I don’t really blame anybody who describes Borderlands 3 as “more Borderlands.” The looting, shooting, and tooting (by which I mean fart jokes) are still pretty much the same. But as a big fan of the series, Borderlands 3 makes some changes from previous games that I think make that descriptor a little disingenuous.
The first few Borderlands felt floaty, like you were fighting on a moon with guns that shoots feathers. (Side note, this was one of the reasons I liked the Pre-Sequel: the wacky moon physics made some sense and the game’s movement was built more around it. But that’s neither here nor there.) It got a lot of the looting right, but the shooting has always been lacking.
In Borderlands 3 it finally feels like the shooting has entered the modern era. Guns got that extra heft that make it feel like they’re doing some serious damage. This is in part to more booming sound effects, enemies actually reacting to getting shot in the face, and a less of a reliance on bullet-sponge enemies. The shooting is never as good as something like Destiny, but the shooting feels WAY more responsive this time around.
Borderlands 3 has a ton more customization options. You can equip different parts to your car to change it’s boost, weapons, tires, etc. There’s more cosmetic items options for your character, guns, and room in Sanctuary. (And eridium is now used mostly for cosmetic stuff instead of ammo and backpack upgrades.) These options are nice but the biggest impact is on your character’s action skills and skill trees.
Borderlands 2 introduced skill trees that could radically change how your build or action skill worked, but to really reap the most out of a playstyle you’d have to invest most of your skill points in one tree. Sure you could dabble in other trees a bit, but it was mostly for a small boost to a few stats. You were never really able to “multiclass” with your tree builds, at least not in ways that were immediately interesting.
Borderlands 3 has a bigger focus on customizing your abilities. For example, FL4K’s trees each start with their own action ability, but they also unlock different pets that fight for your team. This means you can equip the action skill of one tree while also using the pet from another. Every character has little customizations like this: Moze can equip the weapons on her giant mech, Amara can choose from different abilites and tack on supporting effects and elemental damage, and Zane can equip a second action ability in place of his grenades.
That’s not to say skill trees have been watered down. Each tree still supports a certain playstyle or gimmick but there are more opportunities to mix and match skills in interesting ways. For instance, I’m playing a melee-focused build using Amara’s “Brawl” skill tree. But I also have a class mod that puts a few crucial skill points into the “Fist of the Elements” tree. (In previous games you needed at least one point in a skill for a class mod to add to it. I’m REALLY glad they changed that.) The result is flurry of punches and elemental explosions that’s insanely fun to play. Borderlands 3 just feels way more generous with the “fun stuff” skills which leads to more interesting builds.
Borderlands 2 brought a bit more branding to the Borderlands formula. Each in-game company had its own quirks that carried over to the guns they made. Vladof guns had huge magazines and fast rates of fire, Dahl weapons had burst fire, and all Maliwan weapons had guaranteed elemental damage. But aside from a few standout manufacturers, the differences beween weapons were mostly statistical.
In Borderlands 3 the differences are much more noticable, and that’s in large part to the new alternate-fire modes. So Vladof still has their huge magazines, but they also usually come with an alternate fire mode that launches a barrage of rockets or a taser round that chains lightning between enemies. Dahl weapons are still all-around good, but you can now switch between different firing modes. Maliwan weapons how have a slight spin-up time now but can switch between two different elements.
And then there’s other weapon manufactureres that just go full-tilt crazy. Atlas guns have smart bullets, meaning if you put a tracker dart on a poor bandit’s head every bullet afterward will home in on their noggin. Torgue shotguns are grenade launchers. Hyperian guns have shields and their shields have shields on top of their shields. You don’t reload Tediore weapons, you throw them and they become turrets, exploding robots, and spinning balls of bullets. Also Tediore guns are sentient.
Besides finding the occasional hidden loot chest, there wasn’t much of a reason to explore the areas of Pandora that a quest didn’t point you towards in past games. Borderlands 3 takes a page from other open world games and scatters a bunch of side activities and collectibles around the map.
In most places, this takes the form of historical markers left by Typhon Deleon, the first Vault Hunter. Not only do those get you nice little audio diaries from Typhon (I enjoyed them at least. Just something about his voice, his stories, and how he says “tuckus” a lot is really great.) but those diaries open a chest full of rarer loot. On larger maps there’s also unique vehicles you can find that’ll unlock new Catch-A-Ride parts, special bosses to kill, and parts to collect for Claptrap. Later on you’re given items that let you harvest Eridium (a currency that is used for unique loot and cosmetics) giving you more of a reason to go back and explore old maps.
All things said, the side activities aren’t the most original (heck, there are towers you need to climb for some reason) but it at least offers a little something to the folks like me who like poking their head into every corner of the map.
This one is probably more pertinent to co-op players but it also affects solo players as well. You can opt for a “Classic” Borderlands experience where areas, enemies, and loot all have flat predetermined level values or you can choose “Scaling Mode” where everything roughly matches your current player level. I say “more pertinent to co-op players” because it gives each player in instanced version of the same game. So basically this means that if your level 20 and your buddy is level 10, you’ll both be fighting enemies as though they were around your current level. The same thing goes for any loot your find. Handy!
But I also keep scaling on when I play solo. I like entering an area knowing I’m going to get the right amount of challenge and some nice loot for my troubles.
Zachary Long is a Vault Hunter who sometimes takes a break to type stuff on TAY. He can be found on Twitter and pretty much anywhere else as InvadingDuck. Currently playing: Fallout 76, Borderlands 3, and Hearthstone.