Banner artwork by MonoriRogue.
WARNING: This review contains HUGE spoilers for Borderlands 3 and other Borderlands games. Do not read if you don’t want spoilers.
Thanks to my friend Kira for providing screenshots and for playing this with me.
There aren’t words enough to describe how hyped I was for Borderlands 3. Borderlands is a very special franchise to me. It was one of the first franchises I got into after building my first proper gaming PC. I had put a lot of money, time, and effort into building that PC. And Borderlands symbolized not only gaming on that PC but also was something my friend Kira helped get me into. I associate the series mostly with spending time with my best friend, laughing at stupid memes and jokes, and just having a good time.
Borderlands was a game I enjoyed but Borderlands 2 was an obsession. Having over 1000 hours in it on Steam, and not counting how much I’ve also played it on my PS Vita, I can easily say that Borderlands 2 is one of my most played games since its release. It’s a game where I’ve played every class, mastered everything, and I still wanted more.
The Pre-Sequel helped fill that need for more Borderlands, and I would lie if I didn’t say I loved that game as well. Despite its short length and not hitting as many high notes as Borderlands 2, I did enjoy it for what it was. It gave some insight into characters we didn’t know much about and helped expand on Handsome Jack’s lore. And truth to be told, I still think Handsome Jack remains one of the best-written villains of all time.
That opinion didn’t change when Telltales released Tales From The Borderlands. That game was something else entirely. With its cast of characters and unique spin on the Borderlands universe, I fell in love with the game for its humor. It was different but still very reminiscent of what we saw in the main series.
But all of this could never prepare me for what Borderlands 3 would end up being. After all the hype, after the Handsome Jack saga had thoroughly ended, I never imagined how much damage Borderlands 3 would do to the franchise. After having completed its main story, I can say with a high degree of certainty, that Borderlands 3 killed the franchise for me.
The Problem With Writing
Borderlands 3’s main issue is its story. Both in its writing and presentation, this has to be the worst story of the franchise. There is a lot to go over here, so this might get a bit lengthy and spoilery. But bear with me.
The problems show up very soon after starting the game. Apparently the Crimson Raiders have just been sitting on the vault key they discovered at the end of Borderlands 2 for a while. So when you join them is when they suddenly decide they need a ship and traveling to other planets.
This is because of the rise of the game’s main villains. Tyreen and Troy Calypso. Having risen to stardom through the EchoNet, they have become a cult among the bandits, who sees them as Gods since both are sirens. And how do they seek to use their powers? To take over the galaxy, of course.
And the villains are the weakest part of the game, and honestly the source of why it’s so bad. I don’t mean that as in they are effective villains, I mean that as in the writing itself tries so hard to make them into legitimate villains that it comes off as contrived. And the satire on current streaming culture is entirely wasted since it never plays any major part in the plot. It only comes off as shallow, never going far enough to make any actual social commentary.
The Removal Of The Player
It is during the first battle with the villains you start to see the trend of the game. And one of the first glaring issues. The cutscenes are completely non-interactable. During any cutscene in this game, the camera leaves your perspective and focuses on what’s going on. The problem with this is that it effectively removes the PCs from the story and renders them entirely helpless.
In the older games, the story would usually take place in front of you and acknowledge your presence. You were a vault hunter, you were integral to the story of the game. You were there to help the NPCs and the games acknowledged that. In Borderlands 3, this is completely thrown out the window.
In the cutscene after fighting the Calypso twins for the first time, Lilith is rendered powerless. This is treated as if she has the life energy sucked out of her and she falls to the ground. She reacts by acting like she can’t do anything now, despite the fact Lilith was an extremely capable gunfighter in the first game and clearly knows how to handle a gun. This kind of writing persists through the entire game, and it never… NEVER EVER gets better!
And here’s the thing, if the PCs were there, they wouldn’t just stand and watch this happen. We would try to stop them, and if the game actually acknowledged the PCs being there, the story would’ve ended there. The writing itself RELIES on the complete removal of the player from the story. It separates the story from the gameplay, and only allows you to interact with it when it serves it.
The Systematic Ruining Of The Lore
And this is also where we see that the game has one single agenda. It almost seems like the people at Gearbox took the criticisms about Anthony Birch’s writing as saying they should do everything they can to ruin his established characters. There’s almost a sense of vitriol not only towards Anthony Birch’s humor but also his established lore. Heck, the Calypso twins feel like pale imitations of Handsome Jack, ripping off his entire purpose but without any of his charisma.
