Borderlands 3 Complete Review

Borderlands 3 Review

Borderlands 3 Review
Conclusion
Borderlands 3 is the game we've been waiting 7 years for. Despite the technical and balance issues, the game is fantastic fun, immersive, and very enjoyable.
Content
10
Gameplay
9
Economy
6
Technical
7.5
Community
8
End Game
7.5
Strengths
SO MANY GUNS!
Beautiful Environments
Fun & Engaging Combat
Awesome Music & Sound FX
Weaknesses
Numerous Technical Issues
Still can't skip cutscenes... seriously?!
Weaker storyline than BL2
Not enough stash space ... not even close.
8
Final Score

Borderlands 3 Review Introduction

The Borderlands series is one of the most popular new generation PC gaming franchises to capture the hearts of gamers. Originally released in October of 2009, Borderlands presented a new style of shaded virtual rendering featuring a world full of guns, skags, midgets, murder and mayhem. Gamers loved it. Borderlands 2 (BL2) released roughly three years later (September 18, 2012). BL2 saw numerous Downloadable Content (DLC) expansions over the following years, which included raising the level cap to 80 (from 50). And now, 7 years later, we have the 3rd installment of the series.

Many reviews of Borderlands 3 (BL3) came out just days after it’s release. The reality is none of these reviewers could have played enough of the game to properly review it. For clarification, I have completed nearly every side quest in BL3 including the main storyline in TVHM and Mayhem 3 more than once. I have played all classes to 50, have more than 150 hours total game time, and achieved a Guardian Rank of 235. This review is based on that experience.

Borderlands 3 is a AAA title that took years to develop and probably cost well over $30M to make. With such a beloved franchise and so much riding on its success, this is undoubtedly one of the biggest releases of 2019.

  1. Created by: Gearbox Software
  2. Original Release Date: September 13, 2019 (PC, PS4, Xbox, Google Stadia)
  3. Release Reviewed: 1.01 (Oct 3, 2019 Patch & Hotfixes)

While this review focuses on Borderlands 3, there are a few elephants in the room I first want to address. This includes strange review censorship issues which tie to the launch of BL3 and directly relate to the numerous technical problems that have caused players to rate the game below a 5.0 on MetaCritic and take to the Steam forums to complain about performance.

Next, we have the fact BL3 launched on Epic’s gaming platform, rather than Steam. While a lot of people complained about this, the reality is Steam is ripping developers off at a 30% fee rate (which is insane) while Epic only takes 12%. This is huge, and the majority of gamers don’t have a clue how greedy and monopolistic Steam has become. On top of that, I had direct experience working with Valve years ago, and I can personally attest to their shady business practices and unethical behavior. I’m glad BL3 launched on the Epic Platform and hope additional future titles launch on alternative platforms so Valve is forced to lower its current extortionist fees.

Now… let’s talk about THE GAME!

Welcome to Borderlands 3!

New Features Overview

Before we dive into the full review, I want to cover the new features that really make BL3 different from its predecessors.

  1. There are multiple planets to visit.
  2. Sanctuary is now a ship (and our base of operations) filled with all our favorite NPCs, which includes character quarters. The ship can also warp to and orbit different planets.
  3. Fast Travel allows the character to jump to any discovered travel point or vehicle anytime. Includes cross-planet travel.
  4. The game map is now true 3D and rotatable.
  5. Basic parkour has been added when jumping, climbing and sliding.
  6. Items have a “score” associated with them.
  7. Guns have alternative shooting modes.
  8. Vehicles can be captured and their new components added to player vehicles.
  9. Ammunition and health can be auto-filled to max with the click of a key/button.
  10. There is a Lost Loot (drops that you missed) machine.

While there are many other QOL enhancements and core changes, the above list is a good starting point for BL2 players who are interested in what some of the top new features are that make BL3 truly different from BL2.

Content

The Storyline of BL3 is extensive, even moreso than that of BL2 just because of the sheer scope of the game, with numerous new and returning characters, and extensive dialogue that narrates the ongoing saga of being a Vault Hunter. While there’s no denying that Handsome Jack from BL2 was an amazing pinnacle of game villainy, I must admit the new Calypso Twins as the primary antagonists in BL3 came up very short. The main story for BL3 is less mature than its predecessor and there’s nothing to like about the twins, who come across as entitled millennial Whole Foods cashiers gone bad rather than intelligent sociopaths with an interesting history and set of goals (as we had with Handsome Jack). As a matter of fact, both Tyreen and Troy come across as idiots. As such, BL3 is hit and miss with the storyline. While the main story of the Calypso Twins is a big miss in my book, so many of the steps through the main story are awesome and fun, it balances out. Penn & Teller make a cameo appearance, we meet the heads of the big corporations (like Jakobs, Atlas and Maliwan), make friends with new heroes, and lose old ones. There are great parts, like the feud between Rhys and Katagawa. Typhon Deleon is also a very interesting character. However, Ava is simply insufferable. Why Gearbox decided to make whiny kids a centerpiece of BL3 is beyond me, but when the statement “Sanctuary is yours, Ava” was made, I could only roll my eyes. And the BALEX/GenIVIV storyline was simply painful to endure. Ultimately, it’s a “good” story overall, but the final cinematic is just ridiculous and doesn’t make any sense. Another weird thing that has no place in BL3 are the “real faces” of characters while you are playing. They are completely out of place and do not belong in the game (the faces should instead be the in-game faces). But there is so much great content in this game tied to boss fights, new characters and their quirks, and the immersion factor BL3 provides as the player progresses through the galaxy from planet to planet. In the end, the worlds (and ship) of BL3 are places players love and want to be, and that’s a great thing.

