It’s been nearly five years since I played a Borderlands game (the pre-sequel back in 2014) but five minutes of Borderlands 3, chasing around Claptrap, dodging screaming psychos, all while I try to scrutinize if this gun that just dropped is marginally better than that gun that just dropped, well, I felt right back at home.
Return to the Borderlands
Borderlands publisher, Take Two, invited ONE Esports to a preview hands-on session of the game, and I’ll admit, before I got to play it, I was skeptical if it could recapture the magic of the first two games.
Borderlands practically invented the looter-shooter genre back when the first game released in 2009, but ten years on, we have Destiny 2, The Division, Warframe, Anthem, and countless other similar titles. Would Borderlands still be able to stand out from the crowd?
Fortunately, after playing through the first hour or so of Borderlands 3, I’m happy to report that the series looks and feels better than ever. Everything is bigger, faster, crazier, and more customizable, all while retaining the elements that made the previous games so good.
Borderlands’ signature cel-shaded art style still looks crisp and modern, and the world now looks richer, with more depth and detail. The first two games were set strictly on Pandora, but Borderlands 3 will let you travel to other planets, each with their own unique environment and enemies.
“The game world is much bigger than before,” said Paul Sage, creative director of Borderlands 3.
Sage estimated that, depending on your playstyle, gamers would take at least ten more hours to complete compared with Borderlands 2.
I spent some time exploring Eden-6, one of the first planets you visit, a huge world with lush jungles and dinosaur-like creatures. While it feels completely different from the barren wastelands of Pandora, it still captures the dangerous, lawless feel of a Borderlands game, where death lurks around every corner.
“Literally bazillions of guns” — Take Two
Borderlands has always featured fast, action-packed gameplay, and it’s even better now in Borderlands 3 with an added level of fluidity that makes movement feel more dynamic.
According to Sage, Titanfall 2 was one of his team’s influences when developing the game, and it shows, with the new slide and mantle movement controls feeling very similar to Titanfall 2 (and Apex Legends). You can slide into cover and down slopes and grab onto ledges. The game also has a new “ping” system that is very useful for multiplayer, seemingly lifted straight out of Apex Legends.
Gunplay is probably the most important aspect of an FPS game, and Borderlands 3 has really nailed that aspect. Guns pack a punch and each feels different with its own unique handling and recoil.
Speaking of guns, Borderlands 3 has “bazillions” of them. There are rifles that spawn fire-spewing volcanoes, a rocket launcher that shoots cheeseburgers (fun fact: The burgers are made from irradiated bugs), guns with self-propelling bullet shields, and, of course, guns that grow legs.
There are nine different gun manufacturers in the game, each with their own unique perks, traits, and aesthetic, ranging from the wild west-inspired Jakobs revolvers and shotguns, to the futuristic Atlas weaponry, which all include some kind of autotracking smart bullet technology.
Meet the crew
In terms of the story, Borderlands 3 picks up where Borderlands 2 left off. Vaults have been found on other planets, and you’ll have to stop two new villains — the Calypso Twins, a pair of famous Internet streamers (no, really) with a cult-like following — from claiming them.
As with previous games, there are four playable characters to choose from:
- Amara the Siren: Borderlands’ signature Siren class returns, with Amara’s take on the class taking a more melee-focused approach to combat.
- FL4K the Beastmaster: FL4K feels a bit like Mordecai from the original game and can send a variety of different beasts into combat.
- Moze the Gunner: Moze can summon the “Iron Bear Mech” a mech with a huge turret on it that you can hop into and move around in.
- Zane the Operative: Zane has a variety of gadgets he can use to sneak in and out of combat with.
Take Two has also fleshed out the RPG elements of the game, with each character having three different ability skill trees to choose from. Each tree has its own unique class ability, which lets you customize your gameplay to fit your own preferred style of play.
Improved gameplay and multiplayer
Gunfights in Borderlands 3 feel tougher than before, and enemies will actually take cover and flank appropriately. In the past, if you stood far enough away, you could take out your sniper rifle and just shoot them in the head without them moving, but that won’t work anymore.
Boss fights have also been ramped up. One of the earlier boss fights in the game pits you against a psychotic AI piloting a giant mech. The fight is absolutely insane, with the mech firing dozens of huge bouncing ball projectiles at you that will make you feel like you’re in a bullet hell game. In the fight, you’ll be helped by another AI, trapped inside the body of a robotic teddy bear, piloting its own mech — oh yeah, that AI is voiced by Ice-T.
Take Two has also added a number of quality of life improvements. For example, you can now refill your ammo and health with one button from vending machines instead of going through each ammo type separately.
Multiplayer has improved too. The game supports 2-player split-screen co-op or 4-player online co-op. A new level-sync system also lets you drop into a friend’s game no matter what level they are, and level-appropriate loot will drop for both of you.
Borderlands 3 is due for release on September 13 on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.