Borderlands 3 Review – Another One (But Actually It’s Quite Good)
I was worried about the main enemies in Borderlands 3. Previous Borderlands games set a precedent where the primary enemy has to call you on the phone every twenty minutes to tell you what a dumb shithead you are for opposing them. As with most power creep in these franchises, the main enemy must become even eviler than the previous. But who could possibly be more evil than the genocidal corporate warlord Handsome Jack? To gearbox, the only thing more dangerous and depraved than a deranged CEO is a deranged twitch streamer.
The Calypso Twins, Tyreen and Troy, are the new enemies in Borderlands 3. Both sirens (more or less), they have gained online popularity by live-streaming their gruesome murders across the galaxy. Using their insta-clout, they’ve traveled across Pandora, uniting the bandits under one flag in the manner of the Khans. The bandits, former employees of corporations that have been abandoned on the border worlds, are drawn in by their twisted allure. The twins give them purpose, a shining beacon in a hopeless universe. They call themselves the Children of the Vault. Their goal is to find the legendary Great Vault, and they plan to kill anyone who stands in their way. And a lot of other people too.
Borderlands 3 raises an interesting critique of the colossal presence parasocial relationships have in our 21st-century culture. Whom amongst us has not coped with our massive isolation in the modern world by subconsciously forming a connection with media figures? We may not even really recognize it. The biggest and most successful streamers are the ones that make you feel like their friend. Pewdiepie has around 25 billion total views, in no small part to fist-bumping subscribers through the screen and speaking as if they are in the same room. Real-life relationships are being replaced with synthetic online friends. It begs to question, “What effect this has on our collective consciousness? Does on-demand social validation erode the meaningfulness of real-life friendships? Does it erode our sense of reality?”
On the flip side, the streamers must realize that online fame has a relatively short half-life. And like SoundCloud rappers who get increasingly ridiculous face tattoos to stand out, the Calypso Twins need to increase their level of violence for the entertainment of their insatiable followers. These fake-ass clout chasing mass murderers must murder more masses in their quest to become god-emperors. Indeed, they as well need their relationship with their followers to give them a purpose. Tyreen, the more powerful of the twins, refers to her brother as a ‘parasite.’ But to feed on their billions of worshipers, figuratively and literally, are media figures not more parasite than deity?
If you weren’t expecting a deep metaphoric representation of the social psyche, I understand. This is, after all, a Gearbox game; the same people that brought you Duke Nukem Forever have now unintentionally brought you a Straussian thesis in the form of a goofy FPS. These cultural critiques are merely the backdrop for Borderlands 3. More likely they thought streaming was relevant and wanted a streamer girl enemy who would send you cringe compilations of you getting owned. Borderlands has never been one to delve deep into their themes of environmentalism or corporatocracy. But Borderlands 3 uses these themes to paint a much more in-depth picture of this universe, more so than any game prior. Not only do we get to explore Pandora, but at long last, we see other planets (yes I know about the goddamn moon that doesn’t count). From the besieged cyberpunk city that is Atlas headquarters to the verdant swamp that houses the Jakobs lumber mill, Borderlands 3 brings fresh new places and stories for you to explore and then kill everything in.
The writing, in my opinion, is what sets Borderlands 3 apart from the rest of the random-loot-picker-upper genre. Story choices for the Borderlands games have been always been unorthodox; a strange mix of Mad Magazine-esque poo poo shit pee humor and cultural memes that probably won’t age all too well. Many players may find themselves rolling their eyes at some of the hackneyed writing and low-hanging fruit. But these set the stage for the series. If every line was hilarious, you’d get burnt out pretty quick. The contrast between the lame dad jokes and the genius bits make the writing work. Some truly great humor unearths itself when it needs to most. And this is to say nothing of the intricate and absurd narratives that carry the game along. Perhaps this too goes with their thesis of a society obsessed with dissociative escapism. Creating a new version of reality in your head—where the events in your life are not the product of the cruel and chaotic world of which we are trapped—and forming false associations with sitcom-like stories you are familiar with. Rest assured, Gearbox has continued to improve on their storytelling.
