For those unfamiliar with the Borderlands franchise, the games, in essence, are 1st person shooters, set on open-world Alien planets with trigger happy heroes, fanatical villains and a smattering of superpowers. Throw some badass loot, alien creatures and hilarious dialogue into the mix and you have the basic recipe for a Borderlands game. Enter Borderlands 3!
So how does this 3rd outing (or 4th if you count ‘Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel’ as part of the canon) compare to its predecessors and more importantly, should you play it? My answer is a resounding YES!
Tales from the Vault
Almost 7 years in the making by creators 2K and Gearbox, Borderlands 3 kicks off after the events of Borderlands 2 and the episodic ‘Tales from the Borderlands’ installment which Telltale games released as a companion to the main franchise back in 2014.
Enter your shiny new Vault Hunter, chosen from one of four brand new characters; Amara the Siren, Zane the Operative, Moze the Gunner and FL4K the Beastmaster. Pick your poison and say hello to Claptrap, everyone’s favourite albeit slightly annoying robot sidekick who will recruit you into the “Crimson Raiders” (A.K.A the good guys) and help you get started with your first gun and shield.
From here on out, your main objective is to act as muscle for the Raiders and their Siren leader, Lilith, in a galaxy-spanning adventure to find and assemble the key to the Great Vault before the “Children of the Vault” (A.K.A the bad guys) can beat you to it.
A large chunk of the game revolves around the corporations that manufacture your weapons and how their founders and CEO’s weave into the search for the Vaults which I thought was a nice touch. There are also some cool, character driven moments that forever change the face of the Borderlands franchise and add a fresh new twist to team and mission dynamics throughout this installment.
I don’t want to give too much away in the form of storyline spoilers, but suffice it to say that there are some euphoric celebrations and some unexpected tragedies throughout the main story and of course, this being Borderlands, there are also a lot of “non-traditional” requirements when acting as the Crimson Raiders’ hired gun! With main and side story missions involving everything from corporate espionage and coffee runs, to shoot-outs and jail-breaks, there’s no shortage of chaotic quests that you’ll be tasked within service of the Raiders and their colourful band of allies.
Home and Away
For the first time in the Borderlands canon, Pandora is not the only planet that players get to explore. Three brand new worlds in the form of Athenas, Promethea and Eden-6 are also in play for large parts of the game, with hundreds of previously uncharted locations and vastly different settings filled with enemies to shoot and cool stuff to loot. There is also a surprise 5th location where you spend some time towards the end of the game… but I won’t spoil that one for you!
Promethea and Athenas are both fun additions, with the former in particular adding an extra dimension to the game. An urban cityscape filled with diners, subway stations and shipping containers, the Promethean locations were a complete departure from traditional Borderlands settings and put a fresh spin on the series. But the real highlight for me when it came to the new locations was Eden-6; a swampy, jungle-style planet with dinosaurs, monkeys and major Wild-West vibes to boot.
Pandora is still the main attraction with around 1/3 of the overall game taking place there but the map has expanded massively in comparison to previous games which prevents the familiar desert-style setting from feeling stale. Eridian ruins feature heavily this time around and previously unseen bandit camps and villainous headquarters mean there is always plenty to explore. There is also more opportunity to learn about the history of Pandora (and the other planets) amid the hunt for the Great Vault by original “VH” Typhon DeLeon and the recordings that describe his adventures. These recordings are left scattered all around the planets, with 3 to be found in most locations and a map marker to Typhon’s hidden loot cache for that location once you’ve completed the trio.
Speaking of maps, the displays in the right-hand corner of the screen are vitally important for navigating these new worlds and sometimes things can become a little confusing, particularly when dealing with different ground levels within buildings. Still, these maps are reasonably easy to figure out with a little practice and all the mission markers and points of interest are clearly marked, as well as (very helpfully) becoming greyed out once discovered!
All in all, the mix of old and new locations in Borderlands 3 coupled with more in-depth world building around the history of the planets does definitely elevate the game to another level. The new worlds are easy to reach via your spaceship named Sanctuary (which acts as your home-base and transportation until fast travel kicks in for visited locations) and I think it was a wise choice from the creators to include that wider variety of settings and an extra sprinkle of lore and this time around.
Shooting and Looting
The basic gameplay remains the same as previous installments. A 1st person point, shoot, punch and run mechanism with basic RPG elements and easy to grasp commands has always been the foundation of these games and, in my opinion, they don’t suffer for it.
Borderlands 3 at its heart is designed to be pure, unadulterated fun and there is nothing that gets in the way of fun more quickly than fiddly targeting systems, confusing button combos and nonsensical skill trees. Within 5 minutes of playing and some basic tutorial instructions from Claptrap, everything had fallen back into place like those 9 long years since I last visited the Borderlands had just melted away into nothing. Bonus points for making cars easier to drive this time as well!
The skill trees are also pretty simple to navigate with 3 pathways to follow as you choose and special skills dependent on character class. There are also various elemental damage effects that you can apply to your characters in the form of mods (when you reach a certain level) including fire, ice and acid which are particularly handy when applied to melee and slide actions within combat situations. You also have the flexibility to constantly modify your character’s clothing and accessories throughout the game with different logos and prints etc… that you pick up throughout the game.
