I've been a fan of Borderlands since about when the first game launched. Despite this being out for about a year, I've only recently bought it in the last Steam sale about 3 weeks ago, and almost keeled over at the 100 GB install size. (I guess I haven't been keeping up with current generation games.) Although I've heard the drama around this game, I will not be reviewing that. I also heard that it was not as good as Borderlands 2. I agree, so as the foremost Borderlands expert writing for this blog, let me lovingly pick it apart.
My geriatric GPU merely meets the minimum specification for Borderlands 3. Some areas degraded into a near slide show. I haven't plowed through such low performance in a game since FEAR in 2005. Despite that, I don't notice any whizzbang graphical features different from Borderlands 2. In fact, most of it looks desaturated by comparison. I'm not sure if it was the low settings or all the midgets, but I had difficulty seeing enemies in many areas. The cool comic book outlines look like they went on a diet, and are almost gone. (I don't know how to make them thicker, and I would like to.) The art style has shifted to something barely resembling hand drawn comics; I prefer the older look.
The enemies are the usual creatures and guys (and gals!) shooting or swinging at you. You can drop into any area of the game, and you'll find the same fare. Bosses also have their own template: dodge their attacks (helpfully highlighted) and shoot for the weak spots. (For some reason, bosses dropped 50 or so grenades for me, so I should keep spamming them during the fight.) I suppose that this would work if you're jumping in and out with friends all the time, but it lends itself to little variety.
The environments and level design seem standard fare for the series, but the average level feels much bigger. Some kinda-sorta missions appear as objects in every level, like recordings from some guy. I don't know who or why, but he comes off as Grandpa Simpson, or the Storyteller from that one Fallout series. Because you have a spaceship, you can hop around to many planets, each one having a different environment. This wasn't necessary, because Borderlands 2 already had a diverse array of them, and all that took place on one planet! But like the enemies, each planet shares the same level design style. A different planet is only a different background, but it functions the same. Is this a comment on (multi-)globalism?
Like Borderlands 2, every gun manufacturer has a gimmick. But now, many guns have alternate-fire modes, but I only cared for the feature on Maliwan weapons, because it changed the elemental effect. Bullet hits sound particularly punishing, and explosions near you turns down the volume. Gearbox bragged about the thousands of different gun sounds, but I wouldn't know because they didn't impress me while playing.
There are new movement abilities: sliding and mantling (climbing). I maybe mantled once during combat, but never slided around, except to get to some off-the-beaten-path area of a map when no one was shooting at me. The butt-slam mechanic from the Pre-Sequel remains, but I only did that about twice, and only for quest purposes.
To upgrade your vehicle, hijack enemy vehicles with upgrades. What is this, Grand Theft Auto? Since I don't think of hijacking cars (not even in games), I didn't get upgrades. Guess what? I didn't feel I was missing anything. Handling is peculiar, because you steer not by the left/right keys, but with the mouse, like normal first person controls. It's nigh impossible to drive and shoot in different directions. If there's a setting that disables this, I'm not aware of it.
After you finish the main quest, your character has access to 'Guardian Rank', which replaces the badass tokens from Borderlands 2. Because it doesn't start until the end, you don't get to build your character that way until you finish the story (about level 40). There's also 'Mayhem Mode', which gives you heaps of good loot, but also throws bullet sponges at you. It frustrated me to no end. I tried it for a while, but when I entered fight-for-your-life, decide cover is a good idea, get a second wind, only to fight-for-your-life again after running 5 feet. After repeating that multiple times, I thought that maybe I should try a different career path.
To date, my only playthrough was with FL4K, who is described as 'the beastmaster', but is only a robot that likes animals. FL4K has a skag, spiderant, or jabber (a cat-looking monkey creature) companion at all times (after level 5 or so). There's a skill where the companion can revive FL4K during fight-for-your-life, which is handy. After that, I died no more than about a dozen times. Unlike the last 2 games (BL2 + Pre-Sequel), Gearbox said there won't be any DLC characters (like Krieg). FL4K's special ability (rakk attack) sucks. It's effectively another gun that has a single powerful shot with a long reload time. It doesn't go on for seconds, doesn't seem to affect multiple enemies (maybe there's skills for that), and I seldom used it. It's not awesome at all!
Like the previous games, you have lots of character customization options. I think these are a waste of time in first person games, because I almost never see my character. Outside of dying and perusing menus, that's never! Speaking of menus, your character has a Gameboy-like echo device, that's skinnable for some reason. You barely see it at the bottom of the menus, where it has a 'cute' pixelized retro display, as if your character is a tamagotchi. The menus themselves feel clunky; each area has too much empty space, and most of it feels designed to look pretty but only gets in the way.
The new characters come off bland. Most of them are angsty teenagers that 'you don't understand'. Some celebrities voiced characters, but I didn't notice. The villains are obnoxious bullies and aren't relatable like Handsome Jack. I was disappointed that playable characters from previous games were almost completely sidelined. Brick and Mordecai make cameos, and I feel that Lilith and Maya were only there because this game stresses the importance of sirens. After becoming their majority shareholder, Rhys is the new Atlas CEO, and Zero is his security. Krieg left recordings and Aurelia is a bad guy, but everyone else left.
The story, while providing bountiful lore for Borderlands, isn't written well. Firstly, in the previous games (Pre-Sequel included), your actions had meaningful impact on history. Not so here, because you are a tool the whole time. You do not participate in the game's story at all. Secondly, my eyesight isn't great, but even I was able to see some things coming. Some points were as predictable as a Saturday morning cartoon show plot. I noticed the third time something was about to happen, and I got a bad feeling about it. But since this story has no branching paths, I had to comply and watch it happen! The story is so bad, that it had to cyc me into thinking it's over to get any strong reaction out of me. All Borderlands games end with opening a vault, and this one is no exception, but the reverse isn't true. (Cyc!)
Despite this world being full of women in charge, I never got a whiff of "Girl Power!" However, this game is still progressive, because FL4K goes by "they". Granted, FL4K is a robot, so there's probably several thousand programs running on some underlying platform; how clever.
There is humor in this game, or at least, it tries to be funny. Sometimes, it works; other times it flings pop and tech culture references at you and hopes for the best.
In the Pre-Sequel, an Eridian showed up warning about some 'great war'. After playing it through, I finally have a clue of what he was talking about. At the very least, I'm sure the planet, itself, was named Pandora for a reason. Until whatever comes next, the ending made an awesome setpiece.
In the end, Borderlands 3 is nowhere near as fun as Borderlands 2. It's a good game that misfires somewhere between bad writing and ignored gameplay features. To that point, my feeling about Borderlands 3 is reminiscent of what I feel about Fallout 4. At least Borderlands isn't meant to be taken seriously, so I like this one much better. Maybe the DLC will alleviate my concerns, but I don't plan on exploring it until I get a better GPU, and that might not be until my breath gets taken away.