I’ve only spent a few hours with the game so far. I just dinged level 18, and the game ends around 30-ish. My lack of progress since Friday’s release is mostly due to my switching between a few different characters. I started out as Moze, who can summon a battle mech. After a few levels of that I tried Zane, a hitman with a bunch of different abilities. I played him until level 18, and then started again as FL4K, a robot with a pet skag.
The game seems to be doing okay with critics. A score of 85 isn’t “OMG Game of the Year”, but it’s still a respectable score. Everyone has a few gripes with it, but the criticism is pretty scattershot. It’s not like everyone is rallying around one or two obvious flaws.
This is baffling to me, since I think there’s a really obvious problem with the game and nobody is talking about it.
Are We Playing the Same Game?
An example of the criticism of minor things that aren’t the MAIN THING: The big villains this time around are the Calypso Twins. Polygon said they were “boring”. PC Gamer said they’re “just two cartoon villains” with “no cultural commentary”.
This criticism is fine, I guess. If the villains don’t work for you, then they don’t work. But before the release of Borderlands 3, the series had one good villain and two duds. So now we have the Calypso Twins, a swipe at livestreamers / influencers. In BL2, Handsome Jack was a cartoonish take on ultra-wealthy corporate leaders, and the Calypso Twins are a cartoonish take on entitled, brand-obsessed internet jackasses. Both villains are arrogant and destructive. I think Jack’s humor landed a lot better than the humor aimed at the Calypsos, but if we’re grading on a curve then the Calypsos are the second-best villains in the series.
But fine. I’m not going to try and convince you that the Calypsos are brilliant, I just think they’re not the weakest part of the experience.
There are a lot of gripes like this with the game. Mission design. Allies. Loading screens. Travel system. Technical problems and glitches. These are all fine things to critique, but none of them are anywhere near my top two gripes.
My #2 gripe is:
The Interface Needs More QA
There isn’t a single, horrible sin at the center of the Borderlands 3 interface. It’s just that the game has a thousand trivial annoyances. The main map rotates to the player’s orientation instead of north=up, which is… that’s just not how maps work, okayThere’s a menu option to disable rotating the minimap, but the main map ignores it, so you end with the maps oriented differently, which does more harm than good.? The game begins with 8 solid minutes of completely unskippable cutscenes. After that it’s five more minutes of passively following Claptrap around before you can begin playing the game proper. This is ludicrous in a game with four classes where you might want to sample them all to see which one suits you best. The zones are now multilayered and the in-game map system is totally inadequate for helping to navigate these complex spacesLectra City feels like the 3D maze levels from the Descent games.. Stores are a chore to use. If you can’t equip an item, then you also can’t compare it to other items, so you can’t decide if it’s worth schlepping this gun around until you’re high enough level to use it. Map scrolling and zooming is agonizingly slow and awkward with the mouse. When you’re supposed to bash something open the game can’t decide if the proper button is melee, the use button, or shooting it. The game allows you to bind keys to steer left and right in a vehicle, but it never actually uses them and you’re forced to steer with the mouse. The entire inventory screen is somehow even worse than before, which is further exacerbated by the fact that inventory space is tighter than ever before and you’re going to need to make frequent stops to figure out what you should drop to pick up the hot new item you just found. NPC talking cues, tutorial messages, and quest items are often positioned so that characters will cut each other off, sometimes ending important plot stuff for less important “just so you know” type reminders. The game doesn’t go into idle when you alt-tab away, and instead continues devouring processing power rendering frames you don’t need and can’t see.
And so on, and so on. Like I said – these are all small problems in isolation, but as the hours go on I kinda start to lose my mind over all the little annoyances. In particular, I really hate how often I have to break the flow of the game to mess with stuff in the menus.
But all of these gripes pale in comparison to my main problem with the game…
Rubber Bullets and Foam Bats
What happened to my fast-paced game of punchy weapons and empowerment? Who looked at the Borderlands 2 gameplay and said, “This is good, but it would be so much more fun if the enemies were bullet sponges that could shrug off multiple shots to the face.”? Who said that? And who listened to them? Why does this game of frantic action now feel ponderous like Tom Clancy’s The Division? And why is nobody talking about this?
