This Borderlands 3 beginners guide is your start to becoming a true Vault Hunter! Borderlands is a looter-shooter type of game. It was the first series that successfully combine a first-person shooter with role-playing game elements. This Borderlands 101 guide will teach you everything you need to know in order to survive Pandora and beyond.
Table of contents
You know you better than anyone else. Pick the right difficulty setting that is best suited for you to have an enjoyable experience.
- Easy – For Novice players or if you don’t have a lot of time to spare and just want to enjoy the story.
- Normal – Default setting that should be tailored for most gamers.
- True Vault Hunter – For Hardcode gamers that like a challenge (unlocks after completing the main story in Normal mode).
Are you playing with friends, then there are 2 ways you can team up.
- Cooperative – Everyone can do as they please, the game will take care of you and your buddies. Everyone gets their own loot and character levels don’t have to match.
- Coopetition – Oldskool rules. You can ninja loot that 1 badass weapon from your friends as there will only drop 1 for all of you instead of each of you. You can be over,- or underpowered when joining your friends game.
Choose your Vault Hunter
Borderlands 3 has 4 playable characters you can choose from. These Vault Hunters each have their own unique skills and abilities. However, which of these characters is best suited for you? It all depends on your preference.
While each Vault Hunter can expand their skill set in multiple directions, they all have action skills that dictate their playstyle. Amara’s actions skills are these 1 hit blows. While they are very strong, they do require a more active playstyle than if you picked Zane.
With Zane, you can activate his action skills and let them do the work. This creates a more lay back playstyle since you don’t really need to micromanage the combat. That said you can do cool stuff with Zane but you can also just activate his Drone and Digi-clone and they will function on their own. The great thing about Zane’s Digi-clone is that it can draw aggro from the enemies so that they are not all focused on you.
Another great hero who can do that is FL4K since you can always have a pet by your side. A great thing about having a pet by your side is that you can pick up the skill “Lick the Wounds“. This gives your pet the ability to revive you when you are down in “fight for your life” mode.
If you sometimes need a Panic Button, then Moze is something for you. Since her action skill has its own health bar you call upon her giant mech and keep blasting your enemies to pieces.
Character Action Skills
Each Vault Hunter has 3 action skills they can choose from. You gain access to your action skill once you reached level 2. When you level up even further you can augment your skills to be more destructive or change up your playstyle. More about your skill tree down below, for now, let’s go over the character’s action skills.
Amara can choose 1 of these 3 action skills. Each of them has a short cooldown.
- Phasecast – Shoots a strong projectile in a straight line forward. Good for mid-range combat but your aim is crucial
- Phasegrasp – Locks enemies in place and prevents them from attacking for a brief moment. Good for gaining control during combat.
- Phaseslam – This jump attack slams your enemies to a pulp. Good for fast close-up combat.
- Phaseflare [Designer’s Cut DLC] – Summons an Orb that you can punch around.
FL4K can choose 1 action skill and 1 pet. Your pet will be by your side at all times and has its own health bar. More pets can be unlocked in FL4K’s skill tree. Your action skills have a cooldown time.
- Action Skills
- Rakk Attack! – Send out 2 Rakk (bird-like creatures) to dive-bomb in to an enemy. Good for mid-range combat, your aim doesn’t need to be on point.
- Gamma Burst – Teleport your pet and supercharge it with radiation which also infects enemies with radiation damage. Good for mid-range combat.
- Fade Away – Become invisible and get 3 free shots that deal critical damage. Good for close-range combat (Jakobs shotgun).
- Gravity Snare [Designer’s Cut DLC] – Throw a trap that Knocks Up and temporarily Stuns nearby enemies.
- Spiderant – This spider will give you constant health regeneration, great if you need that extra bit of survivability.
- Skag – This puppy will boost your weapon damage, great for taking enemies down just a bit faster.
- Jabber – This monkey allows you to move faster, great for dodging enemies.
- ION Loader [Designer’s Cut DLC] – This robot will provide you with increased Elemental Damage.
Moze has 1 action skill called Iron Bear, however, you can equip this mech with various weapons. More weapons can be unlocked in Moze’s skill tree.
- V-35 Grenade Launcher – Lob grenades dealing splash damage, great for mobs.
- Railgun – Fire high-impact laser shots. Low fire rate, high damage, great for taking out enemy shields.
- Minigun – High fire rate, beware it doesn’t overheat.
- Iron Cub [Designer’s Cut DLC] – Replace your Iron Bear mech with a small robot companion that follows you around.
Zane is the only Vault Hunter that can equip 2 action skills at once, however, you sacrifice your grenade in order to equip the second action skill. Your grenade mod can be used in Zane’s Skill Tree.
- Barrier – Place a shield to protect yourself from enemy fire. Shooting through the shield gives your shots a damage boost. Did you know, you can also pick up and carry the barrier? While this action skill is mostly seen as a defensive item, there are a lot of high-damage builds that actually utilize the barrier.
- SNTNL – Sends out a flying drone that attacks nearby enemies. You can command the drone to attack specific targets. Enemies get an icon above their heads. This also helps you spot enemies that are hidden or blend in with the environment.