It’s important to note there are Echo Logs of backstories spread throughout the world, and many of those are far more interesting than the main story, so it’s always a treat to stumble across one!

Welcome to Athenas, home of Monks and Maya!

The detail of the Worlds and Zones is astounding. BL3 is a beautiful game, and each planet has its own environmental theme, which is fantastic. Maps are huge, every corner is detailed to perfection, and in this sense, BL3 is a work of art. A lot of love, time, energy, effort, blood, sweat and crazy went into making Borderlands 3, and it shows. I would venture to say there’s more than double the content that BL2 had at launch. There are Five Planets to explore. I really like the way BL3 really focuses on Pandora, taking us back to the world we fell in love with in the original release. Promethia is a retro-city complete with tall buildings, freeways and subways filled with numerous crazies. Athenas is a high mountain Monk colony under siege by an insane captain. Eden-6 is dense paradise Jungle gone wrong, infested with Jabbers and known for giving visitors swamp ass. Nekrotafeyo is the strange alien home of the race that built the vaults, and where we really begin to discover the history of the vaults. In addition to vast areas to explore, there are a ton of side quests and always something to do. Gearbox also made it so players could quickly and easily travel between locations and jump into multi-player crazed combat arenas like Circle of Slaughter and the Proving Grounds. BL3 makes exploring the corner of every map worth your time because you can stumble across Kill Challenges (which can reward great weapons), Typhon Logs, Claptrap Parts, and more!

There are Four Classes in BL3: FL4K the Beastmaster, Moze the Gunner, Zane the Operative, and Amara the Siren. BL3 is very similar to BL2 in that each class has three skill trees that are built out through point distribution gained with each level; but unlike BL2, a character can equip multiple skills at a time, allowing for combinations. Respecing is also easy. I really enjoy the play style difference between the classes, and there’s so much content in the game that there are literally hundreds of hours of gameplay available for those who want to push each class and try different builds. At launch, the general consensus is Flak is the boss killer, Amara is the AoE queen, Moze is “all around” balanced, and Zane is the best at surviving. Each class has their own personality and dialogue as they progress through the game, which makes playing through the storyline as another class quite enjoyable. Zane has the best dialogue in my opinion, however there’s no question he’s currently the weakest of the vault hunters for end-game.

As mentioned above, each class has three different skill trees the player can select, but one big feature missing from BL3 is the ability to save Loadouts. Gearbox made it so players can easily switch from one build to another through the paid respec, but they failed to empower saving different builds and switching quickly and efficiently. Because of the respec option, BL3 doesn’t endorse making different versions of the same character, so players are forced to manually reset and rebuild their skill points every time they want to change something. This deficiency is quite cumbersome for players who want to switch from one spec to another based on the end-game content they want to do (e.g. boss farming usually requires one setup whereas farming Slaughter Shaft requires another).

There are more Quests in the game than you can shake a stick at, and following the crude humor we’ve all come to love from Borderlands, a lot of them are downright inappropriate and it’s awesome. Having played through the game multiple times, there’s still dozens of side quests I haven’t completed. The good news is the new map UI (which allows drilldown from the galaxy level) will help you determine which planets still have quests you haven’t completed (for those who are focused on 100% completion). Many of the quests give valuable and/or unique item rewards while others are just quick silly jaunts into enemy territory. While leveling up, it’s a good idea to do a few side quests because if you focus just on the main quest, you’ll be under-leveled early on and encounter problems surviving. The rule of thumb is grab the side quests you encounter in proximity to following the main storyline and that will almost always keep you properly leveled (and sometimes even overlevel you, which is OK). Rare Spawn Missions are side quests that will occasionally appear on Sanctuary’s job board. These are quests where you go and kill named bosses and specific groups. So far these have been lackluster and very easy; my guess is future spawn missions will include mini-raid bosses and more difficult targets.

Many of our favorite characters return!

