Tag Archives: gearbox software

There’s A Whole Damn Rollercoaster Hiding In Borderlands 3

It’s so easy to miss things that are hiding right under your nose, especially in a video game as big as Borderlands 3. I did manage to find, for example, the microbrewery dungeon that’s completely optional. But I completely missed this fully-functioning roller coaster that you can ride, despite the dozens of hours I’ve spent playing the game. As of this morning, I have now ridden this roller coaster. You should too.

I was alerted to its presence by a post on the Borderlands 3 subreddit from a user who sounded just as incensed that they had not previously known about it. “Why was I not made aware of such a cool thing?” user __JinxY__ asked the universe, posting a video of a character riding a roller coaster in game and shooting targets along the tracks. Immediately recognizing that roller coasters are awesome regardless of context, I immediately yelled the same thing at my computer. Then I booted up my Borderlands 3 save to find it for myself.

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The coaster isn’t even that well-hidden. It’s just off the beaten path in the Splinterlands, a region of Pandora you visit late in the game while on a quest to rescue another character. Since you come to the Splinterlands in the middle of a quest chain that has you doing lots of driving around, it’s tempting to just make a beeline for the main quest goal—which is a chop shop across the map—and ignore everything else. Also, Pandora is a desert, so there’s not much to catch the eye while you’re on the road.

Completists (and Burning Man attendees, I suppose) know, however, that the desert is precisely where one would go to find interesting things. You can find it either by chance or if you make a habit of finding every Typhon Log hidden on each map. If you do that, you’ll eventually find yourself at the foot of a stairwell near the center of the Splinterlands. That stairwell leads up to, well, a damn roller coaster. With really no other context.

Because this is Borderlands, there are some dudes to shoot first, but get past them and you are free to board the roller coaster, fire at the lever that starts it, and have fun trying to hit the targets on the track. Hit them all and you’ll unlock a room with some sweet loot.

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I love that this seems to be here for no reason other than that it’s cool. I didn’t find a side quest nearby, wasn’t sent here on a main story quest, and was otherwise ignorant of its existence for nearly a full month after this game’s release despite, again, having played this game for many hours. You can’t even call it an easter egg, because it’s not like it’s that hidden. All you have to do is veer a little bit off the direct path during the story quest and you’ll crash into it. But maybe you, like me, did not see this until someone did the kindness of showing it to you. If I can spare you the anguish of missing out on a roller coaster where you thought there was none, it’ll all be worth it.

Source: Kotaku.com

Borderlands 3 Update Gives Zane A Big Boost

Borderlands 3 players disappointed in Zane’s endgame performance, don’t give up your main yet: The Operative is about to get a pretty nice buff.

On Friday, Borderlands 3 developer Gearbox Software released a hotfix update to the game with a wide-ranging set of buffs to general weapon performance and Zane’s abilities. If all runs as advertised when the hotfix is pushed live “on or before 3 p.m. PST,” Zane’s Digi-Clone and SNTNL Drone action skills will get huge damage boosts—38% for the Digi-Clone and 50% for the Drone. This fixes a big problem with Zane—while his barrier shield is useful in many contexts, his offensive skills always felt like pea shooters good for a few moments of distraction and little else, especially at high levels.

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Of course, one big buff usually means an equally big nerf is inbound, and FL4K’s unstoppable critical hit machine build is being reined in a little bit. The Guerrillas in the Mist skill—which added a 50% critical damage boost for 8 seconds—is being reduced to a 25% boost for 6 seconds. FL4K mains will have to take it for a spin to be sure, but this nerf doesn’t seem like it kills FL4K’s crit builds, just thins the insane performance lead they have over every other option in the game.

A few of the less-appealing weapon types that have become a joke in the last two weeks are also getting a leg up. Maliwan weapons, for example, were widely derided for their trademark elemental stat boost hardly being worth their low damage and the charge time required to fire them. They’ll be getting a 25% damage boost, while their fire rate will be upped 20%.

The hotfix also comes on the heels of the first major Borderlands 3 patch, released yesterday. It was a more wide-ranging update, tweaking UI glitches, fixing optional boss Killavolt’s overpowered Shield Storm attack, and nerfing the popular Porcelain Pipe Bomb grenade mod.

