I love the Borderlands series. I love it so much, in fact, that I am writing a Borderlands 3 review now, three months after release.
My relationship with the series started out with Borderlands 2 at the height of its popularity. I’ve played it through more times than any other game. That includes Skyrim, a game I’ve clocked over 1000 hours in. Rookie numbers, I know, but that’s a different piece altogether.
I played Borderlands 2 about nine times, with about seven of those playthroughs being on Zer0. One was Axton and the other was Maya -- sorry Salvador. Zer0 was and still is my favorite character of all the Vault Hunters, if you couldn’t tell.
I never ended up finishing the first game, but I did delve into the entire history of Pandora on multiple occasions. My time on Pandora -- and Elpis by extension, has been extensive and chaotic -- but above all, it’s been fun.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Borderlands 3. I love it a lot. It manages to capture a lot of what made the past Borderlands titles fun. But it doesn’t feel completely like a Borderlands game. The gunplay is a lot faster, more things happen on-screen at once, and the game is just that little bit harder in result.
I’m not saying I necessarily dislike it, but it is really too noticeable how different Borderlands 3 is. Everything moves and runs a lot smoother. It’s nice, but it comes at the cost of the charm that caught me back in the early 2010’s. It makes up for it in other ways, though. For starters, 3 still delivers on the signature Borderlands ridiculousness.
Gameplay, Gunplay, fo…. I’m gonna stop
The gunplay in the previous games was slower, and weirdly more floaty, if that makes sense? That feeling was one you got over decently quickly, and eventually just felt like a signature part of the game. In Borderlands 3, the gunplay feels more like standard fare for your 2019 shooter. The fighting feels quick and tight; add in the aforementioned difficulty spike from previous titles, and you feel like you’re constantly seconds away from death. Or maybe that’s just because I’m playing Zane.
On a positive note, the engine upgrade really shoves players into the run n’ gun playstyle the previous titles seemed to push for. The only issue I see with this, is that some playstyles don’t really seem usable anymore. Borderlands 2 had long-range play as a viable option. In Borderlands 3, that feels overlooked. It still has large open environments, but they feel a little more empty than they used to.
Graphics and art style
While the environments are still empty, they look a lot more beautiful. Expanding the universe of the game to span across multiple planets really opened a lot of doors for Gearbox. New locales, concepts and enemies are abundant in Borderlands 3.
I’m not sure if it’s just me though, but the iconic Borderlands cel-shading-but-”not-really-cel-shading” isn’t as noticeable anymore. It could be the art direction, an effect of the upgraded engine, or it could be my settings. I wouldn’t be able to tell you for sure, but it is definitely different somehow.
Expanded universe, same lore
This doesn’t necessarily apply to the whole game, as some concepts are opened up well enough. I like how the game revisits the previous Vault Hunters and fills in the time that’s passed. I like the introduction of the twin sirens Timon and Pumba -- err, Tyreen and what’s-his-face.
However, the overarching lore of Borderlands goes largely untouched. We revisit old concepts with the Eridians and Vaults, and go planet-hopping, opening vault after vault. We don’t really learn anything super new that wasn’t able to be inferred from what we already knew. As we progress in the game, we push forward individual stories with Rhys and Maya, Brick and Tina and the lot, but those stories don’t really contribute to the overall lore of the series.
Borderlands 3 almost feels like just a victory lap. Revisiting old characters and spending time in their worlds before moving on to the next one, all as part of one big recap adventure through the lands-of-borders. How did all the characters get scattered across these new planets? Who knows. It feels like one last hurrah before Gearbox leaves Borderlands behind forever -- like players thought The Pre-Sequel would be. The previous games were about one Vault, and suddenly we’re doing a new one every hour.
It’s still a Borderlands game, and a great one at that
Let me be clear: all of this rhapsodizing is not to imply that I hate Borderlands 3. I love it. I enjoyed all the Vaults, I enjoyed catching up with old friends and seeing what they’re up to. It just doesn’t feel like a full fledged Borderlands game the same way the others did.
The characters are the same -- except Zer0 sounds weird and I can’t shake the weird feeling new Claptrap gives me. The humor is still there, and the game lives up to the enjoyment of playing through Borderlands 2. But there are a lot of noticeable departures from the other games.
It’s almost like a standard FPS game made by a different company got postponed, then the company was bought out and the game was tweaked to become the new installment of a beloved franchise. This inconsistency in its identity is really not a huge problem, but rather just a nagging feeling in the back of my mind. I guess what I’m saying is, Borderlands 3 just feels different, and I wish it didn’t.
TROY! His name was TROY!