There are a wide variety of Enemies in BL3, this time focusing more on humanoids and animals than robots (there are actually very few robots in BL3 compared to BL2). Tinks are the new midgets, and we have other new enemies such as heavy combat troops, Nogs (which augment and support enemies), tree-hanging monkey-like Jabbers (with guns, of course), and dinosaurs. I personally love the enemy pool in BL3; it feels just right. And we can’t forget the new delicious Ratch, the secret ingredient in so many foods. There are also new Anointed Enemies which are the most difficult non-boss mobs in the game to kill, but they are pretty much hated by everyone because of how difficult they are, especially the Militants.

Next we have the Bosses, of which there are a many. They come in three flavors: Mini-Bosses (which can include Challenge Bosses), Bosses, and Vault Guardians. Some are great fun to dodge, fight and survive, and others are extremely frustrating and overtuned (Killavolt and Billy The Anointed, for example). Most of the boss fights are unique, fun to engage in, and ultimately conquerable with the right techniques. Overall, Gearbox did a solid job on this aspect of the game, and once they tweak the bosses that are too tough or too easy, I think we’ll have good balance. It’s important to note Character Level is very important when fighting bosses, which is why doing side quests can make all the difference. A level 14 character fighting Killavolt will probably not be able to kill him, but a level 17 has a far greater chance of defeating him (for example).

Borderlands is all about the Loot, which comes in the form of monster drops, chest drops, quest rewards and mail rewards. As with BL2 we have White, Green Blue, Purple and Orange (Legendary) colors and categories, with enhanced beams for Anointed items. There are no pearlescent items in BL3 at launch, but I’m sure we’ll get them in future DLC. There is also a new Mail System where weapon manufacturers will mail you new weapons based on your continued use of specific weapon brands. The great thing about the new mail reward system is you can receive strong versions of the guns you love to use the most during leveling. The only downside is they keep flowing in once you’ve reached end-game and are using a legendary that a mail item (which is never a legendary) cannot replace. At that point, you just keep the weapons in the mail for another character or take and sell them. Red Chests are also new one-shot loot chests added to the game. Each zone has 2-3 of them and they can be a challenge to find (but often produce 1 or more legendary items). We also have Typhon Stashes, which are located and unlocked by listening to all of the Typhon logs in a zone. Typhon Stashes provide the best loot rewards for a leveling character, even better than Red Chests. Loot Tinks and Chubby Skags are also sources of great drops, but are very rare (don’t forget to open the backpack of the Loot Tink!).

There are more than 200 legendary items in BL3. Here’s a great spreadsheet of the Legendary Items and their drop locations!

One big issue is the RNG of world loot drops. Nearly all of the best items in the game are random world drops, so it can take days to find the one you’re looking for. Want that Anoined Lyuda or Fire Crossroads? Good luck! Both are random world drops. To address this problem, players want more specific item drops from bosses (this is one of the most requested features I’ve seen on the BL3 subreddit).

On today’s episode of “My Favorite Gun”.

The primary driving force behind any Borderlands is that of Guns. So many guns. Following the BL2 standard, a character can equip 4 guns at a time (swapping between them). Each gun consists of three core components: Manufacturer, Elements (which I cover below under Gameplay) and Parts. Parts includes Body, Barrel, Grip, Stock, Scope, Magazine, Fire Selector, and supportive accessories, and it’s the combination of Parts that allows more than a billion different types of guns. Each of the Manufacturers focuses on a different area of gun technology and features: Jakobs (Shotguns), Atlas (Smart Tech), Tediore (Efficiency), Hyperion (Accuracy & Shields), Dahl (Fire Modes), Vladof (Rapid Fire), Torgue (Sticky Guns), Maliwan (Elemental focus) and COV (Infinite Ammo). The Rule of Thumb is guns with red text in their description have a special “function” that often is unique in the game, for example the Brainstormer shotgun shoots pellets that electrify and arc between enemies, causing a crazy AoE barrage of death, but one would only know this by equipping and trying the gun. This is part of the fun and excitement of Borderlands; if you get a new Legendary gun you’ve never seen before, while it may look like any other gun, the red text may represent some hidden play style you could base an entire build around. BL3 also added Alternative Fire Modes to guns, which is a great addition. This allows one gun to switch (for example) between Shock and Fire, or another to switch between fully automatic and burst fire.

For those who are interested, here’s a more detailed Overview of Gun Manufacturers.

