A Vacation in the Borderlands – the Borderlands 3 mini PC Game Review
This editor hasn’t taken a vacation in over a year – that is until Borderlands 3 released just over a week ago. Thanks to 2K and AMD we received a game code and took a full week off from work to complete the main quest and most of the side quests in 50 hours of play.
It took parts of 7 days to complete Borderlands 3’s main story at Level 38 as we did not hurry. Borderlands 2 set a very high bar as one of our all-time favorite games with Handsome Jack as an awesome villain, and we wondered if he could be equaled in the sequel. It turns out, not quite, but the writing team at Gearbox delivered a decent story with some depth and dark humor that focuses on family relationships, friendship, and self-sacrifice. One of the side quests even focuses on Handsome Jack and helps to explain what changed him into a super-villain.
The Calypso twin villains don’t match up to Handsome Jack. Troy and Tyreen Calypso are presented as annoying but powerful teenagers leading a dangerous and violent cult. They exhibit severe mental issues complicated by a god complex as they attempt to harness the power of alien vaults to destroy the universe. They goad the Vault Hunter at every turn and are irritating enough to make the player hate them.
Besides the Calypso twins’ story, there are multiple back stories which are advanced by playing the side quests, some of which are very well-written. Side quests are also important to give a player experience points (XP) so he does not play the main story under-leveled. However, it is difficult to imagine playing any of the Borderlands games primarily for their storylines which have some large plot holes and inconsistencies.
The humor is still very juvenile with a lot of double meanings, and some of it is quite adult. But best of all, the Vault Hunter gets to meet characters from the earlier Borderlands games including Tina who is now grown up but just as crazy. Overall their stories are well-written and voice acted which is sufficient to advance the action which is the real star.
Borderlands 3 exudes personality partly by using variety for the excellent NPC audio and animation and with the level designs to keep it interesting so the fighting never goes stale even after many hours of play. The enemy NPCs vary their attacking, cover, and flanking tactics with sufficient AI to make it challenging although sometimes they appear confused.
The bosses are sometimes huge, and although Billy the Anointed may be one of the more difficult bosses, they not generally of the same high caliber of Borderlands 2 where one could spend far longer fighting BNKER, Saturn, or the Warrior. There are still good boss loot drops but it can be spoiled by some overpowered builds which can kill bosses in a couple of minutes. The latest 2GB patch which dropped last week attempted to balance some of these issues and it is expected that there will be more updates.
Borderlands 3 like its three predecessors offers a similar kind of fast-paced action shooter featuring an extreme variety of weapons that are distinct from each other, and it drives the player to experiment endlessly. The almost unlimited weapon choices for a player at any particular level adds in a lot of variables and modifiers as to which weapons work best for any particular build.
It appears to be part of the magic of Borderlands 3 to not explain this in detail and the weapons stats presented are only a rough guide which lets the player experiment on his own. A player should never replace a favorite weapon that is becoming under-leveled with a promising higher stat weapon until it can be tested first.
We played as FLAK4 which is one of four new Vault Hunter choices. He is a robotic-type creature who summons one of three pets to aid in his fights, and we picked a skag. Amara is a Siren who summons exotic powers, Moze is a Gunner who can use and ride a mech, and Zane is an operative who specializes in gadgets.
There are multiple trees with many skill choices that one can build and there are also many ways to customize your Vault Hunter’s look. We concentrated on only a couple of trees instead of spending XP across many.
Originally we put a lot of points into building a super-skag, but we had difficulties beating some bosses. Fortunately there is a respec machine and we changed to a mostly Stalker build around Level 30. It worked well for us playing solo, and the mobs and end bosses proved challenging but not too difficult.
Borderland’s 3’s gunplay and fighting mechanics are improved over the earlier games. Combat has improved and it is more fast-paced. Fast travel has greatly improved and you can do it from almost anywhere. The new 3D map design is much less confusing although it is still easy to get lost. And a player still has a choice when revisiting a map to just run past the enemy NPCs to reach a goal.
Performance, Visuals and Bugs
This editor played the entire game in Ultra DX11 using a RX 5700 XT Anniversary Edition, a Core i7 8700K at 4.8GHz, and 16GB of T-Force XTREEM DDR4 at 3866MHz. The framerates were butter-smooth on an ASUS 34″ 1920×1080 120Hz display in both regular play and by using the built-in benchmark which we consider representative. Averaging just under 80 FPS in DX11, the RTX 5700 XT also gained a few FPS by switching to DX12. At 2560×1440 we experienced mid-50s FPS which were not sufficient for us.
Playing in DX11, Borderlands 3 crashed pretty regularly every 5 hours or so which to us is acceptable. However, switching to DX12 brought irregular crashes every half hour or so, and one happened immediately before the end of an otherwise successful boss fight. DX12 is still Beta, and although it brings higher framerates for the RX 5700 XT, the more frequent crashes were intolerable. The 2GB patch that dropped a few days ago helped a bit with overall stability.
After playing through the main quest, we played unfinished side quests using a RTX 2080 Ti with Ultra/DX11 settings on a 4K display and it was just as stable as playing with the Radeon. Unfortunately, we averaged just over 47 FPS at Ultra/4K and our RTX 2080 Ti even lost performance with DX12. At Ultra/DX11 we would consider 3440×1440 to be perfect for our RTX 2080 Ti and will use our ASUS Predator X34 GSYNC display when the DLC is released.
AMD partnered with 2K on Borderlands 3 to add new features including FidelityFX. It offers a dynamic sharpening filter to increase detail levels in low-contrast areas and it is perfect for using with TAA which tends to be blurry. We noticed no performance differences with FidelityFX enabled or disabled and were also able to use it with GeForce.
There is a Badass setting above Ultra that we did not use which gives limited visual enhancements at the cost of performance. In fact, we would still have loved the game if it was on Borderlands 2’s Unreal Engine 3. However, the Unreal Engine 4 which introduce new visual enhancements including HDR and improved lighting effects add greatly when you are acting as a tourist, but when the action starts, the enhanced visuals don’t matter to the gameplay.
Although the soundtrack and music are excellent with great fighting music, just being able to hear dialogue is sometimes a real problem. Without turning to directly face each character as they talk in turn, it is very difficult to hear what they are saying. Hopefully this bug will get addressed in a future patch.
Borderlands 3 offers replayability once the main story is completed with Mayhem mode, harder difficulties, and co-op play with friends. There are a total of 4 characters to explore with different builds and strategies to employ that can give a player hundreds of hours of additional play. Unfortunately, the cutscenes are not skippable on the replays.
The Score – BTR’s GotY
If Borderlands 3 didn’t crash quite so often and if the audio was perfect, it would deserve a higher score than 8.9/10 – it is this reviewer’s Game of the Year just edging out Metro: Exodus. It offers a very good value with dozens of hours of action shooter fun and replayability for its $59.99.
There are some additional nitpicks as the ending boss was a disappointment since it went down in less than 10 minutes. FLAK4 may have been over-leveled but this was without finishing all the sidequests. The story is solid but a few of the later side quests seem to have ran out of good ideas and they appear less well-crafted than some of the earlier ones.
We are looking forward to playing the DLC and hope we won’t have to wait another 5 years for Borderlands 4. Borderlands 3 is BTR’s latest benchmark and we will feature it regularly.
Well, our Borderlands 3 vacation is over and we’re back to VR for the final review of BTR’s “VR Month” – the RTX 2080 Super and RTX 2080 Ti with the Vive Pro using 10 games to chart their performance.