Borderlands 3 Proves the Series Still Has the Right Balance of Shooting, Looting, and Story
If you've been aching for the series' tried-and-true shooting and looting, Borderlands 3 seems like it will deliver better than ever before.
While it’s been known to have been in development for quite some time, I still got all kinds of excited when Borderlands 3 was officially unveiled at PAX East earlier this year. Ever since I first set foot on Pandora in the original game, I’ve been a longtime fan of the series not only for its addicting loop of finding bigger and better guns, but for its kooky cast of characters that I’ve only gotten to know better over the years. Yes, even Claptrap, as wonderfully obnoxious as he can be.
But as much as I’ve been looking forward to the series’ next chapter with Borderlands 3, part of me couldn’t help but have some hesitations about what is easily one of my most anticipated games of the year. It’s been a long time since we last saw a mainline installment of the series, and the “looter shooter” genre has only grown larger since Borderlands 2. With that length of time, it only made me wonder what the third game’s place would be in the current era of shooters like Destiny and The Division.
However, after playing Borderlands 3 for an extensive amount of time, most of my worries regarding the third game have been lifted. Borderlands 3 is unapologetically Borderlands in every way, from the series’ trademark humor, to its wacky cast of characters, and its obsession with giving players an absurd amount of guns and loot to find. In some aspects Borderlands 3 might feel a little familiar, especially if you recently dove back into Borderlands 2 for the Commander Lilith DLC, but there are plenty of quality-of-life improvements and new features to make Borderlands 3 feel like the sequel we’ve been waiting for.
In a preview event, DualShockers had the chance to get extended hands-on time with the campaign for Borderlands 3, where I played as nearly all of the new Vault Hunters. Overall, I went through about four hours of gameplay spanning across some familiar locations on the series’ homeworld of Pandora, while also getting a sense of the wider universe that players in Borderlands 3 will get to explore.
For the bulk of the demo, I was able to play as FL4K the Beastmaster, the last of the new Vault Hunters in Borderlands to be introduced in the series of character trailers leading up to its release. As its name implies, FL4K’s skillset mostly revolves around the use of their three loyal pets: a Skag, Spiderant, or Jabber. When playing as FL4K, you can choose to equip one of the three pets and then utilize a range of skills tied to their abilities. With the Skag for example (who is lovingly named “Mr. Chewy”), you can use the Gamma Burst ability to send it through a rift towards a group of enemies and blast them with radiation damage.
With these AI companions at your disposal, FL4K already felt like a fun new addition among the new crew of Vault Hunters, and especially one that could be extremely appealing to players going through the game solo without a friend to lend a hand. Throughout several points of the demo, I could already see the ways that players could plan their builds around the three different pets, such as my strategy of letting Mr. Chewy distract and maul enemies while I ran up to them with a shotgun blast to finish them off.
Ultimately of the three characters that I played as (FL4K, Zane, and Amara), Zane the Operative was the one that I ended up gravitating towards the most, given my love of characters like Mordecai and Zer0 in the past Borderlands games. After playing for an hour or so as Zane, the Irish-accented mercenary, I instantly fell in love with his array of tools and gadgets that could increase his kill capabilities while benefitting a team of other players. I especially found a great combination in letting Zane unleash his drone–which hones in on enemies to attack–while dropping his shield to provide cover for my teammate during a co-op mission when things got heated.
Though I had my preference for Zane and his gadgets, I still had an appreciation for the way that Borderlands 3 is giving players a much wider variety of options at their disposal when it comes to combat and movement. You can now slide into cover or vault over obstacles/onto ledges, lending Borderlands 3 a much-needed dose of refined movement options closer to modern shooters. Likewise, certain characters also have the ability to swap out their grenade slot for a second action skill (such as Zane and Moze), giving a larger degree of strategy to putting together a character build and specialization.
But aside from the refined controls and movement in Borderlands 3 (other than vaulting being a little wonky), what especially felt great in my time with the game was its range of weaponry. The reveal trailer touted that we would see over a billion guns in the game, and while I only got to experience a small fraction of them, it still felt satisfying to feel the difference in firepower between the precision of a Jakobs pistol or unleashing a flurry of elemental bullets with a Maliwan SMG. Several of the guns that I used during the demo also featured a new secondary fire option to further expand their utility, such as an assault rifle I picked up that could switch to a shotgun, or a pistol that could fire homing rockets. Sadly, I didn’t see any “guns with legs” during my demo, but hopefully I’ll run into them (no pun intended) one way or another in the full game.
Outside of the characters, combat, and weapons, my time with Borderlands 3 also gave me a better feel for how players will traverse across the series’ newly-expanded galaxy to explore new planets. After going through the introductory segment where the player meets up with Lilith, now the commander of the Crimson Raiders, I was eventually led onto the game’s space vessel (known as Sanctuary III) to head out beyond Pandora and find what lies elsewhere.
In a later segment of the demo, my travels eventually took me to the jungle-like planet of Eden-6, taking in the vibrant scenery of a landscape dominated by robot dinosaurs and deadly monkeys. After getting my bearings when landing on the planet, I eventually wound up taking on the “Rumble in the Jungle” side quest, which involved corralling the robo-dinos’ queen to fight against the Jabbers’ monkey king. Godzilla vs. King Kong this wasn’t, but the quest itself with still exactly the type of experience that I’ve come to expect from Borderlands, leading to a brawl between the two monsters and a boss fight for the player. But especially with the way that this quest ended, it only reminded me that Borderlands‘ humor is still alive and well, and definitely amped up in Borderlands 3.
From what I played, the actual gameplay structure of Borderlands 3–finding missions, completing objectives, and gathering loot–feels very much in line with Borderlands 2 and The Pre-Sequel!, for better and worse. While some might feel that this loop is perhaps a little too familiar to past games, Borderlands 3 still felt in a lot of ways like a refinement of what has made the series so enjoyable from the beginning.
Though I spent the majority of my demo playing in single-player, once I was able to get some time playing co-op with another player I could already see the ways that Borderlands 3 will deliver the satisfying multiplayer gameplay experience that I’ve always loved from this series, combined with its compelling story and characters. I’m especially eager to see the new instanced loot feature in action, where players of different levels will see specific enemies and loot tailored to their character’s level in the same game. Hopefully this will ease the struggles of trying to catch up with your friends that might be massively over/under-leveled, though there is still the option to play Borderlands 3 in the “classic” way without instanced loot drops and enemies.
Despite some of my initial reservations about what to expect from the game, Borderlands 3 delivered just about everything that I could have hoped to see as a fan of the series. Each of the Vault Hunters that I played with felt distinct and full of endless possibilities for interesting character builds. Combat especially seems like the best that the series has ever had between its new movement options and a huge range of guns that all felt great to play with. But most of all, Borderlands 3 hasn’t lost sight of what has made the series great. I laughed plenty of times watching Claptrap make a fool of himself, and felt that addicting rush when I found a sick new gun or unlocked a new character ability. Borderlands 3 made me feel that it’s good to be back home on Pandora, but I’m even more excited to see what else that its universe has to offer.
Borderlands 3 will release for PS4, Xbox One, and PC on September 13, 2019. The game will also be coming to Google Stadia when it releases later this year.
For more on the game, stay tuned for our hands-on gameplay videos with several of the Vault Hunters and a full interview with the game’s co-writers, Danny Homan and Sam Winkler.