Additional Equipment includes a Shield, which is one of the most important items in the game for survival. There aren’t any real mechanical differences in the way Shields operate in BL3 compared to BL2, but there are a number of new Legendary variations that allow for different play styles. Grenade Modifiers are also a key component for combat, and BL3 has taken these awesome thrown balls of death to the next level by adding variations beyond what we encountered in BL2, and they are a ton of fun. Pipe Bomb, Hex, and Stormfront are just a few new variations we can enjoy, and they absolutely wreck your enemies. Characters can also equip Class Modifiers, which focus on enhancing a combined set of skills, with certain legendary versions enabling end-game builds. The fourth supportive item type is that of an Artifact, which replaces the Relic from BL2. Artifacts in BL3 are enhanced far beyond what we saw with BL2 relics and can make or break an end-game build.

The game also features Anointed Items, which are class-specific enhanced versions of core items. The most valuable end-game items are highly-sought after legendary items with specific anointed properties. For example the player could find a Cold Crossroads SMG that does 300% more damage after using Phaseslam. This combination is so rare most people will never see it, but it’s one of the most sought after anointed modifiers for Amara; but useless to other classes. The Anointed properties of an item that drop are based on the class you are playing, so anointed Amara drops are very different from anointed Flak drops. Occasionally, you will get anointed drops for other classes, which could entice the player to try another build. This is a good thing.

Item Score was added with BL3. This is an extrapolated number based on the quality, type, and overall features of a gun. While it’s not a true representation of an item’s value, it’s a good addition and allows us to quickly scan items to see if they are a greater score than what we use. Quickly glancing at and comparing these numbers allow players to more easily determine if it’s something that could be stronger than what’s currently equipped.

The Lost Loot Machine on Sanctuary is a new feature where recent legendary drops you may have missed are stored and you are able to retrieve them. This is a nice feature, especially when combat has been so quick and crazy that you may have overlooked a legendary drop. The maximum number of items it can store is 13.

The Sanctuary Ship is the new Headquarters and base of operations for the character, and it’s a great environment. Marcus, Moxxi, Ellie, Earl, and others from BL2 are all available. It’s very cool to stand on the bridge and look out to see the planet you’re currently orbiting. Players have their own quarters where they can place a few custom objects, but the reality is the decoration features are extremely limited and really don’t mean much. The player can also put guns on the wall. Ultimately, the Sanctuary Ship is a fantastic place, and more importantly – it feels like home.

A beautiful view of Eden-6 and .. wait, what is this obnoxious child doing on my bridge?!

Max Level is 50. Players generally complete the Main Story between 32 and 38 (depending on side quests). Once the main story is complete, players can either continue playing normal difficulty in Mayhem mode or reset the main storyline in True Vault Hunter Mode (TVHM). Note I cover Mayhem mode in detail below under Gameplay. I’ve found most players usually continue to play in Normal mode with Mayhem 1-2 active until 50 doing either side missions, farming mini-bosses (like the Billy family) or the Slaughter Shaft. Once 50, players usually re-start the main story in TVHM and run it in Mayhem 2-3. While the Mayhem system can create fun experiences, not a lot of thought or effort went into it’s design; this is clear when one modifier will say -50% Assault Rifle Damage, and the one beneath it says +50% Assault Rifle Damage, cancelling the augment out. This is all too common.

Power Leveling is an option; a max level character can team up with a starting friend and take them to boss and high density areas for farming. People have reached level 50 in under an hour with this technique. The reality is the best part of BL3 is the leveling experience, so rushing it doesn’t make much sense to me.

As an evolved version of the badass system from BL2, BL3 has the Guardian Rank System, which is account-based and impacts all characters, so it’s a form of alternative advancement to benefit the entire account. It’s unlocked after the player has completed the story line on their first character (and is unlocked for all characters after that point). As players gain experience, it’s split between leveling (for those who are not 50 yet) and guardian. Since the guardian system is account-wide, the three categories (Enforcer, Survivor and Hunter) and their unlocked features impact all characters. Once a player is 50, all experience goes into the Guardian Rank system. Each level made in the Guardian system provides a token that can be spent in one of the three categories to enhance things like Gun Damage, Max Health and Luck. As the categories are built-out, the player gains access to benefits specific to those categories. For example, Enforcer has an Overkill unlock where “excess damage from your kill is added to the next shot.” There’s also Hollow Point, which causes your enemies to explode. Having completed all of the categories, I can say the benefits are awesome and make end-game and the overall leveling experience a lot more enjoyable. Once all of the categories have been unlocked, the player can still make Guardian Rank Levels and continue to improve their stats up to 15%, which takes a long time (I believe Rank 1000+ is required to get every stat to 15%).

Character and Weapon Skins are a big part of the game, unlocked through Crazy Earl or through loot drops. Players can customize skins for their character, weapons, and ECHO device. Custom object changes are also available for the Character Head. Sadly, the system is very limited and players can’t really customize their characters to the extent one would expect from a AAA title released in 2019. Gearbox could have done a lot more with character and gun customization, especially when it comes to Trinkets, which are little dangling items you can attach to a weapon. I have no idea what they were thinking here.

