Borderlands 3 Review – Return To Form


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The new climbing and sliding moves do allow you to better navigate environments and thus get out of the way of certain attacks, but both mechanics are better suited for weaving among the scattered firefights with normal enemies, not the concentrated bombardment of the bosses. Several boss battles are frustratingly difficult to tackle on your own as a result, to the point that they all seem like repeated suggestions that you should be playing Borderlands 3 with at least one other person. Two or more players allows you to take turns reviving each other, making it easier to last longer. But simply trying to outlast one strong enemy doesn’t impart the same enjoyable impact of the mayhem-filled firefights from the rest of the game. You feel more like a badass running around and gunning down a vast assortment of different enemies than you do hiding behind cover and waiting for the boss to stop attacking you just so you can safely get a few shots off.

Thankfully, boss battles only make up a small part of Borderlands 3’s overall campaign. Most of the story sees you go up against the Calypsos’ seemingly never-ending cult of bandits or the armies of the twins’ corporate sponsors as you race to find the pieces of the keys to open up vaults across the universe. Your journey takes you far beyond the planet of Pandora, and it provides opportunities for new types of combat encounters in a series that has largely revolved around wide-open deserts full of bandits or factories full of robots. For example, the jungles of Eden-6 contain an assortment of dangerous wildlife that have different hunting grounds and patterns, and the low gravity of a Maliwan space station orbiting the planet of Promethea allows the elemental gunslinging corporate soldiers you’re going up against to jump higher and more easily attack you from above. Certain weapons have greater utility in certain environments as well, such as an explosive mushroom-like grenade that becomes more powerful when thrown into water. That’s easier to do more often in Eden-6’s swamps than Pandora’s sand dunes. Borderlands 3’s campaign sees you bouncing back and forth between planets every few hours, which keeps each setting from growing stale while also encouraging you to keep adopting new playstyles, strategies, and weapons.

Borderlands’ heroes are nothing if not personable, and that trend continues in this latest installment–transforming the motley crew of outlaws into a family you feel a kinship with.

Even if Borderlands 3 takes you far beyond the scope of Pandora and sees you meet brand-new allies and encounter never-before-seen threats, the original cast of characters that have defined the adventures from the beginning are still at the forefront, and the story is better for it. Whether you’re a long-time fan or not, it’s the connection to the Crimson Raiders that acts as your motivation for fighting through the campaign. Borderlands’ heroes are nothing if not personable, and that trend continues in this latest installment–transforming the motley crew of outlaws into a family you feel a kinship with. Your connection to the Crimson Raiders continues to grow with every mission as well, as–thanks to the spaceship Sanctuary III–the entire group is with you throughout the course of your journey.

Newcomer Tyreen is clearly a bad person, but the campaign’s story never gives you a compelling reason as to why you would want to kill her so as to stop her for good. Lilith is fond of reminding you that Tyreen’s plans would ultimately destroy Pandora, but Borderlands 3 introduces a bunch of planets that would make for more preferable homes. Tyreen, and thus Troy, never amounts to a credible threat that you feel like you need to stop as a result, so the Calypso twins instead feel like the primary source of much of Borderlands 3’s comic relief, not villains that must be stopped.

With most of the franchise’s juvenile humor and ludicrous jokes coming from your planetside interactions with the Calypsos, it’s on Sanctuary III with your crew that Borderlands 3’s well-written story delves into its more heartfelt and emotional moments. The game wastes little time reintroducing you to mainstays Lilith and Patricia Tannis, a brilliant yet socially anxious scientist, and building the drama of its narrative around them as the two women grow into their new roles within the Crimson Raiders. Tannis’ evolution is especially compelling as you see her make courageous strides to move beyond the self-imposed limitations she’s set for herself on account of her autism and social anxiety. For two characters that were popular but little more than caricatures in the first game, it’s rewarding to see the growth the two underwent in Borderlands 2 now culminate into two leaders that you’re willing to follow to the end.

That isn’t to say the other fan-favorite characters have been left out. Pretty much everyone from the previous games returns to complete their respective arcs. Borderlands 3 weaves in plenty of memorable new characters as well–such as the coffee-obsessed Lorelei, artificial intelligence BALEX, and scoundrel turned rebel general Clay–but the game’s story is very much the fulfilling conclusion that long-time fans have been looking forward to for the franchise’s mainstays.

And what a conclusion it is. Borderlands 3 has a few stumbling blocks when it comes to bosses, but these fights are overshadowed by the game’s rewarding gunplay and over-the-top humor. The game’s character-driven narrative acts as a satisfying finale for the loot-shooter franchise, and the new mechanics and features–especially the reworked skill trees and weapon manufacturer effects–give you plenty of agency in how you want to play through it. If you’ve never been a fan of the franchise, it’s unlikely Borderlands 3 does enough things differently to change your mind, as the game best excels at continuing what the series has always done: deliver a humorous tall tale of misfits looting and shooting their way to heroism.

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