Some DLC, some stuff that could have been an update
So Borderlands 3 is getting more DLC. Who could have guessed!
Operating in a sort of middle-ground between a full live-service game and a complete looter shooter, Borderlands 3 gave us four premium DLC packs that each focused on a new zone and storyline. But for the second season pass (which you can buy right after second breakfast), they’re doing things a little differently.
So far, a little too differently.
Borderlands 3: Designer’s Cut (PC [reviewed], PS4, Xbox One)
Developer: Gearbox Software
Publisher: 2K Games
Released: November 10, 2020
MSRP: $14.99 / part of the $29.99 second season pass
The Designer’s Cut DLC doesn’t provide a grand new area or big narrative beat per se. Instead, it supercharges the existing game with new skill trees for each Vault Hunter and a new mode calls Arms Race. I know, it’s not exactly sounding super enticing, is it?
Having played all four new trees and Arms Race quite a bit, I’m torn on the decision to not only release this as a premium add-on, but link it to another season pass. Clearly, a lot of work went into the skill trees in particular. A few of them are absolute game-changers and all of them are fun as hell to experiment with.
It’s not just the addition of new active abilities that matters: but the passives and perks that can be mixed and matched with existing trees that create tons of possibilities for emergent builds. We’ll start there, actually, because the trees are the stars of the Designer’s Cut.
The first tree I had to try out was for my main person, FL4K. They are rocking the “Trapper” tree with the Gravity Snare (a gravity well trap) power. Having been stuck in my old ways with the Hunter tree for so long, this was a welcome change shifting to traps instead of (albeit fleeting) summons. The Gravity Snare trap feels impactful and very noticeable on the battlefield. You do get a pet though!
The Ion Loader is a very cute and deadly robot that sports a sniper rifle (or other close-range weapons if you modify them) and he’s probably my new favorite FL4K buddy. A few skills like “Better Toys” (which improves shields for both you and your pet) and “Combat Veterinarian” (provides life steal to your pet) allow more synergy for your summon in addition to the trap perks. It rules.
Amara wields the “Enlightened Force” tree, with the Phaseflare (giant ball of elemental energy) ability. Given that Amara is by far my least-used character I wasn’t exactly jazzed to put this one through its paces, but like the others, it does offer a unique spin on the character. The Phaseflare is a distinct projectile that can be modified in interesting ways, while the tree itself buffs Amara’s melee prowess: providing a jolt to the way you play her.
Moze has the “Bear Mother” tree with the awesome Iron Cub mini-mech summon. Although I’m partial to FL4K, this might be the overall “best” addition to the game. The Iron Cub is a companion that Moze can unleash for quite a while (the “fuel” meter lasts several minutes by default) and alter at her whim. Most of this tree’s skills directly feed into Moze and Iron Bear’s performance, really hammering home that Moze can now basically play like FL4K lite. I’m into it.
Finally, Zane is using “The Professional” skill tree and wields a MNTIS Shoulder Cannon weapon. The cannon provides three charges of shots at a cooldown of 12 seconds each: and is easily the least sexy of the Designer’s Cut active abilities. However, Zane can still wield two active skills and the Professional tree can grant him the “Fugitive” perk, which lets him sprint and shoot at the same time. In other words, the tree picks up the slack. So the trees rock, and if you’re still enjoying Borderlands 3, I’d label them as “must-play” stuff. Arms Race? Not so much.
The new mode has players dropping into the Stormblind Complex (either solo or in a party) and squaring off against a series of enemies with a boss at the end. The catch? They can only use gear provided in the arena: even your skills are restricted. Now, this gimmick I’m actually OK with. Far too often in looter shooters we get to a point where we get too comfortable with what we have and rarely, if ever, gravitate toward new playstyles.
In fact, I typically use the same few gun types in games when I get particularly proficient with them. But Arms Race really showcases all of the different wild weapon combinations that the Borderlands series can offer; a staple since its inception. The issue is that Arms Race itself just isn’t all that fun to play.
Outside of an unenthusiastic short voiced intro from your hosts (Salvador and Axton), the Stormblind battleground is very uninspired and aimless. Gearbox tries to corral you with a “ring” similar to other battle royales and random elements, but with none of the tension. As a paid add-on I expected Arms Race to provide multiple arenas or at least more variance. The enemies are mostly recycled from the core campaign, which doesn’t help.
I’ve alluded to this several times, but Borderlands 3: Designer’s Cut is a strange DLC in that it feels like a hodgepodge of a few planned updates mixed into a pack. Mostly good updates, mind, but stapled together by a mode that I have no desire to play again. Pick up the first season pass before you take a gander at the second.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]