Borderlands 3 gets off to a fairly rough start. The starting environment, Pandora, has been featured heavily in prior games of the series, and thusly feels overused, stale; originality is lacking. The opening hours are slow and unremarkable, the deserts and landscapes mimicry of what has come before. True from a technical perspective the graphics have been improved greatly, with much higher resolution textures, and a larger draw distance. Creatively, the environments have also seen a sharp rise in quality. But based off the starting area, this creatively appears lacking, the drab environments unappealing. Why they chose to start the game in such an unimaginative area is beyond me. Borderlands 2, whilst taking place exclusively on Pandora, at least opened in a compelling environment, with towering mountains, auroras in the sky, and a chilly, wintry feel. It was intriguing and engaging from the first, in contrast to the Pandora from this title. Soon, though the game opens up beautifully. Once the spaceship, Pandora III, is constructed, rapid travel is enabled; the ship, with its speed, permits planet hopping. With access to new areas, the impressive creatively shows itself in force. The second environment introduced, Promethea, is very compelling; urban, dense, futuristic – it is wonderful, totally distinct from Pandora. A third planet, Athenas, also becomes visitable. Equally compelling and arresting, it has a decidedly Oriental atmosphere. Getting past the hurdle of Pandora, the world design shows itself to be diverse and fantastic. This creativity is, so far, the game’s greatest strength. Sadly, these environments are forced to compensate for a plot that is bland and forgettable.
The greatest objective is gaining entrance into the mythical Vault, with its riches and treasures – and the renown which accompanies its discovery. The antagonists – the Calypso twins – strongly lean towards the irritating rather than the intimidating. The female twin is characterized by her overwhelming obnoxiousness, while her brother seems totally undeveloped, though hints are made of a sibling rivalry existing between them. Their character designs are bizarre, though admittedly, the voice acting is fine, even as the writing is abysmal. Whatever their truer motivations, at this point they seem to be merely an inconvenient obstacle rather than a threat. Fortunately, for the most part they are in the background, communicating irregularly with the Vault Hunter, usually to make some kind of annoying quip or commentary, destroying any possible endearment. I am hopeful, though, that their past will be elaborated upon; every story, no matter the medium, should have a compelling antagonist. Right now, the game is completely failing in this aspect.
There are thrown into the mix characters from the prior games in the series, adding nostalgic variety. Zero and Maya appear, and while they are fun to fight alongside, they disappear too quickly. There are also newer characters like Rhys, who exists largely for comic relief (in a game with an obnoxious overabundance of comedy), and a few others, like a crass, coffee loving female dwelling on Promethea. None of them are particularly memorable, though their voice acting is also expectantly impressive. But rather than being a fairly straightforward quest for the vault, there are a great many diversions along the way; the mentioned Rhys, owner of the Atlas corporation, is in a brutal duel with the head of the Maliwan corporation. They fight, the vault hunter assisting Rhys. This arbitrary diversion consumes several narratively uneventful hours. While the narrative seems too winding, I did at least enjoy from a gameplay perspective this break from the central plot. The loss of focus is typically a bad thing, but here the mission diversions seem to develop the world and its characters.
The side quests have been very memorable. In the previous games, there was present an overwhelming, overabundance of side quests, many of them lackluster and uninspired, serving as glorified grinding sessions with zero narrative contribution. Here, though, the sheer number of quests seems to have been pared back. Accompanying this down-sizing is a marked increase in terms of complexity. Objectives which may at first seem trivial grow steadily more involving. Fetching a cup of coffee – which at first sounds mundane and boring – quickly becomes more than a simple fetch quest, gradually involving the acquisition of a cup, the activation of a barista bot, eventual delivery of the mentioned coffee – it is impressive. In another mission for that same quest-giver, a hamburger is desired, this task quickly blossoming in complexity. This seemingly simple side content develops not only the world, but also some of the characters. Lorelei, who desires these mentioned items, speaks of coffee and hamburgers as the cornerstones of society, and provides some humor that actually evokes laughter rather than an evoking a cringe or indifferent shrug. Unfortunately, in these moments – and throughout the game – there is limited character movement and nearly nonexistent emoting. This prevents any cinematic qualities from developing, which is unfortunate; I have always preferred traditional, scripted cutscenes to the way the story is presented here, which really hinders the effectiveness of the narrative.
As is expected, there is a dizzyingly massive number of guns on offer, split across eight or nine distinctively different manufactures. The weapons are greatly diversified in how they feel, and in the nature of their individual quirks. Some are more viable in the others, with objectively better stats, though I placed some emphasis on how exactly the guns handle, rather than solely basing my decision around statistics. Experimentation is encouraged, and I have tried to experiment somewhat, but I suppose I haven’t gone far enough, falling back on the same two or three manufacturers, particularly Jakobs and Dahl, which actually behave most like traditional guns; they are solid and fun to shoot. Zane – the character I chose to play as – has very enjoyable action skills, though they don’t really require much active management. Also, there seems to be a notably strange, slight imbalance here. In prior games, the main quests required a bit of grinding to reach the recommended level, to even have a shot at success. Here, though, in focusing on these compelling side quests, I briefly found myself somewhat over-levelled, enemies becoming relatively trivial and easy to defeat. There is an imbalance in difficulty, though things stabilize rather quickly. Again regarding the guns: I hope in the future to break out of my habit of employing such a small variety of weaponry. This may prevent the game from becoming stale and should contribute to my overall level of enjoyment.
Even if the story never develops further complexity, the antagonists never become interesting, or the humor devolves completely towards the obnoxious, I am certain I will have a somewhat satisfying time with the title, with its spectacular gunplay, mobility, and complex skill systems and character building. With the quality of life improvements like increased movement fluidity, the title seems suitably modernized. The standout, creative environments, too, are something else to look forward to. While knowing I will get no intellectual stimulation from the plot, I am still excited to continue my playthrough, driven by the superb moment to moment gameplay. My greatest fear, though, is that the repetitious shall set in. I hope this is not so.
One thought on “Borderlands 3 – Impressions 2”
I haven’t played this game, but I loved Borderlands 2. Going by your review and others that I’ve seen and read, I don’t think I will enjoy it as mush as Borderlands 2, but still would like to play it one day