After a not-so-surprise reveal of Borderlands 3 at PAX East in March, Gearbox Software kicked off the month of May by showing live gameplay footage to the world. A lot is changing with the new game. But at the same time, Borderlands 3 maintains the same familiar action, off-the-wall humor, and craziness that fans have grown to love.
The first major change is with the weapons system. In addition to keeping the random gun generation system, each gun will have a secondary fire mode. Some may be passive, but many will include a second firing mode that players can switch to depending on the manufacturer. For example, a machine may be turned into a grenade launcher. Meanwhile, Tediore weapons – which are made to be thrown away with each reload – may turn into enemy-seeking turrets or bouncing bombs.
Atlas weapons are also making a big return to Borderlands, and these high-tech guns will include automatic target tracking. Meaning that players can mark enemies so that their bullets will turn corners and never miss. There are different varieties of target tracking, as some weapons may be capable of marking multiple enemies.
Then there’s the new element, Radiation, which replaces Slag from Borderlands 2. The developers assured us that, even though Radiation reduces the resistances of those it infects, it is not simply Slag with a different name and color. They found that the original system was a little too complicated for many players because it involved some weapon switching to fully take advantage of. In comparison, Radiation is far easier to comprehend (infection makes your enemies weaker), and it can be spread to nearby enemies when irradiated foes blow up.
I played the gameplay demo on a PC equipped with an AMD Ryzen 7 2700X CPU and a Radeon RX Vega 64 video card using an Xbox One controller. As expected, the game ran smoothly with hardly any stutters or noticeable framerate drops, even when the action became extremely intense with a horde of enemies and multiple elemental effects.
New Vault Hunters
Although Gearbox didn’t go too deeply into the story, the company did introduce audiences to two of the new Vault Hunters, the Siren Amara and an Operative named Zane Flynt. These morally ambiguous adventurers are looking to join Lilith’s group, The Crimson Raiders. They bring with them a host of new abilities, and players can choose to equip active powers from three different skill trees. This helps ensure a sense of variety, even when multiple players in a squad choose the same character.
Amara can choose between Phasecast, which uses an astral projection to destroy everything in its path; Phaseslam to knock down and damage nearby enemies; or use Phasegrasp to summon a giant fist that pins enemies in place.
We spent most of our time playing as Zane Flynt, whose skills are a combination of a Hunter, Commando, and Assassin to create a one-person fighting squad. Flynt can deploy a Barrier to protect everyone while friendly bullets that pass through it deal extra damage. Alternatively, he can summon a Digi-clone that stays in place to battle enemies. Unlike other decoys, this hologram actually deals damage, and players can choose to switch places with the clone to change locations and escape certain death. Flynt can also send a SNTNL drone into battle, firing on enemies with its machine guns. The drone can be tasked to target an enemy that’s in the player’s crosshairs for additional fire.
Flynt also happens to be the only one of the two who can equip two action skills at the same time, with the second ability replacing the grenade slot. That means, between the drone and the clone, teams may have an incredible amount of firepower at their disposal, especially when two or more Operatives are being played. It also makes him the ideal character for new and solo players. There’s a high potential for things to go crazy, but that lines up perfectly with the tradition of Borderlands, which has always overpowered its main characters to a certain extent to better deal with powerful enemies.
A New Villainous Duo
The megalomaniacal Handsome Jack is gone, and the twins Troy and Tyreen Calypso twins are stepping in to take his place. Described as the future’s most annoying livestreamers, the duo also leads a bandit cult called The Children of the Vault. Although their motives haven’t been revealed yet, they do partner with the Maliwan corporation to help take down Atlas and spread their influence to other worlds.
Of the two siblings, Tyreen stands out as one of the six Sirens in the universe. Among other things, she can literally suck the life out of people. Not much is revealed about Troy, but he has some tattoos similar to his sister, raising the speculation that he might be the universe’s first male Siren or at least something similar to one. However, we won’t know for certain until closer to the launch of Borderlands 3.
The mini bosses remain as entertaining and challenging as ever, with Mouthpiece shown as one of the first encounters. He carries a shield with animated equalizer bars on it, and apparently kills with the sound of music. Upon being defeated, he drops the “Killing Word” gun.