Handsome Jack was a character you loved to hate. He was revered and popular because you could feel his charisma. But the Calypso twins have zero likeability to them. They are annoying, in your face, and never ever feel funny or witty in the way Jack did.
Characters in Borderlands 3 speak and act completely out of character compared to how they acted in Borderlands 1 and 2, and even the other games. Lilith isn’t the only siren to get rendered helpless early on. But she at least survives. Maya dies early on in the game, in an extremely anticlimatic manner that almost… no, not almost. It TOTALLY undermines her entire character.
The only reason the Calypso twins are so powerful is not only because the player character is completely removed from any cutscene with them, but it’s also because the writing just says “they can do anything, so your favorite character is gonna die now”. This also works the other way around though.
The Wrong Lead Character
Tannis was never a character that was meant to play a major role. She was a side character who had some strong quirks, and while she did play a major role in the events of the previous games, she was never intended to be a major character. This is what changes in Borderlands 3.
Tannis is revealed, in a way that comes completely out of leftfield, to be a siren. Not only is she a siren now, she apparently was one all along. And despite inheriting Angel’s powers from the previous games, she apparently can do shit that we never saw Angel do. None of this was ever foreshadowed in the earlier games, and none of this makes any sense for her character.
The problem with Tannis’ character is she isn’t charismatic. By design, she’s an Asperger’s case that would never like herself being in the lead role. She prefers studying, she prefers burying herself in projects. The way she’s not only taking but embracing a lead role in this game makes zero sense for her character.
The only reason Tannis is given the lead role is because of Lilith taking such a backseat when it makes no sense for her to do so. It was where my disappointment really grew in the game’s writing. Like I said, it completely undermines everything set up from previous games and ignores a lot of character traits. It even straight up gets a lot of facts wrong which annoyed me even further.
Truth to be told, all of the writing in Borderlands 3 is shallow. I won’t deny there was a lot of stupidity and memes in the older games, but under all that was heart. There was a lot of genuine emotion in the older games, and that’s entirely missing in this game.
When Roland died, it mattered. It had ramifications on everyone in the story. Hell, there’s still a statue of him in Borderlands 3, with Tiny Tina writing a message she misses him on the statue. The way his character death was treated was beautiful and served as the emotional core of Tiny Tina’s “Bunkers & Badasses” DLC in Borderlands 2. It was the truth behind it all, and when revealed provided an intensely emotional moment that still sticks with me to this day.
When Scooter died in Tales From The Borderlands, it redeemed his entire character. He went from being an inbred redneck to being an inbred redneck with a huge heart. That entire moment was the highlight of his entire character arc, a moment that will make me see his character in a different light. Under all his redneck gearhead jokes was a genuine heart, and that’s more than I can say about the writing in this game.
But then, after playing through the game, and seeing it end with my favorite character from Borderlands 1 sacrificing herself, after a boss fight where she went against everything in her character, I felt like there was nothing left. Maya was dead, Lilith was dead. And none of it felt like it made any sense or even mattered, it only did because the writing was so bad that it had to rely on these moments to attempt an emotional moment.
Some Glimmers Of Good Writing
That’s not to say that all the writing is bad. Most of the problems lay with the main story arc. But around that are glimmers of actual good writing and good characters.
A lot of the humor feels a bit more mature than Borderlands 2. While I was a huge fan of the humor in Borderlands 2, I also feel like it could get a bit much at times. With Borderlands 3, I felt the humor was more character-driven. And I’m not gonna lie, while some jokes don’t land at all when they land they can get a pretty big laugh out of me.
And some characters are really well written. Typhon DeLeon is a character that you initially discover through audio logs he has left behind. He is a legitimately funny character that I loved listening to, and when you actually meet him, he just becomes even greater.
Without spoiling too much, I can say he was easily one of my favorite NPCs but… yeah, he dies too, which is a complete waste of his character. Did I mention the problem with characters just getting killed off for stupid reasons? Let’s get on to talking about what makes this game good.
Unique Weapons And Improvements
With the story being the weakest aspect of the game, the game at least has a saving grace. For the most part, I would say Borderlands 3 has the best gameplay in the series. There is a lot to dig into here as well, but unlike the story, I feel most of it is great.
