Borderlands 3 has the best loot of any looter game. We may never know whether Gearbox’s claim of “ONE BILLION GUNS” is literally true, but it’s true enough.
The game randomly generates weapons on the fly as you find them. There are the usual types of guns — pistols, rifles, SMGs — there are different manufacturers, and there are different elements. And all of those things matter not only terms of RPG stats, but they matter in terms of the action gameplay.
Even within the same manufacturer’s catalog, there are internal variations. You can compare two shotguns from the same brand and see that one does more damage while the other has faster pellets and a tighter spread. The details within details affect how each weapon looks, sounds, and feels.
To the extent that Borderlands keeps all other aspects of itself out of the way of burning, melting and freezing rival treasure hunters, it’s a great leap forward for the franchise. It hasn’t been a perfect launch on any platform, but even with the typical early technical problems that most big games have, Borderlands 3 can be fun in its launch state, for long stretches.
Gearbox has greatly improved the overall flow of the game. While leveling up, guns no longer become obsolete within a couple levels, and number ranges have been scaled down so we don’t all have to deal with pinball-game damage and life totals. Fast travel is available directly from the map.
Vehicle controls are still the worst among modern video games. If you’ve never played a Borderlands before, you will feel like you’re having a stroke until your muscle memory adapts, and there’s no way to change the controls to the ones normal human beings use.
Driving aside, most other areas of the game have been modernized in the way we should expect given a seven-year gap since the last entry. You can remap controllers, adjust dead zones and sensitivity, mantle up ledges, apply skins to any gun, ping items and enemies, change the active mission without visiting menus. Consoles still have splitscreen, and much frustration has been removed from the multiplayer and item trading — you can now mail guns to offline friends, for instance.
Gearbox is to be especially commended for leaving in trading. Many of these large, complicated RPG shooters put every player in a silo where all gear and items only ever come from the game itself. Something important is lost in that. There’s a childlike pleasure in being able to say, “Here, try this gun;” “Have this skin; “I’ll trade you this for that.”
You have free articles remaining.
Not all of the modern treatment works perfectly. Splitscreen clearly taxes current consoles, and playing the game at all seems to tax gaming PCs for some unknown reason. Menus are laggy. Not all skills and powers work as advertised. But the basic loop — killing enemies, taking their stuff, and using that stuff to kill stronger enemies — is so well-executed and so ornate. Other things only have to get out of the way, and that’s enough to be marked down in the win column.
Unfortunately, the story cannot get out of the way. The plot is perfectly set up to share the all strengths of good Star Wars: there’s a busy, commercialized society in the stars, and we follow a band of rebels that’s involved in a supernatural conflict running through it. The art and design perfectly sells the differences between planets; your ship-slash-home is gorgeous; and everything has the trademark Borderlands patina of hostility and desperation.
Very quickly, everything takes a wrong turn and locks us into a plot that instead shares the weaknesses of bad Star Wars. The character design is great, but what those characters say and do is just strangely bad, in a way that intrudes on the experience.
Since our playable characters don’t exist in cutscenes, we’re left feeling irrelevant as villains easily dispatch major characters right in front of us and livestream it to their millions of psycho fans, while we do nothing. Supernatural powers are given, taken and passed around with little explanation. Almost no one actually has character development. The maps look good, but they’re static — there’s no moment where major destruction changes the landscape or new enemies displace old ones.
Maybe last-minute creative changes are to blame, because while the shamefully poor main plot is unfolding, a lot of the smaller story pieces work fine. Each new planet brings new allies and new enemies, and for the most part, they succeed. There are dozens of side quests, many of which are funny, or touching, or have clever callbacks to past games. The new playable characters don’t participate much in the story, but their battle quips are fine. There are, to the surprise of many, good celebrity cameos. But something kept the main story from reaching that level.
The other glaring problem is the lack of adequate storage space. We’re given a safe that can store up to 50 things; that’s enough for maybe a quarter of the unique guns. And you probably want copies of your workhorse guns in more than one elemental flavor. And you’ll want to save a few low-level legendaries for a new character. And there are so many novelty guns that could be great in a combo we haven’t found yet. And then there are the shields and grenades and other things. The comically low vault space fights directly against the fun of the game.
The core of Borderlands 3 is very strong, and the art, music, and multiplayer all do their part to support that core. It’s a shame the flaws that demote it from great to good were so preventable.