Consider the slate of cross-platform games coming out on both new consoles. It’s a modest list, featuring Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Devil May Cry 5: Special Edition, Watch Dogs: Legion, some requisite sports and driving games, and… Borderlands 3? Yes, of all games, Gearbox’s performatively raunchy looter-shooter received a makeover for the Xbox Series X (and S) and the PlayStation 5. And get this: It’s a notable improvement.
In announcing the upgrade, Gearbox drew attention to the graphical boosts that tend to come with this sort of thing, saying that the game could hit 4K resolution at 60 frames per second on the PS5 and the Series X. To that end, you’ll find two new rendering options in Borderlands 3’s next-gen version. The Performance mode — which prioritises a higher framerate over a crisp resolution — is nice to have but not ultimately necessary. The Resolution mode, on the other hand, can be left by the wayside. No one’s playing Borderlands to gape at the vistas.
Screenshot: Gearbox / Kotaku, Fair Use
The Resolution mode looks nice but doesn’t help much in a firefight.
Screenshot: Gearbox / Kotaku, Fair Use
The Performance mode, meanwhile, grants a nice framerate boost. You can switch between the two on the fly.
The real differences can be found in how it functions. (For reference, I played the original on PlayStation 4 and this new version on PS5.) Borderlands 3 is a notoriously slow-loading game. Indeed, when we tested loading speeds between the PS4 and the PS5, we found that Borderlands 3 booted up whole minutes faster on the newer console. Going from the dashboard icon to the main hub area of Sanctuary III — a task that included some lightning-quick reflexes — took 3:41 on PS4. That original version on PS5, 1:20. That was before the upgrade. Now? The same load regularly takes me less than a minute.
It’s not just a faster boot-up. Anyone who’s played Borderlands 3 on a standard-issue PS4 knows how clunky the menus can get. Go to tab between your skills and your inventory and you might as well, I don’t know, get up to make dinner. On PS5, though, it’s smooth as glass, with nearly no hiccups between tabs. Seriously, look at this:
Co-op players will be thrilled to hear that opening your inventory no longer causes your partner to freeze up.
Outside of that, multiplayer is largely unchanged. The two-player mode still rules, same as ever. Though I’m itching to, I haven’t been able to try the much-anticipated four-player splitscreen. Just one of my roommates still plays the game, and I’m not about to break the apartment’s social-distancing bubble for the sake of hunting skag. I’ll just say this: Borderlands has always been at its best when you have four people on one couch. No reason that’d be any different this time around. (In other multiplayer options, heathens will be happy to hear that Borderlands 3 now includes vertical two-player splitscreen. No, of course I didn’t besmirch my screen with that.)
Meanwhile, the best new addition, at least for players on PS5, isn’t on-screen at all. It’s in your hands. Borderlands 3 makes full use of the DualSense’s advanced haptics to delightful effect. Breaking into a sprint causes an ever-so-subtle rumble. Same for when you jump, or land from a modest height, or reload a weapon. When you shoot a burst-fire hand cannon, you’ll feel the right trigger tense up with each individual round. Charge-up firearms rev like a motorcycle. Automatic rifles and submachine guns hum with the soothing buzz of a massage chair, while rocket launchers kick as hard as a donkey.
These breakthroughs are magnificent — not just for how they function in minute-to-minute gameplay but for what they suggest for the future. Borderlands 3 is the first true next-gen shooter I’ve played on the PS5. I now want to play every first-person shooter this generation on the PS5. If you told me a year ago that I’d want to play all my gun games on PlayStation rather than Xbox, I’d have politely disagreed. If you told me Borderlands would be the game to make me feel that way, I’d have (probably very impolitely) laughed in your face.
Piling the faster load times, the transcendent haptics, and, sure, why not, the improved framerate on top of an already rock-solid foundation is, no surprise, an easy recipe for success. All told, this is the version of Borderlands 3 I wish I played 14 months ago.
How do you make the jump from last-gen?
The upgraded versions of Borderlands 3 are free to owners of the last-gen versions, but not across platforms. In other words, if you played on PS4, you can nab the PS5 version at no extra cost, while Xbox One players can pick up the “optimised for Xbox Series X|S” (man, I’m so sick of that phrasing) for the same zero-dollar price tag. Transferring saves, however, is a different story.
My initial plan was to transfer saves the traditional way: by uploading everything to cloud storage, via PS Plus, and then download them onto my PS5. This did not work as intended. I could access the saves just fine on the backward-compatible PS4 version saved on my PS5. But when I booted up the PS5 version, I was faced with the gut-sink that’s affronted anyone who’s sunk more than 100 hours into a game: “New Game,” with the “Continue” option inaccessible.
The fix, it turns out, was directly under my nose. Back on my PS4 — by this point I had deleted the PS4 version from my PS5 — I clicked on “play” and scrolled down to “upload save.” I then did the same thing on PS5, only hitting “download save” instead. It was smooth sailing from there. All of my guns, shields, skills, class mods, and Guardian Token allotments were exactly as I left them. Even my safe stayed intact. The only hiccup involved a handful of guns that were unusable, a problem I quickly remedied by re-downloading the respective downloadable campaigns wherein I found them.
