Borderlands 3 Next Gen Review

Now featuring a beautiful framerate, fast load times, and more fun!

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Xbox Series S screenshot taken by the author.

In a console launch period light on traditional “exclusives,” the next gen upgrade of Borderlands 3 was secretly my most- anticipated release. I loved the game when it first came out last year, but it was clear to me from its questionable performance on the PS4 and Xbox One that it was built as a PC game first, and then crammed onto consoles.

That didn’t stop me from playing dozens of hours of the game across all three platforms, and heck I even bought it on sale on Stadia to try out there. Still, the second rumblings of next gen upgrade patches started, I hoped Gearbox would take a second coding run at their long-awaited sequel, and fortunately those hopes paid off.

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Xbox Series S screenshot taken by the author.

Borderlands 3 Next Gen is a free upgrade for existing owners of the game, and the currently available digital bundles were also updated with a slightly different pricing structure and some new DLC. Some games require users to buy the game all over again, so I’m super thankful that Gearbox didn’t go this route. I don’t think they could have gotten away with it, as the core content here is exactly the same as in the previous versions…

Except now it runs like a dream.

All next gen versions of Borderlands 3 have been reoptimized and tweaked to lock to at least 60 frames per second, and have new more robust split screen play options, thanks to the much faster CPU’s and more modern GPU’s featured in the new consoles. I’ve been playing on an Xbox Series S, which means my display resolution sits somewhere around 1080p. PS5 and Xbox Series X top out at 4k, and have an optional lower res performance mode that can push framerates even higher.

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Xbox Series S screenshot taken by the author.

The Xbox One X and PS4 Pro had 1080p60 “performance” modes…but the Series S crushes them both in terms of consistency. Much has been made about how the Series S is a 4 teraflop machine just like the PS4 Pro, but the Series S’s more modern components run circles around the Pro in this particular game. Teraflops don’t always compare one-to-one, and in this game it’s easy to see that’s the case. The older Sony machine struggles to maintain a framerate in the mid 40’s during intense combat moments, but the Series S is rock solid all the way through. I haven’t had a single graphical hitch in hours and hours of play across many of the game’s environments.

Loading times are dramatically improved in the next gen edition as well, to the point of hilarity. The opening of the game features an infamously long load where the series’ trademark robot Claptrap dances across the screen as the game caches shader data. This could take well over a minute on older machines, with Claptrap making numerous trips across the frame, giving the player enough time to leave and make a proverbial sandwich. On the Series S, he makes it across about one and a half times.

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Xbox Series S screenshot taken by the author.

Levels load in around 12 seconds or less, down from just over half a minute on my older machines. The level loads and combat performance also compare quite favorably against Stadia, in spite of the powerful GPU on offer on Google’s cloud platform. Claptrap makes three trips across the screen during the initial load on Google’s platform, and levels take just over 20 seconds to load. My 3 year old PC performs similarly.

It’s clear from all this that Gearbox put some work into actually re-optimizing this game around the newer hardware, instead of just porting over the existing PC version or tweaking the old edition of the game. I’ve never had as much fun with this game as I have had on the Series S. The physics-heavy combat shines now that the framerate doesn’t dip, and the lighting and textures are still a dramatic step up from the earlier titles in the series.

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Xbox Series S screenshot taken by the author.

The sound mix is also still wonderful, and I’ve had a better time using spatial audio with it on the Series S than on my old One X. I’ve had some issues over the years with spatial audio on the older platform, where games would drop back to their stereo mixes for no apparent reason. But on the new machine, the soundscape is wonderfully rich and detailed, and Dolby Atmos for headphones gives it a new sense of positional awareness and depth that it couldn’t quite muster on my older Xbox.

With this next gen patch, Borderlands 3 has finally found a good home on consoles. It’s no longer a PC-focused game struggling to run on 7 year old low-powered CPU’s, but a brilliant loot-based combat game that’s relentlessly paced and generous with its content. The speed of gameplay and load times combine to overhaul the pace of the whole game, and I went from being unsure about finally playing its DLC packs to suddenly eager to check out every expansion, both old and new. Every single complaint I had in my old article has been fully solved.

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Xbox Series S screenshot taken by the author.

This is the definitive way to play Borderlands 3, and giving it away free to existing owners is a true class act from Gearbox. It’s good enough that it deserves to overshadow Gearbox’s highly divisive other recent release of Godfall. If you were put off by the many reports of Borderlands 3 being janky, the time has come to give it a serious look.

In a light launch period, Borderlands 3 is also a perfect “second game.” It’s huge and jam packed with content, and you can likely find an old disc on sale if you have a console with a drive. If not, it goes on discount digitally all the time, and I imagine the new generation won’t change that. It has transformed from a struggling game on the old machines into one of the best games that the next generation has to offer, and is an excellent case study for the improved performance of the new systems.

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