This is a review of Borderlands 3 which actually released ages ago, but I’ve just gotten around to finishing it this week. I was a big fan of Borderlands 2, which I played through multiple times. I was not a fan of Borderlands The Pre-Sequel, which felt like it was just overall much lower quality. As for how I feel about Borderlands 3, well, let’s talk about it in this review.
The first thing I’d note about this game is that it’s extremely long. Unnecessarily long. I got this game and expected to blow through it in a weekend, maybe 3 days max. I started the game last Friday morning and I completed it Wednesday evening. I didn’t die very often. I did all the side quests. I tried to find the hidden stuff on the maps. I played this game like a full time job this week, logging ~8 hours a day. I feel like I just pretty much played the game normally and a playthrough from start to finish took me over 40 hours. People online are saying the main story for this game takes like 20-30 hours. Hogwash. It’s so long I kept hoping it would just be done, but every time it felt like it was getting toward the end it extended itself by another mission.
The length wouldn’t necessarily be a problem — there are plenty of longer games I’ve really enjoyed — but like when a movie pushes past 3 hours, if a game pushes past requiring more than a full-time weekend, it’d better be worthwhile. The problem with Borderlands 3’s length is that it’s long but it’s not enjoyably long. It feels artificially long, and since the structure of every single mission is basically the exact same thing — enter an area and kill everything — it starts to feel tedious and grindy. Like, the only thing that separates playing through the story of Borderlands 3 and just grinding levels in Borderlands 3 is the dialog and the environment. It’s tuned in a way that feels very, very grindy. It doesn’t feel like the enemies are supporting the story; it feels like the story is supporting the grind, unnecessarily drawing everything out.
It’s full to the brim with tedious video game mission tropes (collect this, kill them, find all these hidden things), so if your task is to rescue so and so, well, guess what, before you do that, you have to collect the 4 magic crystals (which means clearing out a giant bandit camp) in order to get a special key (which means clearing out a giant bandit camp) so you can unlock a special car (which means clearing out a giant bandit camp), in order to be able to reach the trader (which means clearing out a giant bandit camp), so you can get another item (which means clearing out a giant bandit camp), and so on.
And thank god for the dialog and the environments, because that’s the only thing keeping you going toward the end. The environments are especially nice. The various planets that you go to feel distinct and memorable and the cast members you meet in each area are equally memorable. You start off on Pandora, the planet we’ve become quite familiar with up to this point, and end up traveling all around the galaxy to Promethea, Athenas, and several others. Along the way, we meet a ton of characters that expand upon the Borderlands lore in a satisfying way. We meet the CEOs of several of the other major gun manufacturers (Atlas, Maliwan, Jakobs, etc), as well as learning more about the Sirens and the history of the vault.
The story itself is… alright. I liked it well enough. It’s epic in terms of scale, but not like… Star Wars epic. More like Saturday morning cartoon series finale epic. The overall plot starts getting a little goofy toward the end, where it really, really starts feeling like an episode of Captain Planet. They make some really bizarre decisions, basically trying to slowly transition Borderlands from Borderlands into the first episode of Siren Superhero Girl Squad, laser-focusing on Ava and Tannis, easily the two most unlikeable, unfunny, unmemorable and irritating characters in all of Borderlands, a franchise known for its likable and funny characters. Strangely, your character doesn’t seem to interact with the story almost at all. He/she just follows the story around. You’re more of a voyeur than a participant.
The new villain doesn’t live up to Handsome Jack, but that’s somewhat understandable. Handsome Jack was kind of a lightning in a bottle situation; I’m not sure they crafted him on purpose so much as they stumbled onto him. I’d say the talent is more spread out amongst the cast in this one, and that’s fair. Rather than one extremely excellent character, like in Borderlands 2, Borderlands 3 has a vast array of characters that range from pretty good to very good. Typhon, Vaughn, Rhys and Wainwright were all standouts.
What doesn’t really work, and I sort of wish they’d reign in a bit, is the super-cringey “gamer humor” that was sort of novel back in 2010 but now just feels dated and a little embarrassing. Remember when Portal came out and a bunch of unfunny people tried to pretend to be funny by injecting the concept of “cake” into every goddamn conversation? Or when Anchorman came out and unfunny people tried to acquire a personality by just quoting Anchorman all the time? This game isn’t that bad about it, but it does that on occasion and it’s pretty cringe. The best example of this is the main villain herself who’s based on this unfunny premise of being a bandit livestreamer.
As for the new Vault Hunters, they’re all pretty cool except Moze who has this very boring, uninspired design. Before the game came out, I’d really hoped they’d make Tina a full-fledged Vault Hunter and having now played the game, I still feel that way. If they’d cut Moze and had Tina instead this game would be 10000x better. Let me use my Borderlands 3 review to make it clear: I wanted to play as Tina, but instead I got Moze, who looks like a generic character model that comes for free with a download of Unity 3d. Moze looks like an NPC in the background of a random scene from Starship Troopers. Every single character in the game has a more interesting and original character design than Moze, and her ability is whack. Moze is like someone played a bunch of Overwatch and got on team D-Va and wanted to copy her but to get around the copyright infringement they took away all of her personality and replaced it with the color beige.
Brief digression: I don’t like Tina’s adult character design at all. Tina was an amazing character design. She looks like she grew up into a completely different person. It’s odd. It looks like when they recast a character midway through a live TV show. It doesn’t look like a grown up version of Tina. It looks like an entirely different person “playing” Tina. She feels like an impersonator. A doppelganger. Did you see Us? This Tina is like Tiny Tina’s tether. It’s bizarre, and I don’t like it.
