The Good: More of that gun-a-palooza Borderlands you’ve come to love
The Bad: Unless you don’t love it, in which case it is more of the same
The Ugly: Really, Epic? Another digital service requiring its own launcher?
I get why game companies don’t want to pay Valve to sell their games through Steam, but the increasing fragmentation of the digital gaming market is annoying me, and to Epic I say this: Steam was first to the party, and Valve took plenty of lumps with their buggy client early on, and here we are now, and the bugs are worked out for the most part, and they’ve won, OK? My entire gaming social network is on Steam, and if you think I’m going to reconstruct that whole mess just to play another game, you’re mistaken. It didn’t work for Bethesda with Fallout 76 (though that game was so abysmal that I’m not sure having the rest of my social network with me would have improved it), and it won’t work for you for Borderlands 3, a game that actually might benefit from coop gameplay. But I’ll never know, because I don’t know anyone on the Epic social network. Plus, I need another digital client launcher clogging up my machine like I need another hole in my head. Equally, I refuse to subscribe to Hulu just to see The Orville (sorry, MacFarlane).
So, Borderlands 3. Guns. Lots of guns. Neon, gritty, wasteland. Ummm.
Look, is there anyone who actually came to play B3 (or read a review about it for that matter) without having played any of the previous titles? If you liked those other titles, I think you’ll probably like this one – so little has changed across the series that if you found yourself suddenly in the middle of a gunfight, you probably couldn’t tell which of the titles you were playing (though B3 does leave Pandora, and the new planets offer different architecture and color palettes). And if you hated the other titles, you’re not going to magically fall in love with this one. And if you were indifferent on the series – and I think I put myself in this bucket – there’s very little that’s new under the Pandora sun to make me feel any differently about it.
The core of the gameplay remains largely unchanged. In some distant future on a planet called Pandora, civilization has built as a Mad-Max-ish society – desert, mutant animals, bands of misfits and cultists and psychos and paramilitary dudes running around and driving weaponized vehicles. You play as a vault hunter – one of four prepackaged characters – who roams the wasteland looking for vaults which contain fantastic alien technology. You take on missions to rescue this person or defeat that enemy, that sort of thing, and along the way stumble on a plot train that involves a map which contains the locations of all of the vaults, and so begins a race against some bad guys who plan to raid the vaults and collect the technology contained within and take over. It’s a serviceable plot, and adds the opportunity to get off of Pandora (which is new) because some of the vaults are off world.
Combat is first person and speedy enough to be interesting while giving you enough time to be a little tactical – using your powers, scrolling through weapons, and hurling grenades – at the same time. There have been a few minor mechanical tweaks to the gameplay, such as the ability to scramble up walls and do a kind of slide-into-home-plate kind of maneuver. The ability to climb is interesting; the abilty to slide significantly less so. The core of all the Borderlands games has always been about the guns, which have half a dozen characteristics (damage, accuracy, reload time, clip size, etc). Like an NRA wet dream, guns are lying everywhere, in every crate and locker and box and chest, and many of the people you kill drop a weapon. There are way more guns lying around than you can carry, so you have to pick the best ones. Comparing across these various characteristics, you essentially never find a new weapon better than the one you are carrying in all of them, so it becomes a decision like “do I want higher damage or higher accuracy?” or “a larger clip or a faster reload time?” or “better accuracy or a faster firing rate?” Weapons loosely fall into the recognizable categories of sniper rifle, handgun, shotgun, machine gun, rocket launcher, and the like. You begin with two slots to equip guns at the ready, and eventually increase that to four. There are also grenades and shields (which have characteristics like the guns, their total hit points and recharge time) among the loot, along with good old hard cash which can be used at vending machines to buy ammunition, healing, and even more guns! As the game goes along, you find better weapons and shields (or buy them), and come up against tougher enemies, so the difficulty level of the game for the most part remains successfully flat. Over on the RPG side of the game, you gain experience points and occasionally reach new levels, which provide skill points that can be used to upgrade physical characteristics like your hit points, or upgrade your special power like psionic attacks and the ability to summon and control animals.
The game has a driving portion too, and you can design cars on a number of set frames and add the weapons you like. Having just reviewed Rage 2, I felt the driving was very similar between them. Fast travel is available between many locations (once you have visited them), which I feel is a plus because the driving portion of the game isn’t that thrilling.
As I pointed out earlier, the game allows for co-op multiplayer with up to four people in the party. I didn’t try it, because I don’t know anyone on the Epic service and don’t wish to be paired with three random people, if that’s even possible. I will note that when you first start the game you get the choice of either having loot spawned per party, in which case party members can squabble over who gets the best guns, or per person, in which case everyone gets all the guns. That seems to me to be something you might want to choose differently each time you play multiplayer, but I didn’t see that option.
It has been awhile since I had played a Borderlands game (despite having review copies of both Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, and finishing neither of them), so while Borderlands 3 wasn’t exactly fresh, it was different from all the other FPS games I’ve been reviewing recently, and I sort of enjoyed the time I spent playing it to review it. The characters, some vaguely familiar to me from parts in the earlier games in the series, are quirky and I actually laughed out loud a few times much to my wife’s consternation. The game is very polished and smooth – I hit zero bugs while playing it, and didn’t have to download a 10GB patch the day after it was released, and Gearbox should be congratulated for that if nothing else. So if what you’re looking for is more Borderlands, this would be the place to find it.
Reviewed By: Phil Soletsky
This review is based on a digital copy of Borderlands 3 for the PC provided by 2K.