Borderlands 3 – Impressions 1

Echoing very closely the openings from the previous games, a brief, artsy cutscene begins the narrative, with voice-over by the series’ trademark, greedy capitalist Marcus. “So, you want to hear a story?” We’ve heard this multiple times now, but his voice acting is of such a quality that it really isn’t aggravating. An in-engine cutscene soon plays after, showing off the bandits, and the vicious, dog-like skags, both iconic hallmarks of the series, right alongside old Marcus himself. This has all been done before, though the new vault hunters seem decidedly unique in terms of appearance; great originality is on offer here, with a mechanical, robotic being on offer, or a female gunner who can pilot a powerful mech. Basically, they seem fresh. This diversity is impressive and belies a certain flexibility and complexity, exciting to consider. Ultimately, I elected to choose Zane, finding his design to be endearing, this sense of endearment only furthered by his charming British accent. No matter the level of quality regarding voice acting, though, there is very little player engagement, with no dialogue options or anything of the sort present.

Once the cutscene plays out, the player character chosen, the game immediately splinters into the nonsensical. The siren, Lilith, who has played a prominent role in the previous games, is introduced here, as a sort of leader and primary mission-giver. Zane (or whoever) has been recruited into her affiliation, The Crimson Raiders. What exactly their ultimate objective is, I am not quite certain. There is no real guidance or direction in the narrative so far, the player doing basic tasks, learning the fundamentals of combat whilst going up against weaker threats. Just a brief time later, one of the game’s antagonists is introduced – Tyreen Calypso, who is anything but threatening, veering quickly towards the obnoxious. If a foe poses no real threat, or has no compelling explanation for hostility, they are not compelling. Tyreen, then, is in no ways compelling. With her overwhelming streamer persona, her lines are immensely cringe-worthy. The voice acting is fine, sure, but the writing is abysmal. I can only hope her motivations are fleshed at out further as the plot progresses. As it is, I am indifferent and uninterested. Critically, though, these games have never been primarily about the narrative experience, or the crafting of compelling heroes. At the end of the day, it is the gameplay that matters.

            How is the gameplay? I find it to be vey engrossing. The series’ trademark armory of innumerable weaponry persists here, weapons divided by rarity. There is a lot to consider here, from the variety of weapon types through to more detailed minutia, things like magazine size, scopes, and recoil all factoring into consideration. Some guns are objectively bad, or at least unexciting. White rarity guns can easily be dismissed, often having very weak stats, immediately rendered ineffective. The stronger, higher rarity weapons often have unique quirks. A shotgun I collected, for instance, spawned a grenade at certain intervals, while the majority of weapons have alternate firing modes. A semiautomatic machine gun and be altered to fire in bursts, the scope level similarly changing. These inclusions only increase the flexibility of combat options available to the player, and really brings about a sense of depth.  Inventory management is very critical, and luckily the U.I. for such things is very well designed. The game is very focused around weaponry, but if the guns weren’t satisfying to shoot, that focus would be meaningless. Here, the gunplay is very satisfying, and there is a far greater deal of feedback available, with the inclusion of hitmarkers. It is a subtle change, but it has a big impact on gameplay. The violence is similarly impressive, exaggerated to an almost comedic level. There is a fair variety of enemy types on offer, all with unique attack patterns to consider. Despite this diversity, there isn’t a great deal of tactical maneuvering or calculation required. True, it is important to be aware of shield level, constantly keeping an eye on it to know when to retreat to cover. But beyond this, it is primarily the stats of the weapons which matter. Player skill does factor into the engagement, but it is the numbers which truly dictate things.

 Beyond gunplay, the various skill trees and action skills are well-developed and thought out. Zane, for instance, can summon a clone to provide suppressive fire, or launch a flying drone into the air, to pursue enemies and pepper them with gunfire. Managing the cooldowns of these varied abilities does add another level of depth, fundamental to success. Another attempt at modernization has been made with regards to the movement systems. An exaggerated slide has been introduced, increasing mobility, though its usefulness is negligible; it is extremely situational. More importantly, a mantling move has been implemented, increasing basic movement by making many objects scalable. While this helps the combat in theory, enabling flanking and other such maneuvers, it is very clunking and at times even unresponsive, though I am sure I will adjust. This mantling is more helpful when used for exploration, when the tension is lessened and less frantic. These modernizations are welcome.

            My greatest fear with regards to this title is that repetition will quickly set in. While the gameplay is admittedly solid, there seems little variety, with an overreliance on traditional combat encounters, with focus on little else. True, there is the expected vehicle combat, and all of the vehicles I have unlocked so far have been intuitive, easy, and enjoyable to control, but even this inclusion serves only slightly to break up the monotony of the primary objectives. The unfocused, dull narrative doesn’t help things either. There is no stealth system at work here, and likely no truly cinematic cutscenes to further the narrative, the characters therein already striking me as being cliched and obnoxious. It is very easy to criticize a title for having rather low ambitions, particularly narratively. I personally enjoy a stirring story, a game which has some lesson to impart, or a game with interesting and intriguing characters; protagonists should have clear motivations, I feel, while the antagonists need be either despicable or relatable – something like that has to be present for a game to truly resonate with me. I don’t see Borderlands 3 as offering any of those things. But that’s ok. Games can become a form of escapism, mindless escapism, and this game, focused solely around that fantastic gameplay loop of looting and shooting, undeniably provides a diversion from the perils of our modern world. It is dumb, stupid fun, with crass humor, which will inevitably grow dated. But I love it for what it is and am excited to continue my playthrough. There’s a lot of content here, and thusly a lot of potential.

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