It took me a long time to realize just how deep the rot goes. In the early levels, I was a little taken aback by how many shots it took to put down the bandits and cultists. These games normally start you off with pushover foes. The game is giving you a free hit of dopamine to get you hooked so you’ll be willing to work for it later. But this time putting down the early mooks was kind of slow and annoying.
But okay. Maybe the designer thought the old way of paper foes in the first 5 levels was a little too patronizing. Maybe they wanted you to earn that kind of power by finding better gear. So then I got a green weapon. Then a blue. Then purple. Then finally an orange-tier (Legendary) gun. But the sponginess of the foes actually got worse over time. I would run up to a same-level mook and blast him point-blank in the face with my same-level shotgun. In the old days, that was very likely to take half his health, if not obliterate him outright. Now? It knocks 15% off his health bar and he ragdolls awayThe ragdolls in this game are oddly floaty. so I can’t even give him another shot in the head. Instead I gradually wear him down with my foam bullets.
In the old days, you searched for a legendary gun that would let you kill someone in just a couple of shots. Now you’re in search of guns that will kill someone in just a couple of reloads.
Every fight is so hopelessly ponderous. It feels awful to unload a gun on a mook’s torso, reload, empty my gun on him again, then reload again(!!!) to finish him off. In the old days, it always felt good to see someone’s face explodeDon’t judge me. when that bright red CRITICAL appeared over their head. Now I see the CRITICAL notification constantly, but it doesn’t mean anything because it does so little.
And that’s just a regular trash mook!
And there’s six more identical guys behind him!
Followed by a badass with 10x as much HP!
And then ANOTHER badass!
Stronger foes will often deplete all your ammunition for a given weapon type, forcing you to run around and collect ammo just to finish them off.
My son and I are both playing the game and every few hours we meet and compare notes.
Me: I found a sniper rifle that can kill mook in just three headshots. Although, it only has an ammo capacity of two.
Issac: I’ve had good luck with Jakobs revolvers. They can usually kill people before you need to reload.
On Saturday night I was having some fun and thinking, “You know, this is starting to feel like proper Borderlands again. Maybe I just needed to get some good weapons and get a feel for the new gunplay. I still feel a little nerfed, but I can live with this.” And then I realized I was level 16, and doing a level 10 quest.
The Shooting is Tedious, But how is the Looting?
The game is a lot more generous with loot. In my first play-through of Borderlands 2, I saw maybe 1 or 2 orange weapons. They were really rare. Even getting a purple was a big deal. In Borderlands 3, I found over half a dozen orange items before level 20. And I don’t care, because they still feel weak and ineffectual against these gargantuan HP bars.
The entire gameplay loop is broken. You’re supposed to be searching for power, but the mechanics make it clear that you’re never going to get any. As far as I know, orange is the top item tier in the game. And orange weapons in Borderlands 3 feel weaker than blue tier items from Borderlands 2.
In the old days, I could tell what tier of weapon I was using by just pulling the trigger. Now, the gains in power are very slight. I mean, killing a dude in 11 shots instead of 14 is okay, but it’s not the kind of thing to get excited about.
(And yes, I’m aware there’s a supposed “easy” mode. I honestly don’t know what it does. I tried turning it from easy to normal several times, and I couldn’t tell the difference. Maybe it lowers the amount of damage the player takes, but I’m not worried about that. I wouldn’t mind taking MORE damage, as long as the bad guys take more too. I’m not trying to make the game easier, I just want to speed up this glacial pace.)
Anyway. I don’t know why anyone would bother complaining about lame jokes or dull writing when the core mechanics are so screwy. I’ve looked, and I’m the only person talking about this. Am I losing my mind?
After enduring the ponderous fights in Control, I was really looking forward to the Borderlands-style gameplay of frantic empowerment. But instead I find myself once again trying to tickle my foes to death with NERF bullets.
I remember the Brown Age of the late aughts when every game was the color of mud and concrete dust. Then there was a stretch were every shooter needed to have sticky cover, even if run-and-gun would suit the setting better. Is this the new fad in video games? Bullet sponge combat?
I hope this fad is unlike the mooks in Borderlands 3, and dies quickly.
 There’s a menu option to disable rotating the minimap, but the main map ignores it, so you end with the maps oriented differently, which does more harm than good.
 Lectra City feels like the 3D maze levels from the Descent games.
 The ragdolls in this game are oddly floaty.
 Don’t judge me.
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