Borderlands 3 feels like more of the same, but that’s a good thing

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There’s a certain moment when playing a Borderlands game where it clicks, when you finally see why so many hold the series in such high regard. What first seems like a mindless shooter soon becomes an exhilarating stream of enemies along with rewarding and randomized loot. So far, Borderlands 3 is proving to be the same satisfying loot shooter as its predecessor, but small changes and neat additions make for a smoother experience while keeping the charm the series has always been known for.

After not having played a Borderlands game in some time, I had that “click” moment when I played a hands-on demo of Borderlands 3 at E3 2019. It was shortly after I got the hang of the new slide mechanic and landed two snazzy headshots with my shotgun. It felt smoother than ever, and the character models and environments were sharper, but nothing stood out as game changing. You get your waypoint, you mow down enemies as you follow the path, and you defeat the boss at the end. It’s your standard Borderlands fare. It’s still just as fun, but nothing revolutionary.

It’s more Borderlands and that’s okay

The demo started me off on the path to the Holy Broadcast Center, a colorful stadium packed with weird humanoid sculptures, sonic booby traps, and cryptic messages. One of the big bads, Tyreen of the Calypso twins and one of the leaders of the Children of the Vault, radioed in to alert those nearby to an upcoming ceremony at the broadcast center. There are definitely strange cultish vibes coming from the messaging of the radio report and it’s refreshing to see Borderlands take this theme and blow it up into a full story.

Sliding, although simple, is Borderlands 3’s newest and most meaningful addition to combat. Blasting enemies with your uniquely manufactured guns and whipping out your special abilities all play into that sense of gratification when you clear out a room of baddies. Sliding adds to that effect. Now, as you run from cover to cover, you can slide to avoid some incoming fire but it’s greatest use is to get up close to enemies and blast them away without losing your momentum.

Guns are more creative than ever, and I was able to play around with three different weapons found hiding in chests and crates. The default assault rifle and shotgun were pretty standard, but one of the new guns, the Fasterfield Preacher, fired off lasers without a need to reload. To get it started, my character yanked on a cord as if it was a motor. The Rubberized Webbing was a new grenade with a bouncier and slower movement, while the Longbow Grenade will teleport forward shortly after throwing.

I don’t know if these weapons were unique to my personal demo but rest assured the final game will keep things randomized to the point where you’ll rarely ever get the same weapon twice. For those unfamiliar, weapons will always have different stats, and depending on the company label of the gun, different effects. Some of these include simple changes like extra fire damage or something a little crazier like the ability to throw your gun after reloading and having it explode on impact.

Shiny new toys

While I personally didn’t get to test these out, I was shown a hands-off demo of some of the new social features. When you sell your guns — and trust me, you’ll be trashing them constantly — there’s a chance your scrapped weapons will appear in the shop of someone on your friend’s list. You’ll also be able to mail and send weapons to friends, a first for the series. In a game that’s so heavily focused on cooperative play, these small additions are very much welcomed.

It’s a little sad all these awesome social features are coming while we at first will be restricted to using the Epic Games Store platform and its mediocre social implementations. Darn you exclusivity deals!

For my demo I played as Moze, the default out of four classes and most similar to the weapon focused Soldier class from previous games. Her play style is what you’d expect it to be. Whereas Amara the Siren can summon giant glowing fists to stun enemies, Moze and her three different skill trees each focus on amping up either her explosives output, her shield capabilities, and one that allows her to fire endlessly from her minigun. Being able to switch between skill trees instead of being restricted to one can help mix up your style if things get too similar.

My demo ultimately ended with a match against Mouthpiece, the guy heading up the ceremony in the heart of stadium. While the boss fight itself was pretty standard and only required to send out hundreds of bullets Mouthpiece’s way, it was the actual arena that added an extra layer of challenge. The sonic traps from earlier surrounded both the walls and the floor of the arena and each time they would start to glow and bump to the music, a sonic wave would hit anyone left in that area. Getting caught in one drains a massive amount of your shield and health so you’re constantly forced to move from one safe zone to another.

Borderlands 3 will feature new weapons, new locations, and new characters, just about everything you would expect from a new entry in the series. If you’re expecting a brand new Borderlands experience, one that’s unlike anything before it, this won’t be it. It’s more of the same, and that isn’t exactly a bad thing. What makes Borderlands so great and entertaining is kept intact with Borderlands 3, and that’s ultimately what’s most important.

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