As I enter my third year of university, video games should be among the least of my concerns. Especially a game that is essentially a glorified gambling simulator infused with humor built for eight-year-olds, enough explosions to make Michael Bay jealous, and presented with the tongue-in-cheek attitude of a high school senior. Yet here we are, with Borderlands 3.
Despite these reasons to avoid the game, it has consumed the majority of my free time these past few weeks. And I love it.
Borderlands 3 is the fifth mainline entry into the Borderlands franchise from Gearbox Software and comes after an almost four year hiatus in the series, with the last release being Tales From The Borderlands. The core gameplay loop is the same as always–battle, loot better gear, battle better enemies, loot even better gear, repeat ad nauseam–but it’s the manner in which the player experience has been fine-tuned that make Borderlands 3 stand out. Despite the numerous innovations that have come to the “loot’n’shoot” genre of video games over the last few years, from games like Destiny, The Division, and Warframe, Gearbox has kept the title functionally identical to the previous entries. Instead of adding trendy gimmicks like the popular battle royale mode, gameplay additions are mostly fine tuning mechanics, expanding the movement system and verticality of level design, and improving the graphics further.
I also believe that it is worth commending the developers of this title for keeping micro-transactions completely out of a game primed for predatory monetization, especially considering that the corporate overlord of this title is Take-Two Interactive, a company who in the last year has defended gambling in the virtual space, sent goons to intimidate a YouTube creator, and has been milking cash out of Grand Theft Auto 5 for over six years.
Borderlands 3 has managed to become 2K’s fastest selling title ever, and the fan reception has been extremely positive. So, how did a game which has barely evolved at its core from a seven year old title manage to pull that off? Probably because the title is uncompromising in delivering the most fun possible to the player.
Fun has always been the driving force behind the Borderlands franchise. It’s not trying to tell a moving narrative about human experiences, nor is it trying to change the way that we perceive games as an industry – it is very much a “turn on, tune in, drop out” game, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I have logged countless hours playing the series, and every new playthrough feels as fresh as the first.
It’s not a difficult game to learn, holding the unspoken “universal” control scheme of FPS titles on consoles, but it’s the random elements that drive the in-game gear economy that keeps you on your toes and makes every single playthrough unique for every single player. The crazy legendary weapon you got from a chest on your first playthrough could very well be a useless shield on the next one. It’s entirely unpredictable, and half the fun is learning how to game the system. You are constantly being forced to deal with the game’s chaotic nature which the madmen over at Gearbox have turned into an endgame mechanic, allowing you can crank the difficulty curve steeper in order to gamble for even better rewards.
Truth be told, in a year full of fantastic FPS releases – Metro Exodus, Apex Legends, or the upcoming Call of Duty: Modern Warfare – all of which have come with some innovation or major change from their studio’s prior work, it certainly seemed like a game that is essentially a decade old at its core would be doomed to fail. Instead, it has succeeded in stride, and it has never felt so good to play something so mindless. Don’t just take my word for it – listen to an interview about the game with Matt Stoddard, a 2019 GU graduate:
Borderlands 3 is currently retailing for $60 USD at most outlets, and is playable in both split-screen and online cooperation with up to four players – perfect for roommates or for maintaining friendships from back home. It is my current frontrunner for Game of the Year.