Each character has their own Personal Quarters on Sanctuary, and while prior to release Gearbox made a big deal about the new feature of players being able to customize their quarters, now that we’re playing BL3, we find there are only 3 hooks to hang items from and a wall to display weapons. There really is no customization and this system is simply terrible and comes across as a last minute afterthought. Gearbox really needs to address this; if they’re going to let players decorate their character’s room, let them… but as it stands, the character quarters customization system is a total joke and and is a big letdown to the community.

Since BL3 is a looter-shooter, the ability to pick up and store items is a big deal. Marcus on the Sanctuary Ship sells Slot Expansions for money (in BL2 they were sold by Earl for Eridum; you can now use cash!). The cost is $32,800,000 in total upgrade all weapon and bank slots. Since purchases for Bank and Lost & Found are account-wide, this means the total cost to upgrade a character is $26,240,000. Players can max out their character backpack space to carry up to 40 items. This works for a character, but a big problem is the limit on the shared bank space, which only allows 50 slots in total between all characters. This simply is not enough for a looter shooter, and is one of the biggest complaints by the community.

We also have Vehicle customization in BL3. This includes capturing other vehicles to steal their tech. Players can mix and match a vehicle’s Body, Paint, Colors, Weapon 1 & 2, Armor, Wheels and Mod. There are 3 base types of vehicles: Outrunner, Technical and Cyclone. While the vehicle customization system is a cool feature, there really isn’t any content that requires enhanced vehicles, and the storyline missions that are vehicle specific require you to use a pre-selected vehicle, so you can’t add extra weapons or armor. At this time, Vehicle Customization is all about how your vehicle looks (and how fast it goes). I’m confident future DLC will extend the vehicle content so we can murder in rocket launching automotive bliss!

For those who are interested, here’s an overview of all Vehicle Upgrade Locations.

It’s so good to be back on Pandora…

Gameplay

The Borderlands series has always been about the Combat, and BL3 does not disappoint. Fighting is fluid, smooth, and crazy fun. Players engage in combat and damage enemies with the following actions: Melee, Guns, Grenades, and shooting Barrels (and other volatile objects). Critical hits are king in combat, causing more than double damage, with the most popular being head shots. While Melee isn’t very popular, some of the class buildouts support walking up to a target and pummeling them to death; although BL3 really isn’t designed to take this style of play to the next level (let’s be honest, the game is all about the guns). Grenades play an important part in causing mayhem and come in many different styles; some bouncing, others seeking out their targets, and a few exploding in clusters that do compounded damage. While there are complaints about too many particles on the screen blocking vision (especially in multiplayer), the reality is combat is a ton of fun and has been greatly enhanced over BL2. Guns are smooth to shoot, many having alternative firing modes, and characters can now both shoot and throw a grenade at the same time. The only two things that most players find frustrating in BL3 when it comes to combat are the rocket launching mobs (which can 1-shot you, especially when doing the Tumorhead family quest) and anointed mobs (namely anointed militants). For those who like a lot of movement, Sliding is also a technique used in combat since some of the artifacts add slide bonuses of damage. The Ragdoll Physics are also a step up from BL2; watch the bodies (and body parts) fly through the air. This includes improved elemental effects, especially with shattered cold damage.

Here’s an awesome player-made video that really represents the combat of Borderlands 3 in a Nutshell.

Death is common, but luckily it has two phases, so the player can quickly recover and prevent a regenerative death. When you’re knocked out, you enter Fight For Your Life (FFYL) mode, and if you kill any enemy in this mode, you are automatically restored to working condition (with hits and shields restored to a value based on different factors). One big problem is during FFYL, you often can’t see through the particle FX of everything attacking you (namely rocket launching mobs), so you can’t target enemies to get your second wind. They need to add some sort of red outline to enemies while in this mode; that would solve the problem. When you actually die, you respawn at the closest registered New-U station, which is essentially a save point. For a fee, of course.

There are five damage Elements in BL3: Incendiary, Shock, Corrosive, Cryo and Radiation. For those of you who played BL2, Slag is gone! Different element types have different effects depending on the type of monsters; fire is good for flesh, electricity is good for shields, corrosive is good for armor, cryo freezes and radiation spreads (AoE). It’s important to utilize different elemental types during combat due to the mixing of enemies at end-game. Enemies have one of three Health Bar Types: Red (general hits), Yellow (Armor), and Blue (Shield). For this reason, the “general three” that players have ready access to are: Incendiary, Corrosive and Shock. Alternative gun fire has also made it much easier to strategically use elements as some weapons allow you to switch between two different element types. Here’s a great Elemental Damage Chart for reference.

Even if one were to choose the same class and skill buildout, Every Playthrough is Different because of the guns that drop. A single legendary drop can carry a character more than 20 levels and change the entire experience. This is a good thing.

