With a billion guns on offer, there’s a gat, a piece, and a pew-pew to suit every shooting taste, in such an epic way that picking a fave is nigh impossible in Borderlands 3.
In the beginning, before Destiny or The Division, there was the original righteous looter-shooter series Borderlands. It was the spawn of an unholy union between Diablo and a GI-gilded goose that lays never-ending boomsticks. And it was good. Forged by Gearbox Software, Borderlands and its subsequent sequels were designed to fill hours with stacks of loot and waves of enemies who got in the way of more loot.
There was harmony to be found in four-player co-op, but the series’ co-op shenanigans have long been impacted by the quality of the company you keep. In short, if you played with jerks, there was every chance they’d hoover up your next favourite pocket rocket before you got to it.
While prickish purists can still play this co-petitive game in Borderlands 3, everyone else has the option of instanced loot. That’s fancy talk for all of the shooting fun without having to worry about your all-important shoot-loot being pilfered.
To bolster the co-op, Borderlands 3 complements this newfangled feature with another cooperative-first inclusion: level scaling. This means your gaming sessions
don’t have to be like archaic scheduled television and you’re free to play whenever you like, with different groups of pals if you’re rich in gamer friends. Join a lower-level buddy, and your enemies plus the all-important loot will scale to your level. And the inverse is as true as it is automatic.
Like instanced loot, this feature can also be disabled for fans who, for some reason, curiously enjoy the prospect of being one-shot downed by a goon with a shotgun who’s a kilometre away.
There’s also the option of offline splitscreen for couch warriors, or you can play it on your lonesome, which is what we experienced at a recent hands-on event. While co-op is sure to be the gold standard of how to best enjoy Borderlands 3, the good news is solo play feels better than previous entries.
Part of this is because of smarter AI and a more diverse range of enemies, that make Borderlands 3 feel like less of a shooting gallery with guaranteed rewards and more an actual challenge when it comes to firefights. Shields will save you to a point, but pairing the effectiveness of your ever-growing, ever-changing arsenal with best-use fragging is as important as matching blue cheese with the right wine or, y’know, nothing at all. Blue cheese is literally rancid.
On-the-nose jokes aside, what isn’t cheesy in Borderlands 3 is the sheer amount of content on offer. While main-pathers can reportedly knock over the core campaign in around 30 hours, box-ticking completionists and those who enjoy venturing off the blazed trail are in for dozens of hours of tempting distractions.
“The good news is solo play feels better than previous entries.”
You can spawn in vehicles to explore the wastelands, or pinch them off passers-by. Then there’s the off-world potential. While Promethea is the only new planet mentioned so far, Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford (also an amazing magician and owner of wondrous shirts) teases that there will be other planets in Borderlands 3.
Despite the return of jarring loading screens while exploring planets, you’ll be heading to new worlds on the Sanctuary 3 spaceship. This isn’t a free-flying No Man’s Sky affair,
mind; instead, you’re the captain of this space vessel and dictate to the crew on your bridge where you’d like to loot next.
Sanctuary 3 also happens to be a place where you’ll be tempted to spend time, and potentially cash on slot machines. Losing on these machines might reward you with an explosive wooden-spoon prize, so gamble at your own risk.
Moxxi’s Bar makes a welcome return aboard Sanctuary 3, as does Crazy Earl’s Black Markets to exchange cash for ill-gotten loot. Mercifully, there’s now a vending machine that spits out loot you may have missed or lost while adventuring. Plus, you can zhoosh up the space in your spaceship to make it your own: mount the noggins of your favourite fauna frags in Sir Hammerlock’s room and decorate your Vault Hunter pad with your most beloved boomsticks.
Speaking of Vault Hunters, there are four that we know of so far – Moze the Gunner, Amara the Siren, Fl4K the Beastmaster and Zane the Operative. We got to take Amara and Zane for a spin, and while the core Borderlands gameplay loop is what you’d expect, their unique class attributes mix things up. Amara deals big damage with elemental powers, while Zane favours technical trickery. He can opt to ditch grenades for a second power, which ties into the Borderlands 3 mantra of deeper RPG personalisation to tailor classes to preferred or new play styles. Plus, you can reset your powers and experiment freely.
Investing your hard-earned points in passive abilities is the main tailoring point of difference, but there are also active powers. It’s hard to go past Amara’s Halo 4-like ground pound for squishing foes under-ethereal-fist, while Zane’s twofold double ability presents new tactical opportunities. Drop a static hologram that distracts enemies and fires at them. Tap the button again to teleport to its location to get out of, or into, harm’s way.
There’s a vault-load of familiar faces returning, too, and you’ll likely need all the help you can scavenge to take down the main threat of the Calypso twins. Described by Pitchford as “the douchiest kind of live streamers you can possibly imagine”, at least one of this deadly duo has the ability to syphon life and, seemingly, powers from others with deadly results.
While certainly familiar, the underlying appeal of Borderlands 3 is in how it’s empowering players with more freedom. Whether that’s a new arsenal of guns with secondary-firing modes, kicking back for downtime on Sanctuary 3, or tweaking co-op to match cooperative or competitive urges, it’s on track to be a strong return of the original, addictive looter-shooter gameplay loop.
Borderlands 3 launches for PS4 and Xbox One on September 13.