There’s a mission early on in Borderlands 3 that really sets the tone for the whole game and shows off the best and worst parts of it in brilliant detail.
After recovering the dissected brain of a new, minor character, you need to plug it into a virtual reality machine to save her from being mentally tortured.
VR missions, like drug-induced ones, have become something of a staple for modern games where the developer can break way from reality (even the loose reality in Borderlands 3) to go a bit wild and make something new and exciting, even just for one mission.
What happens here, however, is that Borderlands 3 lays a lazy blue filter over the screen, and has you clearing out bad guys in a reused map that you just played through for a story mission. This filter made us – and much of the Borderlands community – feel nebulous, on top of absolutely tanking the already bad performance.
Despite all this we soldiered on because the gameplay is so much fun, and there was the promise of loot at the end.
And if you bail out of reviews early, that’s a summary of the entirety of Borderlands 3: absolutely addictive gameplay that may be the best looter shooter ever made, buried under the same old mission design, poor optimisation and rather uninspired content.
Okay, if you’re stuck around after that break, let’s get into that bold series of statements above.
Once you’ve got control of your character in Borderlands 3, you may be shocked by just how tight, responsive and fun simply walking and shooting is in this game. We replayed some of the most recent Pre-Sequel before jumping into this game, and it’s very clear that the team at Gearbox spent a lot of time and put a lot of love and thought into the core mechanics on offer here.
Shooting has really been honed with every gun being immensely satisfying to use. Even the common guns you get right at the start have great sound design to make each shot meaningful, and enemies are designed to react to them. Guns which have slower bullets may miss shots because enemies will dodge out of the way, and weapons with knock back (like explosives or shotguns) can now hilariously ragdoll enemies. It’s fun to watch and gives you an opportunity to shoot them when they’re down.
With combat being so damn satisfying, you’re naturally drawn to steadily completing missions and looting to expand your arsenal.
And, complementing all of that, is customisable skill trees for all four playable characters. Not only is it fun to spec your character with such a wide range of different abilities, but most unlocks feel meaningful, even the small buffs.
Our favourite of the bunch is Moze, who is accompanied by the Iron Bear mech. Her skill tree revolves around each of the two weapons that can be slotted into Iron Bear’s arms so you can have two different ones, or double up.
In terms of combat and progression, there’s almost nothing not to love.
Unfortunately, it’s now time to get to the bad stuff, which is most of the game outside of combat and progression.
Firstly its the missions you’ll be taking on to get those levels and loot. Everything in Borderlands 3 in this regard just feels so uninspired and archaic. It’s just different variations of fetch quests or “kill X amount of bad things”. Maybe one or two missions deviate from the path, but this is the same stuff we’ve been doing for decades now.
Most if not all of the missions are also accompanied by voice acting the the Borderlands sense of humour. We’re not sure if we’re inoculated against because we’ve been playing this series since 2009, but we really don’t agree with a lot of the community and other reviewers who are absolutely railing against the writing here.
It’s the dumb, sometimes cringey stuff that you’d expect. Does it go on for too long sometimes? Oh definitely. Do a lot of the jokes not land? For sure. Are there some funny moments here? Yes.
Anyone who wants to see an absolute train wreck of bad writing and extremely overdone story should have played Daemon X Machina earlier this month. Now that game is a prime example of absolute unbearable, near unforgivable levels of obnoxious writing.
Borderlands 3 is hit or miss when it comes to story and how it’s delivered by the cast of characters, but we really don’t think it detracts at all from the experience.
What does detract, by a huge amount, is the various technical problems on offer here.
Starting with the audio, and Borderlands 3 is absolutely broken in this regard. Characters’ voice over volume drops off a cliff if you aren’t standing close enough to see the whites of their eyes, and in large battles the craziness overwhelms the audio and the confluence of different sound sources becomes an absolute mess that it uncomfortable to listen too.
Even worse is the player character, who moans at an unbelievably high volume when taking elemental damage. If you have anyone else in the house when this happens, it will seem that you’re watching some particularly violent porn.
The audio issues, however, are minor compared to the terrible performance on offer here. We tested the game on four different PCs of varying specs, and they all failed to provide a smooth experience here.
Problems extend to the consoles too, with thousands of people reporting all manner of problems from poor frame rates, stuttering, crashes, lost game files and much more.
The term “literally unplayable” is thrown around a lot, but we honestly believe that it applies to Borderlands 3 in certain circumstances. The in-game benchmark and FPS counter are just about useless too, since even when those are positively reporting, the gameplay itself may be choppy and slow.
We also suspect that there is some kind of memory leak issue in the game. After about 40 minutes of play performance sinks lower than it already was at start up, which is just enough time to get completely lagged out when facing the boss of a mission.
This, combined with instances like the VR mission, lead us to believe that there was a major lack of QA before Borderlands 3 launched. This is very apparent in the menus you access in the game. Across both console and PC, almost everyone playing this game (including us) report slowdowns, lag and glitching when in these menu.
We’re absolutely blown away by this, because the Borderlands series has always involved hours and hours of inventory and loot management in these menus. How did Gearbox fail to ensure that this important part of its game just doesn’t work properly right now?
Borderlands 3 is a great game, but it’s weighed down by issues both objective (like performance) and subjective (like the humour and mission design).
All we recommend is that those interested in the game wait for performance patches, and hopefully some DLC to add more varied ways to use that superb core gameplay loop.
Borderlands 3 was reviewed on PC with a code provided to us.