Borderlands 3 Review: Gameplay Videos, Multiplayer Impressions and Speedrun Tips

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistSeptember 20, 2019

Gearbox

Borderlands 3 is unafraid to stick to its guns.  

The folks at Gearbox last released a numbered game in this series in 2012, yet the newest release in the looter-shooter series throws players into the role of four more vault-hunters making their way through a sleek cel-shaded universe. 

Along the journey, players will meet a colorful cast—some new, some old—who satirize everything that has occurred since the last game.  

Borderlands 3 doesn't shy away from alienating players who didn't like past entries in the series and instead focuses on sticking to its proven formula.

      

Graphics and Gameplay

Borderlands 3 starts off dusty and monochrome before an explosion of color and variety wreaks havoc on the comic book-style looks. 

Like past entries, Borderlands 3 simply pops off the screen at all times, especially once things start moving. This is one of the most diverse color pallets in gaming, and upgrades in hardware, particularly with shadows, make this all the more impressive. 

That said, the cel-shaded look belies what rests in the ugly underside of it all—the gore. Borderlands is still a violent, gruesome ride with precise limb damage exploding pieces of enemies into the air. Enemy variety is fun at first, and though it starts to go in the opposite direction the longer the game goes on, the deep dive in detail respective to each planet borders on distracting. 

Truly, like the general theme and character work, the visuals paint a picture of a team passionate about the Borderlands universe. They make the game feel like a grand-scaled space opera. Vast, varied vistas (somewhere, a character in this game is daring the player to say that three times fast) paint epic scenes across galaxies littered with planets. There's really nothing like its combination of sheer style and scale. 

The same comments apply to the sound. Bullets impacting flesh sound meaty, and the explosions are gory. There's a solid tone-setting soundtrack in the background that will end up on best-of lists by year's end. Dying enemies, provided their heads weren't blown off, have some funny quips as they expire. 

Borderlands has never had a problem with visuals or sound in the same way it has never had issues with gameplay, especially shooting. 

The same applies here. Combat is weighty, with big kicks on each shot fired by bigger consequences for anyone unfortunate enough to be in the way. Mixing it up with grenades, unique weapon behaviors and varied foes, as well as environments with fun vertical space and interactions, provides some of the best ballet-of-death-firefights in gaming today. 

Two much-needed features—an ability to mantle ledges and a slide—up the ante and pacing of combat just enough to keep things feeling sleeker than in the past.

Interwoven with the gunplay is the different characters and classes within characters. Amara wields magic with brutality. Moze whips out even bigger guns. Zane sneaks as the soldier-type. FL4K is the beast summoner. They all pay homage to classics that predated Borderlands. Perhaps most interesting is the fact that the different skill trees within each character play differently, too, which means co-op partners could be playing the same character with totally opposite playstyles. 

The big exception to the enjoyment of blasting through this saga is once again some pace-ruining moments. 

Bosses are still turgid affairs: dances with bullet sponges where players seek out a cheese to escape alive. This isn't a problem exclusive to Borderlands, but it's always a little annoying to see these grand bosses with their own theme music and memorable lines morph into extended games of peek-a-boo, with the risk of failure meaning starting the lengthy encounter all over again.

Vehicle traversal is spotty, too. Maybe it isn't fair to say it borders on bad, but there is a big learning curve here, and we wouldn't hold it against players for jumping into the menus and messing with controls

Those hiccups aside, this is an expectedly fun romp through what are thankfully diverse and detailed environments. The loot chase can get tiresome simply because it is a neverending onslaught, but it has a way of sinking the hooks in and not letting go.  

    

Story, Loot and More

Outside of gameplay, Borderlands 3's story adamantly sticks to what has worked in the past. 

To keep it somewhat vague, the Calypso Twins, Troy and Tyreen, are evil baddies encouraging their cult to help them conquer the universe by opening up powerful secrets within vaults across different planets. The biggest, most worthwhile character development happens within the Vault Hunter's ship with some of their comrades, though. 

The writing here is incredibly divisive. A certain age bracket might find some of the quips and comments knee-slapping and memorable. But the rest, not so much. The big bads take on some Twitch-streamer gimmicks and do the usual "We don't believe the hero is a serious threat" thing.

