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Borderlands 3 is Primed to Shoot to the Top of the Genre – Extended Hands-On Preview

Borderlands 3
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Borderlands 3 is Primed to Shoot to the Top of the Genre – Extended Hands-On Preview

I played Borderlands 3 already back at E3 2019 and was impressed with the snippet of content I got to play, but that’s all it was: a snippet. Last week I had nearly eight hours with Gearbox’s anticipated sequel, probably as much of the game that anyone outside of Gearbox/2K is going to get until review copies start getting dished out (if that’s the plan).

The extended play time confirmed what I initially felt after E3: Gearbox is playing it safe with Borderlands 3 and are giving players everything they liked about the series previously, more on top of that, and new features of course as well; effectively just a bigger better version of Borderlands 2.

This isn’t a blueprint that will work for every series, but in the case of Borderlands 3 which is the first “proper” current-gen Borderlands game that is being released, it’s perfectly appropriate.

Despite the flood of loot-focused games to release since the last Borderlands game, no one has yet to fully replicate the “feel” of a Borderlands game: the over the top guns, gritty “earthy” visuals, unique class skill-tree progression, and irreverent comedy and storytelling.

Other games have pulled pieces from the Borderlands cake and meshed into their own style, but there’s still only one Borderlands.

The eight hours or so that I played of Borderlands 3 the other day had all what I just listed either fully intact or enhanced in some way.

borderlands 3

The weapons are the best thing about Borderlands then, and it still is now with Borderlands 3. I found guns in the prologue that were more fun to use than some exotic weapons in Destiny (another series which I adore for the record).

I fired weapons with legs that will walk around while reloading and explode onto an enemy, or can double as a proximity mine. Freezing laser beams, homing grenade launchers, shotguns that could be charged up with elemental energy and fired with greater range etc.

Thats just like, normal weapons that are lootable. I didn’t kill any major high-level bosses with secret powerful loot & perks. On top of all that, many weapons have alt-fires that give them even more versatility such as pistols that double as mini-rocket launchers or shotguns.

This is the beauty of not having to worry about PvP balance. I’ve longed for a modern looter-shooter game that says F balance and just puts insane weapons that players can team up and use to hysterical effect.

This philosophy should – and does – carry over to enemies too in Borderlands 3. To make those insane weapons worthwhile, you need to have insane enemies to kill with them.

I got enough of a taste of that too in my time with Borderlands 3 to feel confident that Gearbox is definitely on the right track to keep the game’s premier challenges interesting which is a problem that have plagued other games in the genre this generation.

I didn’t fight anything that was purely just a bullet-sponge boss while playing Borderlands 3 or anything that was “do the mechanics or die.”

The bosses I fought all had special attacks that forced me to react and play out of my comfort zone but there was room for error in the mechanics. Even if you die, Borderlands’ generous revival system is still a thing.

Even the regular mobs all had their unique quirks.

I only got to visit two planets, but on them I saw Jabber monkeys that make use of the environment and climb around to give me fits, not so intelligent AI robots attacking me with a sort of mindless abandon, and classic Psycho enemies that have a healthy ranks filled with charging maniacs and more tactical enemies that hang back.

I’m very excited about the amount of variety this new inter-planetary adventure is going to bring. The first game, set entirely on the dusty areas of Pandora, suffered big time from it.

While future games improved on it, Borderlands 3 seems to be embracing area variety. The wasteland planet of Pandora is just one place you can go now out of many.

There will be primordial jungles filled with dinosaurs, sprawling metropolises, and many other interesting looking locales to spice things up.

There’s also an equally exciting amount of variety in player builds. The skill trees in Borderlands 3 are as expansive as ever.

Every class gets three action skills just at the start, and more as they progress through the three different skill trees, each of which offers varying different play styles.

You can mix and match abilities, perks, and sometimes even action skills from different trees depending on the character. The tree progresses the same way as in previous games: accumulating points on one level of the tree will eventually unlock the next.

The character I got the most playtime was with was FL4K aka Flak, the last playable character to be formally revealed.

You can read my extended thoughts on Flak here if you’d like as this article is going to run pretty long, but the short answer is that Flak is a very well done pet-class that might be the most fun of the four.

Borderlands 3, flak, preview

For better or for worse Borderlands 3 retains a very similar comedy style to previous games. I personally enjoy it, but I know it wasn’t for everyone.

There’s a certain celebrity cameo (that you can read about here if you want) that they let be a caricature of themselves and that’s the blueprint for all of the characters and their humor in the game.

Everyone has their personality turned up to 11. I found the new villains, the cult-leading streamer stars Calypso Twins Tyreen and Troy, to be incredibly entertaining when they showed up during the demo.

They have a similar sarcastic humor that Handsome Jack had, but meshed with a schtick of teen-like immaturity, self-absorption, and wrapped up in a spoof of streamer tropes.

Borderlands 3 appears to be an extremely meaty, long game, which for the most part, is great news!

However, there are a few potential pitfalls that could be problematic that I cannot confirm from my demo, but is worth floating out there to keep in mind headed into the game’s full release to see how it plays out.

The first concern is repetitiveness. Borderlands 3 as far as what we know at the moment doesn’t have the same variety of game modes that other similar games on the market have.

Will the action hold up still after 50, 60, 70 + hours? That’s something worth thinking about as the competition is much steeper now than when it was back when Borderlands 2 and even the Pre-Sequel came out.

What about the comedy? Will the Calypso Twin’s act still hold up by the end? How will they evolve as characters? Can the story and lore do some heavier lifting this time?

I’m posting these questions because unlike the action and RPG elements which I’ve seen Gearbox nail time after time, the story, characters, and issues of repetitive combat scenarios is something that has been a bit more hit and miss over the years.

We’ll have to wait until the full game to see how everything plays out.

The other concern I have is what the endgame will look like.

We don’t know a ton about it and I didn’t get the sense from speaking to the developers while at the preview event that they were interested in borrowing anything from other successful modern games in the genre.

That might be music to the ears of some fans disillusioned by modern looter-shooters which is a totally fair reaction, but I’m just concerned about the fact that it puts the pressure entirely on the shoulders of the game’s campaign and gameplay which is a bit risky.

Fans are expecting Borderlands 3 to have long legs one way or the other. Gearbox certainly doesn’t need to borrow any pages from other developers if they don’t want to, they just need to make sure their plan works.

Once again though to be clear I do not have the knowledge of the game’s endgame to pass any kind of judgment just yet, no one does.

The key takeaway from all this is that Gearbox appears to be targeting the core base of Borderlands fans from over the years that have been waiting a long time for the next game.

There’s a demand and dare I say a need for a new Borderlands game, and Borderlands 3 based on the now combined 10+ hours I’ve played it over the last few months is going to deliver on the basic goal of simply giving people more Borderlands.

It’s going to be bigger and better and that alone can be enough to catapult it to the top of the genre in the twilight hours of this generation of consoles.

I feel quite confident about that statement considering the amount of polish and care to including everything that fans loved about the series over the years.

The area where Gearbox can really put Borderlands 3 over the top is if they deliver on an endgame that rivals its stiff competition.

Gearbox appears to be charting their own path, and that’s a totally fine way to go about things, refreshing even. We’ll just have to wait and see if it works out.

But if your major concern is just safely getting more Borderlands without anything getting mucked up in transition, you have absolutely nothing to worry about.

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