Updates like these underscore that while Borderlands 3 feels very much like its predecessors, Gearbox is effectively treating Borderlands 3 like a live service game, balancing its characters, gear, and loot drop rates as needed—as well as fixing some weird problems that the game shipped with, like how often your character screams when suffering from elemental damage. (Thank God.)

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Hopefully these updates and seasonal events like next month’s Halloween-themed Bloody Harvest event keep Borderlands 3 interesting and well-balanced for a good long time.

Source: Kotaku.com

Borderlands 3: The Kotaku Review

Take a bag of potato chips—any brand, anywhere—and you more or less know what you’re going to get. Crispy, greasy salt and oil delivered via thin layers of starch, they make a mess of crumbs and grease, and they’re terribly delicious, extremely difficult to stop eating once you’ve caved into the first, and likely to cause a carbohydrate crash and a sense of regret. Potato chips are great and awful and we all know what we’re getting into when we open a bag.

So how would you review one? Do you tell people chips are awful for their health and break down why? Do you get into the ethical practices of various potato chip companies, perhaps? Or do you go all-in on the other end of the spectrum, singing the praises of the perfect snack food, one that isn’t as impressive as other snack foods but also isn’t trying to be gourmet cuisine? I mean, sure, gourmet chips exist, but we all know it’s the snack of the people.

Borderlands 3, Gearbox Software’s return to their most popular franchise, is a bag of potato chips. It’s the series that popularized the loot shooter genre, marrying first-person gunplay with Diablo-style loot and skill trees. You collect gun after gun with the same mindless, dopamine-pumping pleasure of popping chip after chip in your mouth. It is awful and wonderful and also white noise, an experience so commonplace and reptilian that you wouldn’t call it the best gaming experience you’ve ever had, but you’d be down for it if someone put it out in a bowl.

Much like a bowl of chips, it also leaves a hell of a mess when the party’s finally over.

The story in Borderlands 3 is the same as it’s always been in Borderlands. Once again, you’re a vault hunter, a mercenary/fortune seeker who shoots their way across the bandit-ridden wastelands of the planet Pandora. The hope is that, in all this shooting, you will find your way to a Vault, an ancient repository of rumored riches. (And, usually, there’s a big nasty being in that Vault, watching over it all.) This time around, you’re answering a call from Lilith, one of the hunters from the first Borderlands who has since become commander of the Crimson Raiders militia that fights to protect civilians from bandit hordes and corporate overreach (corporations have armies in Borderlands). Also, of course, they want to loot those sweet, sweet vaults. They’re the good guys, kind of.

Nipping at your heels are the game’s antagonists, Troy and Tyreen Calypso, twin siblings who have united all the bandits of Pandora under their cult of personality. They’ve also figured out that there are other Vaults on planets elsewhere in the galaxy. Your mission: Get to those vaults before they do.

As the Vault Hunter hero of this game, you get to choose between four characters, each with their own impressively elaborate skill trees filled with different kinds of abilities to level up. There’s Zane, the Operative who controls the battlefield with drones, clones, and barriers. Moze, the Gunner, can summon a giant mech to pilot and outfit that mech with different cool weapons and upgrades. Amara, the Siren, can deal elemental damage by conjuring magical arms. And FL4K, the robot Beastmaster, has tamed a number of wild creatures who fight alongside them. It’s a lot to dig into, and like the first several potato chips in the bowl, it’s absolutely delicious at first.

Too Many Guns, But In A Fun Way

Unlike the tactical realism of a Ghost Recon, or Destiny’s system of arcane perks that only serve to make their sci-fi creations better at shooting, Borderlands’ guns are toys. They’re garish in shape and color, digital creations that exist to solve digital problems. It’s the best.

Look at this stupid and impractical gun. It’s great.

Borderlands’ approach both side-steps and doubles down on the gun fetishism that comes part and parcel in video games about shooting by making it all one big crass joke: wouldn’t it be cool to have an arsenal of impressive and interchangeable dicks that could also file your taxes?

Finding a good Borderlands gun feels like cheating, like you found an endgame weapon 20 hours too early. My first legendary sniper rifle was an absolute beast of a weapon that fired three incendiary projectiles at once but only consumed one bullet at a time. I got it at the end of the game’s first act, and it remained a staple of my firefights right up through the credits.