Sometimes, it boils on sheer cringey like base Destiny 2 or the infamous "Get glitched!" line from Anthem. The 18+ rating feels like a result of enemies turning into red mist or paste, not the bad dialogue that leans into "poop" more than expletives. This is immature humor when the rating seemed to give plenty of leeway for better stuff. 

But maybe that's the point—good luck even paying attention to what these NPCs are saying or what the next frat-bro-streamer type is asking you to do while shifting through endless mountains of loot and inventory management while also listening to what a co-op friend has to say. 

And boy is there loot to sort through. Guns, guns and more guns incessantly drop for the player, and no great way to offload them before the pack reaches its limit means simply tossing aside colored guns on the floor as a means to pick up other colored guns. 

Different gun manufacturers offer different quirks, such as variable firing modes. Some have different reloading animations and features. (One line of guns in particular "reloads" by getting tossed and transforming into a self-destructing grenade.)

This leads into another slight complaint, which everyone won't share: the number of guns. Inventory management here is tedious, and the onslaught of weapons thrown at players from the very beginning of the game makes it hard for any one gun to stand out. Exotics in Destiny are so rarefied they come back in sequels or subsequent seasons (think the rocket launcher Truth, or a weapon like Gjallarhorn). That won't happen often here.

On top of the guns, players have shields and other inventory items to juggle, including items that unlock more abilities specific to each character. And each character has some extensive unlockable options spread across three skill trees. 

Thankfully, there is an option to re-spec a character, which opens up some massive variables in play. It is a grand time to make one character wildly different just by reshuffling the skill trees and equipped items. 

There are some hefty customization options available on top of the general weapon, shields and other slots. It's nice to have access to changing the name and the whole color pattern of the loadout a character wears. 

The game does ooze simple quality-of-life features. The menu overlays are thorough in the information they send at a player. Flicking through tracked missions without opening up a menu is nice. On the gameplay side, little things like NCP chatter transitioning to radio when a player gets too far away is a good touch. 

But it isn't all great. Trying to compare weapons in the inventory screen is still a mess. On the skill trees, players can't just see all three at once, instead needing to flick through them.

Performance is also an issue, particularly on the PC version, where framerate dips aren't uncommon. The game needs some general time in the oven still, which it will get as more patches roll out. 

   

Speedrunning Tips

Borderlands is an interesting speedrunning titles. 

The community for it exists, yet the high variability of each run makes it hard to nail down particular strategies. 

That doesn't mean they aren't entertaining. 

Type of run (any-percent run, co-op enabled, glitchless) is always going to throw a wrench in things. But so is how a runner chooses to tackle the content.

Throwing down with FL4K and letting his deployable companions distract enemies while laying on the damage is a good time. Going tank mode with other characters works too. It helps that each character has the different skill trees to mix up runs too. 

There isn't any wrong answer when it comes to going about a run. Some characters in time will emerge as stronger than others. But typical staples of speedrunning like ignoring side quests, sprinting past passable enemies and encounters and quickly understanding how to navigate the layers and layers of menus in the fastest way possible will help times. 

Considering random generation plays a big role in how things unfold too, this could go down as one of the more interesting speedrunning releases of the year. Those Borderlands 2 runs were active for the better part of five years, and that shouldn't be an exception here, especially as the feeling-out process of experimenting with so many different builds and gun combos will make for an entertaining watch. 

    

Conclusion

This is an updated Borderlands with all the good and bad that comes with it. The game has firmly stayed in its lane, which is a good thing. Borderlands does Borderlands well, and now there are new characters, stories and loot to enjoy, solo or otherwise. 

With that disclaimer of sorts out of the way, some of the same "but!" points apply as they have in the past. The writing isn't for everyone. The grind of a looter-shooter is an acquired taste that can hit a fatigue point quickly. 

Even then, gamers have merely asked for massive amounts of quality content in franchises they love, and they get it here. Borderlands 3 is almost overwhelmingly stuffed with content, a lengthy campaign that is open to co-op and droves of replayability. 

In some cases, more of the same is better, which is probably a satirical flavor text on a weapon or muttered by a dying enemy somewhere in the game itself. 

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