The biggest overall complaint that players have with both BL2 and BL3 is the inability to skip cut-scenes. Gearbox simply doesn’t care that they force you to watch cutscenes that can take minutes, even when you’ve already seen them. Why they’re forcing this simply doesn’t make sense, and it’s always irritated players.

Autoloot was added for all ammunition and health, and it’s a great QOL improvement over BL2. The only issue is when you open a box, you have to stand stationary for a second or two in order to pick up the ammunition; this can often result in death when you’re trying to get ammo during a dangerous fight.

Fast Travel is a step beyond what we had in BL2; you can teleport to any Fast Travel Station at any time, which also includes your vehicle. So you can jump out of your car, run off and complete a mission, then instantly teleport back to your car. You can also jump between planet zones quickly and easily.

The new Map system is beautiful. It’s a true rotatable 3D representation of the map, showing underground, above ground, and any unusual areas. One key gripe is the inability to see alternative quest marks; you can only mark one quest at a time, and you can’t cycle quests while the map is up (the current system requires you to switch to quests then back to maps). All Gearbox needs to do is allow players to cycle and select quests while the map is up, and it will be perfect.

It’s my favorite pin-up from Goons Gone Wild!

The Difficulty settings for BL3 are a bit different from BL2. The core difficulties are Normal and TVHM (True Vault Hunter). Once the player completes normal, they can re-play the storyline in TVHM mode, which has tougher enemies and better loot drops. TVHM can also be reset after being complete, so the player can re-run the core story again and again (which includes re-running all the side quests).

The secondary system is that of Mayhem mode, which is unlocked when you complete the main storyline. Mayhem mode augments whatever core difficulty you are in (Normal or TVHM) with random modifiers (such as bullets do less damage and enemies have more health) and bonuses (100% more loot, exp, etc.). At this time Mayhem 3 is the highest setting, and in TVHM it is quite a challenge. Occasionally, the mods from Mayhem 3 will be so difficult (such as removing bullet and elemental damage from a character that depends on them) the player has to re-roll the mods (which is done by leaving the zone or going to the main menu and re-entering the zone). Mayhem modifiers change with every zone change. Reflecting bullets can be the worst. Another key issue is combined values in Mayhem 3 can completely ruin the zone for a specific build (especially reflect bullets in a game where everyone shoots guns), requiring the player to exit and restart. This isn’t a challenge; this is just flat out a bad design (when you force the player to leave). I can’t count the number of co-op games I’ve tried and within 30 seconds all players leave because the Mayhem mods are just absurd. While the concept of the Mayhem system is solid, it needs serious refinement Ultimately, players want consistency with Mayhem, and it makes sense to base the rewards on the combined difficulty values vs. having a generic base that applies evenly to every combination.

Level Auto-scaling is a nice feature built into the game. Once you complete the main storyline, when you activate any Mayhem setting, all of the monsters are scaled to your level, no matter where you go. This allows players to continue playing Normal difficulty and focus on completing side quests without having to start the main storyline over again (which also allows for boss farming).

There are a ton of Challenges in BL3; so many, it’s hard to keep track. Challenges reward between 1 and 10 Eridium for completion. There are also specific challenges tied to zone completion (such as find all the red chests or typhoon dead drops). Core challenges outside of Zones include Combat, Enemies, Weapons, Manufactures and “Other”. What it comes down to is just play the game and you’ll always be working on and completing challenges. To view all the core challenges, you need to be in map mode and zoom all the way out. Drilling down on planets and zones will focus on area-specific challenges. Challenges are character specific.

BL3 also has a Mark Target feature (by pressing X) which is very useful in Multiplayer when you want to communicate to the team a target to attack (or a location to go).

Maximum power!

Economy

There are three forms of Currency in BL3: Cash, Eridium and Golden Keys. Cash drops from most enemies and is found in chests. It’s used to buy items/ammo/health from vendor machines, respec your skills, buy slot expansions from Marcus, and is deducted when you die. The display cap is $99,999,999, but money will continue to accumulate beyond this value. Eridium drops from bosses and Anointed enemies, is awarded for challenge completions, and is used to buy items from Crazy Earl (similar to BL2), including weapons and visual enhancements, decorations, emotes, etc. Golden Keys function the same way they did in BL2, allowing the player to unlock the Golden Chest on the Sanctuary Ship to receive “awesome items” at the character’s current level. Golden Keys are only acquired by submitting SHIFT codes occasionally posted by Gearbox. Note all of Crazy Earl’s weapons for Eridium are Anointed.