This is the high that Borderlands offers, and it feels great, but like any high, it cannot last. The experience of playing Borderlands often devolves into a hunt for the next fix, and the longer it takes to get that fix, the more time you have to resent the game for not giving it to you. When you’ve tasted the high of an unexpectedly power-packed weapon, trying out more of the “normal” guns makes you feel kind of like a scrub, you know?

Granted, “normal” in Borderlands 3 is still pretty wild. When you have guns that turn into homing grenades, or crawling drone turrets, or bouncing balls that yelp “ow” every time they ricochet off a surface, you’d have to work very hard to have a boring firefight.

The game is built to encourage an endless search for the perfect loadout. What if I’m missing out on the coolest gun I’ve ever seen in a video game? I won’t know until I find it, so I have to keep playing. But am I actually enjoying this? Or just chasing the high? It’s hard to say.

Borderlands 3 has some of the best locales in the series—like my favorite, the Jakobs Estate.

Tucked away into the corners of Borderlands 3, I do find a lot to like. Its generous approach to sidequests, for example, rewards players with items but also with bespoke little stories. There are whole regions of several maps that you’ll only ever go to if you’re pursuing a sidequest. They’re like optional dungeons, there for those who want to do them, each offering something new to see along with a chance for more loot.

Borderlands 3’s soundtrack, which rarely makes itself known, has the benefit of offering occasional moments of delight when you stop to notice it. Like Borderlands itself, it can occasionally blast up into garish and annoying territory, but more often than not, it’s a hidden gem, there for the finding. After I got clobbered by a giant sphere drone and tried to re-evaluate my loadout, I happened to notice a throwback club groove that sounds a lot like the chorus to Kiesza’s “Hideaway,” with a touch of the sax-and-dance vibe at the end of Japanese Breakfast’s “Machinist.” Over on the swamp-world of Eden-6, I paused to take in a bit of ambient music that sounds like a Kate Bush synth cover.

These are little grace notes that show some personality in areas where other huge games might phone it in. There are some musical ideas I’d love to groove to there, but the game quickly moves on to other ones, like the (admittedly pretty good) running joke about a fictional modern jazz act.

The Borderlands Tone

Borderlands 3 is marketed as a comedy, but I’m not sure that’s what it truly wants to be. It’s irreverent, sure. There’s a very South Park-esque “everyone sucks” vibe to the game’s comedic beats. It’s just that the target of every joke is too lazy or too late. There’s a scene making fun of hipster baristas, a character who’s supposed to be a version of The Room writer/director/weirdo Tommy Wiseau, and an achievement list with titles like “On Fleek.”

Oh hi Mark.

Even less flattering are the game’s many comedic asides that make light of casual misogyny even as they exhibit an awareness of it. There’s the man who purposefully misstates “bitch” instead of “witch” when referring to a villain who’s an actual swamp witch. Another character, after saying something that could be interpreted as sexual harassment, notes that he “definitely attended that meeting.”

It remains baffling and infuriating that the game continues to treat dwarfism as fodder for slapstick comedy, even though it has ditched an offensive term for little people that previous games used, replacing it with the made-up term “tinks.” Or that, despite this being an issue raised about a character in Borderlands 2, Borderlands 3 has a white character appropriating African American Vernacular English. Or that this game prominently features Chris Hardwick reprising his Tales From The Borderlands role of Vaughn despite public allegations of emotional abuse (not all of the other returning characters have their original voice actors back).

While this is the garish shade with which Borderlands 3 colors itself, the game’s overarching narrative is more interested in telling a sincere story that feels like a last hurrah for the cast of characters that has slowly developed over the past four Borderlands games. (And yes, Tales From The Borderlands is part of this farewell tour.) Borderlands 3 is casually and quietly inclusive, making it clear that a number of its heroes and villains are queer or nonbinary while also not calling too much attention to it. It’s a story in which the heroes are mostly women⁠—women who lead and sacrifice and disagree and win. There are jokes, but the story delivers its stakes with a straight face, and bets that players will be delighted at which characters will turn, and who they will miss.

The bummer is that, much like its comedy, the drama of Borderlands 3 doesn’t really have a target it’s willing to show teeth to. “Corporations” in the abstract sense have always been the overarching villain in Borderlands games, but they’ve also been a target that Borderlands has always stood up to with the weakest of knees. It is hard, after all, to make clean hits at massive companies for trampling people underfoot in an amoral quest for profit when the heart of your game is wholly dedicated to selfish plunder.