There are a lot of quality-of-life improvements in this game that kinda makes it hard for me to go back to previous games after this. One major feature is being able to suck up Eridium crystals as well, which in previous games you had to manually pick up. You also automatically suck up ammo from chests now, which is another welcome feature. And driving over money lets you automatically pick it up as well.
The combat has also seen an overhaul. Weapon manufacturers were made way more distinct in Borderlands 2. And that was one of those highlights of Borderlands 2 for me. But Borderlands 3 takes everything a step even further.
In Borderlands 3, each manufacturer adds even more uniqueness to their products. For example, Tediore guns now talk when you throw them out, and some of them even act as turrets. Maliwan guns can have multiple elemental effects that you can switch between. Dahl weapons have multiple firing modes. It seems every weapon has an alternative mode you can enable, which makes combat a lot more dynamic and satisfying.
Bandit weapons have been replaced by COV weapons, COV (cult of the vault) being basically the bandit faction in Borderlands 3. These weapons kind of expand on the trend of large ammo capacity by foregoing magazines entirely. The downside is the guns can “break” which is kind of a lie. They don’t break as much as this is just a typical “overheat” mechanic.
Smooth As Butter
If there is one way I could describe combat in this game, it would be smooth. It’s fast, frenetic, very similar to how it played in Borderlands 2. But it’s really, REALLY smooth and satisfying.
You can now slide in addition to the regular moveset from older games, which adds a lot of speed to the gameplay and new tactics. There are even mods that add elemental effects to your slide, further incentivizing sliding into enemies as an attack. You can also slam by jumping and crouching, a mechanic that debuted in The Pre-Sequel and while I am happy to see it return here, it’s not something I ended up using a whole lot. But it’s nice to have it.
And the way all these attacks chain together, the way heads explode when you shoot them, the sound effects, and hugely satisfying gunplay just makes this easily the most fun I’ve had in the series in terms of gameplay alone. Like, I’m not lying when I say this game is straight-up gun porn. And a lot of the legendaries I found were extremely fun to use and even ended up lasting for almost 10 levels before they became obsolete.
Vaults Of Disappointment
The game does however have one major disappointment that I can’t overlook. With all the hype about the game having more vaults to find on all these planets, you visit, actually finding these vaults in pretty much every case is disappointing. Like, sure they look amazing and have great aesthetics but… listen for a second.
The loot you find in these vaults is largely common or uncommon loot, with maybe 1 or 2 rares/ultra rares. No legendaries that we ever found and a minuscule amount of Eridium (with some vaults not even supplying ANY Eridium). The rewards for getting into these vaults are so piss poor and meager that you actually get better loot just stalking Randy Pitchford on Twitter.
Like, I wanna stress why this is such a huge disappointment. In every single Borderlands game, you play a vault hunter. That’s not just a generic title they give you, you’re in this for the vaults. The vaults are the sole motivator for your adventures.
So doesn’t it pretty much go against the entire nature of why these characters are doing what they do when the vaults don’t even feel rewarding to discover? Like… if I was a vault hunter and this shit happened, I would just give up and take up something more rewarding. Like, Typhon DeLeon gives you a gun that takes Eridium and can spew out Legendaries at will. THAT GUN ALONE IS MORE REWARDING THAN THE VAULTS IN A GAME REVOLVING AROUND VAULT HUNTERS!
The Worst Boss Fights
Borderlands 3 also sets another annoying trend. It goes way too overboard with bosses suddenly becoming immune to ANY attack. For no good reason other than the developers just going NOPE like that angry bratty kid during recess, they decide you can’t even harm the boss anymore during a scripted event.
This kinda plays into how much the game neuters players in this game. You feel immensely powerful thanks to the various gameplay mechanics, but the game just arbitrarily either decides you cannot interact with the story, or cannot do shit to attack the boss. It feels incredibly cheap.
And that’s what makes the boss fights so frustrating. You know there is no good reason the boss should be immune for way too long, and it only happens because the bosses are so fucking weak and easy that if the immunity wasn’t there they would go down far too quickly. Though I dread to see how boss fights go when their health is boosted on True Vault Hunter Mode with added difficulty.
The boss fights are more a test of patience than any actual challenge. I’m not sure how we went from something as awesome as the Ultimate Warrior in Borderlands 2 to pretty much every single boss fight in Borderlands 3 boiling down to waiting for the immunity to drop, fire your guns, rinse and repeat.
