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Sep 27, 2019

Borderlands 3 Review

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4 Awesome
Retails for: $59.99
We Recommend: $59.99
  • Developer: Gearbox Software
  • Publisher: 2K
  • Genre: Co-op, RPG, FPS
  • Released: Sep 13, 2019
  • Platform: Windows, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
  • Reviewed: Windows

Borderlands 3 claims to have one billion guns, which is 56 times the amount of guns Borderlands 2 had, which is impressive in any context. You’ll never see the same gun twice — or probably once for that matter! Borderlands was the game that combined action RPG and shooter first, and existed before the word (sigh) “shlooter” entered our vernacular. Now this is a game that follows the popularization of the genre it created. While it feels like it is playing catch-up, Borderlands 3 succeeds in what it sets out to do, even if it doesn’t re-invent the gun.

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You’re introduced early on to the Calypso Twins: Tyreen and Troy, who are basically YouTubers of the future that run the Children of the Vault cult. They are purposefully insufferable to listen to pretty much at all times. At first, you have no real quarrel with them. Once they perform a certain action, that really sets things in motion for them to be stopped as the new Vault Hunters emerge. You’ll be joining the Crimson Raiders faction once again. There’s a myriad of characters of both returning and new, and even more Tales from the Borderlands characters and tie-ins than I could have even guessed. The early rumors that “Borderworlds” would be the game to follow Borderlands 2 turns out to be mostly true here, as the biggest change to locations is that you leave Pandora early and often. There are five planets you’ll visit across the game’s twenty-three chapters. To get you to the planets, you board Sanctuary III, a ship that is the size of Sanctuary from the prior game, in one convenient location. It serves as the game’s hub and a place you call home.

The new vault hunter characters and classes are hit or miss, but are generally pretty good and manage to feel unique to every game that’s come prior. First you’ve got my main, Moze “The Gunner” who knows guns in and out, who’s ultimate is calling in a mech that utilizes two of three weapons like a railgun, grenade launcher, or minigun. Next is Amara “The Siren”, like a combination of Brick from the first game and Maya from the second with astral powers, hard punches, and an ultimate that delivers a flurry of fists, incendiary attacks, or extra strength is nothing to mess with. Because there needs to be some character with numbers for letters, FL4K “The Beastmaster” is an animal befriender and pet master whose ultimate features a gamma burst, a cloak, or a rakk attack on deserving foes. Last but not least is Zane “The Operative”, a tech expert and machinist who focuses on deception and misdirection, and their ultimate is a clone, or a drone, or a protective barrier. The cast of characters work well on their own, but in the case of Moze can really utilize teamwork as an upgrade for her is to allow a coop partner to take a gunner seat for extra firepower.

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While not unusual or unexpected, Borderlands 3 features main missions, side missions, and bounty boards. They can be completed in any order, at any time, provided you are leveled up enough to adequately take it on. With a game revolving around guns, every mission has to do with killing someone or a group of someones. The bounty boards are most explicit in this manner, but the main and side missions feature a lot of variety in the things you do, the people you interact with, and the misdirection that takes place. It’s a campaign that doesn’t let the combat become dull through repetition. The bosses steal the show. They’re not all winners, but there’s some memorable ones in the bunch, with each boss getting their own splash screen for their introduction.

The well-known skill trees return, but with a twist for the trio of options. You have your action skill, which can be one or many depending on the character class. This serves as your ultimate ability that you get to pop every few minutes. Then you have action skill augments, which add bonuses to action skills that fill a specific slot in the tree. Finally, you have the passive skills that can buff overall damage, specific damage, amplify certain abilities, boost shield details, and more. The refinement to the skills system is an absolute improvement and offers a lot of flexibility. This is furthered by the fact that you can respec your character at any time, should you want to.

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Guns! The aforementioned one billion guns says a lot. There’s a lot of them, and they’re going to be very different. There’s good amount of them that are handcrafted legendary with specific properties to find, or farm from specific bosses. There are now nine gun manufacturers in Borderlands 3. Returning is: Hyperion, Torgue, Maliwan, Tediore, Atlas, Vladof, Jakobs, and Dahl. The newest to the fray is the antagonistic clan, the Children of the Vault (CoV). These guns don’t need to be reloaded, but if fired for too many shots, they will break and become unusable. All weapon manufacturers may have guns with alternate fire modes attached to them, and so so much more. You’ll find Item Score attached to everything in the game, which is meant to indicate the overall quality of the item, but comparisons of weapons will still need to be done for what you’re looking for in a gun.

