Borderlands 3 Impressions: Return of the Looter-Shooter Masters

Borderlands 3 is one of those games that people have been waiting on for so long that it seems as though it might be impossible to match the community’s excitement for it. People might find themselves worrying that the character’s quips and asides will fall short after years of the same humor or that the loot-heavy genre is too crowded now for a new Borderlands game. But after playing some of Borderlands 3 during Gearbox’s first big gameplay event, it was a relief to see that there’s no need for these concerns. Borderlands is back in full force, feels just as familiar as ever, has still found ways to update its systems, and comes prepared to reclaim its place at the top of the looter-shooter hill.

One of the best examples of how Borderlands has changed comes from the start of our demo where we were dropped not on Pandora, but on Promethea. It’s one of several planets that players will travel to aboard their new ship that’s called Sanctuary 3, the hub location for Borderlands 3’s conquests. We didn’t explore the ship in the demo, but instead, we chose to play as Zane (the other option being Amara) and take on enemies in a vast, new world.

Looking at the Vault Hunter skills and their loadouts in Borderlands 3 is as overwhelming as ever at first, but in an eyes glazed over, can’t get enough of it way. The skills like improved recharge rates on shields and other combat effects will feel reminiscent of past Vault Hunters’ abilities, and even after dropping countless numbers of guns into players’ inventories in the past, Borderlands 3 arms players with an impressive amount of options.

Borderlands 3 Psycho
(Photo: Gearbox)

Take Zane for example, a Vault Hunter who can have two Action Skills equipped at once at the expense of using his grenades. With a barrier and his drone equipped as two skills and guns that cycle firing modes between burst fire, single-shot, and can even deal different elemental damage types such as radiation and fire, it feels like you’re prepared to take on any adversary you come across. By holding three weapons at once in the stage of the game we were dropped into, you can effectively have as many as six or seven types of guns at your disposal without ever having to swap one out thanks to the various damage-dealing options.

Using these guns is just as rewarding as gawking at them. Most of the guns sounded phenomenal, though there were a few that seemed unusually quiet compared to others considering how noisy Borderlands fights can get. The gore system from past Borderlands games makes a return, so if you hit a Psycho that’s rushing you with a shotgun, you better believe things are going to go flying.

Two of the best changes to the mobility system seem like small adjustments but make a world of difference. You can now slide around the battlefield to get behind cover and mantle your way onto higher places. No longer will you have to bounce yourself against a wall until you hit it from the right angle or jump on a tiny mailbox to get up on a roof – if you want up there, just mantle your way into position and rain down fire from above. I can’t speak for Amara since Zane was the character played, but these two mechanics make him feel like the skilled, resourceful operative he’s made out to be.

There doesn’t appear to have been much changed with the game’s vehicle systems from what was played. If you’re like me and didn’t particularly enjoy driving around in other Borderlands games while shooting at enemies or flat out ignoring their attacks, you’ll probably feel the same about Borderlands 3. What did get me back in the driver’s seat was the Cyclone, a new vehicle at players’ disposal. It’s fast, nimble, and the total opposite of the usual sluggish buggy. You sacrifice some power for it, but after piloting a Cyclone, I can’t see myself going back.

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It’s fair to acknowledge that there were some technical difficulties that halted the gameplay occasionally. The game crashed twice during the demo when transitioning to a new level, and the main quest became stuck at one point. Completing a side quest (which was just as entertaining if not more so than the main quest) fixed the issue so that we could proceed. Opening menus like the inventory or a Catch-a-Ride station were delayed slightly, but as far as the actual combat-focused gameplay, there were no issues. It’s not like this demo came a month before release like some games do though, so these issues will undoubtedly be worked on before its release.

Borderlands 3 is scheduled to release on September 13th for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC platforms.