I love Borderlands 3 for a multitude of reasons. But why do I feel like I’m not the majority in this?
Is it because I am just a huge fan of the series in general? Is it because I didn’t initially play it at launch therefore I didn’t have to experience the litany of bugs and frame rate issues that early adopters copped from day one? Or is the reason I’m enamoured with Borderlands 3 simply because it is the “looter shooter” that sets the bar, in my opinion, and I find so much joy in its aesthetic, dumb humour, new and old characters, and its gameplay loop?
It’s probably a bit of all of these.
I’ve played this game from start to finish, co-operatively, and now that I’m at the end game, in which there is still a ton of content to complete (a huge relief with a game in this genre), I think Borderlands 3 is one of the most underrated games of 2019.
Borderlands as a Series
Let’s get a couple of things set right off the bat here. I’m a huge fan of the Borderlands series, have been since the first game, and Borderlands 2 ranks highly in my top ten games of the decade. But if you’ve seen my 2019 game of the year video on my YouTube channel, it’s a notable omission. That’s mainly because I didn’t play more than a couple of hours of it until just recently. But now I’ve put in about 80 hours, finished the campaign, hit level 50 and beyond, and I’ve got to say this is definitely one of my favourite games that released in 2019.
The gunplay is as fun as ever, but has been meticulously improved to make the gameplay more intense and fast paced. The weapons have better feel to them, with a more noticeable impact, and each manufacturer is entirely different from the next, something that I think makes the shooting in Borderlands 3 really stand out. You know when you’re using an elemental and futuristic Maliwan gun, a six-shooter from Jakobs, or Hyperion, Torgue, Atlas, Tediore, COV, etc…; they all have their own traits and characteristics that go far beyond anything from the previous Borderlands titles.
The loot grind has always been a prominent feature of Borderlands, and the third entry goes further than its predecessors as you’d expect. Constant loot drops from bosses, enemies, chests and, of course, toilets are just part and parcel with Borderlands. You won’t go five minutes without finding weapons, even if many of these you mark as trash and sell to Marcus. Deep into the game, and in the end game in particular, enemies are harder, drop better loot, and you can of course grind bosses for the legendaries that everyone craves in this genre.
As a comparison, I wanted Anthem to be good, but the loot grind was repetitive, uneventful, and the selection of weapons was just pathetic especially once you hit level 30 and the so-called end game. Simple upgraded versions of weapons you already had at lower levels were not satisfying enough, and dropped far too seldom, and this was just one of the reasons I stopped playing Anthem pretty early on. Even though I didn’t hate Anthem as much as many, many others, I stopped playing one day, and never ever went back.
But Borderlands 3 rewards the player with loot in droves. You even get a gun that shoots other guns, just for kicks.
In short, loot and weaponry is everywhere. Vending machines sometimes have cool weapons, Crazy Earl may occasionally have a sweet anointed weapon that perfectly matches your build, Golden Keys will sometimes pay out with Legendaries as well, but just playing the game will always reward you with noteworthy loot as well.
The end game has been fleshed out further from its predecessor, giving you the ability to crank up the mayhem for better loot drops thanks to increased difficulty modifiers, or you can go back to the start and play True Vault Hunter mode for a tougher campaign run with changes to enemy types, more Badasses and a more bonkers experience of the game’s story.
For me, combat is just so fun in Borderlands 3, and escalates to a new level of crazy thanks to its colourful elemental effects, tons of enemies, wild weapon types, shield, artifact and class mod effects that shower the screen with so much information and colour that it can sometimes be overwhelming (but never boring). You might find a legendary weapon that works perfectly for your build which then changes your gameplay strategies and build. Thankfully you can pay to respec whenever you want, and mess with your abilities and ways to play the game without worry. The option for three action skills to choose from is a breath of fresh air as well, and a great quality of life improvement over the previous games.
But this is just one component of Borderlands 3, and don’t get me wrong, even though I love its gameplay loop and its rewarding loot grind, there are some things worth criticising about Gearbox’s latest outing.
Where’d All The Good Villains Go?
I’ve spoken about this before, but why do so many game developers have so much trouble creating good villains? This was another huge issue with Anthem; the Monitor sucked. He was the most cookie cutter bad guy with no development and no fathomable reason to be such a threat which was a spit in the face of Bioware’s previous villains like Saren, Sovereign, Harbinger and The Collectors – and these are only from Mass Effect!