Rarity is the defining feature of weapon quality outside of the Item Score. Rarity goes from Common (white) to Uncommon (green) to Rare (blue) to Epic (purple) to Legendary (orange). Prior games featured Pearlescent, that is currently not present here. The game features the two currencies that we’re used: cash and eridium. Cash pays for the guns, ammo, mods, and other equipment. Eridium is used to buy special weapons and cosmetic items from the vendor on the ship. The inventory is too limited at first to enjoy your hauls, but thankfully you can buy upgrades with eridium for every type of shortcoming: backpack space, sniper ammo limits, grenade capacity, etc.

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There’s a lot of quality of life improvements that Borderlands 3 that are worth talking about.

Fast travel sees a lot of improvements, to include fast traveling between planets, to your vehicle, and to any specific station you’ve unlocked all from the map alone. Loot can be distributed per player without having to fight for the best loot. Purists might want the original option, but the new option is much preferred. In addition, the game now scales to each player. The only issues are with loot drops, in that that they may be higher or lower depending your level relative to the quest. The hot new thing is pinging items, and this game has that. You can now vault. No, not hunting for them, but rather mantling over waist-high objects or grabbing ledges above you and getting on top of them. This makes traversal quicker and more satisfying. Lastly, you can now select a difficulty in the game: Easier or Normal. This is specific to YOUR character, so if someone is new to the series or shooters, they can select the Easier option to make life easier. This is not even a complete list of improvements, but these changes alone make it hard to go back to any of the prior games that were recently updated.

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For better or worse, the jokes in the game feel like they are catching up for the past 7 years that they haven’t been making any. So there’s some stale memes, tired jokes, and some cringey voice actor choices that are in poor taste or otherwise don’t have a good look. And hey, humor is subjective. But there are times (which are quite often), where the game feels slightly out of touch and place within the gaming space. It’s not the worst thing, but it can get in the way of the enjoyment of the game.

Borderlands 3 doesn’t rely on DLC for its endgame content this time around. Out of the box, you get: True Vault Hunter, which is basically New Game+, Proving Grounds which are most similar to Diablo 3 rifts, and Guardian Ranks (formerly Badass Rank) to spend tokens into each time you ding. There’s even a PvP mode as well. There’s a lot to tide you over if you manage to complete everything you can do until the DLC starts arriving, or you could roll a new character and do it all again.

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PC Specs of Review System:

– Microsoft Windows 10 Pro
– Intel Core i7 6700k @ 4.2Ghz (Turbo)
– NZXT Kraken X61 106.1 CFM Liquid CPU Cooler
– G.Skill Ripjaws V Series 32GB (2 x 16GB) DDR4-3200 Memory
– EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 FTW 8GB GDDR5X
– Seagate 2TB Barracuda SSD SATA III 6Gb/s Internal SSD Drive

Performance has been challenging to deal with on PC, and even on consoles. Now, most Unreal Engine 4 games run screaming fast in general, but on my PC this one does not. The DirectX 11 implementation is that of prior releases, and works well for the most part. The DirectX 12 option is listed as a “beta”, and it sure feels like it. You launch like normal, but then you have a dancing Claptrap come across your screen for nearly 2 minutes while it loads until you get the main menu. This is on an SSD! I even launched it several times, so it isn’t a “one-time” thing it has to do. Once I went back to DX11, the Claptrap loading screen never came up again. I tried playing on Ultra, and the game’s framerate dipped to the 50s far too frequently. The High setting has had the best results so far, maintaining a mostly 60fps experience I’m happy with.

Outside of some technical issues, the game is replete with customizable options such as FOV sliders, benchmarking tools, and more that you just plain expect out of a PC version. It’s all here, and not an afterthought. I’d like to see the framerate issues get patched, and DX12 to be more performant, but what’s here is tolerable, but certainly not preferred. Borderlands became a standout title with its artwork and visuals, and is so striking yet again. Borderlands 3 is vibrant, crisp, and great to look at in motion — when it’s running well.

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The massive amount of guns, quality of life improvements, planets you travel to, and proper endgame are all a recipe for satisfying even the hungriest among us. But the performance issues are a detriment to the enjoyment that should be had. Due to it being so much fun (especially in coop), you can look past some of the issues. Borderlands 3 represents the best of the genre by again offering ‘Diablo with guns’ to such a satisfying degree that’s been so sorely missed.

An Epic Games Store code was provided by the publisher for review purposes