There’s a lot to cringe about in Borderlands 3.
It’s a bit like that bloke in your office. You know the one. He’s gobby and greasy and Tells It How It Is – “If snowflakes choose to take offence, mate, that’s their lookout, yeah?” – and somehow, every year, you’re stuck next to him at the Christmas meal, live-tweeting his descent into that magical twilight of inebriation that makes him think he can pull your boss with her husband sat on the other side of him.
On a good day, however, a day when there’s a fair-to-middling amount of work to be done – enough to be busy, but not enough to be stressed – he’s alright. You’re not friends exactly, but you’d sit in the kitchen with a warm sandwich with him if you had to. He dresses too young, makes off-colour statements and his pop culture references are ever-so-slightly-outdated, but when the wind’s right and he stops trying so bloody hard, he’s actually alright.
That, my friends, is Borderlands 3.
Third time mucky
Look: we get it. This is the Borderlands series’ brand. It’s unapologetic and in-your-face and puerile and a bit Johnny-Rotten-stick-it-to-the-man, and we love that. But while Handsome Jack was, admittedly, the villain to reign all villains, your new antagonists – Calypso Twins Troy and Tyreen – are animated meatbags of every dreadful millennial trope you can think of.
From their desperation to be seen to their, ahem, "Let’s Flays" and demands to "Like, follow and OBEY!", this latest instalment tries so hard to be young and hip and meta, it sometimes ends up the very antonym of those things: ageing, old-fashioned, and not remotely cool.
That doesn’t make it a bad game, though – not by a long shot. If you’re able to set aside the Twins’ groan-worthy patter and the game’s numerous and unsettling jokes about dwarves, deformity, and mental health – and we don’t think everyone will be able to, to be honest – sitting at the core of your adventure is an intensely satisfying shooter-looter, stuffed with engaging firefights, a memorable cast, and more guns than you’ll ever feasibly need.
Observing the madness
The story itself picks up after both Tales from the Borderlands and Borderlands 2 left off, reprising several fan-favourite characters, including Ellie, Rhys, Claptrap, and one-time playable character, Lillith. You’ll set off as one of four Vault Hunters, each offering a slightly different twist on playstyle: Amara the Siren, FL4K the Beastmaster, Moze the Gunner, and finally Zane the Operative.
While Amara possesses phasing abilities and can unleash immense elemental damage and powerful attacks, FL4K can call on the help of robotic rebels to help out when things get a little tough. Moze, on the other hand, can hop into her mech to kick things up a bit, whilst Zane focuses on precision damage.
While not deliberately obtuse, some players fresh to the franchise might struggle to fully appreciate the unfolding plotline. With the main events happening to the people around you and not your character directly, it’s easy to lose the thread or misread the gravity of the situation, especially as exposition is sometimes delivered when you’re balls-deep in a firefight or nosing through an unexplored area, on the hunt for a better gun.
You’re never a meaningful part of this story, either. What happens happens around you, not to you. All you do is bounce from mission to mission, collecting stuff or clearing the bad guys – you’re little more than a hired gun, devoid of any real agency or presence in the tale. It’s a shame, really, that your character is so bland and irrelevant… especially with so many colourful, larger-than-life characters occupying the NPC ranks.
Speaking of colourful: Borderlands 3 opens up the world beyond the dusty landscape of Pandora. Though you will spend a good deal of time traipsing through the lawless planet we’ve come to know so well, the latest game switches out its beige and muted palette for altogether brighter, bolder motifs, taking us to uncharted environs such as the neon skylines of Promethea.
Whilst it’s true what you’ll do in these new places doesn’t vary much – regardless of where you are, much of the activities you engage in remain the same; fetch this, kill that, rinse and repeat – the change of scenery certainly helps keep things interesting, and it’s wonderful to see the iconic Borderlands art style applied to different worlds.
At the key of Borderlands 3‘s appeal, however, is a delightful gameplay loop that will keep you pressing onwards for One More Mission way after you promised yourself you’d get to bed. The meaty, rewarding gunplay alone was enough to keep us invested, but coupled with a delightful range of passive and active abilities unique to each character, the combat is slick and satisfying.
Thanks to expansive skill-trees and, literally, thousands of guns – all rocking slightly different permutations and rolls and perks – you’ll never want to stop experimenting. Consequently, this constant experimentation and unending revision of your inventory will ensure fights feel fresh whether you’re 30 minutes or 30 hours into the game.
Initially, your restricted backpack size will be a chore, though, forcing you and any co-op partners to routinely stop, open the menu screen, and start playing top trumps with the weapons you have and the weapons you want to have. You’ll regularly exhaust your ammo supply, too, which means you’ll spend a lot of time scurrying around, desperately looking for an ammo crate or discarded weapons. While not grossly egregious, it does take you out of the story a bit… which isn’t great given your grasp on the story might be pretty tenuous to begin with.
Of course, just like its predecessors, this is game best played with a pal or three at your side. The main campaign and accompanying side missions are co-op friendly, and your buds can drop in/out of your world easy enough.
Though you should find it possible to get through the bulk of the campaign without a companion on normal difficulty, there were a few difficulty spikes around a couple of particularly irritating boss battles. And you may, on occasion, find yourself a tad overwhelmed by the sheer number of bandits intent on taking you down.
Oh, and just in case you have one of those friends who always gets to the loot 0.2 seconds before you do? Borderlands 3 offers a truly cooperative mode in as far as it shares loot and money across all players rather than make them compete for it. You can even ping areas or items of interest, and trade gear with your co-op team.
Borderlands 3 verdict
Despite all these ifs and buts and caveats, we nevertheless loved our time with Borderlands 3. Stuffed with a host of quality of life improvements, the latest title should – current glitches and instability aside – be exactly what faithful Borderlands fans have been waiting for.
If you’re unfamiliar with the series’ unique brand of poop jokes, however, or suspect you’d find it hard to overlook its less-than-sensitive approach to diversity and difference, it’s unlikely you’ll find life comfortable on Pandora.
Yes, it’s an acquired taste and no, the jokes don’t always land, but Borderlands 3 really is the biggest and boldest Borderlands game yet.
Gorgeous visuals and sound
Meaty 30+ hour campaign
Lack of real immersion in the storyline