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An hour of Borderlands 3 looting, shooting and interstellar travel

Gearbox fully unveiled Borderlands 3 during a livestreamed event earlier today with an hour of largely-uncut co-op footage, showing off a brighter and more colourful sequel than I was expecting. Combat is more mobile, weapons have alt-fire modes, bosses look more interesting and players can now leave the dusty wastes of Pandora to go shooting and looting on other planets. You can see the full presentation below, and they’re setting streamers loose on the game now for three hours of freeform play, so Twitch will be flooded with footage later today.

Borderlands 3 may have been in the development for five years, according to Gearbox, but it’s the same old Claptrap, really. The mouthy little running gag-bot is back for the tutorial, for better or worse, opening with an EULA click-through joke. If the writing in Borderlands 2 made you want to kick a puppy, then please do not play this sequel around small dogs. Humour aside, a lot has changed. Combat immediately looks faster, more varied and mobile, with alt-fires on guns, a slide-to-crouch move, destructible cover and ledges that you can mantle up onto.

The weapons look more fun to use right off the bat, gun manufacturers having more distinct perks. One Vladof pistol they showed had alt-fire micro-missiles, and they mentioned chainguns with underslung grenade launchers and rifles with elemental modes. ‘Disposable’ Tediore guns do more things now, some exploding into cluster missiles, some becoming bouncing proximity mines and others just growing legs and running around to shoot stuff for you. Some Hyperion guns have frontal energy shields when aimed down, and Atlas pistols have a homing dart alt-fire which all other bullets seek out, ala The Fifth Element.

Shooting enemies looks satisfying, too. The guns have more oomph, enemies react more to being hit, and there’s a lot more gore. A point-blank shotgun blast can reduce a generic mook to just a pair of legs. The moment-to-moment combat really looks improved. While I’d still love the option to turn off floaty damage pop-ups (seeing what percentage of a health bar is broken is more useful), it feels more on par with modern sci-fi shooters.

Environment variety quickly improved over the course of the stream. After an early, familiar-looking mission (albeit with more entertaining environmental hazards, like kickable barrels of goo, boom and fire, and oil spills that can be ignited), they went into a slightly later mission. Set in a cult broadcast station, there’s lots of brightly coloured neon, and deadly loudspeakers that blast you with bass. We also see a bit of Tyreen Calypso, one of the lead villains – she’s a livestreamer and Let’s Player, and signs out of her broadcast with “Like, follow and obey.” Yep, this is Borderlands.

After that, it all kicks off as they skip forward to show off the player’s new home base, the spaceship Sanctuary 3. Many old shopkeeper and quest-giver NPCs are among the crew, and you can use the ship to travel to other worlds. Promethea is the first they show, a dense city-planet and home of the Atlas corporation, currently under siege by rivals Maliwan, apparently at the behest of the Calypso twins. It’s a very Blade Runner-ish future city with huge towers, lots of neon advertising and moody nighttime lighting. There’s no mention of how many worlds there’ll be, but it’s nice to get off Pandora.

One of the biggest, most important features that I saw was the new level scaling system. While it can be disabled via a ‘classic mode’ option, by default Borderlands 3 allows players of all levels to work together. The higher-level players get experience and loot befitting their level, but do damage scaled down to be on par with the lowest-level player. They showed a level five and level twenty-five player working together with no obvious problems, which should make casual online multiplayer far more palatable. There’s also going to be split-screen, something which too few games do.

There’s a lot of little quality-of-life improvements and tweaks to make things more satisfying. Loot from bosses drops the moment they die, and is highlighted by type at distance. The second boss they fight, Mouthpiece (a big beefy guy with an music visualiser shield) drops his personal SMG when killed. The gun fires deep techno beats, and the muzzle flare is a similar visualiser effect to his shield. And if you somehow failed to pick that gear up, you can collect it later at the lost-and-found terminal aboard your ship. The ship also includes personal quarters you can decorate.

Lastly, they’re currently testing the ECHOcast Twitch extension with the streamers playing the game right now. If you’re watching someone play Borderlands 3, rather than grilling them on their current loadout and class spec, you can just check out that stuff from within Twitch. Watching people playing Borderlands 3 will also occasionally reward viewers with loot to be collected the next time they play the game themselves. It’s a nice extra bit of streaming functionality, and becoming increasingly standard. I’m quiet and not too social, so don’t expect me to stream much.

Update: Despite Gearbox head Randy Pitchford stating that Borderlands 3 would contain “no microtransactions” during the presentation, that only extends as far as loot boxes or gameplay-affecting stuff. There will be skins, hats and other such cosmetic dress-up gubbins sold for real money, similar to how Borderlands 2 did it. Pitchford has bizarrely and publicly objected to Game Informer clarifying on this point, but as a long-time Path Of Exile player, spending money exclusively on fancy clothes is absolutely within my definition of “microtransactions”. Remember Horse Armor?

There is at least one point where there’s no argument – the mention during the show of extensive campaign DLC planned. There will be at least four expansions after launch (which I theorise will each add a new planet to visit, but this is just wild speculation), available as part of the game’s season pass, though if the game ends up selling as well as Borderlands 2, I’d not be surprised if a second season was on the cards too.

Borderlands 3 launches on September 13th for £40/$60 for the basic edition, will be a six-month exclusive to the Epic Games Store. You can find its store page here. It’s published by 2k Games.

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Dominic Tarason

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