Handsome Jack was phenomenal. He was a mad man and fit perfectly within the Borderlands lore. But he was also smart, calculating, brutal, hilarious, powerful, psychopathic, and a force to be reckoned with. He killed beloved characters and was always a step ahead of the Vault Hunters, tormenting them to their wits end. But in the end, he was memorable and actually kinda likeable, in a weird masochistic way. But my god, the villains in Borderlands 3, The Calypso Twins, are so unlikeable, so immature, so frustratingly annoying, that every time they made their appearance, I would pretty much tune out and wait for the end of the cut-scene or dialogue.
What annoys me the most about the way Gearbox developed their villains and the main crux of the story, is that their history and need to search for these vaults across the galaxy could’ve been handled so much better!
Their origin is really quite interesting when you finally uncover it near the end of the game. Like Handsome Jack they kill a beloved character – albeit in a scene that had little impact in comparison to what happened in Borderlands 2 and thus pushed along a narrative that was wasted. They were always a step ahead of you (and liked to tell you that they were every step of the way which was simply grating), but their personalities were just god awful. I understand they were meant to be annoying streamers that had amassed an army into their cult. But I think the streamer angle was stupid, and it amounted to nothing good. I like the idea that they’ve banded together the ramshackle bandit clans from all over the galaxy to fight back against the Vault Hunters. I also like the idea of the Children of the Vault’s cult of insane bandits that you fight against for the majority of the game and even the fact that they have Maliwan working for them. But the way all this is executed is uninteresting, and Troy in particular is probably the most annoying character in the series to date. And yes, that statement includes Claptrap.
The Calypsos aren’t helped by the game’s, at times, dumb plot. Again, I like that they steal Lilith’s powers, rendering our beloved Firehawk harmless. I also like that they have the power to drain sirens in general, because Borderlands has done such a great job in making the sirens so integral to the plot. But in general, and especially in comparison to the excellent story of Borderlands 2, the main plot-line is underwhelming and has some huge misses, losses of important characters for no good reason, and some truly disappointing characters that are given much more importance than they deserve; with little to no character growth along the way.
The ancillary storylines that drive the main quest against the Calypsos are much more interesting; the Maliwan/Atlas battle for power, the survival of the family-run Jakobs corporation against the imposing enemy force of the COV, and even the search for the Great Vault and all the cool new locations that you get to explore along the way. These all do a great job of giving the player interesting places to visit, with wildly different biomes than Pandora alone. These are beautifully designed and fun to explore, and the bosses you fight along the way are varied as well.
But with so much negative stuff to say, why do I still think this is one of the most underrated games from last year?
Just More Borderlands?
Now, let’s get something straight here. Metacritic and Open Critic scores are not the be all and end all of how a game should be judged. Some games are overrated by critics and users, some underrated by both, and some are hugely swayed one way or the other in both categories in complete contrast to each other. There can be review bombs on user scores, buggy launches or just plain hate from critics. But in general, this is a way for potential players to get a grasp of how a certain game plays, pros and cons, and a decent way to determine if they should spend their money on a game.
Borderlands 2 sits at around an 89-91 on Metacritic depending on the platform, with the original title coming in at around 81, which to me is a fair distinction. Borderlands 2 is a masterpiece in looting and shooting, and a legendary game in my opinion. Borderlands 3, however, has a rating between 78-82 depending on the platform, and so many reviews from critics listed on the site, as well as YouTube reviews and other opinions at launch were so quick to state that it is “just more Borderlands“. I personally think this is a stupid statement.
Borderlands 3, despite its poor story, has some of the most fun combat I’ve played in a long time in addition to great quality of life features like the Mayhem modes and True Vault hunter. It also has a plethora of side activities, enemy types, weapon types, loot in droves, a solid end game, customisation that far eclipses its predecessor, and lacks micro-transactions of any sort. On top of all of that, it’s a beautiful game, with a timeless art style, incredible detail, a vast array of worlds to explore, interesting playable characters with build diversity options and many, many ways to experience the gameplay loop.
Yeah, it’s more Borderlands. In every single way possible it’s more Borderlands. But what did people expect? Did they expect it to be a different style of game? I just feel that so many reviewers are harsh on this game despite the many improvements it has over its brilliant prequel.
I love Borderlands 3, but I’m not so blind to be ignorant of its downfalls which mainly fall at the feet of the game’s storyline. But I think it’s one of the most underrated titles from last year, with so much fun to be had in single player or in co-op with friends online, or even side by side on the couch in split screen. The developers continue to add more content while making changes and fixes regularly as well. Two expansions have already been released that expand the stories of key characters, and there are new end game experiences and timed events that provide an absolute treasure trove of cool legendary loot to unlock as you plow through thousands of enemies.
If you want a purely fun adventure and you want the gameplay, environments and loot turned up to eleven, I highly recommend playing Borderlands 3. You won’t be disappointed.