Borderlands 3 Review: Loot, Laugh, Love
Borderlands 3 is many things: a fun 30-hour campaign, an unsurpassed loot grind, a technically proficient and satisfying shooter, and funny if you're 12. It's also a great entry point for the series and a love letter to everything that made it the juggernaut it is today.
It's got its issues, of course. The writing quality is inconsistent, and performance leaves something to be desired. These facts haven't deterred thousands of players from diving in and are unlikely to stop thousands more when everything's said and done.
Loot as Far as the Eye Can See
No Borderlands game is built on the back of its narrative, nor even its immature, irreverent humor. People come to the series for the loot game, and if there is anywhere this title nails absolutely everything, it's the loot progression.
Where to even start? If you're familiar with the formula, you know that you'll never want for new guns or gear to equip. Every enemy has a high chance of spawning something. Most of what you'll find is trash, but on the off chance you do find something worthwhile, it can change the game.
At least until you find something else in 10 minutes.
That's a big draw for most fans, too. Unlike a game like Destiny 2, where the loot is more measured and the power scale smoother, in Borderlands 3, with the right drop, you can and will break the game right open.
Every enemy you kill could be the one to drop the perfect roll, even on the lower rarities. A blue-rarity gun might not dominate at the highest difficulties, but if you're lucky, it can and will carry you well past its level.
It's the perfect chase, in many ways. The game shows you how potent one gun can be, but it then dangles a new carrot in front of you. Suddenly, you're questioning everything about your current setup. So you pick up something on a whim and try it out, only to wonder why you ever used anything else.
And it's not just about damage, either. The various equipment types — shields, relics, and class mods — augment your abilities with a weapon and within your class. The most dedicated players will spend hours looking for a single item, killing the same boss over and over so they can find the relic that perfects their build.
The way loot spawns is almost as important as the abilities it provides. The sudden jump of gear as it explodes from enemies is more satisfying than it has any right to be. Plus, the Epic and Legendary gear spawn sounds are subtle but unmistakable. Bosses are especially enjoyable to kill, as their death throes terminate in a massive horde of money, consumables, and gear. No other game can boast anything like it.
The loot variety is also nothing to sneeze at. There are enough weapons and weapon types to keep things interesting for dozens of hours. If you add in the half-dozen weapon subtypes and various mechanical iterations, "billions of guns" sounds like a real possibility.
If Borderlands 3 stopped there, no one would blame it for providing an incredible progression system, but it doesn't stop — instead, it steps on the gas.
With the return of True Vault Hunter Mode (TVHM), you have a NG+ mode with better loot and a way to truly test your gear against the game's toughest enemies. Then you can add in the new Mayhem Mode to increase your looting options even further. It comes complete with combat modifiers, gameplay changes, and smaller tweaks to the formula.
The hits keep coming, too, with two endgame modes — Circle of Slaughter and Prooving Grounds — pushing you to put on a real show. Both will test the limits of your loot and your build, but players are already finding ways to shatter bosses.
And that's how Borderlands is supposed to work.
These Guns Were Made for Shooting
Now, loot is great and all, but it doesn't mean as much if it doesn't change the way you play. And boy, can it ever.
Build variety in Borderlands 3 is incredible, even if the skill trees do try to rein it in somewhat. Melee focus, long-range focus, Ability focus, weapon type focus, grenade focus, life-steal, speed, damage, and so much more — if you can dream it, there's probably a way to build it.
Which is why it's a relief killing enemies with anything and everything is so satisfying. Unlike in previous games, where the shooting was a little clunky, or the movement didn't feel as fluid, everything comes together in Borderlands 3 to create an exhilarating experience.
The guns, for their part, have a real punch to them, and there's a chunky feeling to the heavier weapons that scratches the itch for power in your bullets. Grenades — especially the community-favorite Pipe Bomb — are a great way to turn your enemies into red mist.
Player abilities are all unique, and all effectively fit the characters who use them. Zane's Clone and Drone abilities, for instance, are great for misdirection and battlefield control. Amara's fists show off not only the power of a Siren but also her mentality as someone always looking for a new fight.
Powerful as they are, abilities won't win fights for you on their own. They do enable feats of strength and power you don't find in other games. As with everything in Borderlands 3, if it isn't cranked to 11, it isn't worth having.
A Bridge Too Far
Sadly, there are a few things about Borderlands 3 that get in the way of the experience.
There are two huge elephants in the room: story and character. While many of the game's side characters and friends/enemies you meet along the way are well-written enough, the main drivers of the plot cannot boast such love and care.
The Calypso twins are, to put it mildly, insufferable. Even though you discover why they are the way they are near the game's end, what you learn does little to blunt their sheer obnoxiousness.
That said, the real issue is how little your character has to say about the plot of the game. True, it's your actions that enable the main NPCs' plans to move forward, but you nonetheless spend time doing what you're told. More importantly, in the narrative cutscenes where the Twins and others get their evil on, your Vault Hunter isn't just silent: they're missing.
The number of times the player character could have done something — anything — about the horrid situations they find themselves in is criminal. Only once, at the beginning of the game, is there some barrier between the Vault Hunter and a problem. Almost every other time, if they had just stepped in, events would have played out quite differently.
The narrative's overall weakness isn't helped by how the game runs, either. On PC, framerate drops, hitching, and intermittent crashing are common, as are save corruption errors and other progress blocking-bugs. Console has its own issues to iron out, and we even have a guide on how to fix one of them.
Equipment balance is another pressing issue. If you've spent any time on forums or watching streams, you've seen the damage the Porcelain Pipe Bomb can do to bosses. It's beyond broken in a game meant to be broken, melting endgame bosses in seconds.
These issues, among others, have prompted official responses from both the Borderlands and Gearbox Twitter accounts. No timelines have been given, and in a game this large, something is liable to slip through. That doesn't excuse the bugs and performance problems, but at least they're being addressed.
- Great gunplay, loot, and ability mechanics
- Fantastic worlds filled with interesting side characters and sub-plots
- Irreverent humor that satisfies the kids in all of us
- Mediocre story with annoying main villains and too many missed opportunities
- Performance on PCs and consoles leaves something to be desired
Despite a few glaring flaws and quality-of-life issues (endlessly screaming enemies, for one), Borderlands 3 is one of the best looter-shooter experiences on the market today. No other game can boast the amount of loot, nor the satisfaction of acquiring it all.
The classes on offer are each unique in their way, and their gameplay works in beautiful tandem with the gear you find littered about the world. The guns and grenades and other tools of destruction are almost too much fun to use. Turning an infinite number of bandits into red mist has almost never been this enjoyable.
It's not a perfect game, but it will keep you hooked for way too much time if you give it half a chance.