Culture of Gaming went hands-on with Borderlands 3 at E3 2019. The team was treated to a roughly 20-minute presentation followed by a 15-minute demo. So what are the takeaways? Does Borderlands 3 live up to the legendary status that the previous games have achieved? Here are my thoughts below.
The most important aspect of Borderlands is of course: guns. There are allegedly “one billion guns” in Borderlands 3. Numbers are great and all, as at least you won’t run out of loot, but the bigger question for me has always been how do they feel? This has been a frequent criticism of mine regarding the Borderlands series. While an over the top, looter shooter always seemed fun, I was never a fan of the gunplay as it was implemented. To me, the weapons never felt satisfying enough. They never came off as though they had a punch or any sort of force behind them. Put simply, they felt weak, and they didn’t really sound like guns.
This was the first thing I paid attention to hopping into the demo. And, after “beating” the demo (the demo comprised of running a sequence leading up to, and ultimately defeating a boss) I can say that my harshest criticism of Borderlands was alleviated. The guns felt very satisfying to shoot and felt like they had power behind them. Already off to a good start in my book. Related to the gunplay, one other detail I noticed was the ragdoll physics implemented, particularly on the shorter, smaller enemies. When faced with a high powered weapon, say, a shotgun as I wielded in the demo, the smaller enemies would get knocked back and flung away (to a reasonable degree). The enemies seemed to have a consistent collision with objects, reacting to hitting objects appropriately.
The ragdoll mechanic created an interesting gameplay mechanic. It allows for the player to mitigate the chances of being overwhelmed by smaller enemies, as the enemies are able to be taken out of the fight (albeit temporarily) without needing their health depleted to zero. All of these touches really helped to modernize the game. But overall, Borderlands 3 still felt really familiar to the previous titles, so players of the series will feel right at home when Borderlands 3 launches on September 13th, 2019.
In true Borderlands fashion, Borderlands 3 allows the player to pick between four unique “Vault Hunters” each with varying abilities and specialties. In Borderlands 3, players can choose from “Moze the Gunner”, “Zane the Operative”, “Amara the Siren” and “Fl4k the Beastmaster”.
The presentation given before trying the game was mostly a deep dive into Moze, as it showcased her skill trees and how these trees alter her gameplay and action skill. Moze, in particular, has three trees: “Demolition Woman”, “Shield of Retribution”, and “Bottomless Mags”. As previously mentioned, these trees affect Moze’s action skill, which for her is a teddy bear themed mecha that she takes control of. “Demolition Woman” specializes the mech into explosive weapons, so things like grenade and rocket launchers. The perks offered in the tree have effects like increased explosion radius or damage. Area of Effect is the name of the game here. Shield of Retribution is all about high risk, high reward. Specializing the mech into more of a melee type style, perks in this tree focus on increasing damage when health is low. Finally, Bottomless Mags is all about sweating bullets. This tree equips the mech with a flamethrower and minigun. Perks in this tree range from simple damage increases, to being able to shoot while sprinting, and even infinite ammo for a certain time.
While Moze was the character shown off in the presentation, the gameplay demo allowed players to play as either Moze, Zane, or Amara. Fl4k was unavailable for an unknown reason. I personally chose Amara, having played Sirens in the previous games. She felt very familiar to the previous two Sirens, Lilith and Maya. Amara’s skill trees seemed to go between damage dealing abilities to more supportive abilities. Speaking of supportive abilities, packing a Siren along with your co-op team is always a good choice. We also got more details on how the co-op will function in Borderlands 3. In short, not much different from the previous games, but with some added quality of life items. The most notable of which is the mail-able loot system, where players can mail pieces of loot to either their friends or previously met players who they’ve played with.
One departure from previous titles is that Borderlands 3 will allow players to jump from planet to planet. Each planet offers radically different environmental designs, which creates some uniqueness in the levels. This planet hopping feature alleviates yet another critique I had of the series. Playing Borderlands I got tired of looking at the desert, and in Borderlands 2, snow. Past the new environments, the overall level design felt very familiar as well. The camps the player fights enemies in are quite similar, both aesthetically and design-wise, to the previous titles. There’s nothing entirely wrong with this, but it would be nice to see some experimentation with this tried and true design.
While slaughtering the fodder in the demo was somewhat routine, the boss fight at the end of the demo was unique, both environmentally and mechanically. At the end of the demo, I faced off against “Mouthpiece”. Mouthpiece’s boss chamber is styled like a dance floor, with speakers and lights everywhere. This was a change from the just previously experienced level leading up to it and was a unique one at that. The mechanic for Mouthpiece was that he was immune to damage unless he was in a stunned state. In order to stun him, players would have to position Mouthpiece in front of speakers he was about to blow out with music. This could be a double-edged sword though, as players could just as easily get stunned by the blast as well. Once Mouthpiece was stunned, players could apply damage. Mouthpiece also spawned some weaker enemies in the fight, maybe for something to do as players wait for the next stun opportunity.
One last point to touch on is the graphics. Borderlands is notorious for the cel-shaded graphical style, and of course, it’s still present in Borderlands 3. However, and this could possibly be platform dependent if you were to put a screenshot of Borderlands the Pre-Sequel and Borderlands 3 next to each other, I probably wouldn’t be able to tell them apart easily. The graphical upgrade for Borderlands 3 is subtle, to say the least. Although AMD did show off some cool render tech coming to their newly announced RX 5700 cards, so maybe on PCs the graphical difference will be more noticeable.
Overall, I got a very positive impression of Borderlands 3. A lot of the issues I had with the franchise seem to be fixed in Borderlands 3. After seeing the presentation and playing the demo, my opinion towards the game shifted from “Probably won’t play it” to “Maybe when it comes to Steam”. The gunplay is great, the environments diversified, the characters unique, and the classic Borderlands humour ever present.
For more E3 2019 Coverage, keep it here at Culture of Gaming where we’ll bring you more written as well as video content from the show floor.
Special thank you for Performance Lab for sponsoring our trip, as well as a thank you to Gearbox for showing us Borderlands 3.