We recently had the opportunity to attend the Borderlands 3 live gameplay reveal in Los Angeles as well as go hands-on with a 90-minute portion of the game. You can read an overview of my experience with the game but I also wanted to take the time to highlight and detail some of the key new ideas that Gearbox are bringing to the table in the much-anticipated sequel:
ALTERNATE WEAPON FIRING MODES
One of the most immediate changes to Borderlands 3’s moment-to-moment gameplay is the addition of a secondary firing mode to a lot of the game’s weapons. By pressing down on the D-Pad (or the keyboard equivalent), most weapons can switch up their functionality in some way. Some are small changes, like an SMG that can go from full-auto hip fire to scoped, burst fire, or a fire elemental weapon that can switch to ice, for example. Some are more significant and potentially game-changing though, like a pistol that shoots targeting grenades in one mode and then homing bullets in the other, or an assault rifle that throws out underslung grenades or rockets as an alternate. The great thing about this new system, other than all of the in-combat implications, is that it makes the loot game a whole lot more fun. A useful alternate fire mode can turn an otherwise ordinary-looking pickup into a loadout staple.
INSTANCED LOOT AND ENEMIES
This is perhaps one of my favourite new things about Borderlands 3. In previous games, any loot that popped out of enemies or chests was shared between players in co-op. This leads to ‘loot ninja-ing’, or ‘being a bad friend’, and it’s how fights start. Thankfully Gearbox have seen the problem and taken pretty bold action to remedy it. Not only is all loot dropped uniquely in each player’s instance of the game, meaning two people will be seeing alternate versions of the same drop and both be able to nab the loot, but these are also scaled to player level. I might open a chest at level 10 and get an appropriately-powered gun, while in your version of the game we’re playing together, it’s a level 25 gun to match your character. The same goes for combat encounters, apparently, with level balancing to make enemies scale to the players. No more carrying low-level players through high-level areas or joining friends’ games only to find all the fights and loot significantly lower level than you are. These new systems are optional as well, with a ‘Classic’ option available for purists.
MULTIPLE ACTION SKILLS
Skill trees in Borderlands 3 are admittedly not all that different from prior games. Each playable character still has three sets of skills to unlock, representing different playstyles than can be mixed and matched in the quest for the ultimate build. This time around though, each of those separate trees has its own associated action skill, instead of the usual single action skill for each character. These don’t have to be used only in conjunction with their respective fields of course, and only one action skill can be equipped at a time (unless you’re Zane, who can sacrifice his grenade slot for a second skill). This should go a long way to make teaming up with identical characters feasible, thanks to the more immediate differences in the way a character plays with their chosen action skill. Even in a low-level, early portion of the game I was able to set up some great interplay between my preferred action skill, my passive buff skills and my weapons of choice to really own the battlefield.
MORE INTERACTIVE ENVIRONMENTS
Speaking of owning the battlefield, the environments in which you engage enemies in Borderlands 3 have an extra added layer of interactivity that really helps to keep fights fun and creative. Destructible cover is a welcome addition, as is the ability to slide short distances after a sprint in order to make an effective retreat. Elements play a bigger role too, with things like oil and water on the ground able to catch fire or conduct electricity, respectively. Explosive barrels can now be manipulated as well, with a melee attack sending them flying in a direction before exploding. Players can also, finally, mantle onto ledges, which is a small but very welcome change. All of this encourages greater movement and use of the environment in combat, adding yet another excellent layer on top of the already-solid foundation.
Fans will remember Sanctuary as the hub town-turned-flying-hub-town in Borderland 2, and it’s making a comeback in Borderlands 3, except this time it’s… in space! Yep, the home base in the new game is an actual space base in order to facilitate all that interstellar travel. Sanctuary III (apparently we don’t speak of Sanctuary 2) is home to all of the amenities you could need from player quarters to vending machines and golden chests and even a machine to retrieves loot that you may have lost in your travels. It’s full of familiar faces as well such as Hammerlock, Tannis, Ellie and Crazy Early, all with their own services to offer. The thing I’m most excited about is the ability to hang any weapons or animal trophies you find particularly eye-catching around the place, giving it all a very personal touch. It all reminds me a bit of the Normandy from Mass Effect, though hopefully with less sexual tension.
There’s a whole lot more I could say about Borderlands 3 and the many details shared during the live gameplay reveal event, but these are just some of my favourite new things. Make sure to check out our other coverage of the game as well as all of the streaming content coming from all around the globe to see just how excited everyone is about Borderlands 3.