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Borderlands 3: How to make a better sequel frustrating

I’ve put hundreds of hours into Borderlands 2 and as I finally started my journey with the long awaited sequel, I started thinking back on it and remembering my time with it; the memorable characters and solid jokes, the interesting villain that was Handsome Jack, and the fantastic, loot-oriented gameplay loop that had me hooked, all brought to life in this cell-shaded and vibrant world. Borderlands 3 is so much more than most of us expected back when the first trailer dropped; it isn’t a 2.5 or a remaster, it is a genuine evolution of the formula in so many great ways, but at the same time it is also one of the most frustrating and defeating experiences of the year for me. If I want the better loot game, the better shooting and traversal mechanics, the prettier world, I have to put up with broken balance, annoying platforming, and slow, clunky menus; in other words, if you want the depth that hides beneath the surface, which makes the whole thing worth it, you better come prepared to endure the worst, fucking surface you can think of!

There isn’t a better example of this than the new villains, but they also are the most talked about aspect of the game that I’ve seen, so I won’t spend too much time on them. I don’t think they are bad characters, but they are written in a way that makes discovering their depth through their annoying AF surface, completely unworthy of the task. For a moment, ignore the fact that the twins are “streamers” (which can be seen as a dig to that crowd but more likely for me is a suitably bonkers stand in for religion or systematic belief in general); ignore their obnoxious catchphrase (which is rarely used thankfully); ignore the humor of the game; in other words, ignore the surface and see the depth only. These twins have an interesting relationship: Tyreen is a Siren (Borderland’s mage class) and her ability allows her to suck out the abilities of other Sirens and make them hers, and Troy is also a Siren but has no abilities and has to be given ‘force’ in order to function properly, thus becoming Tyreen’s toy and ego-inflating bitch. She will do anything and everything to remind him of his place and arguably they hate each other more than anyone else in that universe; that all changes when Troy suddenly acquires abilities of his own and starts demanding payback for the humiliation he has suffered throughout, while Tyreen tries even harder to keep him down. This isn’t groundbreaking characterization (I’m also leaving a few things out for you to discover), but this is pretty good set up, especially considering this is a looter-shooter – a genre not exactly renowned for the great characters or storylines it has birthed. The reason the twins are insufferable alongside the juvenile, SCREAM AS LOUD AS YOU CAN BECAUSE THAT’S FUNNY, humor of the game is because it is so frustrating to even interact with the surface, why would you even want to look for the depth, if you aren’t writing this dumb article for your blog?! I haven’t even gone into the fact that the Calypso twins are perfectly set up to be fantastic villains with clear motives, great incentive for the player to seek their destruction, and be meaningful because of their character depth, but every single time the writers can explore any of those things, they instead make a dumb joke; despite all their villainous acts, I’ve never been as uninterested in villains as with these two, because they are only treated as set up to jokes. Each, freaking time the writers can go into the twins’ twisted psyche or the reasons why they are the way they are (which they do mention, but happens very quickly and is easily missable) and give them some character, they instead always set up a joke, and in extend I only saw them as a joke. Moreover, those jokes are as mean as they can get. Like, I get Handsome Jack is memorable partly because of how ruthless he was, but those deaths have an impact because they were likeable characters and Jack was celebrating their death/his win; making annoying, Boomer Youtube videos that play every fucking time you are near a screen is not only frustrating, but just mean. I don’t even really like most of these characters and through the course of this game I like them even less, but villains doing this type of bullshit does not make me hate them even more (like claptrap, I don’t need help hating them and wanting to kill them) it just makes the experience more frustrating and makes characters that I did have some sympathy for, the butt of a really mean joke that no one even laughed to. I don’t want to get started on the ending either, because it’s so bad it would take over the entire article, so I’ll just end it here with a simple statement: Borderlands 3 story, characters, and writing are the worst of the series and a serious misstep in the franchise.

Thankfully for Borderlands 3, most other aspects have surface level problems that aren’t actively trying to make you stuff your earholes with lit dynamite sticks, and have actually fascinating depth. For example, the loot loop of Borderlands 3 is exceptional; the procedural generation of more powerful and varied loot works as flawlessly as a treadmill. Each new weapon you equip (either because its better or is a type you want to use) will change your gameplay experience and style – same with shields, class and grenade mods, and trinkets. Some weapons will have interesting features like instead of reloading, you throw the weapon and shoot it to cause an explosion, or it walks and shoots baddies alongside you – same with shields that have a chance of dropping resources that aid you or grenade mods that bounce and do more damage each time they do so. Finding a “better” one to equip is – mostly – balanced just right, as it is long enough to enjoy and give significance to the weapon you are already using, but frequent and meaningful enough to where improvements are sought after and change your playstyle; point being, I changed tools frequently enough that I cared about loot before late game content and each time I did change classes for my tools, my playstyle would adapt and shift, keeping me invested, engaged, and thoroughly entertained.

That actually brings me nicely to my next point: Balance. One of my biggest complains from Borderlands 2 is that I found the game to be completely unbalanced for single-player, even with level and gear grinding; in Borderlands 3, things are reversed. I rarely died, without really grinding, while the Beastmaster class seems specifically build for single-player use, almost to a fault (you can make your pet do more damage and agro baddies, make yourself more powerful if the baddies are not targeting you, and have your pet revive you if you go into last stand mode). Furthermore, the way side content was distributed, I found it way too easy to get OP; however, there is depth to be found especially in late game content and second playthroughs, with more challenging encounters and content that keeps up with your growth easier. Bosses are not that great this time round (in terms of design or memorability), but they also seem less likely to hit you with one-shot kills like some would in Borderlands 2. So, overall, balance remains an issue in single player terms but at least its not as frustrating as it used to be, and because the game just feels better to play you are more likely to forgive these issues or skip past them by not doing side content and getting on with late game content.

Another reason this game feels so good to play is that, they have introduced more modern traversal mechanics – finally. Sliding and mantling might not seem like game changing addition, and on the surface, they only contribute in frustration, but they certainly add a lot of mobility and verticality to combat encounters. In Borderlands 3, I rarely get annoyed at a death; I have so many options to flank enemies, gain ground on them or above them, avoid their sights and fire. Even outside of combat, the devs hide loot cases in all manner of places, which makes exploration worthwhile and fun; however, it also forces the player into some of the worst 1st person platforming of the year. Very inconsistent and sometimes disorienting platforming (while you hear obnoxious characters chatter, I may add) is not a great pacing choice and it certainly hurts the game.

Finally, the visuals have been given a substantial and meaningful upgrade; simply put, the game looks fantastic and it is miles better than Borderlands 2. However, every other visual element has taken a significant downgrade. For example, the menus are slow, clunky, and unintuitive; the map is awful and at times helps at getting you lost; the load times are atrocious; after loading, the game will be blurry for at least 10 to 15 seconds before focusing in. It is a vastly prettier and varied world that makes everything more immersive, more detailed, creates wonderment and inspires curiosity for this world, but like everything else in this game, there is a downside; whether it be load times, clunky UI or awful maps, and technical difficulties even after a year from release, this sentence perfectly captures Borderlands 3. A clear improvement, made frustrating and difficult to enjoy or even get to experience; one of the most improving sequels I’ve ever experienced, one of the most frustrating as well.

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