Way back in 2009 the opening cinematic of Borderlands was set to the Cage the Elephant song There Ain't No Rest For The Wicked. Well, I must be wicked. Since Gearbox Studios released Borderlands 3 (BL3) on Friday sleep has been at a premium. I have had one wicked weekend lootin' and shootin' across the galaxy. I still have a long way to go before I can give a final verdict, but I've spent enough time to tell you that, like Pandora itself, Borderlands 3 promises the eager Vault Hunter riches but you will have to deal with some bumps in the road to reach them.
Let Me Tell You A Story
Just like the first two installments in the franchise, Borderlands 3 starts off with a quick monologue from Marcus, followed by a violent introduction (featuring The Heavy - Put It On the Line) to our four new Vault Hunters - Moze the Gunner, Fl4k the Beastmaster, Amara the Siren, and Zane Flynt the Operative. Each of these characters have some similarities to previous classes that make them feel familiar while bringing enough unique twists to their skill trees to keep them from feeling stale.
The story of BL3 begins in the same old way - the amazingly annoying robot Claptrap is back to run you through a quick refresher of how a first person shooter works. This ‘tutorial’ is completely unnecessary since anyone over the age of ten knows the basic controls of every FPS and really just feels like a lazy way to introduce you to the main story line. Fortunately, the tutorial is over quickly but I would still rather have it separated from the story altogether so it could be skipped.
The story begins in earnest when you are recruited by Lilith (the playable Siren from the original Borderlands), one of the co-leaders of the Crimson Raiders. With all of the bandit clans joining up with the Children of the Vault (COV), a powerful cult led by the Calypso twins (an obvious satirical representation of modern day social media influencers), Lilith and her Raiders are the last obstacle between them and their goal of locating Vaults located throughout the galaxy. Your first job as a Crimson Raider is to recover a Vault Map before it falls into the hands of the COV. And so begins the underlying quest line that serves as a backdrop to the looting and shooting of Borderlands 3.
The cartoony art style the Borderlands franchise is known for is back again. You either love it or you hate it, and I love it. With so many other games trying to go for ultimate realism in their graphics the choice to continue using the cell shaded art is a good move by Gearbox Studios. Cartoonish doesn’t mean BL3 lacks detail. The world is highly detailed when all of the graphical bells and whistles are turned on. I didn’t really notice just how much impact this made until I left the familiar desert areas of Pandora for other worlds. Each new world comes with its own environment and I found myself doing some exploration just for the fun of it, something I hadn’t done in the franchise since the original release.
Character and enemy animations are top notch and the carnage of battle will be strewn all around during a fight. The signature gore of the franchise is back in full force, and blood spraying from a headshot or a whole body exploding from a nearby grenade is as well done as ever. For anyone who has grown beyond the gratuitous violence there is an option to turn the gore off.
Unfortunately, the visuals have also been one of the bumps in the road I mentioned earlier. Everything looks good, but bugs and optimization have reared their ugly heads. Gearbox, like many other developers, has encountered problems implementing some video resolutions (anything with a 21:9 ratio).
Their DirectX 12 execution has also caused some problems. I can attest to the issue that the initial loading of the game when using DX12 takes forever (3-4 minutes) and that switching to DX11 results in almost instantaneous loads. Making the move to DX11 also got rid of the artifacts and screen discoloration I was experiencing under DX12.
One area where there isn’t much change in the Borderlands formula is the combat. If you are looking for the over the top chaos and mayhem the series is built upon you won’t be disappointed. Some of the attributes could benefit from a quick balance pass, but overall every weapon type holds its own if used in the correct situation. And the weapons will be coming fast and furious.
BL3 claims to have RPG elements, but in reality that merely translates to the characters having skill trees and the many, many weapons having different attributes. Beyond that, character development is non-existent, and the only reason the different classes even have names is to tie them into the story. That may sound like a negative, but for me it isn’t. Gearbox did a fantastic job of ensuring everyone knew that the seven year gap between releases didn’t mean a whole new look for BL3. Honestly, I loved the gameplay of Borderlands 1 and 2, and anything else for Borderlands 3 would have been disappointing.
That doesn’t mean everything is the same. There are still a ton of changes to the character classes. Something as simple as making Fl4k’s pet a persistent companion results in the pet being more than just another skill on a cooldown, opening up new play styles we haven’t seen before. I have primarily been playing Moze and her different skill trees mean I can tailor her Iron Bear to suit the environment and opponents I am facing much in the same way I swap out elemental weapons to meet the needs of the moment. . Each of the characters have this flexibility built into their skill trees and even Amara plays differently than the Sirens that came before her.
Back To The Action
During my almost 20 hours of play time with Borderlands 3 that familiar but new feeling keeps popping up. At its core, BL3 is a looter shooter and doesn’t pretend to be anything else. Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel (and failing), the new character options and multiple worlds to visit have added enough to the recipe to keep my attention. So far the story has been sufficient enough to keep me interested through the many cutscenes and keeps the action moving at a good pace. Gearbox has also done a good job of bringing in old characters for cameo appearances while not trying to rehash everything that has come before.
We will have to wait and see if enough new pieces have been added to Borderlands 3 to make it a true finale to the trilogy or if it will just end up feeling like a long winded DLC expansion. I’ll be back to give my final review of the game once I have completed it, but right now it’s time to head back to the action. With the amount of sleep I don’t plan on getting tonight I can already tell the next morning is going to be rough.