Of course, the other big gameplay element for Borderlands is multiplayer co-op which can take the form of either a split-screen (for players in the same room) or an online team-up. The overall campaign is fully playable in both single and multiplayer modes and whether you choose to go it alone or bring friends along, the story is still hugely enjoyable which is an achievement in itself. All too often, I find that games can suffer from spending too much time on one mode or the other and end up with either a great single-player campaign and sub-par multiplayer elements, or a stellar multiplayer mode with a boring and uninspiring single player experience - Borderlands however, manages to strike the rare balance of an excellent single player mode (bolstered by great characters and an engaging storyline) AND a seamless multiplayer experience.
Multiplayer also benefits from some impressive features that all add to the co-operative (or competitive) atmosphere of your team-ups. The key staples of trading, dueling and resurrecting are all there, alongside enemy and loot scaling to allow players to co-op even when their characters are at different levels. But perhaps the most innovative and welcome new multiplayer feature is the option to either share or separate your loot-streams; a great way to avoid constant headset arguments over who gets to pick up the best gear!
Bullets and Bombs
Guns and gear are both such a huge part of the Borderlands world that I couldn’t possibly get away without mentioning them here. Loot drops mainly take the form of guns, bombs and character mods throughout the game (with plenty of cash and Eridian crystals thrown in the mix as well). As with previous entries, loot drops according to your level and falls into various bandings according to rarity with golden ‘legendaries’ being the ultimate goal.
Between their tongue in cheek names and super creative effects, it’s clear that a lot of time and energy goes into designing weapons and gear in Borderlands. Particular highlights from my playthrough include the “Eridian Fabricator” which is a gun that shoots other guns (which you can then keep, trade or sell depending on what drops you get) and a pistol called the “Wagon Wheel” which ricochets mini projectiles at nearby enemies whenever you score a hit.
If I had one slight complaint about the guns and gear in Borderlands, it would be that some of it was so darn good I actually felt like my character was kind of overpowered at some points early on in the game. Even when playing missions that were slightly above my current level, certain guns made it a little too-easy to down enemies and certain shields regenerated so quickly that I rarely ended up in any real danger. This wasn’t something I ever felt in Borderlands 2 but still, it’s a minor complaint about the balancing of loot drops and levels during the first few missions and it definitely righted itself as I progressed further into the game where things got a lot more challenging.
Best Friend’s and Bandits
Borderlands as a franchise is hugely character driven but interestingly, it’s one of those games that doesn’t really place a huge amount of focus on the playable characters. Sure, they’re likeable enough and have some fun catch-phrases but ultimately they are just a vessel to allow your involvement in the story.
Instead, the game relies heavily on a large ensemble cast of allies and villains in the form NPC’s to enhance the gameplay experience and really bring the story to life.
Meet your allies:
Avid Borderlands players will be glad to see familiar faces throughout the game including; Moxxi the sardonic bar-tender, Brick the original berzerker and Tiny Tina, the teenage explosives expert. Claptrap also makes a welcome return in all his over-enthusiastic glory, as does Tannis the scientist, and I for one was glad to see that Rhys, the main protagonist from Telltale’s “Tales from the Borderlands” installment, was featured heavily and hilariously in his new role as Atlas CEO.
New characters make a memorable addition to the franchise as well with Wainwright Jakobs, Maya and Ava amongst some of the most colourful new allies that you meet during your campaign.
Defeat your enemies:
Spoiler Alert, Handsome Jack, the main villain from previous installments is no longer with us; defeated by your titular Vault Hunter at the end of Borderlands 2 but there are fresh new baddies in the form of “Twin Gods” Tyreen and Troy Calypso. Running amok on Pandora and beyond with their blood-thirsty army of bandits (the “COV”), these modern-day villains have created an influencer-style cult of personality through live-streams, radio competitions and festivals in the desert. I can’t say that I ever warmed to them as much as Handsome Jack but he was always going to be a tough act to follow and the twins did an admirable job (especially Tyreen) of following in his nefarious footsteps.
There are also memorable sub-villains along the way including an amusing cameo from US magicians Penn and Teller who take on the roles of “Pain” and “Terror” for one of the most entertaining boss fights of the main-story campaign.
Get Going Vault Hunter
There was a fair amount of trepidation when Borderlands 3 was first released. Would it be as good as previous installments? Would it be similar enough to maintain the fun-factor of Borderlands 2 but different enough to warrant being made in the first place? Well, as far as I’m concerned, that trepidation was unfounded because this game is on track to be the best entry in the series so far.
With 20+ main story missions and hundreds of side quests, Borderlands 3 provides hours of chaos-fueled amusement and the DLC adds even more fun-filled adventures alongside familiar faces who are otherwise absent from the main game. Overall there is a surprising amount of replay value (with various difficulty settings and new game plus modes) and the fact that you can fly solo, or team up with friends online and still find the story and gameplay just as engaging is another massive plus point in favour of why new converts and existing fanatics alike should give Borderlands 3 a chance.
The varied cast of unique characters, cool guns and stellar dialogue is just as convincing as ever and the locations, both old and new, provide an open-world setting that has plenty of interesting areas to explore and challenges to complete. The result is a fun, addictive and un-ashamedly leans into the following that the franchise has cultivated.
So what are you waiting for, vault hunter? Grab your gun and let’s take a trip to the Borderlands for some shooting and looting.
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