Well, I don’t know what to tell you. Borderlands 3 is very Borderlands, as I discovered in a hands-on session at E3 earlier today. While there’s nothing really wrong with Borderlands 3 – it’s essentially a more polished version of its predecessors – it’s so far failed to satisfy my desire for compelling new gameplay additions. Where Borderlands 2 brought genuinely innovative contributions to the table, Borderlands 3 is playing it safe – and it’s starting to feel like the series is playing catch-up with the rest of the industry. It’s not the end of the world, but more a missed opportunity.
Possibly the best way for me to explain my thoughts is to simply walk through what I saw during my E3 presentation and hands-on session. The talk itself focused on three main areas: new social features, a new planet, and an in-depth look at one of the new Vault Hunters, Moze. Some of the announced changes are nice, but none really push the limits of what we’d expect of a Borderlands title.
Our presenter kicked things off by emphasising Gearbox wanted to make “the best cooperative experience possible”, and apparently the way to do this is by adding new ways to share loot. You’ll now be able to mail guns to each other, and if one of your friends sells a gun to a vendor, you’ll then be able to buy it in your own session. I guess that’s one way to make sloppy seconds a selling point.
Another feature we were shown was the swampy new planet Eden 6 – although, to be honest, the gameplay trailer shown the other day displayed more than what we saw, so I’ll just leave that below.
Finally, we were given a quick recap of Moze’s various abilities. One of the new “big additions” in Borderlands 3 is that each Vault Hunter can now access three different class skills instead of just the one. As essentially a soldier class character, Moze comes with an accompanying mech called Iron Bear, which she can pimp with three different weapons: a railgun, a minigun, and a grenade launcher. It’s even possible to equip two of these at a time.
I was eventually let loose with a hands-on session, and chose to take Moze for a test drive. Her d.Va-style mech feels heavy and lumbering, which I suppose is realistic, while the guns do feel fairly powerful. One fun ability that can be unlocked through a skill tree allows other players to sit on top of the mech during co-op.
Generally speaking, however, there wasn’t anything in the demo that particularly surprised me.
As a shooter-looter (schlooter), you’ll spend about 90 per cent of your time in Borderlands killing things with guns: so this aspect of the game is obviously the most important. While the shooting feels tighter and the mobility is improved (now with mantling and sliding), it feels like the bare minimum to modernise Borderlands rather than a unique or compelling gameplay experience. I love a good Apex Legends butt slide – yet contrary to the usefulness of the slide to navigate Apex Legends’ steep terrain, there’s no real tactical need to use it in Borderlands 3, rendering it more a style option than anything useful. Similarly, rather than feeling like something new, mantling is more a feature that felt like it should have been in Borderlands long ago. Its absence would have been more noteworthy.
While the increase to three Action Skills does open up more options for each Vault Hunter, I wish Gearbox had done something more radical. As it currently stands, you have to open the menu to change skills (for example, altering the specific guns on Moze’s Iron Bear) which disrupts the flow of a fight or requires forward planning. Some more significant additions to the combat itself would have been welcome, such as allowing the layering multiple class skills within combat to create more dynamic gameplay experiences. At the end of the day, Moze’s class skills are just varieties of big gun, and god knows we have plenty of those already.
Sure, Borderlands 3 has some improvements. There’s more guns and more planets, the UI and inventory is cleaned up, the gunplay feels tighter and there have been tweaks to how environmental damage works. The sensation of blowing off enemy heads with a shotgun, setting off explosions and opening loot chests is still cathartic. But I wanted something a little different, with gameplay that would challenge me and keep me engaged. Based on what I’ve seen, Borderlands 3 is going to be a streamlined and expanded version of Borderlands 2. Which is fine – but it could be more.