Game review: Borderlands 3 for Steam

Oh, my, Gawd, y’all. It feels like I have been playing this game forever. Steam says I’ve played 200 hours to reach the end, but in my mind, it feels so, so much longer. It isn’t because the game sucks or looks bad. Let me be clear, it just feels like an eternity since I first started up my first run through Borderlands 3 because there’s so much packed into this package. That should come across as a ringing endorsement, and yet here I am, feeling fatigued and a little sick of having too much to do.

I had to wait for the game to come to Steam, as Epic’s storefront is a bit meh, even if they keep giving out nice free games to try and entice me over. Steam’s interface is still shit, bit Epic is even more shit, so I had to be patient. In the meantime, I read all kinds of middling reviews about how Borderlands 3 just wasn’t that good, and I worried that after all this time, it wouldn’t be worth the wait.

So now I’ve had the chance to play it, and what is my own verdict? Well…I mean, it’s good, but it’s just so fucking long.

Let’s start with some good points. The controls are as nice as the previous entry, but there’s added movement options in the form of sliding and climbing ledges. This opens up all new areas for exploration, and there is so much to explore. You can’t swing a dead slag without hitting a side mission or hidden area. No matter how laser focused you are on “the mission,” something will distract you, leading to some hidden side quest or treasure.

Setting that aside, the story opens with your vault hunter joining the “rebel alliance” to fight…Twitch streamers with bandit followers? I may seem too sarcastic, but Tyreen and Troy Calypso are supposed to be a comparison to online influencers with so much power. To me, they represented the mirror image of the old vault hunters. The Calypso twins tell their followers to go die for them, and their family do as they’re told. But even on the “good guy’s” side, Lilith sends the next generation of vault hunters off with a single command, and they will kill thousands because they think they’re the good guys. Both sides are using their powers of social influence, and both sides are willing to sacrifice whatever it takes to emerge victorious. So who’s really good or bad?

I found a lot of the writing in the early to midway missions to be far smarter than I’d expected based on my experiences with Borderlands 2, but because the game keeps insisting on throwing in new threats from various corporations, the good stuff gets buried under too much other stuff. It’s not even bad, just that the constant deluge creates pockets of unmemorable events.

As an example, late in the game, a Maliwan general shows up and starts yelling about taking his vengeance on me for killing his younger brother. I honestly couldn’t remember who he was talking about, both because it had happened 150 hours prior, and because I’d killed so many corporate mini-bosses that there was no way this poor guy could stand out as memorable.

I think that’s one of two major problems with this “more is more” approach to making games. The other is that with such a huge variety in side missions, by the time I arrived to the end of the game, I was so freaking powerful that nothing could worry me. In the final 50 hours, I only died three times, and those were all me stepping off a cliff because I was looking through a scope instead of paying attention to my surroundings. No one, not minions or bosses, could threaten my final plodding pace to the big finale.

Even in the final boss fight, I only needed a few seconds to read the boss’ patterns and understand when to move in close and when to give them space. For all that lengthy effort to reach this pinnacle, the final fight was super underwhelming. The only way I could make it better is to play again, but ignore everything except the story beats. That kinda sucks because a lot of the side quests are fun stuff that I wouldn’t mind repeating.

It is true that the game also has harder difficulties if I choose to play again in True Vault Hunter mode, but that’s a big ask for anyone, to invest 200 hours just to get to the point of restarting with a full skill tree and a higher difficulty level.

The thing is, I don’t mind investing time in games. I’ve logged thousands of hours in each of the Dark Souls games, a little under 900 in Dragon’s Dogma, and around 700 in Borderlands 2. But I have those numbers because each run takes maybe 20-40 hours at most before I go back around to the start for a new run with a different class and weapon loadout. Some of my challenge runs might even go 10-15 hours. They’re practically bite-sized by comparison.

Being stuck with the same character for 200 hours, even with the possibility to respec, makes me much less enthusiastic about doing a new game plus mode, or even to go back to the start with a new class. That’s very much a detriment to a game that otherwise doesn’t have that many flaws. It feels good to platform and shoot in any given session, and the varied planets beyond Pandora all have their own unique art styles that make them wonderful eye candy. The music is great, the many characters you meet are mostly charming, and the variety of enemy types is happily diverse. But there’s just too much to do, so all the good points get diluted into a mediocre slurry.

I want to again illustrate my point by highlighting Dark Souls. When I play any entry from the series, I’m committed to play one run through to the end, and I will rarely play anything else until the run is done. With Borderlands 3, I might play two or three sessions in a row, but then I’d arrive to the point where I no longer wanted to keep going because it was all blurring together and giving little sense of progress. So I’d play other games for a week or two before finally coming back to do another two sessions and bounce off of it again.

Finally, I have to address the other problem, which might only apply to me on this run thanks to the random nature of loot, but I feel it bears mentioning. The loot—guns, sheilds, mods, and artifacts—mostly sucked.

In Borderlands 2, I frequently ran into the problem of having too many good weapons to use them all, so I would either have to throw stuff away or sell it to make room for more awesome loot. But in Borderlands 3, I went multiple sessions with the same weapons because even if the level numbers of the loot got higher, the actual weapon stats were always below my lower level gear.

I’m not talking about comparing grey common gear to legendary loot. In a like for like comparison, a level 32 purple gun outperformed a level 40 gun of the same rarity, and that was the case with all my gear. I couldn’t find a new handgun, assault rifle, sniper rifle, smg, or grenade mod to replace my stuff for ten. Fucking. Levels. I didn’t even bother picking anything up to sell it because it was all worthless junk. Again, maybe I just got the worst RNG luck, and this isn’t normal. But damn did it frustrate the hell out of me.

I want to close this post on a positive note, so I will say that playing with the new siren gave me incentives to play in a manner vastly different than I might have tried in the previous game. (Also, full disclosure: I never played the first game because I watched hubby play it, and I wasn’t impressed.) Amara’s skillset made me more aggressive and willing to sprint across the battlefield to take huge risks where I might normally hang back and snipe targets to thin out the hordes. In short sessions, it felt thrilling to wade right into a battalion of troops and wipe them out like a thundering demigod of death and destruction.

I also played just enough of a new game with Zane, the specialist, to know that his play style is different from Amara’s, and so I imagine Mose and FL4K also have their own unique styles. I will also say that the new modes coming in the DLC packs sound like a faster and more accessible way to test out those different characters and approaches to combat. But until I can afford to buy them, I’d be reluctant to jump back in for a new run, or to go with the same character on a higher difficulty.

It really is a shame, too. There’s so much to like in Borderlands 3 when taken in little bursts that I feel bad giving it a score lower than 5 stars. But I can’t deny the fact that I had to force myself to stick with the game, even if all the ingredients individually should have kept me hooked in for the full run. That’s why I have to give 4 stars and recommend that even if you’re a fan of the looter shooter genre or of the Borderlands franchise, you might want to mix this with something else to keep it from getting stale.