E3 2019 Hands-on: Borderlands 3

There’s something about the Borderlands formula that has managed to grip both my attention and hours of my time, despite being made up of genres I don’t normally find any interest in. First-person shooters have never been my thing, and I have yet to find another looter-shooter that has kept me coming back after a couple hours of playing. Perhaps it’s the spark of charm and off-kilter humor the series is known for that keeps me coming back?

Whatever the reason may be, Borderlands 3 is an upcoming release that has my attention, despite some of the drama coming out of developer Gearbox. We were offered the chance to go hands-on with the latest demo build at this year’s E3, alongside a run-down of some new information for the game.

The experience began with a short presentation by the game’s art director, Scott Kester. The focus here was a run-down of the game’s social features, as well as some information on the third of four playable characters: Moze, the “Gunner.”

Kester explained that, while the game can be played solo (which is how I’ve played the past few games myself, personally), Gearbox has added a few subtle social integrations to nudge players into interacting with friends and the game’s community. You can now buy items from vending machines that your in-game friends have sold to them in their own games, as well as having hunting missions dynamically added to your own game when a friend completes it. Equipment found in the game can be sent to friends, and it will automatically scale to their level as well.

He also made it a point to mention that Borderlands 3 will offer split-screen multiplayer as well, something many modern games seem to be lacking.

We were then led into the explanation of the gunner Moze, a character whose skills revolve around piloting a mech. A quick rundown of her skill trees was mentioned: “Demolition Woman,” skills focused on explosion and splash damage; “Shield of Retribution,” a risk-reward tree revolving around shields as well as increasing damage output as health decreases; and “Bottomless Mags,” all about shooting and never having to reload. Kessler mentioned off-hand that augments from between trees can be combined to help customize playstyles.

Following the quick presentation came the highlight of the morning: finally going hands-on with the game. The demo was presented on a PC running AMD hardware (Vega 64 graphics in particular), but the only control option was an Xbox One controller, which threw me off a bit.

I had the choice to play as one of the three characters revealed in-depth so far. I opted for the “Operator” Zane, and jumped into his skill trees to unlock an after-image skill as well as one that sent an attack drone out onto the field. The stage in the demo had me infiltrating a base where the game’s antagonists, the Calypso twins, are broadcasting to their cult. The stage was relatively short, capping off with a boss-fight against what seemed like an evil Radio DJ requiring me to avoid large area-of-effect attacks coming out of speakers surrounding the arena.

After a bit of adjustment to the gamepad controls, I was able to jump in relatively easy. Hell, the only timed I straight-up died was when I accidentally walked off a cliff. This is helped mainly by the fact that Borderlands 3 is essentially just more Borderlands. Sure, we get more characters and places to explore, but the gameplay loop is incredibly familiar.

That’s not to say nothing’s changed, obviously. If there’s one word I could use to describe the difference between this and past entries, it’s “smoother.” To be fair, I have not played Pre-Sequel, but the small graphical updates evident in the small things here ranging from using vending machines to watching enemy health drop just felt more polished. The only real issue I had with the demo was in audio; I had some issues with audio glitches and drop-outs in the first few minutes of the demo.

Overall, if you’re already a fan of the Borderlands series, I can say Borderlands 3 remains worth looking forward to. This may be a great game for newcomers to jump in as well, although I can’t say so firmly until we see more story details; the Borderlands series has begun developing a bit of lore over the past couple entries.

However, if you haven’t been into previous games, it doesn’t look like there will be much here to change your mind. Gearbox seems to know what its audience is looking for, and is definitely catering to them with this entry.

Borderlands 3 was developed by Gearbox Software, and will be published by 2K Games for PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Stadia on September 13th, 2019.

Screenshots courtesy of 2K Games.