The specific antagonists of Borderlands 3, Troy and Tyreen Calypso, also feel like missed opportunities. By making them shock-jock streamers who have amassed a cult following among the bandits of Pandora, Borderlands 3 gestures at the kind of unchecked influence YouTubers and livestreamers can have in our current media landscape, and how viral fame can also destroy those who it elevates. The bones of something compelling are there, but Borderlands 3 lacks any of the conviction necessary to deliver on it. Its themes are as poorly developed as its sense of humor.

It’s Still The Best At What It Does

Even with their big entrances, most bosses you fight are pretty forgettable.

Despite the proliferation of games like Borderlands in the burgeoning loot shooter genre, there still isn’t a big-budget game that does exactly what it does. It’s a massive offline Diablo-style first-person shooting game that can be joined at any point with friends, either online or on the couch. All of its serious competition—be it Destiny 2 or Warframe or The Division 2—come with a pretty big deviation, namely a required internet connection.

While the broad strokes remain the same, Borderlands 3 is a better Borderlands game than we’ve ever seen, notably in the way that it opens up the endgame. There’s the prerequisite new game plus that lets you keep your loot and skills to take on the story again, just harder and with better loot.

There’s also the new Mayhem mode, which allows you to go back into the world after the end of the campaign and clean up any side quests you have left, with stronger enemies and random modifiers that will buff certain weapons or enemy health, or debuff your stats. Maybe energy weapon damage is boosted while regular weapon damage is dialed back. Maybe your guns do more damage while your action skills do less. There are three tiers of Mayhem, each offering better loot in exchange for steeper modifiers. It’s a terrific feature that makes going back and cleaning up leftover side quests—which, as mentioned, are substantial—feel so much more rewarding.

Unfortunately, on a technical level, Borderlands 3 is surprisingly bad at one of its core features: inventory management. I’m not merely referring to the interface, although it is a bit too cluttered and throws so many numbers at you that your eyes will glaze over after several hours of comparing loot. The bigger issue is performance. On Xbox One X, the inventory screen stutters almost without fail. Sometimes there’s a barely perceptible lag, and other times it takes a full three to five seconds for your guns to load in.

Inventory management is a disaster, but at least you can put together some pretty fly looks.

This may sound like a minor quibble, but it’s a problem that’s magnified when you play in split-screen. The rest of co-op play works well enough, although the same technical issues that you may encounter in solo play, like lighting that doesn’t properly adjust when you go from indoor to outdoor environments, will persist. The real issue is the whole game grinds to a stop whenever one player opens up their inventory screen.

I don’t mean the game pauses when one player pauses. (The game only pauses in co-op when both players pause, which is a very nice feature.) I mean the frame rate drops to the damn floor and no one can move for a couple seconds once someone opens their inventory. Given how much of the game is devoted to inventory management, it’s enough to make you want to tap out after a single co-op mission.

I don’t know how vital couch co-op is to the Borderlands community as a whole, but it is one of the reasons why I’ve always kept a Borderlands game within reach. It’s one of the last holdouts in the big-budget shooter space that has held on to split-screen co-op in a world where it’s largely gone extinct (Gears 5 is another.). To me, it’s part of the reason I even bother with Borderlands.

So, How About Those Chips?

When a video game franchise has been around long enough, it establishes an identity in the public consciousness. That identity can become a defense against criticism. What did I expect, for a Borderlands game to not be Borderlands, with all the good and bad that comes with that?

Borderlands 3 has what its predecessors had: the corny humor that doesn’t always land, an unremarkable story, and an endless loop of replacing your loadout with a slightly improved loadout. It’s a relatively static experience in a franchise that hasn’t changed a whole lot in the last ten years. It is what Borderlands has always been, and everyone knows what that entails.

There’s room for it in your life, just like there’s room for a bag of potato chips in your pantry. They’re great for parties, or carb emergencies. They’re also unfulfilling, and don’t contribute much to your health. We call it junk food for a reason.

