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Day 25 Review: Borderlands 3

I mentioned in my original review that Borderlands 3 is simply more Borderlands. Having played the entire thing, I must add a caveat. Borderlands 3 is not Borderlands 2. Sure, the core of the series has remained the same, but while Borderlands 2 had a well-written through-line and an interesting villain, 3’s story falls more in line with the rest of the series, which is to say remarkably forgettable.

Borderlands 3 sees the rise of the Calypso twins, a pair of live-streaming psychopaths in search of the Great Vault. You must stop them. You’ll meet some colorful characters, some will help you out, some die, some change. But it’s hard to feel invested in any of them when every character is a one-dimensional quest-giver. Of course, that’s pretty standard Borderlands fare, but previous entries, namely 2, have been elevated thanks to villains that manage to straddle the line between monstrous psychopaths and understandable heroes. The Calypso twins immediately fall into the monstrous psychopath pile and stay there to be buried under every other boring villain.

The Calypso Twins from Borderlands 3
(image courtesy of 2K Games)

But writing goes into more than just storytelling, and the rest of the writing is a mixed bag. Between jokes that are fundamentally unfunny and meme references that were old three months ago, the humor stagnates. I laughed twice in my sixty-some hours with the game. But, like in my early review, I have to give credit to the world-building. I actively sought out lost ECHO logs and Typhon DeLeon tales. These micronarratives created wonders in the imagination, showcasing small character beats and grand cosmic-scale events. If you can ignore the more-than-occasional poop joke gets tossed in, these logs deliver the most evocative writing the game has to offer.

Of course, Borderlands is mostly about guns rather than story. I wasn’t the kindest to the gunplay in my original review, but I think a large part of that is due to how I expected the game to be played. The past few years, I’ve been playing Borderlands games in their version of New Game Plus, True (or Ultimate) Vault Hunter mode. True Vault Hunter Mode, or TVHM, beefs up the enemies, makes them far more lethal and forces you to play a bit smarter. The return to classic mode was a shock. I had spent so much time in the harder difficulties, I forgot how simple the first playthrough can be.

After beating the game and getting to play around with TVHM and the Mayhem Multipliers, switches that enhance both enemy health and rewards, I found myself way more invested. The combat became challenging, requiring weapon switching and strategy. Loot became more exciting and worthwhile. Non-boss enemies could actually kill me. These small changes caused a massive change in-game feel. The shift from “annoyances with health bars” to “threat” made every shot feel more impactful. I wasn’t just shoving shotgun shells down a bandit’s throat, I was fighting to survive.

An anointed Daddy Goliath and a Bad-ass Tink turret in Borderlands 3
Finally, a challenge!

But then we get to the sidequests, the unholy combination of writing and gameplay resulting in the complete lack of respect for my time. It’s clear that the writers wanted every sidequest to be an event, rewarding the player with not only experience and weapons but story and comedy. But as I watch a nasally scientist introduce his third creation, only for them to run around before dying in the exact same manner as the previous two, I’m left bored and frustrated. Then I learn the quest is only half over.

At the heart of any looter-shooter is the quest for gear. The convention is a full story in the main campaign, with quick and repeatable sidequests offering various forms of loot. They’re meant to be disposable, in service of the greater quest for powerful items. Borderlands bucks this trend, offering longer quests, which is not inherently a bad idea. The problem lies in the execution. The standard looter-shooter quest is “go to X, kill Y.” Borderlands innovates on this by making it “go to X, kill Y. Now walk across the map to Z and kill more Y. Now go back to X….” Combine tedious quests with poor writing and the result is long, unfunny chores that offer little to no variance and minimal reward.

Borderlands 3 Quest Lists
There are also a lot of quests.

3 doesn’t bring a lot of new ideas to the series. Some elements have been added, some have been removed. There’s a bit more vehicle customization. Movement has been upgraded. The one fresh idea that this iteration of Borderlands brings is the ability to travel to other worlds, to mixed results. Every world manages to feel both new and exactly like Pandora. None of the new enemies would feel out of place on Pandora and the contents of the world don’t feel exactly alien. Yet, I found myself drawn to the skylines. Each manages to feel unique, offering varied architecture, flora, and atmosphere that really drives home the differences in the planets. It’s just too bad you rarely have a reason to look above the heads of your enemies.

It’s hard to pin my feelings for Borderlands 3 down. For every element I hate, there’s something I loved. For every positive, a negative looms. This should shake out to an average game, but I can’t quite call it that either. I find myself passionate about every element of the game, good and bad. At the end of the day, the only thing to call it is Borderlands. And you already know how you feel about that.

 

 


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Written by Sean Mekinda

Sean Mekinda is a fan of all things auteur and weird. He's currently one of the hosts of Beating a Dead Horse, a podcast all about death in media. The first movie he remembers loving is The Iron Giant. The first movie he remembers hating is Alien VS Predator Requiem. He currently lives in Columbus, Ohio with his girlfriend and two needy huskies.

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