When Borderlands first released in 2009, it effectively invented the shooter-looter genre, ingeniously combining the fast-paced fun of FPS gaming with the dopamine-fueled loot grind of RPGs and MMOs. It was a revelation with its gorgeous cel-shaded art style and politically incorrect brand of humor, and one of the most memorable games of that era.
But ten years later, not much has changed. Borderlands 3 is the latest installment of the franchise and, as advertised, it’s bigger, better, and more bombastic than ever, but at its core, it’s essentially the same game.
That cel-shaded art style still looks great, but after countless other titles have used a similar look, it doesn’t have the same impact as before. The series’ lowbrow humor is basically the same too, and if you found it funny then, you’ll find it funny now, but it relies a little too much on memes and South Park-style innuendo to be truly commendable.
The storyline is pretty much the same too: You’re a vault hunter looking for a mythical vault filled to the brim with alien technology. Sure, this time, you get to travel to other planets looking for other vaults, but it’s basically the same thing you’ve already done twice over (three times if you played the pre-sequel).
Twice the antagonism, half the charisma
In Borderlands 2, I didn’t mind the rehashed storyline because the game’s antagonist — Handsome Jack — was so damn charismatic; it was a real delight anytime he showed up. For 3, Gearbox has gone in the complete opposite direction, with a pair of twin antagonists — Troy and Tyreen Calypso — who have somehow managed to supplant Claptrap as the most annoying characters in the series.
The pair lead a cult of personality that has enthralled all of the bandits on Pandora. They recruit followers through live streams and are basically Gearbox’s take on Instagram influencers and YouTube celebrities. They’re meant to annoy you, and sure enough, I found myself really wanting to kill them anytime they showed up, so in that aspect, they succeed as villains, but I didn’t enjoy their frequent appearances in the same way I did with Jack.
As you carve your bloody path of destruction towards the final showdown you’ll run into all sorts of other bosses along the way. Some boss fights are incredible, like the bullet hell boss that is The Rampager, or the fiendishly difficult arena fight against electricity-junkie, Killavolt, but just as many are forgettable don’t-stand-in-the-fire while shooting-the-glowing-red-weak-spot affairs.
You’ve been bamboozled
As with all Borderland games, there are four vault hunters to choose from, each with their own elaborate skill trees filled with different perks and abilities for you to customize.
There’s Amara, the Siren, who has a host of magical abilities that let her grab enemies from afar or fly into the air and slam the ground beneath her. FL4K, the robot Beastmaster, who has a stable of not-quite-so-cuddly pets that he can send into battle. Moze, the Gunner, who gets to summon a giant mech, complete with a variety of assorted weaponry to choose from. And Zane, the Operative, who has an arsenal of gadgets including a drone, clone, and a shield barrier, to trick, confuse, and bamboozle enemies.
All four classes are fun to play, but despite the impressive amount of skill tree customization, gameplay tends to devolve into just activating your action skill whenever its off cooldown.
Zane has the unique ability to replace his grenade skill with a second action skill, which opens up some interesting gameplay mechanics, and I can’t help but feel that all of the other classes would benefit from the same level of versatility.
Bazillions of guns, but good luck sorting through them
As a shooter-looter game, loot is obviously one of the most important parts of the game. The game has billions of guns with various status effects and perks to choose from, and there’s nothing more satisfying than finding a legendary gun from your favorite manufacturer with good stats and a badass status effect.
Unfortunately, while the game succeeds in giving you tons of loot to choose from, actually sorting through that loot is a complete nightmare. Inventory management is overly cluttered and each gun comes attached with so many numbers it’s often hard to tell which is better.
Overly-complicated menus aren’t restricted to just inventory management either — trying to navigate the fast-travel system is just as infuriating. From Sanctuary (your spaceship home base), fast-traveling to your last destination requires you to go to the map screen, then go to the orbit screen, then find the planet you were on, then find the zone you were in, then find the fast-travel point in that zone, then select it and hold E to fast travel.
Borderlands 3 is a fun, fast-paced action-packed game, but it doesn’t deviate much from its predecessors, or really provide anything we haven’t seen before. If you liked Borderlands 1 and 2, you’ll like Borderlands 3, but while I had a lot of fun playing Borderlands 3, it felt too much like a trip down memory lane.
Verdict: The Expendables 3 of video games: fun, flashy, full of explosions, and starring all of your favorite characters in cameo roles, but lacking in substance and not much different from the first two entries.