BORDERLANDS took Diablo-style looting and brought it to a first-person shooter — and video games haven’t looked back since.
Borderlands 3 is here a decade later, and it’s trying to reclaim its throne by combining what made the first game and its sequel so much fun with everything that everyone else has learned and built on since then.
2K Games Borderlands 3 looks better than the series ever has
You’ve got the gorgeous comic book cel-shaded look, with its rough edges hand-shaded characters that really defines the series in spades, and now rather than just one crazy planet you’ve now got whole new worlds to explore.
The characters, story and style of Borderlands have always been as much if not more of the appeal than the gameplay itself, and while no game since Borderlands 2 has nailed that world, lots have improved on the way this sort of game can play.
Chief among these is the endlessly iterating Destiny series, where the gameplay has kept people coming back despite its (until recently) voiceless protagonist, empty worlds and dour story.
No-one has been able to manage both — but it looks like Borderlands 3 has a shot.
The gunplay is sharper than ever, and has taken a huge leaf out of Destiny’s book.
You can feel it as you slide across the dirt and pop a shield-bearing enemy in the ankles as he rushes towards you, and you can see it in the inventory screen with each item having a nice little score telling you how good it is.
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It’s not too similar, though — the array of weapons on offer and the variety of ways you can use them to dispatch anyone in your way is still mind-boggling.
Every gun is basically two guns in one, with alternate fire modes on everything. These can be as simple as changing the type of ammo used, or as over the top as turning your minigun into a grenade launcher.
And they still have their own character too — literally. Some will chat back, others will sprout legs and run around the battlefield putting hole in your foes after you throw them away.
Borderlands 3 also takes some cues for improvement from its own past, thanks to new technology. Enemies that burn to death now leave a pile of ash behind, and some of the gore left behind for Borderlands 2 makes a return too.
It’s also still got the characters and narrative-driven core that makes Borderlands what it is and in the early demo we’ve played, they combine with that improved core for moment after moment brutal, bombastic brilliance.
2K Games Borderlands 3 looks to have everything that makes Borderlands great – and a lot more besides
The story sees you facing off against a pair of jumped-up YouTube influencers who literally think they’re gods thanks to their fanatical followers.
You’ll find yourself fighting against the agents of faceless tech corporations literally buying your soul from under you with user agreements.
A series as aggressive, self-consciously irreverent and in your face as the Borderlands has to tread a very fine line these days.
It would have been very easy for Borderlands 3 to descend into self parody, alienate a huge section of its audience, or just feel like a game out of time, and Gearbox’s developers are aware they’re treading a very fine line.
Borderlands 3 has been developed by a huge and proudly diverse team, and that diversity was hugely important for the development process.
As with everything here, it cuts both ways. As well as making sure the game doesn’t punch down or alienate people, there’s also self-policing to make sure that they’re not playing it too safe, and blunting the edge that is essential if you actually want to say anything.
2K Games Sirens play an important role in Borderlands lore, and come in all forms
Everyone is encouraged to speak their mind, and the result is a “huge filtration process” to make a game that doesn’t punch down, but still has that edge that sets Borderlands apart from the competition.
From what we’ve seen so far, it delivers on that.
Take Amara. She’s a bad-ass Siren with some seriously violent astral projection abilities.
The game’s art director Scott Kester revealed how important it was to him for the game to feature a “siren of colour”, and for that representation to be more than just skin deep.
Her appearance, skills and character all draw that heritage — and she is a hell of a lot of fun to play as, whatever you may look like.
Whether you’re being sent to kill some heavily-armoured, obscenity-yelling “w***muffin” as you try and put and end to some deadly corporate warfare, trying to power up the coffee machine at Rise & Grind or just turning the volume down on those soul-stealing influencers, Borderlands 3 does just feel good.
Borderlands 3 gameplay trailer promises a billion guns
It’s still funny — and while some of the cast may have changed, the quality of the acting hasn’t.
Claptrap has a new voice and is still as puntable as ever. Old characters are back — you’ll come across Ellie, Moxxxie and Sir Hammerlock in his study on your new interstellar ship Sanctuary to name a few — and the new ones we came across all fit right in.
But some things haven’t changed. The focus was on creating a “huge, heavy-narrative” game rather than on creating a persistent shared world that hobbles so many other superficially similar games.
“I feel like a lot of the other games in our space and kind of gone away from that,” Brock says, but Borderlands 3 really strives to go back and deliver on that co-op, narrative-driven experience that players have loved.
The multiplayer aspects are still all about co-op — online and on the sofa — but the relentless march of technology means there are new angles to explore.
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If you’re watching someone else play the game on Twitch, for instance, you can now get loot straight from the stream — the video game equivalent of Augustus Gloop being able to reach into the TV and get an actual chocolate bar from an advert.
And streaming services such as Google Stadia should mean you won’t need a high-end PC or an expensive console to play: you’ll be able to to just pick up and play on your phone in a coffee shop.
By the time the game comes out in September, we’ll have a much better idea of what gaming next year is going to look like — but expect Borderlands to be ready for that future.
It’s already promised to be bigger at launch than any previous Borderlands game — as you’d hope, given that you now have a huge number of new worlds besides Pandora to explore.
As well as the focus on delivering a somewhat old-fashioned narrative-driven experience, there’s something else old-fashioned about the game: the way you’re going to pay for it.
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As with Borderlands 2 there is a plan for plenty of post-launch content and DLC expansions that keep the game fresh and keep the story going, likely into the next console generation.
While the game has a huge array of skins to customise your characters look, emotes to personalise how you interact and everything else you’d expect in 2019, none of them will be locked behind microtransactions.
You get what you pay for, and you unlock it by playing the game.
Whether the whole game can maintain that balance between the old-school sensibilities and demands of today’s world and today’s gamers remains to be seen — but everything so far suggests it’s going to, and we can’t wait to see more of it.
Borderlands 3 Developer trailer reveals new characters, guns and mayhem