After a failed jaunt into the hero shooter genre with 2016's Battleborn, Gearbox has returned yet again to its most beloved property to give it another spin. Borderlands 3 may not strive to reinvent the series Breath of the Wild-style, but it still introduces a whole boatload of improvements whilst being as crude and juvenile as we have always remembered. The long-awaited return boasts more than one billion weapons and features a much broader scope with three distinctive planets for you to venture to and explore.
Borderlands 3 takes place roughly four years after side adventure Tales From the Borderlands and sees you take command of a new generation of bloodthirsty vault hunters. The stakes are higher than ever before with you seeking a map that reveals the location of multiple vaults across the galaxy but, of course, your journey is met with some resistance. Instead of Handsome Jack taunting you and looking to claim the vault's mysteries as his own it's a bandit cult lead by twins Troy and Tyreen that will attempt to stop you. The sequel is, of course, oozing with the crass humour we've come to expect from the series and whilst we'd didn't find the new villains to be as endearing as Handsome Jack they still managed to work their charm on us as well as incentivising us to put a bullet in their faces.
This threequel introduces four distinct classes of vault hunter (Amara, FL4K, Zane, and Moze) with each coming with their own trio of skill lines. Amara is great for pummeling foes up close; Zane can spawn clones and temporary barriers to deflect enemy fire; Fl4K has an army of vicious pets at his disposal; Moze has a giant mech that you can pilot. Each class will complement a particular type of player and doing your homework before committing is crucial because just like previous Borderlands games there's no going back after you've made your selection.
Primarily playing solo, we decided to opt for FL4K who is a hoodie-wearing robot and Doctor Dolittle of sorts who is able to command an accompanying pet to do his dirty work for him. Pets are able to revive you somehow when you are downed which is great if you're playing alone and don't have a final round left in the chamber of your gun. There are three different pets you can switch between (a skag, a stabber, and a spiderant) and each function differently, with skags spewing toxic spit at foes, and spiderants mauling them up close. What's great about this class is that there are skills later on in the tree where you can unlock variations of these pets that have different appearances and buffs.
Shooting and looting is the cornerstone of Borderlands and the third instalment introduces a whopping 1 billion weapons for you to wield. Many of these guns feature an alternative form that can freely be toggled between allowing for even more flexibility within your limited backpack space. We found an assault rifle that could be switched to a grenade launcher and a shotgun that could alternate between radiation and incendiary damage, for example. Helping the difficult chore of housekeeping is another feature known as a consolidated item score which gives you an indication at a glance which loot you should hold onto - pretty handy!
Progressing through the main story you'll find yourself journeying across the stars to snatch up different vault key fragments and this will take you to all new worlds. Outside of the Pandora that we all know and love there are three distinct new planets with each sporting different motifs that we have yet to see in the Borderlands universe. There's Promethea, home to the Atlas Corporation, which is basically a depiction of how sci-fi movies in the 1980s envisioned the dark future of the 2010s to be like with its dreary feel and towering neon skyscrapers. Athenas, the third planet, was another that caught our eye thanks to its surrounding temples, towering cliff sides, and lush shades of red and green coloured foliage.
We have to give a shout out here to the side quests as many of them have been met with the same care and attention that we've seen poured into the main story. In one we had to grab blood bags and deliver medical supplies to a rapper-turned-doctor who was desperate to push his mixtape on us, and this ended with us accidentally ruining his day. In another, we came to the rescue of an unfortunate soul known as Trashmouth who found himself a prisoner in a portaloo and was out to seek revenge on those who put him there. We found ourselves desperate to complete each side quest that we encountered just to make sure we didn't miss out on gags like these.
Split-screen coop within Borderlands has long been one of its most enticing features and Gearbox have made steps here to enhance the experience for those playing in tandem. There are now two modes in co-op that players can freely switch between and these are known as cooperative and coopertition. In the new cooperative mode players now have their own individualised loot so there's will no longer be those frantic rushes to grab any legendary gear that appears. The cooperative mode also introduces level scaling meaning that you can play with anybody regardless of their in-game experience. If you're a seasoned Borderlands veteran then coopetition is more like the coop experience you remember, with no level-scaling and the best loot going to the fastest first.
The same cel-shaded look that has defined the series makes a return but there have been noticeable improvements with lighting and textures, and the character models look much more detailed this time around. We noticed other smaller details too like how the cover is now destructible and dynamic and would chip away when bombarded by bullets.
That said, we found that technical issues crept in quite frequently when we played on the vanilla PS4 (although our experience on PC was smoother) and these often stemmed beyond graphical issues. When moving through the main menu there was quite pronounced lag and we found that the framerate would take a hit during heated exchanges of gunfire. We also found that quest markers didn't appear in a particular side quest and were forced to reset our console on one occasion as an NPC we had to speak to in order to progress had curiously disappeared. These issues may differ for others playing across different platforms and they certainly weren't game-breaking, but they still provided an annoyance and we were surprised by how long they've stuck around after launch.
There were also some problem areas from previous entries that we feel that Borderlands 3 failed to address and improve upon. Driving still felt clunky and awkward as we were forced to use both analogue sticks as a means of acceleration and steering, which took a lot of time to really get used to. We also found that the segmented zones from the previous entries felt dated as these were separated with lengthy loading screens and more of an open-world structure would have kept it more in line with recent games. Again, these are minor grumbles at best but we hope Gearbox can implement some changes in the inevitable fourth entry.
While we noted the technical issues were still prevalent post-launch, and that weaker elements such as the clunky driving and segmented zones from earlier entries were still not fixed, the new alt-fire modes introduce even more flexibility to your arsenal, the coop experience has been improved with individualised loot and level scaling, and there is much more variety visually to the environments we get to visit. For us, Borderlands 3 may not represent the pinnacle of the series, but it still makes plenty of improvements whilst delivering the same absurd humour and addictive weapon collecting that the series is known for.