damage. It could be a combination of my gear and their health, but it just felt a bit overly difficult early on. Then there are the bosses. Some of the bosses are an incredible pain such as a Goliath that is also a new type of enemy called Annointed. Then there’s a boss that will pelt you with splash damage making it pretty difficult to find cover. Then there are bosses that are a complete joy to fight, and I have to say that the final boss has become my favorite of the four final bosses in the Borderlands series (not counting DLC).
Borderlands 3 is definitely worth picking up, but be prepared for technical issues. Again, I didn’t have nearly as many issues on the Xbox One S as I’ve heard friends have on the PC version. I’m hoping that over time these issues will be cleared up and the game will run more smoothly but if you can get past the occasional framerate drops (especially from the menus), you’ll find a game that has a pretty good story, some twists I certainly did not see coming, and some familiar faces returning to help you take down the Calypsos. Is this game better than Borderlands 2? In some ways yes and others no. However, that doesn’t mean that Borderlands 3 is a bad game and I personally look forward to running through the campaign again and eagerly await any DLC that Gearbox wants to throw at us.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.