Borderlands 3 Has Potentially Won Me Over Even as a Non-Borderlands Fan
Gearbox did the impossible: Make me, a person who doesn't overly love the Borderlands series, excited for Borderlands 3.
The dilapidated and goofy world of Borderlands has never struck me as a place teeming with personality. Despite the added variety in Borderlands 2, Pandora has been, and always will b,e the dull wasteland I played in the first Borderlands. What truly set the series apart from the plethora of post-apocalyptic games was its attempt to have personality through its characters. Borderlands’ rambunctious cast of misfits, although annoying at times, has an appeal that has proven to have longevity as many are excited to finally get their hands on the long-awaited third entry, Borderlands 3.
Many of these characters, as seen in the reveal trailer, will be heading back to the provocative loot shooter. That initial trailer was catering to the current fanbase; one that is very hungry for any new Borderlands content. But what about the people, like myself, that fell off after Borderlands 2 seven years ago? What about all the newcomers that are eager to play another loot shooter? After playing an hour and some change of Borderlands 3, I can safely say I think the latest entry is serving all audiences.
One of the new features in Borderlands 3 is the inclusion of multiple planets to travel to with Sanctuary III, the protagonist’s mobile hub. From lush green forests to large cityscapes, Gearbox has solved my seemingly everlasting predicament with the series’ world of Pandora. While I did not get a chance to check out the ship, the demo began on Promethea, where manufacturers Maliwan and Atlus are at war. Rhys, the CEO of Atlus and protagonist from Telltale’s Tales from the Borderlands wants you to take care of the Maliwan threat and in return, will help you find the vault on Promethea.
The demo didn’t really go into what the overarching goal is in Borderlands 3. It is a brief snippet of what seems to be a rather large game, especially since there are more planets than just Promothea and Pandora to travel to. From what I played, I didn’t really feel connected to any of the characters in any significant way. Then again, this was just a demo that I only saw for a brief amount of time.
During my time on Promethea, I played as the Operative class character Zane, an excitable assassin who likes a good pint. Each playable character has three sets of action skills each with its own talent tree; Zane’s included a shield barrier, a drone, and a cloning device. Each skill can be improved on by adding skill points, which are acquired after leveling your character. Unlike the other classes, Operatives can equip two action skills, giving players more options in a firefight.
For most of my playthrough, I equipped the digi-clone, which made a digital clone of my character that would gain aggro from enemies and also deal damage, in addition to the SNTNL, a drone that also inflicted damage and tagged enemies. The digi-clone also gives you the option to switch positions with the digital clone. This not only allowed me to distract and get the jump on enemies but also gave me an out if I was getting overwhelmed. The SNTNL was nice simply as a tagging tool. It did deal some damage, but I found more use out of the digi-clone than anything else.
I did try the barrier as well, which also proved to be a useful tool that synergized well with the digi-clone. I’d put down the shield with the digi-clone behind it giving protection to my digital self as it did decent damage to the mob of enemies. I would then just run around with a shotgun, get in everyone’s face and melt them with a couple of shots. If I found myself in a sticky situation, I would just switch positions with my digi-clone.
I usually play aggressively in class-based shooters, but this made me be a bit more defensive, which was a nice change of pace. You can also equip action skills on the fly, so if a skill isn’t really working for you like the SNTNL was for me, then you can easily switch. They were also just fun to use, especially the digi-clone. It’s good when skills like these have a genuine purpose and are useful. It’s even better when those abilities are fun and satisfying to use.
That same notion can be applied to the general shooting gameplay of Borderlands 3. It is, by no means, reinventing the wheel. It is still the Borderlands gameplay you know but modernized to appeal to a wider audience. Having played all of the first Borderlands and about half of Borderlands 2, I always thought the shooting mechanics were generally passable. It wasn’t nearly as tight as games like Call of Duty or Battlefield, but it didn’t feel like complete garbage. Borderlands 3 tweaks the gunplay to make it the best feeling Borderlands game I’ve played. It’s not DOOM or Destiny level good, but it felt exponentially better than its predecessors ever did.
The improved gameplay can partly be attributed to character movement. It doesn’t feel as “floaty” as the first two and the addition of mantling and sliding gives the game more verticality and speed that wasn’t really present before. Even with its improvements to mobility, it is the gunplay that makes Borderlands 3 so fun to play. In the demo, I primarily used a shotgun with fire damage, an assault rifle with shock damage, and an SMG with fire damage.
The shotgun I had I used at close-quarters as it burned enemy health in just a few shots. The assault rifle I used mostly to take heavy enemy shields down since shock damage is more effective against shielded opponents; it also had an alternate grenade firing mode that shot shock grenades, which proved to be pretty useful as well.
My personal favorite was the SMG; when you “reload,” instead of loading a new clip, Zane would throw the gun out and it would become a turret for a short duration. Pairing this with the digi-clone and SNTNL gave you enough firepower to just run in with the shotgun and take out numerous enemies very quickly. Throwing out guns though did seem to waste more bullets, which got me in some tough spots from being a bit too careless. Bullets aren’t sparse, but it takes enough time to open a chest that it leaves you open during a firefight.
The gameplay loop of Borderlands 3 is a bit monotonous. You just go into an area, kill all the spawned enemies, and move on. It’s essentially a shooting gallery with some bullet spongey enemies that are more difficult to take care of than you’d want them to be. Luckily, the fun gameplay makes up for that monotony.
Vehicular combat also makes a comeback in Borderlands 3. Vehicles, like the Outrunner and Cyclone, are great for getting from point A to point B. Due to the scale of the map I played, in particular, you would do more running than shooting if you decided to go to each objective on foot. It helps support the fast-paced gameplay bringing you right to the next firefight.
What the vehicles are not good for is combat, mostly due to the (still) clunky control scheme. You’ll accelerate by pressing up on the left stick, turn and aim with the right stick, and fire your mounted weapon with the right trigger. Since aiming and turning are tied to the same stick, you can really only shoot what is in front of you. Playing cooperatively would probably make driving more enjoyable since you are only controlling one facet of the vehicle. Driving alone, I found it just as effective to just hop out of my car and shoot enemy vehicles down.
Borderlands has a unique, cel-shaded art style that has always allowed the series to stand out in such a crowded genre. Love it or hate it, you cannot deny that it is uniquely Borderlands. Borderlands 3 brings that art style back and it’s the best it has ever looked. Albeit, it has been five years since Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel made its way to consoles, so even the smallest improvements would make it stand out. Your jaw won’t drop by any means, but it just looks sharper and more refined with character designs that fit Gearbox’s wacky universe.
Borderlands 3 exceeded my expectations. To be perfectly honest, I went into my demo a bit unenthused. I’m always excited to check out something new, but I knew where I stood with the Borderlands franchise. I thought it just wasn’t for me. I came out of my demo excited for the game’s September 13 release date. From my limited time, I could tell Borderlands 3 was designed with the player in mind. The modernized gameplay, unique weaponry, incredibly fun action skills, and new environment all bring new life to a shooter that would otherwise feel dated, especially in a world filled with loot shooters.