The last entry in the Borderlands series was nearly five years ago with The Pre-Sequel. In many ways, the mechanics of all three mainline entries feel clunkier and a bit dated, although they are still a blast to play. I got my hands on Borderlands 3 at E3, and I'm pleased to report that it felt like meeting an old friend again after many years. Even better, there's enough new inclusions that it's a great entry point for newcomers of the series and veterans alike.
If you watched the Borderlands 3 reveal event earlier this year, you've likely already seen the bit I was able to play at E3. My roughly 20 minute demo ended with killing Mouthpiece, a mini-boss with an obnoxious helmet and large shield. The arena is surrounded by giant speakers that shoot deadly dub-step waves. If that doesn't ring a bell, it's a promising look at things to come. First, we need to backtrack a bit and talk about how Borderlands 3 feels in your hands.
Movement is much better this time around. Players can slide and grapple onto ledges. Sliding and shooting at the same time feels badass no matter what game you're playing, and in Borderlands 3 I used this ability frequently. You can slide a good distance too, so there's a great feeling of momentum and non-stop action. For my character, I chose Moze the Gunner. She is the latest playable character and has, in my mind, the most interesting ability so far. She calls down a giant mech that you pilot around the battlefield.
Using this ability changes your UI and it feels beefy and giant when you're moving around. You're not as agile in the mech, but you are certainly more powerful. In addition to being—from what I could guess—unstoppable while piloting, you can choose to equip two different giant weapons on the side of the mech. The skill tree I opted for favors unlimited ammo and utilizes a minigun and flamethrower. Of course, you're not limited to those two weapons just because you picked a certain skill tree. I went with a minigun and grenade launcher, and it felt like a nice mix. The good news is, Borderlands 3 offers a greater variety in your build than ever before.
As far as guns go, I didn't find anything extraordinarily special. I'm blaming my luck for the lack of cool guns, but at least I began the demo with two decent weapons. One of these was a powerful machine gun that spewed bullets. By holding the "Y" button I could switch to an alternate firing mode and use a grenade launcher. The other weapon I used was a double-barreled shotgun that tore through enemies. One other weapon that stands out was a Hyperion gun that created a shield when I aimed to fire. Grenades, on the other hand, have a myriad of different abilities. I didn't have as much time as I would have liked to investigate this, but I can at least say grenades feel better than ever and have crazy effects.
Guns also sound powerful. Previous Borderlands games' guns sounded fine, but the devastating effects on enemies are what made them feel good. This time around, guns both sound extremely mighty and cause enemies to explode in glorious fountains of gore. Gearbox really nails the gunplay in Borderlands 3.
Back to my boss encounter with Mouthpiece. If my fight with him is any indication, bosses are much better in their design. Part of a good boss fight is the enemy itself, but another important aspect of this is the area you fight them in. I'm surrounded by giant, lethal speakers on each side and periodically they would blast off and take a large chunk of my health away. Mouthpiece would use his shield effectively and fling grenades at me every so often. I was also once attacked by a bunch of psychos to add a bit of variety. It was a simple fight but it actually felt like an accomplishment when you killed Mouthpiece.
The bottom line is, if you like the Borderlands series, you're going to like Borderlands 3 as well. If you don't like the series, it's probably not going to make you change your mind. Still, the gunplay feels like a modern shooter and the cherry on top is how crisp the graphics look. My only regret is finishing the Borderlands 3 demo too fast at E3, but I guess waiting a few months until its release on September 13th will have to do.
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