Borderlands 3 Review
A lot can be said about Gearbox and the Borderlands series in general. Controversies aside, I’ve always felt that the series’ is one that is very much a love-it-or-hate-it affair. You either find the writing hilarious, or you don’t. You find the allure of millions upon millions of gun combinations interesting, or you couldn’t care less. I don’t think Borderlands 3 will change anyone’s opinions on the franchise as a whole, but I do feel that it represents a solid step forward for the series and ultimately fulfills its promise as a follow-up to the much-beloved Borderlands 2 – that is, when the game’s technical issues don’t get in the way of things.
Borderlands 3 features everything that fans loved from the original 2 titles: loads of guns, a very distinct sense of humor, the classic comic-inspired artstyle, and an emphasis on co-op and character build diversity. Borderlands 3 more than delivers in improving on all of those series’ tenets.
Each of the title’s 4 playable characters allows for more customization than any of the other character classes from the franchise’s history. Moze’s mech can be highly tuned in a variety of ways, including the ability for other players to hitch a ride on a secondary turret on the machine. Zane can deploy a defensive barrier that doubles as a damage amplifier for any projectiles that cross through it. During my playthrough using Zane, I even had the option to assign a secondary active skill in lieu of forfeiting my ability to use grenades.
Guns, perhaps THE focal point of the Borderlands series’, come with more modifiers than ever before, including the chance to come equipped with alternate firing modes. These can range from something as simple as choosing between semi-auto firing or fully automatic, to more unique modes like a sniper that can double as a shotgun, or a gun that can fire a tracking round that then allows you to home in on any enemies caught in its range.
Although Borderlands 3 isn’t the prettiest game that I’ve played this year, it’s certainly no slouch in the visuals department. Amplifying things is the title’s new emphasis on regional variety. Since players are no longer stuck on Pandora and end up visiting multiple planets within the galaxy – each with their own unique biomes – the diversity in areas that players visit has never been higher. Lighting effects, character models, texture detail, and much, much more have seen massive upgrades. As someone that has been replaying the series’ over the last year with friends, it’s plainly obvious that the tile isn’t just a simple resolution bump from Borderlands 2.
As for the series’ humor and characters, I’m of two minds about this. On one hand, it’s definitely something that players will either love or hate – but I also can’t help but shake the feeling that perhaps people are too harsh on Borderlands’ humor in general. Yes, it’s most definitely juvenile the vast majority of the time, but especially playing through Borderlands 3 I got the distinct feeling that a lot of that is very much intentional, as a way of letting the moments where the game tells an actually clever joke, or opts to be serious for once, have just that little extra weight. For what it’s worth, some of the new characters in Borderlands 3 are funny for the right reasons, and the game stood out to me for featuring a strong example of a gay couple that gets their happy ending. There are other examples of a positive LGBT reputation as well, even if some of it does end up in the crossfire of the series’ lavish destruction.
In a vacuum, all of this would be enough to make me declare that Borderlands 3 is almost definitely the best in the series, and by a rather wide margin. Even the smaller touches, such as playable characters actually having a character this time around, interacting with both the story and side missions with their own voice lines and distinct personalities – or how you can unlock vehicle upgrades by finding an enemy with that specific upgrade in the world and stealing their vehicle. There’s a lot to love about Borderlands 3, and for most of my playthrough – I did. That is, until the bugs started to appear.
Up until 20 hours in, my Borderlands 3 playthrough was more or less flawless on the technical sides of things. Then, things began to fall apart. About a dozen crashes, music cutting out during boss fights, falling through the level geometry, getting stuck in a wall after a cutscene finished, voice lines either being skipped or repeating, a very odd stutter that persisted at 1080p, which simply didn’t exist at 1440p, despite both resolutions running the exact same settings at a locked 60 FPS. The further I got into the game, the buggier it felt like it was getting – and going by consumer accounts, I’m clearly not alone.
As far as performance is concerned, I actually think the game is relatively well optimized with a few key exceptions. Volumetric Fog has always been known to eat frames for breakfast, with titles like Monster Hunter: World, Resident Evil 2 Remake and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey seeing a noticeable performance improvement by lowering the quality by a few ticks while featuring little to no impact on the actual visuals. On my Ryzen 9 3900x/Vega 56 setup, I managed a more or less locked 1440p/60 with the setting knocked down to medium along with SSR, and everything else set to the max. I even managed to get the game running at a playable 30 FPS at 75% resolution scale for 1080p on a laptop well below the minimum requirements.
I don’t think I’d be exaggerating if I were to say that Borderlands 3 is the buggiest game I’ve ever had the chance to review, but the thing that gets me is just how inconsistent it is with those bugs. My roommate poured something close to 50 hours into his game with very little issue on his end (on a very similar build to my own, I might add), while in my 40 hours of playtime it felt like I was constantly running into frustration during the second half of the game. At any rate, it definitely feels like it could’ve used a few more months in the oven to iron out those kinks. While the content is all there, the polish is most certainly not.
Despite everything, I enjoyed my time with Borderlands 3. Not to say that the game as a whole isn't good – but rather despite all of the game’s numerous technical troubles, I do believe that once everything is said and done, Borderlands 3 will be a game that most series’ fans will be more than happy with, and a title that is more than worthy of recommendation. I just don’t think that day is today.