We’ve had to wait seven years to get a new numbered game in the series and almost five years since the (surprisingly fun) that was supposed to hold us over in the interim.
Now that we’re a few days from the retail launch (our review codes arriving only hours before the game went on sale) and have plowed a fair share of hours into the game, we’re struck by just how little has changed in that intervening time, both for good and for ill.
On the good side, this means that still provides the same kind of slick, fast-paced, varied, and just-plain-smooth shooter experience that the series has always provided. As usual, the game provides a seemingly endless variety of weapons that, crucially, all look and feel entirely distinct from one another in a number of ways. Experimenting with new gear to find the correct mix of damage impact, accuracy, magazine size, reload rate, and special abilities is a never-ending and continually fascinating process.
Earning access to a new weapon that fits your style just right still provides that adrenaline hit in a way that can’t be matched by finding yet another identical shotgun in most other shooters. And many guns now have a secondary fire option, greatly increasing the level of personal tuning by offering new pros and cons.
That variety now also seems matched by the game’s environments. The neons and blues of planet Promethea’s urban guerrilla warfare provide a welcome change from the brown and gray desert environments is generally known for ( also showed a lot of promise on this score). Even in the relatively early going, it feels like there’s going to be plenty of new planets and side-quests to keep players busy if they want to hit that rarefied 100% completion.
Vehicle navigation is another treat, with a good variety of zippy ATVs to get you around quickly. These vehicles seem a little overpowered, if anything, with artillery and shielding that can easily barrel through any ground-based enemies. Speaking of overpowered, I’ve had a great time calling in Moze’s special skill to summon a massive bipedal “Iron Bear” mech to make quick work of huge groups of enemies. It’s a great change of pace when you’re tired of dodging incoming fire and hiding behind random bits of cover.
What hasn’t changed at all over the years is ‘s writing, which alternates artlessly between corny, cringe-y, and “extreme” in the ’90s skateboarder sense of the word. That’s not a huge change from previous games in the series, to be fair, but it comes off as more dated and juvenile with the benefit of seven additional years of perspective.
If you think the word “ass” being used ad nauseam is funny in and of itself or that a guy in his underwear who says “bro” over and over again is the height of comedy, you’ve come to the right place. Otherwise, most of the attempts at character moments feel forced and sophomoric in a way that would probably make the average teenager groan.
Sloppy around the edges
Even a few hours in, has shown enough enemy variety to keep the shooting from getting stale, and beasts and humans alike show a great deal of personality in their animation and sound design. These opponents show a decent propensity for finding cover, flanking your position, and even running away for a better vantage point when it suits their strategy. That said, there have been a few situations where I’ve noticed an enemy get confused and simply stand stock still uncovered in the middle of a firefight, only to break out of their revelry once hit with a bullet (at which point it is way too late for them).
That kind of sloppiness around the edges has popped up in a number of ways during our playthrough so far. At one point, our extremely annoying robot companion Claptrap got stuck in a loop repeating the same two quest hints every few seconds, even though the quest was already complete (this required restarting the game to fix). In another firefight, my AI companion ended up firing endlessly into an impervious and inaccessible building where our final opponent had somehow hidden herself (another restart fixed this, but not before I had to complete the entire fight again).
At other points, I’ve seen guide characters simply stop before reaching our destination (only to warp there later without explanation) or had my mini-map disappear from the corner of the screen for an extended periods. And that’s not to mention the choppy frame rates and occasional crashes I’ve seen on the PC build thus far.
Alone, none of these technical issue are mortal sins. Taken together, though, in the span of the game’s opening hours, the whole things feel a bit more unpolished than the long wait would justify.
In the run-up to ‘s release, Gearbox has repeatedly stressed a bevy of “quality of life” interface improvements it has made to the series in the intervening years. And for sure, things like easier access to fast-travel, one-button refills of all available ammo at shops, and the ability to pull yourself up to ledges or slide out of a run are all nice.
But these fixes also highlight the more anachronistic bits that still haven’t been fixed. The map system, for instance, is unable to show more than one objective location at a time. Instead, you’re required to scroll through a list manually. This is a problem when trying to map out the most efficient routes through a quickly growing list of kill-and-fetch quests.
The interface for comparing weapons is also a confusing mess, especially in shops, where seeing how new options compare to your current loot should be a data-visualization priority. Then there’s the way info boxes for new items will often show up at an inflated zoom level when you approach, cutting off important information above or below the border of the screen unless you position your character just right.
These may seem like nitpicks for a game whose core shoot-and-loot loop is just as fun and compelling as ever. But it’s these kinds of little things that are thus far getting in the way of completely letting myself be reabsorbed by the world of . Here’s hoping they end up feeling like niggling issues more than ever-present annoyances by the time the game is complete.