Early impressions of Borderlands 3 suggest that, despite seven years (and a raft of rival loot shooters) having passed since Borderlands 2, Gearbox has stuck to its however-many-millions of guns. At its core, Borderlands 3 is still about ganging up with a few friends, extinguishing a few thousand lives, and using the bodies as randomized loot vending machines.
A word on our sponsor
As our partner for these detailed performance analyses, MSI provided the hardware we needed to test Borderlands 3 on a bunch of different AMD and Nvidia GPUs, multiple CPUs, and several laptops. See below for the full details, along with our Performance Analysis 101 article. Thanks, MSI!
What has changed, thankfully, is the tech. The jump from Unreal Engine 3 to UE4 has brought improved lighting, shadows, and effects to the series' signature hand-drawn style, and publisher 2K has said the whole game was "developed from the ground up" to take advantage of AMD's most recent Radeon GPUs and 3rd-gen Ryzen CPUs.
As such, it supports AMD's FidelityFX suite, and notably goes without the DLSS and ray tracing features offered by Nvidia RTX cards. Don't worry too much if you're on team GeForce, though: we've been testing Borderlands 3 across a range of GPUs and CPUs, and it looks like it will run at least decently on any hardware. Yes, even the cheap stuff.
First, though, let's look at the PC features list for Borderlands 3.
This is about as complete a list as we've seen, though depending on your monitor getting an ultrawide or doublewide resolution to work may require using borderless windowed mode. Ultrawide and doublewide did show up with an appropriate monitor, and the FOV automatically adjusts to the wider resolutions (though it still says 90). HUD customizations are also available, though under the Gameplay menu. That leaves mod support as the odd man out yet again. Sigh.
Other highlights are the fully uncapped framerate, letting your GPU run wild and free. On a 60Hz display, we also saw options for 30/60/120 caps, while a 144Hz display gave us even more options (like 72 and 24). You can adjust distinct FOV settings for whether you're in FPS mode or driving one of the game's many murdercars, and key bindings are fully customizable.
You also have a choice of running in DX11 or DX12 modes. For now, using pre-launch code, it's better to stick with DX11, as we ran into a couple of fairly major issues with DX12 mode.
[Please note: I've retested Borderlands 3 with the final public release. That includes rerunning all the benchmarks on the GPUs, CPUs, and notebooks. The charts are all updated, but I still need to rewrite some of the text. Some of the settings descriptions are slightly outdated right now.]
First, it uses your desktop resolution in "fullscreen" mode, with the game relegated to a portion of the screen. If you have a 4K display and set the game to fullscreen 1080p, you end up with the game occupying the top-left quadrant of the display. The solution is to drop the desktop resolution to 1080p before launching the game. And to reiterate, this does not happen in DX11 mode.
Second, DX12 mode somehow causes the intro videos to stall, delaying the trip to the main menu by as much as 2-3 minutes. These are bugs that can be fixed, but right now both make DX11 better. But there's a third concern.
DX12 performance is a little lower on AMD GPUs, on average, than when running DX11. DX12 mode is faster at the low and medium quality presets, but also drops to lower minimum framerates than DX11, while at high and ultra, DX11 is faster outright. Meanwhile on Nvidia GPUs, running in DX12 mode limited the framerate to 120 fps for some reason, even with vsync disabled.
Admittedly, we were testing a review version of Borderlands 3, not retail code, so things might improve with the final game. However, for these early benchmarks, we're sticking with DX11. We'll verify the above with the retail game as soon as that's available.
Borderlands 3 system requirements
The official system requirements don't immediately throw up any red flags; as we're about to see, semi-recent budget GPUs will comfortably handle 1080p low, so the older models listed in the minimum requirements have a good shot at 30 fps. The only potential issue is likely to be RAM, if you're somehow still on 4GB. (If so, please, upgrade your PC.)
- OS: Windows 7/8/10 (latest service pack)
- CPU: AMD FX-8350/Intel Core i5-3570
- Memory: 6GB RAM
- GPU: AMD Radeon HD 7970/NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 2GB
- Storage: 75GB free
- OS: Windows 7/8/10 (latest service pack)
- CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 2600/Intel Core i7-4770
- Memory: 16GB RAM
- GPU: AMD Radeon RX 590/NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 6GB
- Storage: 75GB free
Gearbox doesn't state what the minimum or recommended specs will get you in terms of settings or framerates, other than the resolution. Our testing suggests the recommended specs will handle 1080p ultra, though not at 60 fps. Rather ambitiously, the Borderlands 3 website lists these as being for "1440p gaming"—not if you also want ultra quality, friend. The RX 590 might be able to scrape 30 fps with this combination of resolution and settings, but the GTX 1060 falls short, so we're going to assume 2K is recommending 1440p and a lower quality setting.