There is player Trading in BL3. It can only be done either by mailing items to people on your friends list, or with other players standing in front of you (in multiplayer mode). The act of trading with another player is a simple transaction of each party offering an item and accepting. But how does one go about finding people to trade with? Either join random games, or visit the the Gearbox Forums (for example the PC Online Trading Post). In these forums, a player can post an item they’re looking for and if another has it, the two can connect either directly in the game or via the Epic Message System. Cross platform play/trading is not currently supported.

Technical

BL3 is a very technically complex product. It’s multi-platform, seamlessly connects people to play together, and has to synchronize with the cloud for updates and saves. Regardless, the release of BL3 saw a plethora of Bugs and Performance Issues, primarily on console systems. Since I’m on PC, I only experienced a few crashes, and have seen the UI “lag” issue where UI rendering slows the game down. Ultimately, my gameplay hasn’t been hindered by any technical issues other than the few crashes, however many people have reported losing characters and their stash items on PC. The cause is unknown (i.e. it could be the Epic client synch system vs. BL3), but I hope it’s resolved soon. Monsters are also getting stuck in the walls in phases of Circle of Slaughter, which is preventing players from completing the levels.

There is one critical flaw with the PC BL3 client, and it’s a doozie. The game client uses 98% of the GPU and 25% of the CPU… while paused and minimized. This is unacceptable, and for developers, unforgivable. I guarantee BL3 is responsible for killing some video cards as gamers either pause the game or minimize it and leave it in that state in a hot environment for 10+ hours. Gearbox should never have released the game with this lack of CPU and GPU management when in a paused or minimized state. There’s really no excuse for it.

Amara’s Phaselock is no joke…

Next we have the Hotfix system. The first hotfix was released less than a week after the game came out. It mainly addressed loot drops (way too many legendaries were dropping at end-game), but the way it was applied left the gaming community scratching their head. The hotfix would only apply after you waited for a bit of time when the game was loaded OR if you returned to the main menu after playing. If you started the game and immediately began to play, the hotfix was ignored, and whenever you hit ESC you would get this message “there are new updates available. Would you like to return to the main menu to apply them?” It was ridiculous. Other players just turned off their internet and continued to farm legendary items at their ridiculously high drop rates. Talk about a complete failure by Gearbox to properly “patch” the issue.

Now let’s talk about the good parts. The Graphics are great for the Borderlands franchise. The evolution of the shader engine and the unique look of the game is fantastic, and I couldn’t be happier with the visual presentation of the game. Running a 1080GTX, I never had any real slowdown issues except when playing multiplayer and having the screen full of particles; and even when that happened, the slowdown was only for a few hundred milliseconds. There are issues with the game’s color (shaders) and being unable to see enemies due to dark blending, but my understanding is Gearbox has acknowledged this and plans on addressing the issue by enhancing the shaders. The Space and Planet detail is also top notch; you can actually see the gas giant clouds swirling when you’re orbiting Eden-6.

A quick note about the DirectX 12 support; enabling this breaks the game for most players, causing a long 5+ minute (or longer) loop of Claptrap bouncing across the screen. I recommend staying away from DX12 until Gearbox fixes the problem.

Borderlands is known for some of the most unique and nostalgic Music of any gaming franchise, and this is due to incredibly talented musicians. Both Jesper Kyd and Michael McCann have done a fantastic job, and are joined by Finishing Move (Brian Lee White and Brion Trifon). The Heavy did the Theme for BL3 (Put it on the Line), which is fantastic. The sound track for BL3 is the best yet and absolutely top notch, ranging from ambiance, environmental and even situational. My favorite song is Hold on by Animal Fiction, which plays while you’re driving through Meridian and it’s probably the best event-based musical fit for the entire game (and will probably be the most memorable music track next to the theme). I’m not sure if Animal Fiction made this song specifically for BL3, but it rocks. The only song that wasn’t any good was the final Girl on Fire by Alicia Keys, which has lyrics that could have been written by a middle-schooler. Seriously, the song starts “She’s just a girl, and she’s on fire.” and continues “Hotter than a fantasy… this girl is on fire … this girl is on fire… she’s walking on fire…” Seriously. And the music video is even worse. I’m surprised Gearbox accepted this poor level of musical distress as the epilogue track. If this was Alicia’s first song, she never would have had a career.

Beyond the music, the overall Sound and FX have been greatly enhanced with BL3; the game sounds amazing, even more alive than BL2. Ranging from creature and bandit sounds to the pop of headshots and sploosh of corrosive acid eating the flesh of your enemies, environments also have enhanced sound, improving the immersion factor even more.

The Multiplayer aspect of BL3 was designed to simplify and quickly connect players together so they could play with just a few clicks. The overall system works well, and those looking to adventure with others can randomly be matched with other players in less than 30 seconds (sometimes even less than 10 depending on what you’re looking to do). Managing Friends and sending items is also very easy. I cover the multiplayer aspect of the game below in more detail, but from a technical perspective, it’s solid and works well. Killing bandits with friends (or even strangers) is easier than ever in BL3.

