Borderlands 3 Hands-On – Fresh and Familiar

Randy Pitchford and Borderlands 3 Creative Director Paul Sage took the stage in Los Angeles to give us our first look at gameplay. The familiar landscapes of Pandora greeted us but the power of Unreal Engine 4 makes the distinctive Borderlands visuals look better than ever.

Sure, the recent Borderlands GOTY and Handsome Collection’s remasters have a crispness and fidelity we’ve previously not seen.

But Borderlands 3 looks better. Small details stand out; tufts of grass, puddles of water, debris. It all looks and feels right at home.

It’s fresh and familiar.

Borderlands 3 Fresh and Familiar

This is how Pitchford describes the team’s goal for Borderlands 3. It’s a game that respects the Borderlands art style and aesthetic while looking better than it ever has. It’s still very obviously a Borderlands game, but sporting a new coat of paint and an extra bit of polish.

As with past Borderlands games, Claptrap introduces himself and leads the Vault Hunter on their first quest. We learn that the Children of the Vault — led by the Calypso Twins — is a dangerous new cult that is recruiting bandits. These ‘Fanatics’ fight for the twins and in true Borderlands fashion are less concerned with personal safety than charging into battle.

Thankfully, there are plenty of death-dealing instruments of destruction to use against them. Many weapons in Borderlands 3 now include an alternate fire mode and this gives players almost twice the arsenal. Some weapons include a secondary mode which fired micro missiles. Others can switch between different elemental damage types. Others still are able to switch from a minigun to a rocket launcher. 

Loot For All

Weapons have always been a huge part of Borderlands and in the third game, they’re crazier than ever. Thanks to a new system called loot instancing, players no longer have to miss out on loot if their buddy gets it first. Instead, each player is given their own instanced loot, scaled to their level and only available to them. 

If a chest is opened and it has two great guns in it, all players get both guns. 

By the same token, level balancing means that enemies will also be scaled for each player. If a level 5 player is joined by a level 25 player, they will both see enemies around their respective levels. 

However, should you enjoy the old way of playing, you can simply enable classic mode and be the loot ninja you always wanted to be. In classic mode, level balancing won’t be enabled either so you can enlist your higher levelled friends to come in and give you a handy assist.

Let’s Go to Space

During the hands-off section of the presentation, we learned that the Children of the Vault have a map showing the location of Vaults all over the galaxy. Tyreen, the female twin, has the ability to leech life and intends to visit the Vaults to extract life from the Vault bosses. Thus becoming far, far more powerful.

Thankfully, the Crimson Raiders have a ship — named Sanctuary III — that can travel through space and take the Vault Hunters to new planets. This is Borderlands 3’s hub world and it’s how we travel to the first new planet, Promethea.

My hands-on time with Borderlands 3 begins as the Vault Hunters arrive on Promethea for the first time. The homeworld of the Atlas Corporation, Promethea is under attack from Maliwan Corporation’s private army. Maliwan is attempting a hostile takeover and the Vault Hunters are here to assist.

New Me

I’m able to choose from Amara and Zane for my hands-on and I initially opt for Zane. He’s the Operative and comes packed with a tonne of great skills. In Borderlands 3, each of the Vault Hunters has access to three action skills that players are able to choose between. 

When you reach level three, you can equip one of the action skills and its associated skill tree. However, Zane is able to equip two action skills by sacrificing his ability to throw grenades. It’s a good tradeoff because Zane’s action skills are awesome. 

[perfectpullquote align=”left” bordertop=”false” cite=”The Digiclone makes it so easy to get around behind enemies in cover and flank them” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””][/perfectpullquote]

Digiclone creates a digital copy of Zane that actually fires bullets and deals damage. The best part about the Digiclone though is that you can instantly swap spots with it by pressing the action skill button again. You can swap spots with the clone as many times as you like until the skill meter runs down.

The Digiclone makes it so easy (and fun) to get around enemies in cover and flank them. In one instance, I created my clone then ran behind the enemies while they focused on the clone, shot them in the back and when they turned to attack me, I’d swap to the clone’s location, giving me an instant flank.[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”Combining two action skills makes Zane feel almost unstoppable” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””][/perfectpullquote]

For his second ability, I equipped the SNTNL. This is the drone shown in the reveal trailer and is another awesome skill. When active, the SNTNL flies around and shoots enemies with its mounted machine guns. Targeted enemies are highlighted by an icon and you’re also able to direct the drone to attack specific enemies by pressing the action button while aiming. 

Combining these two action skills makes Zane feel almost unstoppable and I certainly look forward to playing as him again.

New You

Rather than continue the demo section with Zane, I instead switched to Amara. Amara is a Siren, but she’s unlike any we’ve seen before. She’s very physical and brutal in her attacks and was described to me by her concept artist Amanda Christensen as a Super Saiyan

Unlike Zane, Amara can only equip one skill at a time. I opt for the Phaseslam, which is again, something shown in the reveal trailer. It’s a devastating area of effect attack that sees Amara leap into the air and slam down with her ethereal fists. It deals massive damage and knocks enemies back.

I spend a few more skill points and augment her skill with a corrosive element. This means that whenever I activate the Phaseslam, it places a pool of corrosive radiation on the field, further damaging the enemies. 

Playing as Amara, I struggled to stay alive as easily as I did with Zane. This may be due to the aggressive playstyle or that she is a slightly more difficult character to use. However, this didn’t detract from my enjoyment playing as her. I can certainly see myself playing with both characters when Borderlands 3 is released.

Feels Good Man

As for how it actually plays, you’ll be pleased to know that Borderlands 3 is unapologetically Borderlands. If you’ve played any of the previous games in the series, you’ll be able to jump into Borderlands 3 and feel right at home. 

The gunplay is exceptional. Aiming, zooming, firing and reloading are all equally satisfying and feel perfect. Movement is fast and fluid too and thanks to the new mantling and sliding abilities, you can get around more quickly than ever. 

It’s obvious that Borderlands 3 is a bigger, better game than what’s come before. It seems to be taking all the best bits from the other titles in the franchise and bringing them together. 

Fans are going to go absolutely bananas for this game and it’s sure to win over some new ones too. With only 90-minutes of play time, I barely got to scratch the surface of what’s in Borderlands 3. Yet, the fraction that I saw and played is incredibly promising.

It’s bigger, it’s better and it’s Borderlands 3


Leo Stevenson attended the Borderlands 3 gameplay event in Los Angeles, California as a guest of 2K. Flights, accommodation and meals were provided by 2K.

Related articles

Leo Stevensonhttps://powerup-gaming.com/
I've been playing games for the past 27 years and have been writing for almost as long. Combining two passions in the way I'm able is a true privilege. PowerUp! is a labour of love and one I am so excited to share.

Share article