For the best 1080p experience, I'd sooner recommend an RTX 2060 or Radeon RX 5700, both of which will deliver 60 fps on ultra. They'll also put up a respectable fight at 1440p ultra, though strictly speaking you'll need at least an RTX 2080—quite the upgrade—for a 60 fps average.
Borderlands 3 settings overview
Borderlands 3 has a built-in benchmarking tool, which makes it easy to see how all the different graphics quality options impact performance. What's surprising is that for many, the answer is "not much at all."
The graphs above show how an RX 5700 and RTX 2060 perform using the four main presets, and then with ultra quality plus each individual setting turned down to minimum.
FXAA is one of the least GPU-hungry anti-aliasing techniques around and has a negligible effect on overall performance. Even temporal AA doesn't hurt performance much. You might as well leave AA on, whatever your hardware, though some will prefer FXAA over temporal AA. Interestingly, FidelityFX Sharpening basically undoes a bit of the blurriness you get from temporal AA, again with a negligible performance impact. You can probably leave it on as well, unless you're running very low-end hardware.
Texture streaming, anisotropic filtering, shadows, terrain detail, character texture detail, and even screen space reflections all seem like things that should drop performance a bit, but in practice none of them matter much for Borderlands 3. At most you're looking at an extra 4-5 percent increase in performance by turning down shadows, so that might be worth sacrificing in a pinch, but the others can be safely left on high.
What, then, does make a meaningful difference? The most prolific frame bandit is volumetric fog, which in return contributes some handsome god rays. Opt for more basic lighting by turning it off, and performance jumps 24 percent, which could make or break performance on lower-end GPUs.
Foliage detail—you can probably guess what that covers—is another niche but expensive option, with its low setting improving performance by nearly 12 percent over its highest setting.
Draw distance affects the level of detail and amount of distant objects. Turning this to low can boost performance by up to 12 percent, but this is one that we prefer to leave at maximum if at all possible.
The only other individual setting that's as impactful is material quality, which can grant a 14 percent boost if set to low. This appears to be a global setting for how detailed surfaces look, so it's important if you're serious about maximizing fidelity, but for the more performance-minded it will speed things up if reduced. Environment detail, in a similar vein, will net you a smaller seven percent performance game when minimized.
Borderlands 3 graphics card benchmarks
PC GAMER BORDERLANDS 3 TESTBED
With the final release now available, I've retested Borderlands 3. I also took the time to update to AMD's new 19.9.2 drivers (which perform a bit better but have some other issues), and Nvidia's 436.30 drivers. The presets have changed slightly, and there are now "very low" and "badass" options at the bottom and top, respectively. All our GPUs have been provided by our partner MSI, and we paired each GPU with an Intel Core i7-8700K CPU overclocked to 4.9GHz, to avoid CPU bottlenecking.
The benchmark utility in Borderlands 3 handily provides an average fps result, and we've also used the benchmark.csv files it produces to calculate 97th percentile "minimum average fps" results. These should give a good indication of minimum performance, not just the mean.
Performance at 1080p low is heartening: even the lowly GTX 1050 and RX 560 don't drop too close to 30 fps, with the former averaging over 60 fps. For taking advantage of monitors with higher refresh rates, just about any mid-range card (including the borderline RX 570) should suffice, though you'll need a GTX 1660 Ti or above to break 144 fps.
There's also a diminishing returns effect at the higher end: the RTX 2080 Ti is less than 10 fps faster than the RTX 2060, something which points toward the 150-160 fps mark as where the CPU takes over from the GPU as the main limiting factor.
If you're trying to get by with potato hardware, Intel's HD Graphics 630 can technically run Borderlands 3 ... at 720p with 50 percent resolution scaling. It breaks 30 fps (barely), but you really should plan on something better. AMD's Vega 11 integrated graphics meanwhile can almost do 60 fps at 720p.
With so many of the individual graphics settings taking only a minute toll, you might expect the jump to 1080p medium as more like a short one-legged hop. In reality, all those little (and not-so-little) differences actually add up to a big one.
The GTX 1050 and RX 560 still hang in there at the bottom, but the GTX 1060 and RX 590—the two officially recommended GPUs—take a relatively large hit to performance. It also becomes significantly harder—or least more expensive—to secure a 144 fps average. And don't even worry about getting minimums above 144, as it's just not happening.
None of the cards are fully KO'd at 1080p medium, but it's the high preset where things really start to get intense. The GTX 1650 goes from enjoying 60 fps+ to clinging on to a 30 fps minimum, with all of its entry-level cohorts basically falling into unplayability. (The 1050 Ti sort of squeaks by.)