- Digi-Clone – This places a holographic decoy of yourself on the battlefield which can shoot and damage enemies. However, it cannot move but you can reposition it by swapping places with it. You teleport to its place and it will deploy on your previous location. Great asset to draw in enemy aggro.
- MNTIS Cannon [Designer’s Cut DLC] – A shoulder-mounted cannon that fires a powerful laser beam
Still not sure who it choose, then check out my Best Borderlands 3 Solo Character Guide for more info.
Level up & Skill Tree
When you defeat the enemies that you encounter, you will gain experience points (XP). When you accumulate enough XP you will fill up the progression bar that sits at the bottom center of the screen. Each time you do this, you will level up. This will increase your Health bar, your stats, and provide you with a skill point that you can spend in your skill tree.
At level 2 you can choose an action skill and a passive skill. Each hero has 3 skill trees that they can spec into. On top of each skill tree, you will find 1 of the action skills. You can pick any action skill and go down any skill tree. You don’t have to go down the tree of your current action skill as you can swap out your action skill for another at any point in the game. However, the skill trees below each action skill do contain augments for that specific action skill. While the main idea of the skill trees is basically the same, there is some additional in-depth stuff that gives a unique spin on each character.
Picking the right skills
You can create a lot of awesome builds for each of the Vault Hunters. However, early game you don’t have enough skill points to do just yet. At the beginning of the game, I always look at what I need. There is always a skill tree that has something that boosts your damage and there is always one that helps you stay alive.
I try and get a feel of the game before making my choice right away. If you go down a lot pick up those health or shield-boosting skills instead of focusing on your damage output. That said you can always go to a quick change station and reset your skill points. In the introduction with claptrap, you get introduced to one of these stations, so if you want to respec you know where to find one. But they are scattered around the various locations you will visit.
With previous Borderlands games, you wanted to reach that capstone skill in your skill tree because those were the most powerful ones in the game. However, in Borderlands 3 you don’t need that capstone in order to create a quality build. You can go halfway in the various skill trees and still end up with a great build. Be sure to pick up augments that sit on the side of each skill tree. These are game-changers, they will modify how your action skill works and make them more devastating.
Borderlands 3 can be a challenging game if you are not ready for it. Each quest that you do has a difficulty level assigned to them. These levels correspond to your character’s level. If you try and complete a level 10 mission while you are still level 5 then you are in for a challenge. Your character isn’t strong enough just yet, go and look for other missions to do first. This can happen if you stay on the main story mission. Yes, you can complete this way but if you are struggling with the difficulty then pick up those side missions.
When you complete a bunch of side missions you can level up and actually reach a higher level than the recommended level for those main story missions. By completing side missions you can get awesome rewards and don’t have to go through a boring grind. However, just leveling up your character isn’t enough.
You also need to collect quality weapons, shields, and more that are on par with your level as you progress through the game.
Borderlands trademark is GUNS, each game has a ton and Borderlands 3 has over a billion weapons. But how do you find the best weapons? Well, experimenting is the best way but there are some indicators you can use to determine which gun is better. Weapons are also color-coded, the better the parts the rarer they are. This is a quick way to scan for the best loot. Keep an eye out for legendary weapons as they can even have special powers.
- White (common)
- Green (uncommon)
- Blue (Unique)
- Purple (Rare)
- Orange (Legendary)
- Each weapon has a level which is displayed on the top right. Make sure this is on par with your character’s level. If it falls more than 3 levels behind you won’t be dealing sufficient damage.
- Each weapon has an item score which is displayed on the top left. This is a quick way to compare 2 items against each other to determine which is the better one.
- If you find 2 similar weapons you can compare the specific attributes like; Damage, Fire Rate, Accuracy, Handling, Reload Speed, and Magazine Size.
- At the bottom of the item card, you can see the weapon manufacturer. Each manufacturer excels in one of these attributes and/or adds a manufacturer-specific ability which will be listed above.
All the weapons in Borderlands 3 are produced by various weapon manufacturers. They each provide their own unique twist to the weapon arsenal. Some deal more damage but shoot slower, while others shoot faster but deal less damage. They all excel in an area but have a “flaw” to balance everything out.
- Tediore – Have the ability to throw your gun when you reload. While these can be fun (GUNS WITH LEGGS!!!), each toss will cost you the entire ammo clip. Keep an eye on your ammo. Not ideal for early game combat since you cannot expand your ammo carry size until you reach Sanctuary 3.
- Hyperion – Have a personal shield when you aim down the sights. Great reliable weapons that get more accurate as you keep firing them.
- Maliwan – Toggle between two elements. While they excel in elemental damage, I personally don’t like the weapon’s charge up before you can start shooting. They are great if you can match counter the enemy’s life bar with the correct element but in normal mode, you don’t have to worry a lot about that.
- Dahl – Toggle between alternate fire modes; Auto-fire, Burst-fire, or Single shot. Solid weapons. Dahl plays into the soldier type player.
