A Port That Exceeds Expectations
A little less than ten years ago, a port of Borderlands 2 famously launched for Sony’s ailing PS Vita to middling reception. The fact that a then-current game could run at all on a portable was remarkable, but the flat visuals, crashing, and consistently sub 30 FPS performance relegated it to more of a novelty than a version that people would be comfortable playing for hours on end. When Borderlands 3 Ultimate Edition was announced for the Switch, there was a lot of discourse that history would be repeating itself here, and this wasn’t helped by the general lack of footage leading up to release. Fortunately, any such fears can now be put to rest. Borderlands 3 runs shockingly well on the Switch, bringing over the full, crazy experience in all its glory for portable play.
A Familiar Yet Fun Story
Borderlands 3 picks up about seven years after the events of Borderlands 2 and follows the interstellar adventures of familiar Crimson Raiders like Lilith, Claptrap, and Ellie alongside newcomers like Ava and Lorelei. The gang this time around faces off against the Calypso Twins, a godlike sibling duo who have united the bandit clans of Pandora under a cult called the Children of the Vault. Notably, Tyreen Calypso has the ability to leech power from other creatures, and if she’s allowed to absorb the powers of the ancient beasts residing in the Vaults hidden across each planet, she’ll become virtually unstoppable.
It’s a fine enough story, and much like the previous entries, Borderlands 3 is hardly the kind of game that takes itself too seriously. Virtually every minute of the adventure is packed with juvenile humor and larger-than-life characters that help to keep everything feeling lighthearted, though this can occasionally be grating. Even if not all the jokes land for you, there are enough here that it’s all but guaranteed that some will—it’s hard not to be drawn in by the sheer childish charm of the Borderlands universe.
A Winning Blend of RPG and Shooting
Gameplay in Borderlands 3 has been described as ‘Diablo with guns’, which feels apt given its potent blend of RPG elements and first-person shooting mechanics. You begin by picking a character from one of four different classes, each of which has three different skill trees that then build that character up in divergent ways. We went with Moze on our playthrough, whose main gimmick is that she can periodically summon a heavy armored mech like D.Va from Overwatch. How you choose to build your character is up to you, though you’ll never get enough skill points to max out every skill tree, so you do need to think about how your picks synergize with each other. Luckily, if you get a few hours in and realize that you’re build isn’t working out, or you just decide that you want to try something different, you can always reset your skills at a cost of 10% of your cash on hand.
A Treasure Trove of Loot
As you explore the expansive locales of each planet, you’ll constantly be inundated with mountains of randomly generated, color coded loot. Every gun comes with unique stat modifiers, elemental effects, and abilities, and there are all the expected staples featured here such as shotguns, rifles, and SMGs. To add even more variety, guns also come from a variety of different manufacturers, which each have their own intricacies to navigate. Reloading a Tediore gun, for example, results in your character throwing the spent gun like a grenade and pulling out a new one, while the blast radius and damage will be bigger if there were more bullets left in the clip. The best part about this loot system is that it feels incredibly deep without being unnecessarily overwhelming or complicated. There are lots of factors to consider when working on a build, but this isn’t necessarily the kind of thing where it feels like you’re laboriously poring over spreadsheets and spending more time crunching numbers than you are shooting raiders in the face. And though everyone will naturally gravitate towards weapons and builds that suit their playstyle, the loot system here feels like it often prompts you to experiment and rethink your build. For example, a really juicy legendary shotgun could drop, and even if it doesn’t work that well with your build, it’s easy enough to respec and try it out to see how it can improve your overall performance.
Slick Gunplay and Questing Galore
When you’re not busy messing with your loadout, gunplay feels swift and snappy when you find yourself dragged into the thick of battle. Every character can vault over low obstacles and dash into a long slide, which goes a long way towards making fights feel less stiff than they did in previous entries while the aiming itself is aided in no small part by helpful motion controls that make it much easier to snap to targets. This is the best that the shooting has ever felt in a Borderlands game, and it never gets old whether you’re playing your fifth or fiftieth hour.
Though Borderlands 3 is an open-world game, it doesn’t feature one continuous environment to explore. Instead, you have a central hub in your Sanctuary mothership, which you use to travel to various planets that each feature their own massive, interconnected maps. On each of these, you can scoop up sidequests, go on monster hunts, raid strongholds, and ferret out hidden chests in what feels like an almost never-ending deluge of things to do. And while plenty of the side content here can feel a little ‘fetch quest-y’, some of the side plots meaningfully expand the lore of the characters or environment, and there’s something delightfully relaxing about turning off your brain and spending a few hours knocking out quests while listening to a podcast. All along the way, you’ll be constantly rewarded with new loot drops, and the rewards for completing quests are usually well worth the effort.
The Ultimate Edition
Those of you who are easily wooed by content-rich and densely packed open-world games will be pleased to know, too, that this Switch version offers an awful lot of bang for your buck. Alongside the complete base campaign, you get all the DLC that came out in the years since the initial launch, which adds up to well over a hundred hours of content. Content for each DLC is mostly siloed in their own play areas, but whether you’re exploring an enormous space casino or participating in a cheesy Western (complete with a gritty narrator voiceover), these separate campaigns all bring something new or interesting to the table and feel like they meaningfully add to the overall experience. Make no mistake, if Borderlands 3 gets its hooks in you, it’ll be a long time before you finally reach the bottom of all that it has to offer.
A Miraculous Port
Regarding its performance on Switch, Borderlands 3 isn’t far off another ‘miracle port’. Gearbox somehow managed to squeeze 100+ GB of content down to just 23.5 GB with minimal cuts to the visual experience. Sure, textures are lower quality and there’s a little less detail in environments compared to the versions on other platforms, but it looks especially great on the Switch’s screen and these minor tradeoffs are well worth the ability to play on the go. Best of all, the uncapped frame rate is remarkably smooth, even in more intense battles. The lowest it seemed to dip was about 30 FPS in the heaviest sequences, but the vast majority of the time, things are sticking to about 40-50 FPS.
Borderlands 3 on the Switch is a remarkable achievement that brings the full Borderlands experience to a portable console without sacrificing too much in the process. With its engaging story, addictive gameplay, and wealth of content, it’s a game that can keep you entertained for hours on end. Whether you’re a fan of the series or a newcomer, this port is definitely worth checking out.