Borderlands has always been one of those games that fully embrace its wild side. From the crazed psycho bandits scampering across the desert landscape of Pandora, to the multitude of wacky gun designs the Vault Hunters can stumble upon across their playthroughs, there is some form of charm that the zany nature of the Borderlands franchise brings.
And with the upcoming Borderlands 3, 2K and Gearbox Software take all the best of the series to a whole new level of insanity.
One of the most heavily-anticipated games has made its way to E3 this year in spectacular fashion, with the 2K booth completely decked out in a Borderlands 3 look. But what was even better was the gameplay itself.
Over the last few months, we got a glimpse of two of the new Vault Hunters: Amara the Siren and Zane the Operative. This demo gave us the chance to put ourselves in the shoes of Moze, the Gunner.
Moze plays pretty similarly to Salvador the Gunzerker back in Borderlands 2, with passive abilities that increase clip size, reload speeds and a chance to not expend ammo when shooting. Her Action Skill, Iron Bear, turns her into a hulking weapon of mass destruction as she climbs into the cockpit of her mech, Iron Bear. Not dissimilar to Gaige the Mechromancer and her Deathtrap ability, but the main difference here is that you actually control the super-powered mech you summon.
In the PAX East gameplay reveal, we already know that Action Skills are equippable with various augments that alter their functions dynamically. Moze’s Iron Bear, in particular has two modular hardpoints on its shoulders as opposed to one. Those hardpoints can be outfitted with a variety of weapons from her three skill trees. From rail guns, grenade launchers, miniguns, to a classic flamethrower and even a bear-clawed fist for up close and personal encounters, Iron Bear’s modularity makes for a very versatile playstyle for Moze players. This alone makes us an instant fan.
All strapped up and taking some time to warm up to the smooth controls, we were ready to plow through the baddies in the demo. Unloading lead onto the bandits’ faces never felt better, and the new mobility options such as sliding while running and mantling onto ledges made getting into the right position all the easier.
But, see, the cool (and potentially terrifying) aspect of this is that the same new mobility options are present in the enemies as well. They slip and slide around quite erratically, making their already unpredictable movement even more so. This certainly makes combat much more hectic and chaotic, but one might argue that this might, at times, feel a little too chaotic for new players coming onto the shooter genre. Not to worry, that’s precisely the reason Vault Hunters now have effectively twice the amount of guns with the alternate firing modes.
Another new trick you’ll find can prove useful will be that some weapons will have two modes. This effectively gives you four guns in two for your starting weapons. The rifle we started out with had a grenade launcher alternate mode. Just when you thought you’d run out of ammo for your current weapon, just switch over to the alternate mode to keep fighting. It’s a pain in the butt to keep running out of ammo during the first three games, and while you’ll still run out of ammo anyhow, the ability to quickly switch to a different weapon type without actually having to switch weapons does add a little more nuance to the gameplay. While we haven’t exactly seen this rule apply to enemies yet, it wouldn’t be wrong to assume that they could.
The token boss fight during our 20 minutes was a familiar face from PAX East: Mouthpiece. Although we saw him in that gameplay reveal back in April, fighting Mouthpiece firsthand is still an exhilarating experience from start to finish. The blood-pumping music certainly helped fuel the adrenaline for this fight, booming from the bass-boosted speakers that surrounded the room. Oh yeah, for the uninitiated, did we mention how often the wall speakers explode in your face, dealing tons of damage? Well, yeah, they do. A lot.
While Mouthpiece’s boss fight was no doubt a showpiece, it didn’t take long for us to down him, probably because we were Borderlands veterans. In any case, the demo for Borderlands 3 certainly got us excited for its September 13 release.
So far, so good from our time in the demo. To further solidify the Borderlands 3 experience, Gearbox Senior Producer Anthony Nicholson shared a few words regarding the upcoming third instalment.
Despite having worked on the franchise ever since the first game back in 2009, Nicholson still suggests the ideas never run out when it came to making up new concepts such as guns and wacky NPCs. However, the core value that he and his team centred their design philosophy on was, and still is, player agency. Previously, there were only three skill trees, which did provide a lot of customisation options. However, Gearbox cranked that gear up even more and made skill trees that had augmentations to the side, which opened up a much greater opportunity for players to “express themselves with how they want to play”, regardless of what Vault Hunter they started with. This flexibility has got Nicholson, who’s normally a Siren player, want to try out being trigger-happy as Moze.
“There’s always a challenge,” said Nicholson. “But it’s us wanting to give that variety and have the ability for different people to kind of make and tailor their goaltender the way that they want to. And that makes it easier for us to understand like, okay, we know that we need to make sure that these four play well together. And that there’s a lot of that different variety.”
Similarly, this was done with the gun options, which provided even more options available to players. In actual fact, the fact that some guns have two modes, or the fact that some guns are have some of the most zany designs to date means that players can capitalise on those aspects and incorporate these guns into their playstyles, making them the most efficient killing machine they want to be. But the work always starts at the office, where all the thinking and bouncing of ideas, and the birth of these ideas takes place.
“There’s all kinds of whiteboards all over the place that have random scribbles. It’s funny, because we’ll walk into a meeting and see something just randomly written on the dry board, and we just know, somebody was in here thinking of ideas about something. That has to mean something. It’s really random, but it has to mean something, because we’re always thinking about things.
We have so many people at the studio and great ideas come from everywhere we take it from, you know, from the front desk support, all the way up to you know, Randy [Pitchford] himself, everyone has different ideas and different opinions, and they all matter to us.”
Besides these options the player has available to them in single-player, Gearbox has also expanded upon the ways in which players can interact with each other, even when they’re not physically in the same game server. While we didn’t get to see it in the demo, there were features such as the ability to mail a piece of loot to another player just like that. Or have the ability to buy a gun put up on the new Vending Machine in the spacefaring Sanctuary III home base. There’s also an update to the Bounty Board, which not only doles out single-player side quests, but also dynamic missions, where you can team up with other players online to tackle enemies that are of a particular type). The increased accessibility and interconnectivity for players is what Nicholson and his team deem a core aspect of the Borderlands 3 experience, too.
“Borderlands at its core has always been a co-op experience that we really wanted people to be able to engage in, in play with their friends or play with people online,” shared Nicholson. “Even if I’m playing solo — I personally enjoy playing solo — we want to show, like, hey, there’s other people out there, like the Vending Machine. In the past, those have always been just populated with the system. And now I can go in my old solo game and say, oh, one of my friends from my friends list has an item in this vending machine because they sold it in there. So when we started off, we wanted to make this the best cooperative experience possible, even when you’re playing alone.”
Borderlands 3 is certainly shaping up to be one of the biggest games of 2019, and the excitement on Nicholson talking about the upcoming title is certainly representative of his team’s excitement as well. Based on our experience of the demo itself, we can confirm the hype surrounding Borderlands 3 as well. Certainly look out for this game when it drops on September 13 on PS4, Xbox One and the Epic Store on PC.
Interview video shot on the Sony a7S II.
Marion has a serious RPG addiction. Sometimes it bleeds into real life; he forgets to sleep because he thinks he has a Witcher’s body clock. Forgive him in advance if he suddenly blurts out terms such as “Mind Flayer” and “Magic Missile”, because never once does he stop thinking about his next Dungeons & Dragons game.