Wireframe

Borderlands 3 review - grates, not great

By Richard Wakeling. Posted

Whether or not you enjoy Borderlands 3 will largely depend on how effectively you can endure its humour before wanting to jab a screwdriver through your ears. That might sound like hyperbole in a game that’s all about shooting things, but the humour in Gearbox’s latest is so frequent and plentiful that it’s almost impossible to ignore.

Sure, some decent jokes manage to squeeze through the cracks due to the sheer volume of rapid-fire gags, but Borderlands 3 mostly consists of dire juvenile humour that bites into the lowest hanging fruit as though it were malnourished, relying on bad dick jokes, dated references, and utterly obnoxious characters.

It’s uniformly terrible and one-note, which is a shame, because the series’ core mechanical loop of looting and shooting is still intrinsically satisfying, even if Borderlands 3 is distinctly retrograde in its sensibilities.

You’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve played it all before when the game opens up on the drab wasteland planet of Pandora as Claptrap yatters away. It even has the exact same ‘Pis off’ graffiti written on the sides of buildings, just in case you wanted to feel like it’s 2009 all over again.

The rest of the game follows a straightforward structure, whereby you receive uninspired quests from annoying NPCs that task you with going to a place to shoot people, going to a place to pick up an object, or going to a place to shoot people and pick up an object.

The proliferation of Diablo-infused looter shooters in the years since Borderlands 2 means the draw of the series’ core conceit isn’t as strong as it once was. The easiest way to know whether you’ll enjoy playing Borderlands 3 is to go and play one of its predecessors.

Borderlands 3 has a habit of giving you AI companions. They’re not noticeable during combat, but you will have to wait for them to open doors.

There are a few new traversal moves that you’ll forget exist after 20 minutes, but otherwise, Borderlands 3 is essentially more of the same. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, mainly because shooting folks in the head with a wide array of eccentric weaponry is still inherently gratifying.

You might use the meaty punch of a Jakobs shotgun to launch enemies into the air so you can juggle them with a few extra shots, discover a Tediore SMG that you can chuck at an enemy’s skull once the clip runs dry, or shoot a gun that literally shoots guns.

Borderlands 3’s weapons are the stars of the show, and the pace of progression means you’ll always have some kind of new armament to experiment with every half hour or so.

There’s a decent variety of enemies, too, though their tactics, or lack thereof, never really encourage you to break away from the tried and true method of shooting onrushing foes in the head, throwing grenades, and using your class’ Action Skill the second it recharges. It’s mindless fun, full of DPS numbers and big red ‘Critical’ visuals preceding every well-placed shot.

The variety of guns and the random attributes associated with them prop up the repetitive action to a point where you can play the entire 30-hour campaign without losing much interest. The diverse selection of planets you visit over the course of the story certainly helps with this, too.

The dystopian metropolis of Promethea is an aesthetic far cry from the vivid mountaintop temples of Athenas or the swampy jungles of Eden-6, even if nothing about their level design encourages you to alter your play style in any way.

The narrative, meanwhile, relies on your excitement for seeing returning characters show up, deliver bad one-liners, and then disappear with zero fanfare. The overarching plot predictably revolves around finding vault keys to open vaults, as out of touch parodies of YouTubers called the Calypso Twins settle into their roles as the main villains.

Vehicle handling is slightly improved, but vehicular combat is still dull and thankfully infrequent. You’ll wish there were more fast travel points.

The evil twins show up every now and then to remind you to “Like, follow, and obey.” It’s all very “How do you do, fellow kids?”, and neglects to offer any social commentary on the negative effect actual YouTubers can have on their fans. Instead, it opts to paint them as over-the-top, cynical monsters. They’re a far cry from the depth and excellence of Handsome Jack.

Part of the reason Borderlands 3’s humour grates so much is because it follows Telltale’s brilliant Tales from the Borderlands. That episodic adventure was both funny, and created multilayered characters that were complex and interesting.

Take Rhys and Vaughn as prime examples; fascinating characters that appear in Borderlands 3 with almost no personality at all, they’re simply one-dimensional vehicles for bad jokes. Rhys’s entire arc is about his moustache, while all Vaughn can talk about are his abs and underwear. Beyond this, jokes boil down to a guy doing a Tommy Wiseau impression for 20 minutes, or seeing characters called Wick and Warty, where the entire joke is understanding a reference.

There’s one mission where a character talks endlessly about a guy’s small penis, and another where you have to listen to a woman making ape mating noises – which basically just involves lots of shrieking – for the entirety of a combat encounter.

A prime example of Borderlands 3’s uninspired design is this VR mission that just adds a blue filter and replays a previous location.

Borderlands 3 is a lesson in how to annoy the player through audio alone, taking a gag that could’ve been 30 seconds long and extending it over ten minutes.

There’s even a reference to the USB stick related to a recently dismissed lawsuit brought against Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford, just in case you were getting comfortable in separating the art from the artist.

There’s so much downtime where you’re forced to listen to characters talk at you. The relief when you finally get back to shooting guns with ludicrous attributes that turn everyone into a crimson mist is palpable.

Borderlands 3 excels in this one area: providing you with a consistent stream of guns with which to cause mayhem and destruction. The vapid story and irritating voice work just get in the way. Still, at least there’s a mute button.

Highlight

Borderlands 3 always manages to elicit a dopamine rush after you’ve killed a boss and a downpour of loot rains from the sky. Seeing the golden tinge of a legendary weapon is doubly exciting, especially when you realise it’s a souped-up version of your weapon of choice.

Verdict: 60%

Borderlands 3 offers the best and worst parts of the series, along with very little that’s actually new.

Genre: FPS
Format: PS4 (tested) / XBO / PC
Developer: Gearbox Software
Publisher: 2K Games
Price: £49.99
Release: Out now

From Wireframe store

Subscribe