The GTX 1060, RX 590, and RX 580 8GB are all hovering near the 50-55 fps mark—decent, but not great—and 144 fps is already out of the question even for the most expensive GPUs. For the more realistic goal of 60 fps, it's going to take a GTX 1660 Ti or higher, though this too can drop into the fifties. Only the GTX 1070 and above can keep minimums above 60.
Upping to ultra quality causes yet more drops, though surprisingly doesn't really change which GPUs are viable. The GTX 1650, in a show of pluckiness not normally exhibited by lumps of metal and silicon, still makes it to 30 fps by a whisper, although the RX 570 delivers a slightly more favorable bang:buck ratio. The GTX 1070 and RX 5700 also replace the GTX 1660 Ti as 60 fps gatekeepers, but generally, if your GPU can run 1080p high it can 1080p ultra as well.
That's not to let whoever wrote the recommended system requirements off the hook. Though the GTX 1060 and RX 590 aren't exactly being hung, drawn, and quartered here, they're both coming up well below 60 fps. Then again, the system requirements make no mention of settings or performance targets—some people consider 30 fps as "good" (but not us).
If we go backwards and use 1080p ultra as a starting point, as well as the RTX 2060 as an example, consider this: 1080p high only makes for about 21 percent faster performance, but dropping to medium is 75 percent faster, and very low is more than double the performance (117 percent faster). AMD's RX 5700 sees slightly higher gains: 25 percent using the high preset, 80 percent with medium, and again more than double the performance with the very low preset.
Of course, none of the quality settings will make a GPU sweat like raising the resolution. At 1440p ultra, the GTX 1060 6GB and RX 580 8GB barely average 30 fps, while 60 fps is off-limits to everything save for Nvidia's GTX 1080 Ti, RTX 2080 and RTX 2080 Ti.
More encouragingly, the relatively affordable RTX 2060, RX 5700 and RX 5700 XT all put up spirited displays, generally bouncing around the 40-50 fps range. The main reason to be disappointed might be if you have a fast display: even the RTX 2080 Ti can't make it to 100 fps, let alone 120 fps or 144 fps. High refresh rate gamers are basically out of options, beyond dropping the quality (which is probably a good idea).
The same goes for 4K ultra, though here the best we can manage is just over 50 fps with the 2080 Ti. RX 5700 XT and above at least keep their heads above 30 fps, so it's not like the RTX 2080 Ti is the only way to go for 4K, but GPUs like the RTX 2070 and RX 5700 XT will likely need to run using the medium or even low preset to break 60.
Borderlands 3 CPU benchmarks
There are two key takeaways from these results. The first is that Borderlands 3 is vastly more reliant on GPU power than on the CPU, especially at higher settings and resolutions. At 1440p and 4K ultra, there's barely any difference between the Ryzen 5 2600 and the Core i9-9900K. That's because the bottleneck is almost entirely the GPU.
At lower settings, there's a far more visible impact: at 1080p very low, the Core i9-9900K is nearly 50 percent faster than the Ryzen 5 2600. That narrows to 25 percent at 1080p ultra and 12 percent at 1440p ultra. As always, the gap will be smaller on lower-end GPUs, which are more likely to be in use with lower settings, resolutions, and budget to mid-range CPUs.
In other words, a CPU with a monster core count (like the Ryzen 9 3900X) or sky-high clock speeds (like the Core i9-9900K) can help you wring a few more frames out in certain conditions, but if you're thinking of a PC upgrade for Borderlands 3, focus on the GPU first.
Borderlands 3 laptop benchmarks
Of the three laptops tested, only the GE75 with an RTX 2080 is able to stay above 60 fps at 1080p ultra, though the other laptops do manage to be playable and break 60 fps at 1080p high. With 120Hz and 144Hz display (non-G-Sync), however, you'll have to live with tearing (vsync off) or lower framerates (vsync on).
In terms of hardware demands, the Borderlands series has always straddled the space between the easygoing and the particularly punishing; just like its core mechanics, Borderlands 3 doesn't change that, new engine or no. 1440p and above call for a high-end GPU, but at the same time, 1080p is manageable for graphics cards of all stripes.
DX12 performance remains a concern and a question mark, and we've experienced multiple crashes with the DX12 beta API, on both AMD and Nvidia GPUs. Right now, we'd recommend sticking with DX11, though that could change (especially for AMD GPUs) in the coming days. After all, for a game that's effectively performing promotional duties for AMD, it would be awfully embarrassing if the "preferred" DirectX version didn't work properly.
In general, Borderlands 3 is good to go, at least in terms of performance at modest settings. Even when the screen is a bloodied tapestry of explosions and shattering scenery, this isn't the type of game that will make your PC melt like a baddie copping a faceful of corrosive buckshot. Unless you want 4K at ultra or even badass quality, in which case you'll need to wait for next year's hardware. Whether the game is actually good and worth playing ... that's a different topic.