Borderlands 3 Hands-on Preview

I was one of the lucky ones that got invited to the Borderlands 3 reveal event. During the event a have had a lot of hands-on time with the game. I'm really blessed that 2K Games provided me with multiple play sessions. I know most game media and influencers only had 1 play session. So being able to play the game during all 4 play sessions is a real honor.
Borderlands 3 Hands-on Preview
Borderlands 3 Hands-on Preview

Quick Introduction

Before I go and talk about Borderlands 3, I want to give a quick introduction about me. The original Borderlands game was my ultimate dream game because I loved first-person shooters (FPSs) and role-playing games (RPGs), however, it never occurred to me that you could combine the two. I played the heck out of the first Borderlands game. When Gearbox Software announced Borderlands 2, I started making Borderlands content, which eventually led to me starting this website. When Battleborn came around I also fell in love with that franchise and started making content for that. Over the course of time, I have been able to build a good relationship with Gearbox Software and 2K Games. They have supported me in the past and continue to do so.

*Disclaimer: My trip to the Borderlands 3 reveal event was sponsored by 2K Games.

How to make a successor

With Borderlands, Gearbox Software invented a whole new genre in the gaming industry. By blending an FPS game with RPG elements the first looter-shooter was born. Due to its success Gearbox could quickly start on a follow-up. With Borderlands 2 they raised the bar significantly higher. But how do you follow up on such a game? While Borderlands the Pre-Sequel was a nice snack to keep us entertained it was actually Battleborn that gave the answer. While that game wasn’t the massive success that they had hoped for, Battleborn was very influential to the creation of Borderlands 3. The development team gained a lot of experience points and managed to level up. Not just themselves but also Borderlands. As a Battleborn fan, I see certain elements that are carried over to Borderlands 3 and raised to the next level. Which to me is very promising and after my hands-on experience, I have to say I’m impressed!

Moze and Fl4k take on a Maliwan Heavy. Shoot their backpack to deal critical damage.

Moze and Fl4k take on a Maliwan Heavy. Shoot their backpack to deal critical damage.

Borderlands brought to the modern age

Borderlands games never been hyper-realistic shooters. Therefore the arcadey controls never bothered me in the past, however, after playing games like Titanfall, a Borderlands game feels slow. Which had me wondering if Gearbox would be able to deliver such an experience. Because the general impression with Battleborn is that it plays like a Borderlands game. However, the doubts of Borderlands 3 being a slow game were quickly taken away when I saw the first gameplay demonstration.

With a lot of quick moment to moment action with new gameplay mechanics, Borderlands 3 feels more modern.  The ability to slide and climb up obstacles provide new ways to play. The slam from Borderlands the Pre-Sequel returns. The visual presentation on this move seems to showcase that it has more of an impact, which makes it a very cool move to perform. A character like Amara, with her Brawl skill tree, really embraces these mechanics as these moves allow you to get in close and take down your opponents. The controls feel good, I could quickly pick up and play the game.

We need a lot of guns

One of the things that Gearbox needed to get right is the loot. This is so important for a looter-shooter. Because Borderlands the Pre-sequel was entertaining but the loot felt like more of the same old same old. While the game did deliver a bunch of new weapons compared to Borderlands 2, however, there wasn’t a lot of exciting new loot. From what I have seen, Borderlands 3 manages to deliver new and exciting loot. I had a lot of fun discovering new weapons. You all probably have seen the guns with legs by now. But this is just 1 of the many cool things you will encounter in the game. It was wise of Gearbox to change up the unique manufacturer trades. By adding these new abilities makes the weapons feel fresh again and that’s what I needed. Some weapon manufactures even have an alternate firing mode. This allows you to switch between things like; auto-fire and burst-fire, normal bullets and grenades, or fire and ice since guns can have two different elemental types.

The cool thing is that each weapon manufacturer basically has a whole Borderlands 2 gear system to itself in Borderlands 3. Where in the previous games the weapons used parts from all the various manufacturers and mixed and matched those. This time each weapon manufacturer will be responsible for all the part. This makes it possible to have vastly different types of weaponry.  On top of that, the guns sound great. This is a thing that I heard from multiple people during the event. The sound design has improved which makes each gun sound unique.

Borderlands 3 Psycho

Borderlands 3 Psycho

Is Borderlands 3 visually lacking?

At first glance, Borderlands 3 might seem like the same game and did not get any visual improvements. However, don’t be fooled by this first impression. Yes, the art style has its limits but Borderlands isn’t going to be a hyper-realistic looking game.   I like to compare it with the remaster of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. That Zelda game looked like I remembered it, however, when you have a side by side comparison the remaster looks a lot better. The same can be said for Borderlands 3. The textures are all done in 4K this time around. The lighting has significantly improved and the VFX are stunning.  So while the game gives you the feeling that you are in the same universe, there is a lot more going on this time around.

One thing I missed in the visual presentation was the crosshatching shadows. If you remember the Borderlands tech demo from GDC 2017, then you have seen some early work in progress of this game. In that demonstration, you could see that they used a different shader. However, these shadows with the cross-hatches took away some of the details that the Borderlands series is known for. Therefore this new style eventually didn’t end up in the final game.

Quality of life improvements

There are a lot of quality of life improvements that make their way into to the game this time around. Little things that were of annoyance in the previous game have been taken care off. Things like ammo pick up, buy all ammo, fast travel, and many more. One of my current highlights is the ‘lost & found’ machine. This lets you recover awesome loot that you forgot to pick up or were not able to pick up. Because if you played some of the previous Borderlands games, then you know that during the lootsplosions some of the loot might drop into unreachable places. Very annoying, a specially when this is the boss legendary that only has a 2% chance of dropping. The ‘lost & found’ machine, which you can find on Sanctuary III, will secure your drop.

Zane the Operative with his Drone, SNTNL, on the planet Promethea

Zane the Operative with his Drone, SNTNL, on the planet Promethea

Creating new vault hunters

During the event, I was able to play with both Zane and Amara. They look badass and both play interesting. Gearbox has always been good at creating characters for their games. Due to the crazy amount of heroes they created for Battleborn, Gearbox really learned a lot about making cool skill trees and special abilities. This really shows in Borderlands 3, as both Zane and Amara have very interesting skills and abilities which you can use. Zane is a James Bond-like assassin with high tech gadgets and Amara is a strong character that excels in close up combat and elemental damage.

Since each Vault Hunter now has 3 action skills to choose from you can customize your play style even further than before. You can switch between action skills at any time that you want. The skill trees are cleverly constructed so that your passive skills are still effective no matter which action skill you use. There are some augments that only affect a specific action skill. These really let you change up the way your action skill works. This not only results in new and fun ways to play but also can have those insane over the top gameplay elements that you know and love.

Conclusion

The demo promises a Borderlands 3 that is bigger, better, and more badass. With well thought out game design Gearbox Software delivers a fresh take on the franchise while respecting the series roots. The gameplay is fun and delivers an over the top experience with Gearbox’ trademark humor. I really enjoyed my time with the game and  I’m looking forward to playing it again.

Let Me Know What You Think

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