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Borderlands 3 Review: More Guns Ain't Enough

Borderlands 3 is the latest in the series that invented the term "looter shooter." BL3 is a co-op open-world first-person shooter RPG from Gearbox, the developers of, well, Borderlands. It's been 7 years since Borderlands 2, and the threequel offers updated visuals, new character classes, multiple planets to explore, and oh yeah, a billion guns.

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Borderlands 3 seems so intent on "giving fans what they want" that they've almost completely neglected to push the series forward in any kind of meaningful way. BL3 feels like a pretty update that doesn't take into account the gameplay mechanics and quality of life features players have come to expect in 2019 games. There's a lot of cool new things, but a lot more tired old things that, unfortunately, haven't changed.

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Improvements: Gunplay, Environments, And Variety

It isn't fair to say Borderlands 3 is just more of the same. This is without a doubt the best version of Borderlands to date. Nostalgia goggles aside, BL3's gunplay feels tighter, more responsive, and has more variety than ever before. The addition of sliding and mantling goes a long way in giving players tools to traverse the battlefield, and the weapons are genuinely fun to shoot.

This is a bit of a strange aside, but I've mentioned this to a few people and they all agreed: the force feedback for the controller in this game is insane. I played on PC with a PS4 controller, and my co-op partner played with an Xbox One controller, and we were both blown away by how many different ways the rumble conveyed sensations in the game. Every gun feels different to shoot and taking hits can be felt separately through the controller even when unloading your weapon. I highly encourage you to play this game with a controller, as the haptics are the best I've ever experienced.

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I loved exploring the four planets in Borderlands 3 as well. I couldn't wait to get off of the Mad Max wasteland of Pandora to see what else what out there. The other three planets each had a striking identity and were fun to explore. There is a bit of a pacing issue, however. After leaving Pandora, you'll visit the next 2 planets for a chapter or two and then spend at least half the game on the fourth planet, Eden 6. I thought Eden 6 was gorgeous and all the best characters are there, but I was pretty tired of returning so many times in a row.

The weapon variety is, without a doubt, the biggest draw of Borderlands 3. Learning the nine different manufacturers is essential to understand what a gun is going to do when you pick it up, but oftentimes, weapons will have bonus properties that often aren't revealed until you start using it. This creates constant moments of awe and discovery every time you get a new gun (which is constant), and I had a blast experimenting with loadouts and trying out new weapons. It can be a little frustrating when the weapon description doesn't really explain what the gun does, but the trade off is those moments of discovery, which I appreciated.

Seven Years Later, It Still Feels Like 2012

No one should have really expected Borderlands 3 to reinvent what Borderlands is. There's nothing wrong with "more Borderlands" and giving players what they expect. I didn't want BL3 to be a different kind of game, I just wanted a better version of BL2 and, for the most part, it is that. What BL3 fails to improve upon, unfortunately, are a number of systems that, at times, make the game unbearable. These have been a problem for the series all along, and it's disappointing to see no attention paid to improving them.

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Inventory management is as horrid as it's ever been. I adopted a policy of "pick up everything and switch out anything that sucks as soon as possible," because combing through weapons for incremental upgrades became a tiring chore. Enemies drop A LOT of guns, and if you would like to inspect them you can either (A) line up your camera and slowly make your way around the battlefield examining the stat card on each one or (B) use your extremely limited inventory space to pick up as much as you can and inspect it later.

Here's an idea: how about a filter that only shows me guns that are upgrades for me? What about a "pick up as scrap" option that marks weapons I pick up, so I can instantly sell them at a vending machine? Gearbox could have done a lot more to make inventory management not be such a frustrating task.

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The map is atrocious, this is a topic that probably deserves it's own feature, because it's really inexcusable in 2019. Quest markers are almost impossible to see, you can't switch quests while looking at the map, the mini-map is so zoomed in that it's useless, and while moving your cursor around the map, it will constantly snap back to random waypoints. The map is the single most frustrating part of BL3 and there's really no need for it to be so bad.

Then there's the writing, which is admittedly decisive, but boy is it rough. It's as if the Borderlands brand is jokes that never ever land and they feel beholden to it. I genuinely laughed a couple of times, but that was only after 10+ hours grinding the story when my brain had turned to mush.

Poop And Explosion

It seems like a cheap answer, but after 25 hours with Borderlands 3, I can say definitively that if you like Borderlands, you'll like Borderlands 3, and if you have problems with the series, all of those problems are present in BL3. I am not a Borderlands fan, but I will say that I enjoyed a good portion of it, especially in co-op. It's way too long, the story is nothing to write home about, and there's a lot of frustrating systems, but I'm a warm blooded American man, and I enjoy shooting monsters in the face with irradiated rockets, then chucking my rocket launcher and watching it march over to a psycho and explode. If any part of that sentence resonated with you, then Borderlands 3 is probably right up your alley.

4 Out Of 5 Stars

A review copy of Borderlands 3 was provided to TheGamer. Borderlands 3 is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

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