Like junk food, Borderlands 3 is an exercise in cheap hedonism. It’s not meant to take the place of a meal, but it still warrants criticism for being what it is, what it’s always been: a compulsively playable shooter with some good ideas and also some frustratingly retrograde attitudes. There’s enough good here to understand why you’d keep it around, but also enough troubling aspects that you could justify cutting it from your life entirely. But, even then, if you came across it at a house party, you’d probably take a bite.

Source: Kotaku.com

Six Hours In, Borderlands 3 Just Feels Like More Borderlands (And It’s Kinda Busted)

Image: 2K Games

Borderlands 3 is almost certainly the game that you think it is. Six hours in, a lot of my feelings remain the same as they were when I first played Borderlands 3 at an extended preview last month. In a lot of ways it’s a time capsule, in some ways embarrassingly retrograde in its sensibilities, and in other ways confident that its central draw of shooting and looting always was and will continue to be enough. Because of how little the franchise has changed, the best way to know if Borderlands 3 is for you is to boot up one of the previous games in the series and see how well it works for you today.

Time is not a friend to the Borderlands games, which have largely remained stagnant as so-called loot shooters have proliferated around it. The novelty of a game that fused the steady dopamine rush of Diablo-style loot and light role-player character building with some decent shooting has now become common. You can get a similar experience with better shooting in Destiny 2, or with a weirder backstory in Warframe. It’s like the difference between being excited about Chipotle coming to your small town and choosing to go to Chipotle in a big city. If that’s what you like, go for it—but has anyone told you about your options?

A significant point in Borderlands 3’s favor is its size: I’m still very early in this very long game, and while it doesn’t seem interested in a major shift from what came before, there’s plenty of room for little surprises. I’m curious to see what’s lurking in the margins, to dive more deeply into side quests now that I’ve spent some time diving ahead in the main campaign.

The constantly changing scenery in Borderlands 3 is quite nice.

So far, the story is serviceable—you begin the game working for Lilith, the Siren from the very first Borderlands, and are drawn into conflict with the Calypso Twins, a couple of livestreamers with loud personalities and a penchant for snuff. The Calypsos have united all of the bandits of Pandora, and they’ve got designs on finding Vaults—in Borderlands lore, they’re hidden lairs rumored to be full of unimaginable loot, but in reality often come with a nasty surprise—on planets across the galaxy. So it’s up to you to chase them, because they very clearly won’t use whatever they find in a Vault for any good.

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There are some concerning technical issues—on a Friday afternoon stream, I played co-op with video producer Paul Tamayo on an Xbox One X, and the game almost ground to a halt, the frame rate protesting as a second player dropped in for a split-screen local game. After a few minutes, it worked out just fine—until one of us opened our menu to change out loot or look at the map. Then, once again, the game began to chug, and negotiating firefights became far more difficult than it needed to be.

I should note that like many games enhanced for Xbox One X, you can choose to emphasize visual fidelity or frame rate, and I had chosen the former. Regardless, seamless couch co-op is a huge part of Borderlands 3’s appeal, and it should work without issue. I’ll be trying it some more in the coming week to see how consistent a problem this is.

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It’s the biggest problem in a game with rough edges. Most are minor, like some mild texture pop-in or the occasional audio drop that makes your gun suddenly silent (which might irritate you more if you, like me, wish the shooting in Borderlands had more heft.) There was also one instance where a quest-giver completely disappeared mid-mission, barring me from continuing because they were supposed to open a door for me. Fortunately, Borderlands 3 is generous with its checkpoints, and re-starting my game fixed the problem, but I’m still a little wary.

Mostly, Borderlands 3 feels like a game that doesn’t have a whole lot to prove. It has piles of guns and a rude attitude and little people to shoot, because hey, isn’t that funny? In its first act, Borderlands 3 luxuriates in low expectations, resting in confidence that its core pleasure of sorting through endless piles of weird and improbable weaponry is enough to skate by. That and, if it works, the all-too-rare pleasure of having a solid shooter that you can play on the couch with someone else.

Source: Kotaku.com

Homeworld 3 Is Coming, Hell Yes

Twenty years after the release of the first game in the series, we got news today that there’s going to be a third mainline Homeworld game.

Gearbox announced the title today at PAX West, with development being handled by Blackbird Interactive, the studio behind not just the recent Homeworld Remastered games, but the Homeworld prequel Deserts of Kharak as well.

