Borderlands 3 – Keeping Up With The Calypsos

After seven years of DLC and side-stories for Borderlands 2, the third game is finally here. I’ve jumped into it over the past week and have been enjoying some vault hunting on brand new planets. The story is new, environments are new, there’s a million new guns, and the vault hunters themselves have brand new skills. So, what else is new? I keep hearing people say it’s just “more Borderlands” as if to downplay this game. Of course it’s more Borderlands, the title of the game is Borderlands 3. It’s not inaccurate, just a lazy way to describe it. Borderlands 3 is purposefully designed as a sequel and does a pretty good job improving the core gameplay while offering a new scenario. I’m currently level 20 and will go a bit more in depth about what’s new.

Thanks Rhys, just doing my best. He’s the head of Atlas who are under attack by Maliwan and… you know what, it’s just the usual corporate wankery. I’ll leave the story for later.

One of my favourite Borderlands 3 improvements is the map, it’s now in 3D! Wow, it’s a whole new generation of map graphics. The map has always been okay for normal use, but previous games had issues showing elevation changes. So in big castles like the Tiny Tina DLC the map was worthless. Everything was shown as flat so you’re better off looking at the environment to see how to actually get somewhere. Now, the map is fully 3D and rotatable so you don’t have to use your brain too much getting around. Who needs imagination anyway? Now you can follow the map everywhere with custom waypoints too. Sarcasm aside, there are still secrets outside the map so don’t worry. The game seems to have a lot more underground tunnels and elevation changes now to accommodate this, so it’s quite nice how everything connects. The new map is now closer to Metroid Prime or the new DOOM.

The HUD features a new option that allows you to change your current quest just with a button press during gameplay. Left and right on the dpad will cycle through all quests you’ve currently accepted, and the quest cursor will change immediately in that direction while you’re playing. It’s so much faster not having to open the menu just to do this. The new menu feels a bit laggy and unorganised to me, compared to previous games, but at least you don’t have to use it as much. There’s a lot of small shortcuts that make things easier.

The shooting itself is the single biggest improvement to me. The guns feel like they pack more punch, with better sound effects and designs. Enemies also react a bit more to your shots instead of being straight up bullet-sponges like past games. They are still a bit grindy but at least it’s improved. They are more lifelike in general and do their own things before you engage in fighting. One was just whistling behind me once and it really creeped me out. I also saw an enemy soldier fall down some stairs by himself. The animations are much better too, and of course we have a lot of new dialogue and scenarios to accompany the gameplay. It makes the gameplay feel fun and that’s the most important thing keeping me playing this. Exploration is my favourite part of Borderlands in general, but you just can’t avoid the enemies sometimes. It doesn’t feel as repetitive as it used to.

There’s also a new slide ability which I felt was really new and cool at first…. but now I barely use it. In fact I forgot it existed until doing this writeup and thinking about everything. You can also grab ledges now which makes the platforming a bit more reliable. There’s quite a few secrets high up on buildings and structures if you’re creative enough to get there. This game has been very fun to explore so far.

Hold up… a new Calypso stream is starting!

“Are you lacking meaning in your life? Want something to do? Something to fight for? Then it’s time to kill thousands of people in the interest of completing a videogame quest. What a good person you will be when your stats are maxed!”

I’ll talk a bit about the story in this paragraph, so skip to the next one if you don’t want spoilers. There isn’t much to spoil yet really, I’m still not even halfway through it feels. I am disappointed they rehashed so many of the same characters. Nobody liked Vaughn in the Borderlands 2 DLC but here he is anyway with a whole bunch of quests and more awful whiny opinions. Lilith, Marcus, Ellie, lots of familiar faces are back and they haven’t changed even slightly. It just makes it feel like I’m still playing the same game as Borderlands 2, at least at the start. Thankfully there are a lot of new characters being introduced to me now, after getting the first part of the game out of the way. It’s getting more and more interesting, I think after you get off Pandora is where the game really kicks off. My favourite people are the villains pictured above, Tyreen and Troy Calypso. They are legitimately scary siblings and have wild designs and mannerisms in classic villain fashion. Way cooler than Handsome Jack. Standard bandit enemies in this game are “fanatics” now, who are brainwashed by Troy and Tyreen’s streams and want to kill for them. It’s super disturbing but also provides a lot of good social commentary that feels very relevant to streaming culture today. I think it’s very well written, and having a new direction for the story was important for making Borderlands 3 feel new.

So what about the graphics? It just looks the same, right? We might have to zoom in a bit.

Now that’s some detailed grass. So lifelike you can smell it. The grass now has advanced blowing physics only possible when pushing the limits of modern hardware. It really adds the next-gen feel this game needed to be a true sequel. Aside from this healthy dose of nature, the animation is the biggest upgrade from what I’ve seen. The entire graphics engine doesn’t look that much different in terms of detail, but it just feels more alive with how things animate. Everything has a more defined punch to it. I’m playing on Xbox One S though, and it’s definitely not perfect. The new shinier graphics often tank the framerate significantly. I’m not talking about minor hitches, but my game has come to a complete stop a few times and resumed a few seconds later. Luckily the enemy died so I must have perfect aim when I can’t see anything.

The game also has issues with texture loading. There’s a bad and a good version of textures that the game just loads whenever it’s convenient and efficient. Too many times though I’ve been left blinking and confused about what is actually there. It’s disorientating. It only happens in a few areas but it’s worth mentioning. This and flaws with framerate make me think this game was released a bit early and would great benefit from a re-release when new hardware comes out. It happened to The Handsome Collection which runs flawlessly. Until then at least I am glad the game feels new, the graphics sometimes have that overwhelming “new game” feel where it’s fun to take everything in. The performance issues aren’t stopping me from enjoying it. Perhaps the best display of the new graphics engine are in set-pieces like the boss fights which look phenomenal. The giant 3D screens in the game also make it feel like technology in this game is actually better. I really love the sense of scope when you see lights flying around the sky.

One more thing I need to talk about is the first “online event”, Bloody Harvest. It adds brand new “Ghost” enemies into the main game, floating skulls that spring to life and charge at you when you kill a haunted enemy. This is also a new status, called “Terror” and these enemies drop specialised terror-based gear. I think it’s really cool how they were able to put this everywhere in the game, for something that’s a free event. That said, in my first playthrough of the game I got a bit overwhelmed by Halloween stuff and turned it off. It’s going to be active for 4 more weeks which is ridiculous, Halloween is over now and the gimmick gets old very quickly. The gear is also useless outside the event. Anyone else who wants to play the story for the first time without being hounded by ghosts, you simply need to play it offline. For Xbox One that’s quite simple, just sign out of Xbox Live in the main system menu. Then you might have to reboot the game. As long as you start it up while offline, you can connect online again and the event will remain inactive. The game will say “the game can be updated if you restart” but don’t do that unless you want the ghosts back.

That’s all I have to say until I finish the game I suppose. My own character is Zane, he seemed like the best person to do single player with his 3 helper skills. At some point I will try everyone, but I enjoy the Irish banter quite a bit and it’s a perfect match for the attitude of the game. He’s just here to have a good time. I’m liking Borderlands 3 a lot and think the gameplay improvements have set a very good foundation for future DLC, which ended up being the best part of Borderlands 2. I’m excited to see what crazy new environments and enemies they come up with using this new engine. I’ll see you online at some point when this Halloween event is over and I’ve beaten the story. Don’t forget to like, follow and obey.

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