My trophies did not carry over between PS4 and PS5. I now have two Trophies cases for Borderlands 3, one for each generation. After a few minutes of playing, I re-earned the four level-threshold Trophies (earned when hitting levels 2, 10, 25, and 50). The rest I’ll have to start collecting from scratch. Hey, who knows, maybe I’ll pick up two platinums for Borderlands 3. (I absolutely will not.)
What about the new content?
Borderlands 3 launched on the PS5 and Xbox Series X (and S) alongside some new downloadable content. For about $20, players across all platforms can get access to the Designer’s Cut DLC, which adds a new skill tree for each character and a new mode called Arm’s Race. (For $40, players can pick up the entire second season pass. That’s comprised of both the Designer’s Cut and the Director’s Cut, an add-on Gearbox hasn’t detailed in full just yet.) Last month, Gearbox described Arm’s Race as a “roguelike experience.”
Folks, Arms Race is not a roguelike experience.
Sure, the mode shares some elements with a traditional roguelike. You start with no gear, and slowly accrue the stuff you need — guns, a shield, that sort of thing — as you play. You’ll die (a lot). Every time you restart, you’ll have to source gear from scratch. Your goal is to pick up enough strong gear so you can defeat the area’s boss. (He’s not terribly tough. My co-op partner and I took him down on our second run, after stumbling upon his room by accident.)
I’m not usually one to split hairs over whether or not a game is a roguelite or a roguelike — language is transient, and c’mon, you know what we mean anyway — or if it even falls under that umbrella anyway. Still, I think I have to draw the line here. If the above criteria is how Gearbox defines a “roguelike experience,” then so many games can be classified as such. Is Fortnite a roguelike? What about a Halo match? The sheer fact that I stumbled upon the final boss should tell you all you need to know about whether or not Arms Race is a “roguelike experience.” After all, you can’t just take a shortcut around Elysium in Hades, the best roguelike.
Consider too that Arms Race also has battle royale elements. There’s a storm — called, in the most Borderlands thing ever, the “Murdercane” — that moves around the map on a timer, corralling you into specific areas. To revive your teammates you have to head to designated respawn points. A secondary goal involves extracting high-leveled gear, which you can do at various machines strewn around the map, including one in the boss’s antechamber.
I don’t point these out to dunk on Arms Race. (In fact, I find the mode to be a frenetic, subversive take on Borderlands formula.) It’s just that Arms Race isn’t merely a roguelike, or a battle royale, or some other already existent genre. It’s very much a unique mode. Dubbing it a “roguelike experience” undersells the awesomeness at play here. Own it, guys. Arms Race is its own deal — and is all the better for it.
There’s also that little matter of starting from scratch. It’s all too easy to fall back on a familiar set of weapons in Borderlands. By stripping you of everything, you’re required to step out of your comfort zone just a bit. In the main game, I loathed those homing-beacon pistols. Same goes for double-barrel shotguns. In Arms Race, I’ve come to realise how much of a godsend both are. The mode has seen me bust out of the same SMG mould I’ve spent a decade in.
Beyond Arms Race, each character’s new skill tree brings additional abilities to the table. Amara can create an element-infused orb. Zane can whip out a shoulder-mounted cannon. FL4K can tag in a robot friend, raising the question: In the Borderlands, are robots people? And Moze can summon a smaller mecha-murder ursine called Iron Cub, who uses the same weapons as Iron Bear but operates autonomously. I’m a Moze player yet can’t speak to how this Iron Cub plays, as there’s no way in Pandora I’m reordering my skill tree to level-up a mech I can’t even pilot.
For me, the skill trees are somewhat of a letdown. As a huge fan of past Borderlands DLC characters — Gaige from the second game and Aurelia from The Pre-Sequel are personal faves — I would’ve preferred another Vault Hunter. (Shortly after launch, Gearbox revealed that additional characters wouldn’t get added to the game, upsetting some players.) But those who like to frequently switch up skill allotments might get a kick out of them.
The Arms Race mode, though, really is a blast. It’s the value proposition that merits deliberation. Borderlands 3’s previous four expansions each cost piecemeal as much as the Designer’s Cut add-on. They also all added rich stories, intriguing characters, and meaty, well-realised areas to explore. (The cowboy-themed Bounty of Blood is a true standout.) By comparison, four skill trees and a single territory comes off as a thin offering.
The Bottom Line
Look, those seeking terrific games are faced with an embarrassment of riches right now. Amid that, it feels strange to recommend a polarising year-old game. Honestly, I’m not sure newcomers should carve out the time or the backlog space. If you haven’t hopped on the Borderlands train yet, that’s probably for good reason. Next-gen enhancements haven’t fixed anything that may have put you off of the series. Distinct rumble effects can’t fix imprecise shooting mechanics. Sharper graphics can’t make dumb jokes any less dumb. The map is still the worst map in video games. If Borderlands is not for you, it’s not for you. A fancier upgrade won’t change your mind.
There are three groups of people who should seriously consider checking out this upgrade: those who have a last-gen version but have yet to finish the game; those who have a last-gen version and are still lovin’ it like it’s a Happy Meal; and those who’ve been holding out for the game’s pinnacle iteration. This will likely come as little surprise, but make no mistake: Borderlands on next-gen consoles is the ne plus ultra of Borderlands.