Sticking to its Guns
Over the course of my playtime with a vertical slice demo of Borderlands 3, I butchered hordes of not-so-innocent psychos – all for the noble cause of restoring an awesome coffee shop – chopped off a man’s arm who just needed a little bit of blood taken for a sample, and found a gun that shot corrosive and explosive cheeseburgers, with flavor text that references a certain viral video involving a man, a cheeseburger, and the word dayum.
Needless to say, Borderlands 3 has not lost its unique sense of style or humor over the last five years since The Pre-Sequel.
The landscape of the looter shooter has changed substantially in those last five years, but rather than chase after games like Destiny and The Division, Borderlands 3 seems pretty content to stick to its guns (all billions of them), refining its particular brand of cooperative focused, gear driven, first-person shooting.
And as a first impression, Gearbox certainly seems to be on the right track. Borderlands 3 feels like a much tighter, better-put-together version of Borderlands 2. Navigating around the environment feels smoother thanks to the ability to slide and mantle onto and over objects, but the most impressive aspect of Borderlands 3 is how good the guns feel. Borderlands has always been really good at providing a huge variety of guns with interesting mechanics, but it was a very rare occasion that you’d pick up a weapon in any of the Borderlands games and be 100% satisfied with how it felt.
In Borderlands 3, every weapon that I spent time with felt fantastic. From the wild west-style rapid firings of a Jakobs revolver, to the punchy power of a Dahl rifle, and especially to the sheer explosive power of a Torgue weapon. Gearbox has done a great job of identifying and correcting the flaws in the handlings of certain weapon types. Hyperion guns no longer have the annoying mechanic of being wildly inaccurate until you hold down the trigger for about 2-3 seconds; Torgue guns are less about AoE pray and spray and more about accurately tagging a baddie with sticky rounds, which can be exploded when you reload; and Tediore weapons have a huge variety of wild effects when you throw them, rather than just exploding on impact.
Beyond the movement and the gunplay, Borderlands 3 is exactly what you’d expect, though there are several quality-of-life improvements that allow you to spend less time in menus and more time actually playing the game. There’s a new gear score value that can instantly give you an idea of whether a piece of gear is better or worse than what you currently have equipped; you can now instantly refill your ammo at any vending machine with just a simple press of a button; there are intuitive filters that allow you to easily sort your weapons based on a number of different criteria; and just overall, the UI feels especially crisp and clean.
Only Amara and Zane were available in the vertical slice demo that I played, and while I wasn’t able to really dive into the deep intricacies of each character’s skill trees, I was at least able to tailor both characters to my own personal playstyle of rushing in like a berserker. Amara seemed most built for that style of play, with her Phaseslam action ability that lets her perform an AOE slam to let her get up close, along with several skills that can increase her damage and health.
Zane is much more malleable character, with skill trees that allow him to focus on a variety of different specialties, along with just doing a little bit of everything. He’s the only character we know of at this point that is able to use two action skills, at the cost of his grenade slot. That means he can use both his powerful Sentry turret, along with his diversion-creating clone to essentially create his own personal multiplayer party to soak up and deal out damage. My favorite skill of Zane’s was the increase in damage he got when moving at high speeds, which encouraged me to play Borderlands 3 a little bit like how I would play Doom.
Everything else in Borderlands 3 is exactly what you’d expect. It’s funny and silly in a cartoonish sort of way, which is a breath of fresh air in a genre that typically takes itself perhaps a little too seriously.
Mitchell Saltzman is an associate gameplay producer at IGN and has spent upwards of 200 hours scouring every inch of Pandora in Borderlands 2, searching for secrets and easter eggs. Follow him on twitter @JurassicRabbit