The gameplay is fairly standard, with a few small updates. You go from zone to zone shooting everything so you can put as many guns in your pocket as possible. Then you go find a vending machine, sell, and repeat. There’s really not a whole lot more to Borderlands 3’s gameplay than that. It’s the same tried and true Diablo-style loot system. For every good weapon, there are twenty useless weapons. The vending machine is the only character in the game you truly interact with; they even are programmed to converse with you. Sure, you may have your friends join the game as well, but at the end of the day, this is a game about shallow self-enrichment and incessant greed. Pandora is nothing more than crabs in a bucket, and here we crabs are, killing everyone and everything for the chance of a purple rarity gun. Is this a reflection of our indentured servitude reminiscent lives? Are we not dominated by those of us who are the most ruthless and conniving in their neverending quest for capital? Anyways in Borderlands 3 this endless cycling through different weapons can get stale sometimes, especially near the beginning. Thankfully, the parts for the random gun generator gives it a lot more depth this time around.
Mechanically, there are some new additions to the gameplay. Each character now has a choice between a number of various abilities, as well as modifiers for each. For instance, as Amara, you can either leap in the air and perform a slam attack, or you can make an ethereal hand reaching out of the ground and incapacitate an enemy for a few seconds. As Moze, you can change the ordinance for your mech. On top of that you can make the attacks deal elemental damage, or heal you, or a number of other interesting adjustments. One of my major problems with Destiny 2 was that the special abilities were pretty bad, powers such as summoning a magic gun that for some reason only has three bullets. Uhh cool, I guess. The customization for your abilities in Borderlands 3 gives you the freedom to adjust them to your liking and will absolutely inspire new and interesting builds for each character. There’s plenty of replayability.
And speaking of adjustments, many weapons in Borderlands 3 now have some form of alternate firing mode. Most are pretty simple. These are like changing between two elements for your shots, or an under-barrel taser. Some are much more interesting. Who doesn’t want an alternative fire for your sniper rifle that makes it a Gatling gun, or a double barrel minigun assault rifle? Alas, for the most part, the damage output stays about the same. The candle that shoots twice as many bullets burns half as long, after all. No matter how much we try to vary our actions, to change the course of our lives, we are all stuck on the same rail spiraling towards oblivion, with only shallow entertainment to distract us from the imminent abyss. In spite of this, even without a significant change in damage, it still adds another layer of immersion that makes the gameplay feel a lot more rich.
Now Borderlands 3 is not without faults. There have been a number of issues I have experienced. In split-screen mode, the frame rate takes a massive dive. God help you if your friend wants to open the map while you’re fighting something because for a good five seconds Borderlands becomes a powerpoint slideshow. Split-screen also has microscopic subtitles, so you’ll have to be a foot away from the screen and destroy your retinas to read the description of your weapon. It’s still got the same weird controls for the cars. If you are even a few levels above that of the quest, it’s almost pointless to accept it. And the biggest issue was just how slow the first part of the game is. Obviously I understand the reasoning behind the pacing. I wouldn’t want a game to blow its load too early. But even a good way into the game I was still restricted from equipping class mods and was probably two thirds through before they let me equip the eridian artifact I’d been holding on to for hours. And finally, it’s still a buggy mess. There are some massive and sometimes game-breaking bugs. Thankfully these are pretty rare, though they need to do something about it soon. In spite of all this, the game still whips ass. Each of these problems I can overlook (except the bugs and frame rate, but I imagine that will be fixed soon enough).
The game is long and full of great content. If it weren’t for the bugs, it would be a five-star game. There’s a reason it’s sold double that of Borderlands 2. These are developers who are plugged into the community a lot more than most, and this game is a reflection of that. Borderlands 3 is by far the best game in the series thus far (a series that is already incredible), and I am eagerly awaiting to see the conclusion because that is all I have to give my empty life meaning.
It’s Borderlands, but with more stuff and guns. In a game about stuff and guns, that’s a good thing.