Still plenty of Challenges to unlock on Eden-6!

Community

Gearbox did something next-level in support of the community with the launch of BL3, and that was empowering interactive streaming for Twitch with the ECHOcast Extension. This custom extension allows streamers to share their builds, share loot they found with their viewers, and even empower player votes to impact a streamers experience (enhancing badass monsters, for example). I can’t emphasize how cool this is, and I hope it sets a standard for future releases.

The Gearbox Forums and BL3 Subreddit are the most active communities in support of the game, and there is a lot of activity. I do wish there was more of a community interactive outreach standard between Gearbox and the public in the forums and on Reddit.

There are two community layers with the release of BL3. The first is the Epic Game Platform (EGP), and the second is the Friends system within BL3 itself. While the EGP does synchronize friends within BL3, messages sent through the EGP do not show up in-game, and while players can chat while in a group in BL3, they can’t send messages to players in their friends list (which is a big design defect IMO). Those who are in your friends list (in-game) can only be joined or invited. Another issue is you can’t associate notes with Friends in BL3 or the EGP, so it’s very easy to forget who is who. The game allows people to come together quickly and easily, but then ensures you forget who the people in your friends list are. This is another common sense design oversight by both Gearbox and Epic that needs to be addressed.

The three multiplayer options available for random matching within the game are Campaign, Circle of Slaughter and Proving Grounds. The system easily allows for players to match up for the type of content they want to play. The only issue is Campaign matching will often jump main story missions; for example, I did Campaign-based matchmaking and found myself skipping my current milestone and watching the mid-point of the next key storyline progression video, and I couldn’t go back (even after I left the game). Also, because of the no-skip policy, I couldn’t ESC or skip out of the cutscene. There are also numerous bugs with the Circle of Slaughter levels. Co-op is pretty much broken with the Slaughterstar 3000, and the Cistern of Slaughter drops almost nothing, leaving the Slaughter Shaft as the best (and most fun) co-op slaughter experience. The Proving Grounds all work well and are fun to do with a group, they just don’t drop much in the way of loot at this time.

There is Dueling in the game, but it’s only mutual and with players either via co-op or friends. There is no friendly fire, so the only way to have another player kill you is to duel them; however if you are playing with a griefing player, they could technically shoot barrels next to you to cause damage and death.

My Favorite Character. Horse Head Meditation Powers Enabled!

End Game

There is so much content in BL3 for the average gamer that it’s all about the journey, and the journey is fantastic. It can take a power gamer more than 18 hours just to complete the first playthrough (storyline) with one character, and then there’s TVHM for the 2nd playthough with Mayhem settings. This means the average gamer probably has 20-30 hours of play time for each playthrough; perhaps even more for those who want to overlevel and do as many side quests as possible before reaching end-game. Most players prefer to stay in Normal in Mayhem 1-3 until 50 before they start TVHM so the items that drop for each quest are L50. And there’s four different classes one can take through this process, so technically, we’re looking at more than 200 hours of play time just in leveling up characters, not including legendary and Guardian XP farming.

But for those who love their class and build and want to play it after completing the storyline on Normal and TVHM, what does the game offer? There are four core areas of focus for end-game:

  1. Legendary Farming. The best places for this are bosses and Slaughter Shaft. It can take quite some time to find the exact item you’re looking for, especially if you want a specific anointed mod.
  2. Guardian Rank Leveling takes place no matter what content you’re doing; but some players want to focus on leveling it up to the 15% max for each stat, which takes a long, long time. The Slaughter Shaft is currently the best end-game XP.
  3. Challenge & Quest Completion is always an option for people who want to see and experience everything.
  4. Replaying Content in Mayhem 1-3 is also an option and can make the game very challenging while increasing the legendary drop potential.

Unfortunately, there is currently no real money or Eridium sink at end-game. There are slot machines, but it’s more enjoyable to go farming for items by killing enemies than pulling a lever.

Promethia has quite the skyline!

Conclusion

I love Borderlands 3. The game is a ton of fun, and despite the technical issues, limited stash space and occasional poor storyline, the vast majority of BL3 is fantastic. I’m not sure I could ever go back to BL2, and that’s a very good thing. Yes, Gearbox could have taken some of the mechanics and features to the next level (such as the Quarters Decorations, for example), and written a better storyline with more convincing villains, but everything just works in the way it’s presented. It’s easy to armchair quarterback a game of this scope, with the exceptionally detailed world, awesome music, engaging combat and fun replayability. What it really comes down to is BL3 worth the price, and is it what players wanted in the next installment of the series? Yes and yes. Here’s to Gearbox growing, refining, balancing and enhancing what is definitely the best Borderlands release we’ve seen.

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