Borderlands 3 Review

Borderlands 3 is a dumbed-down, unchallenging and shallow entry to a series earned its name for being exactly the opposite. It feels like all the things previous games did right were scrapped in favor of questionable choices and poor gameplay design. The unique gameplay, combat and rewards that made the first two entries so wonderful are gone, and all we’re left with is a yawn-inducting stroll on the beach where you can’t not-stomp everything even if you try. This is truly a shame, especially when you see how much effort and passion was put into this game elsewhere, from the beautiful levels through the excellent characters and acting to the superb sound design. Unfortunately, all of these become nothing but a shell for a severely lacking game that feels like a big step backwards from what its predecessors managed to achieve.

A Smooth, Yawn-Inducting Sailing

I have always been a fan of Borderlands. The first two games in the series were great, and BL2 is still considered one of gaming’s highlight for me. My avatar throughout the internet, Lilith, may have been a giveaway of my appreciation to the series. Unfortunately, Borderlands 3 was the first in the series to disappoint me.

My first playthrough of the game was a 3 players co-op with two of my friends. And it was so utterly uneventful. Other than revealing the story (which is far from meaningful, but that’s okay because this isn’t the focus of the game), the adventure as a whole could be summed up as “go there, nuke the area, bling bling” with no challenge at all. At no point throughout the entire game we felt under an actual threat. We didn’t use overpowered weapons, we intentionally tried to risk ourselves with some unusual maneuvers, we practically wanted to be challenged - but nothing worked. Everything was just a smooth, yawn-inducting sailing from start to finish.
Health and ammo management too, which were fairly important in the previous games, practically don’t exist here. You find an overwhelming amount of ammo in the wild, and health pickups aren’t necessary when no enemy poses a threat to you. I clearly remember moments in BL2 where irresponsible health/ammo management left me and my team desperately running around looking for a pickup. It gave meaning to these concepts and twisted combat in interesting ways. All of this was taken away from BL3.

Even the bosses! What was suppose to be the greatest challenge quickly turned out to be ridiculously ‘meh’. It was the same loop every time: an incredible entrance followed by a complete face-roll. With the exception of two bosses (and that’s only because they have temporary immunity in their kit), we melted every one of them to the ground within a minute. With our intentionally under-leveled weapons. Even when we tried, we couldn’t get any boss to actually be a challenge.

“Alright”, I said, “maybe co-op really does make this game ridiculously easy” (despite not being the case in the two preceding entries). “Maybe the scaling is off. Maybe we’re somehow more powerful than intended." And so, I began another playthrough - this time on my own. Disappointingly, I quickly ran into the exact same problem, despite doing everything I reasonably can do to prevent it: within merely an hour I was already stomping everyone and everything.

This is my main gripe with this entry in the series: it’s just so… boring. Back in BL2, I remember facing actual challenge quite often, with enemies that truly left me and my teammates on our toes as we tried to figure out how to defeat them. Boss fights took multiple attempts; clearing out areas required some thought and planning; everything felt properly scaled

Not in BL3, though. I don’t know what happened between these two, but it feels like Borderlands 3 was intentionally dumbed-down in all aspects. Perhaps this is the intended design; perhaps it was just poorly planned; but either way, BL3 is the first game in the series I left without a single memorable moment. It was nothing more than a series of bland scenarios that blended into each other with nothing to distinct them from one another.

And before you mention it: yes, I know endgame challenge modes exist. But this doesn’t justify the fact the main campaign and the first playthrough - the part that matters most - is so utterly underwhelming. I shouldn’t have to wait until the very end just so I can enjoy the game. This isn’t good design; most people would give up halfway through or never repeat it. Your game should be interesting enough to keep people hooked even during the first run, not deter them to the point where they might just get bored and leave.

More Disappointments

Another disappointment is quests. Quests are very few - far less than previous entries - and overly simplified. This is coming from someone who absolutely loves questing in all types of games and strives for completion. The rewards from them are painfully bad, too. I don’t recall one time where I used a weapon I received from a quest, simply because everything I had at this point outdid it tenfold. The only thing that somehow manages to make them reasonable is the bit of story injected into it, but that’s not good gameplay.

Speaking of rewards, there is an essential issue in BL3, a game revolving mainly around loot: The only meaningful source of loot is enemies. Everything else is severely under-leveled or overshadowed by what you have so far. This is a big step backwards from previous entries which did this far better. Shops constantly give you loot that is lagging far behind the stage you are in; Loot chests in the wild are so underwhelming it hurts: what’s the point of all the bells and whistles when you open one if all you discover inside is trashy low quality loot that you probably won’t even bother picking up?
(SPOILER: When we finally reached the first vault - the most sought after cache in the entire universe - after a dramatic boss fight and cutscene… and found four chests with laughable under-leveled green loot. Why?! How is this a good idea?!)

Here’s another example of poor design choices: Throughout the entire game, 90% of the enemies were of the same type. In previous games, you needed different weapons to deal with different enemies (humans, machines, etc.) which added another layer of planning to combat. Not in BL3 though. This also means that, for the most part, you’re only looking for a specific elemental effect for your weapon since the others aren’t useful against what you’re fighting, therefore ditching a lot of otherwise interesting weapons. Why spend the time making these effects and modifiers if you gut them out of any value?

Some good things about BL3

Not everything was bad with BL3, thankfully. Some aspects of the game did impress me quite a lot:

  • One thing I do appreciate in BL3 is the artistic approach level design. The worlds you visit are gorgeous and truly show the talent of the artists behind them. The layouts are well-thought and make for some interesting twists, and the maps actually feel diverse. It’s a shame that such a well crafted world has so little to fill it. The general look of the game is a major improvement over the previous entries and I absolutely love it. Every part of the universe feels like a whole new place to discover.
  • The characters are great. While I don’t personally agree with some of the new looks, it’s clear a lot of time and passion were put into this area. The four playable characters are, too, well made and designed, though some of them are better made (without going into specifics). The concept of revisiting characters from the past is wonderful and I appreciate it a lot, though in many cases it became somewhat of a letdown when the interaction with these was very very short. Bringing back an iconic character only to depart them after a single mission is not great.
  • Another highlight is sound design. The world of BL3 doesn’t only look great, it also sounds alive and lovely. weapons and other interactions are exactly what I hoped them to be, and some pieces of the soundtrack managed alone to hold together sequences that would otherwise be utterly disappointing. Voice acting is also excellent in BL3; the voice acting always was superb in this series, and BL3 continues this tradition wonderfully. I can’t get over how great some of the characters are being conveyed, and I dearly appreciate the effort put into this.

To sum it all up: Borderlands 3 has quite disappointed me in everything that relates to actually playing it. I tried loving this game; this is one of my all time favorite series after all. Yet despite all I tried, I couldn’t find any reason to keep playing. The game is plagued by poor design choices to its core, choices that gut it out of so much depth and value. What baffles me is how all this happens while previous games in the series have nailed it already; all I wanted was simply more of the Borderlands I’ve known and loved for years. But when you’re forced onto a path where stomp everything in your way, and when nothing other than said stomping rewards you in meaningful ways, no wonder this game feels so shallow. It’s even more of a shame when you realize what this game could have been with its fantastic levels, visuals, characters and sound design, which could’ve been the stage for a truly mesmerizing experience if the gameplay it encompasses wasn’t so utterly lame.

I never thought I won’t recommend a Borderlands game, yet here we are. I had high hopes for this game, but this is nothing like what I wanted after all these years. What a shame.