Borderlands is one of the most beloved franchises of the last decade and Gearbox/2K has capitalized on it as much as they can. Direct sequels, spin-offs, you name it, it’s a big brand but Gearbox was very careful to take their time with the third main entry in the series.
Borderlands 2 dropped in 2012, The Pre-Sequel in 2013, Borderlands 3 in 2019. That’s a huge gap and truthfully, it’s not particularly clear why it took this long. That’s not to say Borderlands 3 is bad or even disappointing by any means, it’s just not this huge next step for the juvenile RPG series.
It feels more like Gearbox knew that if they mess too much with the formula, they’d screw it up. So instead, they focused on refinement. They looked at the pillars, tore them down, and rebuilt them with sturdier foundations. Where the game feels strongest is in its gameplay, something that never really worked for me in previous entries and largely turned me off originally.
Gunplay has a new feel and type of weight to it without feeling like a whole new game. Each type of gun just has a distinct “oomph” to it whereas it previously felt either too light or too heavy. There’s a balance that gives you that feeling of power, that feeling that you’d get when shooting a real gun and you feel a rush of dopamine. There’s more engagement when shooting and almost more layers with functionalities and more.
Many guns have alternate firing methods that can fire grenades, special ammo, or something else. Different gun manufacturers provide different perks such as one that turns your empty magazines into explosive throwable items. It helps the overabundance of weapons feel easier to sort through when trying to cater to specific playstyles. It’s not about just looking at the stats and seeing a higher damage number.
The layers to the guns make them feel like way more than just bullet dispensers, they feel like multi-purpose and powerful tools. That said, even though these guns can make you feel really great, the encounters themselves can undermine it.
Sometimes enemies feel like total bullet sponges even when they’re the same level as you. Does it really make sense that it’s taking me several SMG clips to kill a shirtless man with a melee weapon? No, it doesn’t. It feels like it’s wasting time and gets on your nerves when you’re just trying to move forward but stubborn enemies with absurd strength are keeping you back.
Borderlands 3 has an intro where the playable characters absolutely annihilate an outpost of enemies, it’s hardly a fair fight. Then you play the game expecting a bit of a power fantasy and it’s not really like that. The game isn’t hard, just annoying.
There was a moment in co-op where a friend and I were fighting a boss for at least 15 minutes and talked about several different topics in the time it took us to kill the boss. We didn’t die and have to start over, we weren’t really struggling, the boss just had way too much health for no reason. Again, it doesn’t feel like a question of challenging the player, just soaking up their time.
Some game’s find balance in creating bullet sponge-y enemies that also challenge you so that it doesn’t get old but Borderlands 3 doesn’t strike that balance all the time. Some boss battles can be brain-numbingly dull despite all the pretty colors, the quips, and excessive gore.
This feeling of exhaustion carries over into the quests. Sometimes quests run too long, feel like they could end and the next objective could be the start of a new quest, and it just grows incredibly tiresome.
Borderlands 3 sometimes struggles to earn your time commitment. Whether that’s testing your patience with a plentiful supply of bullet sponges or quests that outstay their welcome, it’s difficulty lies within wanting to continue playing it. To play Borderlands 3 is a true test of endurance that may cause actual fatigue and exhaustion after a few hours.
While it reaches a lot of highs in gunplay, this long-awaited threequel may not leave people instantly begging for more like they were after Borderlands 2.