Here’s the debut trailer:

It’s going to be a full-blooded sequel, carrying on the story from the earlier mainline games (remember, the otherwise-excellent Cataclysm isn’t treated as canon) and promising the return of Homeworld’s signature 3D real-time space combat.

As someone who loves Homeworld from the very bottom of my heart, this is amazing news, and yet, there’s a weird catch attached to the announcement. Despite Gearbox publishing the game, and that it’s coming from an established studio with a number of successful releases under its belt, Homeworld 3 is going to be crowd-funded.

It’s only very early in development, with the idea being that a campaign on Fig will play a big role in funding the rest of the game’s development. This is from Homeworld 3’s announcement press release:

The campaign will allow longtime Homeworld fans to become investors in Fig and participate in the game’s future success. Additionally, investments and pledges will provide a chance to tell the developers what they expect of Homeworld 3 via a backer-only survey. This survey would include things such as its features, priorities, and even what the collector’s edition will include.

I mean…this is Homeworld 3, I’m sure it’ll make millions, but it does raise questions as to why Gearbox isn’t just funding this game outright.

For now, though, I’m just going to soak up the fact Homeworld 3 is coming, and linger for an uncomfortable amount of time over this early concept art for the game.

Source: Kotaku.com

Homeworld 3 Is Coming, Hell Yes

Twenty years after the release of the first game in the series, we got news today that there’s going to be a third mainline Homeworld game.

Gearbox announced the title today at PAX West, with development being handled by Blackbird Interactive, the studio behind not just the recent Homeworld Remastered games, but the Homeworld prequel Deserts of Kharak as well.

Here’s the debut trailer:

It’s going to be a full-blooded sequel, carrying on the story from the earlier mainline games (remember, the otherwise-excellent Cataclysm isn’t treated as canon) and promising the return of Homeworld’s signature 3D real-time space combat.

As someone who loves Homeworld from the very bottom of my heart, this is amazing news, and yet, there’s a weird catch attached to the announcement. Despite Gearbox publishing the game, and that it’s coming from an established studio with a number of successful releases under its belt, Homeworld 3 is going to be crowd-funded.

It’s only very early in development, with the idea being that a campaign on Fig will play a big role in funding the rest of the game’s development. This is from Homeworld 3’s announcement press release:

The campaign will allow longtime Homeworld fans to become investors in Fig and participate in the game’s future success. Additionally, investments and pledges will provide a chance to tell the developers what they expect of Homeworld 3 via a backer-only survey. This survey would include things such as its features, priorities, and even what the collector’s edition will include.

I mean…this is Homeworld 3, I’m sure it’ll make millions, but it does raise questions as to why Gearbox isn’t just funding this game outright.

For now, though, I’m just going to soak up the fact Homeworld 3 is coming, and linger for an uncomfortable amount of time over this early concept art for the game.

Source: Kotaku.com

Borderlands 3 Feels Like A Throwback To 2012 In All The Best (And Worst) Ways

It has been five years since the last two Borderlands games—the one-two punch of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel and the Telltale Games spinoff, Tales From the Borderlands. Five years is a healthy amount of time for something to be gone, but for Gearbox Software, developers of the first two games (The Pre-Sequel was developed by 2K Australia, with assistance from Gearbox), it’s been even longer. The 2012 release of Borderlands 2 might as well have been a lifetime ago.

One of the weirder things about our Extremely Online Times is that you don’t really have to wait that long to be nostalgic for something. If you’re regularly logged on, checking out streams and posts and the like, months can feel like years, and years like entire decades. That might be why Borderlands 3 feels like such a throwback. Or maybe it’s because, in all that time, Gearbox does not appear to have changed the Borderlands formula much. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

At a preview event last week, I spent about five hours with Borderlands 3, playing through the game’s prologue at my own pace (a leisurely 3-4 hours) and then through a section midway through the game with a character at level 22. You can see the footage embedded above. It’s a healthy slice of a near-finished game, one that feels a lot like Borderlands has never really left.

Consistent with the previous games, its shooting is fine, but the main draw is the sheer variety of guns and the effects they can potentially have. The experience of actually shooting them still feels somewhat ephemeral and light in your digital hands, but the guns themselves? Wonderfully varied in ways that makes you want to toy with them all. Pistols that also fire rockets, guns that you throw instead of reloading (and which subsequently become bouncing grenades or walking turrets), or a wicked chain gun with a second barrel you can toggle on or off.

