Borderlands 3 in the test: an (almost) perfect comeback

Author: Maurice Weber
Date: 2019-09-09 16:00:00
Borderlands 3 turns out to be exactly the game that series fans have been waiting for for years - with only one serious exception.

It didn't have to hide from any of these competitors. It had its very own place among the loot shooters as the only one in which a strong campaign was at the center and not just had to serve as a prelude to MMO grind. As the only genre representative, it proved that even Beutegrind games can tell a really fantastic story. With that in mind, welcome back Borderlands - we missed you!

Back to the Borderlands

As so-called »exterminators« we are after the chambers of the extraterrestrial Eridians and the treasures in them. This time we are competing with two new villains, the calypso twins Troy and Tyreen and their crazy cult. And as in the past, we do this either alone or in co-op with up to three other players.

At second glance , Borderlands 3 is still more of Borderlands - but improved in just the right places! As mentioned at the beginning, a lot has happened since the last part, but Borderlands 3 doesn't just follow every trend that has established itself in the genre since then. It is still not an MMO and has no shared or even open world. It demonstrates the confidence to remain true to one's roots and does not simply overturn the Borderlands principle just to stay "modern". Exactly the right decision, because we really missed this classic recipe! And it still works great today.

Four heroes for a new era

The new classes are perhaps the best demonstration of the mix of old school virtues and meaningful improvements in Borderlands 3. The series always had cool heroes and motivational skill tree development, but the feeling that there was more was possible - especially because each hero had to limit himself to only one active ability. Lo and behold, Part 3 clearly expands its characters here!

Again, each class can develop through three skill trees, but this time almost all heroes also have three different active tricks to choose from. Siren Amara, for example, either magically arrests enemies, unleashes a powerful melee smash attack, or fires an astral projection that cuts through all enemies in a row.

And then, on the one hand, she has different variants of all these skills up her sleeve and can equip one of several upgrades, all of which can be freely combined with any skill. For example, she can choose to add a black hole that draws in nearby enemies or a nova that deals extra area damage. And as the icing on the cake, she also determines whether she wants to cause fire, acid or shock damage with it.

Each hero has his own special mechanics. Agent Zane is the only character who can even combine two active skills at the same time. The shooter Moze, on the other hand, always climbs into her heavily armored 'Mech, but equips it with a variety of weapons such as flamethrowers and Gatling cannons.

In short: The heroes of Borderlands 3 have the most impressive skills in the series to date and the greatest freedom to customize them - welcome improvements in an area where there was still room for improvement. Although there is still room for improvement: We would have found it even cooler if all heroes like Zane could use several skills at once!

Guns, loads of guns

In terms of variety of ratchets, Borderlands was already genre primus with part 2, but part 3 actually goes one better! Almost all shootings now have an alternate fire mode . Assault rifles switch between fully and semi-automatic modes, elemental weapons switch from fire to frost and a rocket launcher also turns into a mortar.

On top of that, the developers have massively expanded the special features of each weapon manufacturer. Hyperion weapons now project a protective shield forward when aiming, and Atlas Guns can burn a tracking chip onto the fur of enemies. Then our balls chase the opponent even around corners! Instead of reloading, we just throw away Tediore weapons and they turn into grenades or turrets. And even those are the simpler weapons.

Then there are completely unique ones like a rocket launcher that shoots ... poisoned burgers. But the greatest feat with all this variety is that all of these firearms actually feel fantastic across the board: gaudy effects and powerful sounds make them a sheer pleasure to use. And with this, Borderlands 3 actually sets a new genre standard in terms of weapon diversity, by which all other shooters will have to measure themselves in the future.

Much enemy, medium honor

The enemy types of Borderlands 3 are not quite as diverse, even if the developers have made an effort here as well. From psycho bandits to high-tech soldiers to a wide variety of jungle beasts, we have a wide variety of targeting rifles. Some of them have special abilities that we shouldn't ignore: some enemies give their colleagues extra shields and should be eliminated first, others carry vulnerable fire tanks on their backs.

However, Borderlands 3 rarely develops really tough demands - and that's perfectly fine! It just wants to be a shooter Diablo, and that includes mountains of cannon fodder , through which we can butcher ourselves to our hearts' content. The somewhat tough badass enemies loosen it up just in the right amount and keep us on our toes enough that we don't just roll through it - Borderlands 3 succeeds in creating exactly the right game flow of pleasant thrills and relaxed butchering fun.

Only the AI would have liked to be a little smarter, even by lootshooter standards. In rare cases, individual opponents missed out completely in the test, but even in normal operation they do not even take completely reliable cover. They never seem like comprehensible or even intelligent enemies. As I said, the genre does not necessarily need it, but a Division 2 still offers significantly more opponent grips and thus more tension in the standard fights.

Who is the boss?

But if you feel too safe, one or the boss opponent could give you a rude awakening! The first Borderlands was a sad disappointment in this area, the second made a lot better and the third continues down this path.

The game brings up the most impressive and challenging bosses in the series to date. Again, Borderlands 3 deliberately does not want to be mercilessly tough, but the enemies pleasantly loosen up the game and accentuate the story with impressive highlights. Only one or two fall a little out of the ordinary and knock the player out of the woods so quickly that they don't really want to fit in with the rest of the game.