They also said they’re never going to add new Vault Hunters to the game. Terrible idea. F- idea. 6 was a perfect number of Vault Hunters for Borderlands 2. 6 means I play through the game at least twice and have another character that I want to play for a 3rd playthrough. 6 means you get a good amount of variety when you make a party online. 4 means you see the same vault hunters in every party (often repeated). 4 means you play through the game once, maybe twice and you’re done. In Borderlands 2 it’s fine that Sal and Axton were boring because you had 4 other options. The fact that Moze is lame stands out more here because she’s not 16% of the cast, she’s 25% of the cast.
Time to discuss gameplay in this Borderlands 3 review. Gameplay-wise, they added quite a few more guns and that seems to have been a huge focus for them, but I’m not sure it entirely paid off. Having a new manufacturer (COV) was noticeable, but I almost never used the secondary fire mechanics and there are so many legendaries in this game that it devalues what it means to be a legendary. Most of the legendaries are not legendary at all; they suck, and they’re not rare. Where you might have gotten like 2 legendaries in a playthrough of Borderlands 2, you get a legendary in Borderlands 3 almost every boss fight and most of them go straight into the trash because they have a unique ability that makes them worse than a straight forward assault rifle.
The 3 action skills and the action skill augmentations you unlock as you go through the trees are pretty welcome. I liked that change. Aside from Moze (who I think it’s pretty clear at this point I don’t like), I thought Zane, Amara and Fl4k were cool and their gameplay styles were intriguing, even if they’re basically remixed versions of previous vault hunters for the most part. Amara is basically Maya 2.0, Zane is Wilhelm and Doppelganger from the pre-sequel combined into one character, and Fl4k is Zer0 with a pet. But that’s alright. They still worked.
The level design of this game feels like Star Tours the game. The game basically feels like a theme park, and every mission feels very reminiscent of Star Tours, where you’re sort of just having this wacky robot (or wacky teammate, or wacky bandit) deliver their wacky lines while you’re doing some tedious task that’s almost on autopilot. Which, I don’t know, it’s not bad, but it doesn’t feel like it’s realizing its potential. Those wacky characters are often really great. Did you know Penn and Teller are in this game and play some very excellent wacky characters?
The problem isn’t the characters, it’s the structure itself, which feels unsatisfying and dated. Somewhere along the line, someone had some kind of realization that “game design is like Disneyland!” and now we’ve got this and I don’t care for it. Imagine going to Disneyland and going on Star Tours 500 times. That’s this game’s structure. There are a few (maybe… 3?) vehicle levels which were a welcome addition of variety. It still felt very theme-park inspired and somewhat pinched from Red Dead Redemption’s level design, but at least it spiced up the structure.
This is a little bit of a difficult point to articulate in this Borderlands 3 review because when you break it down into its components, they’re all pretty good. The environments were cool. The characters are inventive, memorable and well-acted. The bosses are really great. But, holistically, the game feels tiresome. I think it has to do with 1) the padding, both in terms of the sheer amount of waves and waves of enemies you always have to go through before the next inventive thing happens; and 2) the amount of antiquated 2000-era WoW MMO mission design quest tropes. The story feels like the right amount of story, but it’s dragged down by tedious padding and unnecessary steps. Like, think about the pacing, maybe.
Let me give you an example for the sake of the Borderlands 3 review. About 60% of the way through the game there’s a quest with a film-buff bandit parodying Tommy Wiseau. That’s cool. That’s funny. That’s interesting. He wants you to go find his movie and play it in this bandit theater. Alright. So you find the movie in the trash and get to the project but the bulb is burned out go get another one (of course), and also kill a horde of bandit psychos (of course). Like, this game didn’t need more grind. That would have been a total breath of fresh air if they just cut out the pointless padding detour and the combat section entirely. I think the main thing is that the balance is off. It’s 10% cool ideas and wacky characters and 90% grindy padding bullshit and it should be like 40% cool ideas and wacky characters and 60% meaningful combat that requires thought and strategy.
This game also features a number of ill-conceived first-person platforming puzzles that require somewhat precision jumping to reach high places that are not obvious at first glance how to reach. So you have to sort of solve them, a little like puzzles. These are not difficult, but they’re also not fun. It’s not like Assassin’s Creed or Metroid Prime where you have all sorts of systems in place to make platforming work. It feels like when an RPG has a random stealth mission. It’s just this hacked together thing that the system doesn’t excel at.
I realize this review sounds like I hated the game, but I didn’t. I think it’s a step up from Borderlands 2, actually. Everything is improved and polished. It’s bigger, it’s better. If we’d never gotten the Pre-Sequel and had gotten this instead somewhere between 2014 and 2016 this game would be amazing. I think this game does a lot of interesting things and a lot of stuff really works. The different planets, the scope of the story expanding, all the new characters, the boss fights, the improved talent trees, some of the more inventive tasks (such as stalling the Carnivora). What I think it needed to do beyond those things was A) cut out a lot of the padding and unnecessary grinding; and B) add a secondary system or something; for instance, what if you could have recruited some of these zany characters for your crew and had them host minigames or something? A lot of this game feels like an old Musou game. Which is not a good thing.
Anyway, that about does it for my review of Borderlands 3. Be sure to check out the Games Section for more content like this and also check out the Borderlands 3 Section for game guides for Borderlands including builds, tips, best guns, character reviews and more.