The game gets with the times, but only a little bit. You can now mantle and slide; the latter feels nicer to do than the former. In a lot of ways, though, Borderlands 3 feels a lot like the exact same kind of game the previous three were. From the hefty five-hour slice I played, the most noticeable difference in Borderlands 3 is in each character’s special abilities, called Action skills.

In previous games, characters had one action skill that, as you leveled up, could be tweaked and improved by passive upgrades and interesting buffs based on the skill tree of your choosing. In Borderlands 3, characters have three action skills you can swap between, and each can be upgraded in unique ways. Moze, for example, summons a mech as her action skill, but what weapons it has equipped are completely up to you. As you upgrade her skill trees, you can choose to add a minigun, a rail gun, or a grenade launcher, and modify or upgrade those as you see fit.

If you pick FL4K, the robot Beastmaster, those skill trees look entirely different: you unlock new pets and special abilities independently, which you can then mix and match. So you can choose from having a Spiderant, Skag, or Jabber pet following you around, and also pick your accompanying skill, be it invisibility, or summoning rakks to dive-bomb a target.

This wildly diverse set of customization options shores up the one thing Borderlands games have been pretty lousy at for a long time: The “role-playing” part of “action role-playing game.” These changes make me feel like it will be much easier to sink many hours into Borderlands 3, especially around the fifteen-hour mark, where previous games left me feeling like my options were pretty thin.

Yet there are a considerable number of things that might make it much harder to play Borderlands 3. Let’s start with that distinctive tone. The Borderlands house style is brash, irreverent schlock, delivered in a way that will strike some as obnoxious. It’s been ten years since the first Borderlands, and if you played that game, you have probably changed a lot in the last ten years, and yet here is Borderlands 3, behaving like the same old high school cut-up even though it’s middle-aged.

There’s reason to believe that this tone might be in the service of a satisfying story. Borderlands 2 was acclaimed for its surprisingly involved, character-driven plot, and the story of Borderlands 3 appears to have some potential meat on its bones. Its villains are a couple of streamers—twin siblings Troy and Tyreen Calypso—who have united the series’ disparate groups of ludicrously armed bandits and goons under the banner of their fandom.

From what I’ve played, the Calypso Twins—while being loud, confrontational characters in the Borderlands vein—aren’t merely vapid parody. I had the opportunity to ask Borderlands 3 co-lead writers Sam Winkler and Danny Homan about this, and I’ve been thinking about their answer ever since.

“We thought it would be really interesting to deal with villains that built their way up and had this crowd-sourced, grassroots Psycho army. It’s so much fun to see these twins have to be ‘on’ all the time: Simultaneously they’re insulting us and entertaining their viewers and egging them on into increasingly horrifying acts,” Winkler said. “In order to be a streamer, you have to have something special to you, and you have to be always ‘on.’ And there’s a slippery slope aspect of like, ‘Oh no, I gotta do bigger and better things.’”

There are also real-world concerns about some of the people involved in the production of this game, which are less easily assuaged. Most disconcerting and relevant to my time spent with the game is the presence of Chris Hardwick, reprising his voice acting role as Tales From the Borderlands character Vaughn, despite allegations of emotional abuse that came to light last year.

I asked Homan and Winkler about Hardwick, and this is what they said: “I’d be lying if said, if it wasn’t a conversation when it first came up,” WInkler said. “But those decisions end up getting made at a higher level. Working with Vaughn, the character, is extremely fun. We had a really great time writing him.”

It is also impossible to write about Borderlands 3 and not also consider things like the sensational allegations made against Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford on the part of a former Gearbox lawyer, who claims that Pitchford has received a substantial advance against Borderlands 3 profits that would otherwise go towards developer royalties (among more salacious claims). All of these allegations have been categorically denied by Gearbox and legal proceedings have been underway since January, but it’s another complicating factor that has many fans feeling uncertain about Borderlands 3.

It’s been ten years since the first Borderlands game came out. A lot has changed, but it seems like Borderlands the video game series has not. That sounds like great news if you’re a Borderlands fan—but also, maybe Borderlands fans have changed, too. Sometimes nostalgia is just fine. Sometimes it’s nowhere near enough.

Borderlands 3 is out September 13, 2019.

Source: Kotaku.com