This is also a bit at the expense of variety: Because we can revive ourselves in Borderlands by knocking out an enemy, without exception every boss opponent competes with a squad - just to balance his sometimes quite high damage with revive options. Borderlands 3 would have loved to break the scheme with solo bosses who deal less drastic damage spikes every now and then. Nevertheless, the final bosses are overall successful and beautifully diverse in terms of design and attacks.

Discoverer with a sense of humor

Even the levels are not stingy with diversity, because we are setting off to new planets for the first time. From the desert planet Pandora you go to futuristic metropolises, picturesque temples and the deepest jungle. As already not mentioned as Open World, but still typical of the series as extensive individual areas.

Just don't expect an overly vivid world. The areas are optically detailed, but largely empty apart from the enemies - more battle arenas than authentic worlds. The developers have thrown in significantly more secrets for explorers than in the predecessors. Hidden goodies await on each map, such as the diaries of the first exterminator Typhon De Leon. If you can find all three per level, you will unlock a bulging weapon depot - very motivating!

Only explorers will also see some of the funniest quests as Borderlands 3 is teeming with side quests. Anyone who takes the turn away from the main story on a jungle mission suddenly stumbles across dinosaurs with laser weapons. And a complete side storyline about stupid scientists who created a gang of hyper-intelligent monkeys and a dinosaur overcivilization that has emerged from the worries of the flesh and incited them against each other, including their own bosses.

Almost every quest in Borderlands 3 tells its own little story, and the series-typical bizarre humor of the series makes even playfully banal fetch quests entertaining. And when it comes to play, most of them are pretty simple - it's the little stories that make them special anyway. Sometimes we take part in a bandit game show, sometimes we blow entire army divisions over to get a colleague a coffee. In places the humor seems a bit more strenuous than in Borderlands 2, especially for veterans who just already know some of the jokes. Yep, Claptrap is still a fool. But Borderlands 3 still has enough fun ideas to keep you entertained.

Small frustrations ...

However, it can sometimes be quite annoying to discover all the side quests. Because one area in which Borderlands 3 could happily stay a little less true to the series tradition is the interface . That was never really comfortable in the series. Part 3 seems to have recognized this and makes some really useful improvements, but some deeper revisions would have made sense. For example, we can now switch between our active missions using a hotkey instead of jumping into the quest log.

But it would be much more practical to simply be able to display several missions at once. That doesn't even work on the full-screen world map, and the quick-change hotkeys don't work there either. So if you want to plan the perfect route using a map in order to take all the quests with you, you have a lot of fiddling ahead of you. And with it a lot of annoying back and forth slipping. Borderlands 3 makes it easier for us than before, because we can travel quickly anywhere and, in addition to the fixed destinations, we can also jump to our car.

And for the first time in the series, the cars are really comfortable to drive! On the other hand, menus like inventory and skill tree still feel strangely old-fashioned and often require more clicks than necessary. So improvements and frustrations are in balance here - the Borderlands 3 interface is by no means underground, but it could be a lot better.

... and the big disappointment

Borderlands 3 only really failed in one place - but one darn important one. The new villains Troy and Tyreen Calypso would like to be the next Handsome Jack, but fail all along the line. Where Jack was one of the most legendary gaming villains of the past few years, the Calypsos just pissed us off.

They could be amusing plain: the two are crazy Live Streamer, who use their followers as killers are mistaken cult. But they don't really work on any level: not as amusing slogans, not as satire on modern social media excesses, and not as deeper characters. At best, they pretend depth, but the game never turns it into anything really interesting and doesn't consistently develop their characters.

Borderlands 2 set the bar very high here. Jack came as a complete surprise back then, while the villains of Part 3 now have huge expectations. But the Calypsos aren't nearly as memorable as Jack, and that sucks the tension of the main story. But that doesn't mean that it's bad. Borderlands 3 still serves up a stronger story than almost any other loot shooter (with the exception of perhaps the best Warframe missions), with some surprising twists and turns and loads of cool characters. The Calypsos may disappoint, but Tina, Sir Hammerlock and the like still have it! Only in terms of staging does Borderlands 3 with its old school style for once do itself no favor: apart from the few cutscenes, the stories are only told in slightly animated dialogues.

Sometimes size does matter

But to be clear: These disappointments with the main story are criticism at a high level, because they are the only really big criticisms of Borderlands 3 at all. The smaller annoyances with interface and enemy AI never detract from the fun and the story is even with the moderate villains even better than in many other loot games.

The fact that Borderlands 3 does not reach the level of its predecessor in this one area does not change the fact that it has become a fantastic sequel in all others. Incidentally, also in terms of scope. Anyone who explores everything will spend a good 40 hours or more on the first run.

And then New Game Plus and a number of endgame arenas open up, in which you either have to hold out against enemy waves for as long as possible or fight your way through as quickly as possible for the best rewards. If you just want to grind longer to create the best possible character, you can do that too. Guardian ranks are extra end game levels with which you can continuously earn additional value bonuses, similar to the previous badass ranks.

And then there are the Chaos levels of difficulty, which drop more loot and exclusive items when we assert ourselves against particularly strong opponents. In addition, a number of random modifiers make this more difficult, for example, making them stronger against certain types of weapons and thus forcing us to rethink. A nice pinch of endgame dynamics! All in all, Borderlands 3 has made a worthy comeback: true to its roots, but bigger, spectacular and better in - almost - all areas.