We should have tested the base consoles first. Instead, we kicked off our Borderlands 3 coverage with a look at how the game ran on Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro, where the results were something of a mixed bag, to say the least. Happily, the story is significantly more positive when checking out Borderlands 3 on the standard consoles – it’s by no means perfect, there are some frustrating issues, but the fundamentals are sound and the game is fine.
Perhaps key to the success of Borderlands 3 on PS4 and Xbox One is the fact that developer Gearbox essentially plays it safe. The evidence suggests that on consoles at least, it’s the vanilla PlayStation 4 that is the primary target platform: 1080p is the target resolution with superior performance to the Pro’s resolution mode, which targets 1800p – a 178 per cent increase in pixel-count when the console itself only delivers around 2x performance.
Obviously, image quality takes a hit by comparison – and there are some issues with more aggressive pop-in and texture streaming. However, frame-rates are much better: easily higher than the Pro’s resolution mode, and more consistent than the somewhat wobbly performance mode on the enhanced machine. The best word to describe Borderlands 3 on PS4 would be ‘solid’ – in the game’s initial stages, at least. Beyond that, the game is very similar to the Pro version we’ve already looked at, in both good and bad ways – close-up, texture work still looks rather rough on all platforms.
Looking at the game running on Xbox One S, Gearbox has gone ahead and made the compromise it didn’t seem to want to make on PS4 Pro – resolution is cut down to 1600×900. There are some further tweaks too. Anisotropic filtering is pared back by comparison to base PS4, resulting in more soupy looking ground textures when viewed at an angle, while foliage is also of a lower density. As we suspected when looking at the X version, it appears that the cutbacks Gearbox made for the S have unexpectedly persisted into the X game, where those same problems are visible – and hopefully patchable. Beyond that, I noticed lower quality geometry in the environments, but otherwise, Borderlands 3 on the base Xbox One holds up very well.
All of which leads us onto performance – the area where the enhanced consoles had genuine issues. Both PS4 Pro and Xbox One X featured performance and resolution modes, allowing users to choose between a 1080p output mode that unlocked frame-rate alongside an 1800p quality mode designed to get the best out of a 4K screen. Presumably owing to CPU issues, the performance mode fell short of expectations, while only Xbox One X delivered a reasonably consistent 30fps experience in its resolution mode. By comparison, the Pro’s resolution mode was a write-off with frame-rates lurking between 20-30fps.
Selectable performance profiles for the base machines are off the table – you get what you’re given and this pays off well. Both Xbox One and PlayStation 4 aim for 30 frames per second, and for the most part, that’s what you get – with properly implemented 33.3ms per-frame persistence. The 30fps cap also does a pretty good job of hiding the hiccups and stutters we saw most obviously in the Pro’s performance mode, but they are still there – they’re simply less noticeable, kicking in when levelling up, or when new enemies appear.
By and large, there’s the sense that Borderlands 3 is a generally more stable experience on the base machines – certainly more so than PS4 Pro version, and pretty much on par with Xbox One X in its 1800p configuration. There is one big caveat, however, and that’s in menu navigation and response. While acceptable on the enhanced machines, our theory is that the lower CPU clocks on the standard consoles are responsible for the exceptionally laggy UI, which really is a chore to use. It can take half a second to switch between options, or even change your weapon.
With an initial look at all four console variants now in the bag, what are the takeaways? Well, as we approach the tail-end of the generation, there’ve been numerous titles which seem too ambitious to deliver with consistent performance on the base consoles, and we need to look at the enhanced machines to deliver better, more consistent gameplay. Borderlands 3 effectively reverses this: it’s difficult to avoid the sense that the primary focus is on the standard PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, which look fine and play well overall. I’m not sure if much can be done to improve the state of some of the low resolution art, but certainly I’d hope to see some optimisation work put into the frustrating menu system.
Meanwhile, the surprise here is that the work carried out for the enhanced machines isn’t quite as robust as the base console equivalents. This is especially noticeable on PS4 Pro, where the performance mode really struggles at points, and where the resolution mode performs much worse than the standard PS4 version. Dropping resolution to 1620p or even 1440p would be preferable to sub-30fps gameplay.
Meanwhile, Xbox One X fares significantly better, but still isn’t the definitive version: the 60fps target in performance mode isn’t consistently delivered and while the resolution mode runs mostly flat-out at 30 frames per second as it should, the cutbacks to texture filtering and foliage density inherited from the base version shouldn’t really be there. The latter point at least should be easily patchable.
It’s a mixed bag for Borderlands 3 on consoles but at least the machines with the largest installed bases get a relatively trouble-free, fun experience – with Xbox One X replicating that at a higher pixel-count. There are issues to address though, especially so on PlayStation 4 Pro. And as for PC? We’ll be looking at that imminently!