- Jakobs – Powerful old west guns that fire as fast as you can pull the trigger. Critical hits also ricochet towards other targets. Never deal elemental damage unless you find a legendary.
- Vladof – Have a high fire rate but deal lower damage (watch your ammo). Have cool under-barrel attachments including tasers, rocket tubes, and additional gun barrels.
- Atlas – Can mark targets with the alternative-fire mode and bullets will home into your enemy. Fires a bit slower than Dahl weapons but compensates with damage and auto-aim.
- Torgue – Switch between regular and sticky-projectile fire modes. Stickies do more damage if a bunch of them detonate on the same target. Slow fire rate but deal a lot of damage.
- COV – You don’t need to reload these weapons but they occasionally overheat. While you can keep shooting these guns, they are less accurate.
Like weapons, shields come in a lot of varieties. They can all have special abilities and depending on your playstyle you can utilize them. The most important thing is that they protect your life points and unlike your life points can recharge back to full strength.
If you are just starting out I recommend the one with the highest shield capacity. The downside of these is that they don’t recharge that quickly as they have a long recharge delay. Some shields can drop health pickups when they get damaged. These are great to extend your survivability.
If you like to play close-up combat, you can rock a Nova shield. Every time your shield breaks it releases a nova blast damaging enemies that are near you. If you want a full breakdown of all the abilities then check out my dedicated shield guide.
- Pick up valuable items even if you won’t be using them. You can sell them at one of the vending machines and make a quick buck.
- Vending machines have an item of the day. These are always a bit more powerful/special than the normal items you can find in the store.
- While vending machines don’t sell the most powerful gear in the game, they are a good way to get gear that is on the same level as your character.
- If you accidentally missed a rare piece of gear, the ‘Lost and Found‘ has your back, as it collects high tier items for you. You can find it on Sanctuary 3 once you completed the prologue.
- Complete crew challenges to earn rare gear and Eridium. With Eridium you can purchase powerful weapons that have an anointment.
- You can Fast Travel from anywhere. You don’t need to go to these fast travel portals, just open your menu and select the area you want to visit.
- Check your in-game Mail from time to time. Weapon Manufacturers will send you rare items if you kill 100 enemies using their brand.
- Stay on the move, if you stand still you are a sitting duck.
- Aim for the enemy’s critical weak spot to deal more damage and save ammo.
- For humanoid enemies, the critical hit spot is the head.
- You need to shoot Skag in their mouths to deal critical hits.
- You need to shoot Spiderants on their rear end to deal critical hits.
- Counter your enemy’s life bar with the correct elemental damage. So keep 1 gun of each element in your backpack.
- Use fire weapons against flesh (red life bars).
- Use shock weapons against shields (blue life bars).
- Use corrosive against armor (yellow life bars).
- Take a quick peeks at the mini-map during combat. Enemies are sometimes hard to spot because they are behind cover or blend in the environment. This way you get quickly dispose of all of them.
- Have various weapons equipped to your quick select slots. Not just various elements but various gun types. If you run out of pistol ammo and you only have pistols equipped you can’t quickly switch between weapons (Yes, you can always pause the game and dive into your menu to select different weapons but I like to come prepared).
- Once you reached Sanctuary 3, visit Marcus Munitions for Storage Deck Upgrades to expand your inventory slots.
Boss Combat Tips
- Load up on ammo. Before each Boss arena, you will find a vending machine.
- Like every combat scenario, keep moving.
- Bosses have attack patterns, keep track of their movements. Keep an eye or ear out for visual or audio cues that signal a specific attack.
- Equip the most effective type of weapon, look at the color-coded life bar of the boss to see which elemental type is best suited for the job (see combat tips above for a quick overview).
- Smaller enemies fight alongside larger bosses. They are pretty weak and are there for you to score a ‘second win‘ when you are down in ‘fight for your life‘ mode.
- Find the boss’s critical hit spot to take them down faster.
- Some bosses briefly have an immune phase. So don’t waste your ammo on them and orientate your surroundings.
You can get your health back by picking up Medkits – which can be dropped by enemies or found in chests – or you can upgrade one of the healing skills in your character’s Skill Tree or you can use a grenade Mod that heals.
You can determine the general quality of a weapon by the item score on the top left of the item’s card. Another indicator is the amount the items sell for.
Higher Rarity weapons can outperform lower Rarity weapons of a higher level. Legendary weapons can outperform other weapons due to their unique ability.
You cannot level up your weapons in Borderlands 3, you need to find a weapon with a higher level to replace your old one. You can change the anoint of an item later on in the game.
The Purple Crystals are Eridium – a rare currency in Borderlands 3 – you will unlock an item in the story campaign that enables you to break them. That’s when you can start farming Eridium.
You will receive an Eridian Analyzer during chapter 19 of the story campaign in Borderlands 3. This device lets you read the mysterious writings.
You need to press the Crouch button while your character is in Mid-Air. You need to have enough height in order to perform this move. There is a Guardian Rank Perk that lets you execute this move while doing a basic jump otherwise you need to jump off something.