In my playthrough of the demo, I fought Gigamind, who is a brain inside of a jar attached to a robotic suit. The brain holds data that’s crucial to the Crimson Raiders, so you must hack into it… using your guns. But this brain won’t go quietly, as it mentally controls groups of drones to form different patterns and attack you. Gearbox developer Josh Jeffcoat explained that Gigamind is the first major appearance of a new type of enemy called the Nod, and the boss fight introduces some of the things they can do.
Going Beyond Pandora
Although a section of the game will take place on Pandora, players will finally have a chance to leave the planet aboard a giant starship called Sanctuary III. Built by Ellie using what we can only assume is a ton of spare parts and sheer willpower, the spaceship is nothing short of a flying town that will act as home base for players as they visit different worlds.
Among a host of other things, there’s a “Lost Loot” vending machine on board that will spit out guns that you didn’t pick up from the planet for some reason, whether it was because you missed it, or a cut sequence prevented you from noticing it.
Players will also have their own quarters aboard the Sanctuary III, and host of familiar characters will be along for the ride. They include Claptrap, Crazy Earl, Sir Hammerlock, and Moxxi, who runs a bar where players may gamble for weapons. Other rooms may also be customized to show off players’ accomplishments. For instance, Sir Hammerlock’s room has a number of spots just waiting to be filled with trophies made from slain creatures.
Arriving On Promethea
One of the first places players will visit is Promethea, which happens to be where Atlas is headquartered. However, it is in the process of a hostile takeover by Maliwan. As expected, hostile takeovers by mega-corporations in the Borderlands universe involve actual armed warfare, and the city is being torn apart as a result. You’ll be jumping straight into the battle, fighting both Children of the Vault bandits and Maliwan soldiers wielding powerful elemental weapons. There will also be some wild vermin creatures called raches (a cross between rats and roaches) to fend off. Fortunately, you’ll have a host of new and returning characters at your side.
Some of the most notable characters include Lorelei, an ally who is introduced in Borderlands 3, Zer0 from Borderlands 2, and Rhys, who was introduced in the Telltale adventure series Tales from the Borderlands. As the CEO of Atlas, he’s responsible for repelling the attack. That pretty much means that he’s relying on you to defeat an invading army.
That’s no small feat. The vehicles in Borderlands 3 can be customized an upgraded with different weaponry, and it looks like they sorely need it. The vehicles I drove were level one, even though my character was 10. That might explain why it was so difficult to damage enemy vehicles. I once blasted a bandit car with four or five rockets and that didn’t even bring it down to half health. Meanwhile, my vehicles caught fire on a regular basis, leaving me to fight mostly on foot.
The Maliwan soldiers are no joke, either. Each soldier will use different elements against you, and their abilities define their resistances. So, players will have to do quite a bit of weapon switching to maintain effectiveness. Playing solo, running out of bullets became a constant problem during heated gunfights.
Vault Hunting With Friends
Cooperative multiplayer is returning in Borderlands 3 with both split-screen and online play. As shown in the gameplay demonstration, multiplayer will have some significant upgrades. Specifically, each player will see their own loot that will be scaled to their level. That means players won’t have to feel pressured to catch up with each other, and they won’t have to worry about loot ninjas running around and grabbing everything up unless they prefer to play that way. In which case, the loot instancing and level balancing system can be turned off.
The game is shaping up to be an excellent addition to the Borderlands franchise, with plenty of familiar and new elements to please both longtime fans and newcomers. Although the vehicles may need a little work, and it can be easy to forget that some of the guns have a secondary fire, there is no doubt that this is Borderlands. The humor, the characters, and the insane violence are all there for players to dive straight into.
Gearbox revealed quite a bit about Borderlands 3 and its gameplay, but there are still many unanswered questions and two more Vault Hunters to be shown. The one thing that Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford promised was that the game won’t use microtransactions. Instead, the developer will release new playable characters and cosmetic DLC as previous games have. More will be shown about the game as we draw closer to the September 13, 2019 launch date.