Borderlands 3 is upon us, and the reviews out there seem to be mostly positive. After a couple of hours in, I thought I'd offer some early impressions on the game as someone who largely skipped Borderlands as a franchise since Borderlands 1.
So far, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot new here, despite the first launching ten years ago. Is that a bad thing though?
Borderlands has always been more about art style than fidelity, and the third installment continues that tradition. The cel-shaded art style is unique and immediately recognizable. Whether or not you like it will ultimately depend on your personal preferences.
The Xbox One X version of the game has an optional resolution mode, which bumps up the sharpness while sacrificing 60 frames per second. Again, it'll boil down to your preferences whether or not you prefer speed over sharpness, but Borderlands 3 struggles to maintain its target 60 FPS at HD even in modest action sequences, which look blurry as all hell. Ironically you may end up with a smoother experience at 30 FPS, which is locked, and doesn't buckle under the load.
For a game that isn't the most detailed in the world, it feels a bit odd that they couldn't have poured a bit more optimization into the game, if I'm having problems after just a couple of hours in. The issues may be something to do with the new Xbox graphics API that lets games switch between resolution and performance without re-opening the game, but it's hard to tell without more technical information.
Borderlands-brand humor returns
Borderlands 3, so far, seems to tread pretty familiar ground. Vault hunters go hunting for vaults in the Pandora desert wasteland, with a quirky cast of colorful characters to guide you along the way.
The humor seems to be a bit of an acquired taste, but that'll depend on your preferences. I find the writing to be a bit cringe-inducingly unfunny, with the odd chuckle-inducing witticism or fourth-wall-breaking joke here and there. The robotic FL4K player character thankfully seems as tired of the writing as I do, addressing characters with some welcome cynicism.
I haven't gotten too deep into the plot as of yet, but the warring bandit clans have banded together as part of a cult, led by two crazy twins. The game hints early on that it may open up to more locations and areas, so I'm hoping that there's more to the game than the familiar grey-brown plains that look straight out of the Xbox 360 era. The trailers certainly hint at that much, and thankfully, the gunplay is oh so satisfying that I'm hoping it'll be enough to hold my attention long enough to get there.
Borderlands 3's gunplay excels
Borderlands has always been about ridiculous procedurally-generated guns and wanton violence, and even after a couple of hours in, the game seems to deliver big in this department. I've gotten a revolver sidearm that fires rockets, a shotgun that has RAGE 2-like physics knockbacks, complimented by a cyborg Spiderant pet that makes up FL4K's "beastmaster" specialty.
Even the low-level weapons with their limited capabilities and jarring recoil produce gloriously gory results, splattering enemies into chunks with great sound treatment and impactful physics.
Progression still revolves around looting chests and taking skill points, and the talent trees seem to have plenty of abilities that should help keep combat feeling fresh throughout the campaign. Still, as a returning Borderlands player, I haven't experienced too much to get overly excited about yet.
Hoping there's more to it
It's a bit odd to me that Borderlands 3 starts off almost identically to Borderlands 1, being led by annoying-for-the-sake-of-annoying Claptrap through a cartoon wasteland, fighting various Skags and Bandits in mass-produced white gasmasks. If you're a fan, maybe that's exactly what you were hoping for — but I was expecting something fresh and unique after being away from the franchise for the best part of a decade.
Maybe the game will open up with some new features and scenery as I progress further in, but as of writing, I'm asking myself if I want to experience more of the same to get there.
Prepare for the fight of the galaxy
Borderlands 3 looks to be releasing sooner than a lot of us expected. Pick your new favorite Vault Hunter and get ready to save the worlds. No pressure or anything. Oh, and watch out for the wildlife.
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Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!