The VHs themselves are a pretty solid bunch here though during my playthrough I only used Moze so for that reason I’m only going to focus on her particular skill set. But it serves as an example of how the skill trees work in this game, so a lot of this can apply to the other hunters as well.
You have 3 different skill trees similar to previous games. Though unlike previous games, you now also have 3 separate skills as well. Depending on your vault hunter, this can give you either 3 different abilities, or in the case of Moze affects which weapons she has installed on her Iron Bear power armor.
You can switch between these different abilities at will as well, which makes speccing your VH a lot more dynamic. And each skill tree not only has branching skills like in the previous games that you can upgrade but also tiers that add modifiers to your existing abilities. In the case of Moze, this means her guns can fire different ammo. The customization here is the deepest we’ve ever seen in the series and I’m not gonna lie, I love it.
And then there’s the Guardian Rank system, which is similar to the Badass system from Borderlands 2. After completing the main campaign, you unlock the Guardian Ranks, which is a system that lets you upgrade your core stats across all your vault hunters, or even add entirely new abilities to all of them. Having character-wide abilities like being able to move freely in second wind, or respawn from second wind with full health is amazing and I love this additional layer of skill trees.
Character customization is also something I love in Borderlands 3. You can now fully choose which colors appear on your skins, each skin looks far more unique from each other than in Borderlands 2, and even your guns can be customized this time around with custom skins and trinkets.
You can even customize your echo device with custom skins, which is entirely pointless but cool. Seriously, if you love customizing your vault hunter, this game is excellent at supplying that. The Borderlands series has always been great at letting you personalize your vault hunter, so seeing Borderlands 3 just run with this concept is great.
Voice Acting Greatness
I also really, REALLY wanna say that aside from the writing, the voice acting in this game is great. I’m not even gonna bother slamming any performances here, it’s all really good. I wanna highlight that Team Fourstar of Dragonball Z Abridged fame is in this game, and they all deliver solid performances. I was surprised by how many YouTube celebrities there were in this game, though it’s nice seeing them represented.
Truth be told, the sound design as a whole is really good in this game. Legendaries now drop with a satisfying DING and even show up on your minimap. Weapons all sound as they should, with no particular weapon sounding bad. And listening to the psycho voice lines in this game is as worthwhile as it has ever been. Some serious gold here.
The music is also really good. The track record for music in the Borderlands series has been really solid since the first game and Borderlands 3 is no exception. I actually found myself bopping my head to some of the tunes in this game, and that’s always a good thing. Heck, you even have a boss fight against a boss that uses music as a weapon, so the way music is sometimes integrated into the game is very cool.
As a whole, Borderlands 3 is a great game with a terrible story. The story unfortunately is why I have to call this game a disappointment and the death of the Borderlands franchise for me. The story is way too occupied trying to be “cool with the kids” to feel genuine, and the moments that are good aren’t good enough to make up for the numerous pointless character deaths and the fact the player character is entirely removed from the story during cutscenes.
If Borderlands 3 had more competent writing, I would easily call this the best in the series. Hell, going by gameplay merits alone I would recommend the game. But if any of what you’ve read about the story deters you then at least you know what you’re in for. If you have any emotional investment in the franchise like I do, this game will utterly enrage you and destroy your soul.
That being said, that does not account for the DLCs. Having played a bit of the DLCs so far, I can actually say the writing in them is a lot better. And I remain hopeful that whatever future adventures we see in the series can repair the devastating damage done by the main campaign in this game.
And this is usually where I say if I recommend a game or not. But I am honestly stumped here. Borderlands 3 is a game I both love and hate in equal measure. So make up your own mind here whether you should buy this or not. I honestly feel like this game has both the best and the worst of the Borderlands franchise.
But one thing is for sure, things will never be the same.
Borderlands 3 is a massively conflicting experience. The story and writing are the worst in the series, with the game completely ruining everything set up in previous games with an astonishing disregard for its fanbase. It does also feature the best gameplay in the series, with a huge amount of customization, fun combat, and great side characters.
- Amazing combat and gameplay in general
- Huge amount of customization
- Great voice acting
- Horrible writing with the worst written villains in the series
- Lack of satisfying rewards for exploring the vaults
- Kills off beloved characters without good reason
- Too much Claptrap
- Bosses using immunity too much
Sound & Music