If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. That’s the adage that developer Gearbox Software seems to be sticking to with Borderlands 3. Rather than focus on what the rest of the industry is doing or how looter shooters have changed over the last few years, Randy Pitchford’s studio has set forth to give fans an experience that is wholly familiar but with some modern twists.
After sitting down and playing Borderlands 3 for 90+ minutes, there is no doubt that this is a Borderlands game. From the art style to the writing to the level design and the mission structure, Gearbox Software has delicately preserved the core elements of Borderlands’ DNA. Even in his keynote speech, Pitchford doesn’t shy away from highlighting how much this game wants to shun what the rest of the industry is doing and focus on what it does well.
But while Borderlands 3 has a familiar feel, look, and tone, it still has some fun surprises for players as well. Principally, the movement and gunplay are befitting of the modern standard. In talking with Gearbox producer Chris Brock, gunplay was discussed as a key area where Borderlands 3 needed to improve in order to meet its competition. Brock explained that the developers looked at other looter shooters and saw that by and large, their main selling point is tight gunplay.
Borderlands 3 still has a fun mix of whacky guns with unique elemental properties, but regardless of if players are using a shotgun or a sniper rifle, everything about the gunplay feels good. More importantly, the stats on each gun seem to play a role in that weapon's effectiveness. No longer is the debate strictly over damage, but qualities like handling and reload speed become considerations as well. Borderlands 3’s loot model should afford more choices when it comes to what weapons are worth using and its first person shooting should reflect the improvements inherent to one gun versus another.
Even things as simple as sliding or mantling are now in the Borderlands 3 universe. Previously, there was a kind of static nature to the gunfights but now mobility is a factor and allows for fun flanking and cool maneuvers like those seen in the latest Borderlands 3 gameplay trailer and footage. But thus far we haven’t seen any big changes to the Borderlands formula – just tight gunplay that feels on par with any FPS available today.
Perhaps Borderlands 3’s biggest change, but one that was not part of our demo, is the ability to travel between a number of planets in a vast galaxy. Rather than stick to Pandora, players will be able to visit environments with new design sensibilities and color palettes. Players will do this by way of their spaceship, Sanctuary III, which also acts as a hub. Onboard the Sanctuary III, players can catch up with familiar faces like Moxxi and Hammerlock, visit vendors, and gain a little extra story. Think of Sanctuary III like one of the major towns in past Borderlands, only this one exists in space and can take the player to new areas instantly.
Of course, the visual style of Borderlands is an element that will always set it apart and Borderlands 3 is no different. There’s an undeniable level of polish on top of the hand-painted art in the game but some may look at the visuals and feel as though they are dated or ugly. Again, this is Borderlands 3 sticking to the core sensibilities of the series and not shying away from it. Regardless of how other gamers may look at it, Gearbox Software wants to ensure its fans feel like their favorite series has not abandoned its core pillars.
Another of those core pillars is the writing in Borderlands, which has an irreverent and at times parodic tone. In our time with the game and in footage shown, Borderlands 3 stuck to its guns (literally) as far as the writing and the comedy. One mission saw the player character trying to revive a coffee shop for Lorelei, one of the quest givers on Promethea, a new planet in the Borderlands 3 world. It just so happens that a robot named Adam runs the coffee shop and plays on the tropes of the hipster coffee shop barista, complete with a handlebar mustache. It’s just one of a number of small touches or lines of dialogue that Borderlands 3 offers to elicit a giggle or a smirk from the player and remind them what type of game this is.
Each element of Borderlands 3 adds up to an experience that, thus far, looks to be exactly what fans are looking for and nothing that they aren’t. Whether or not that will entice new players in or bring back those that fell off the Borderlands horse is yet to be determined but in an era where so many franchises tend to take risks when they didn’t need to, it is refreshing to see Gearbox commit to continuing its series in a new console era without any drastic changes.
Borderlands 3 releases September 13, 2019 for PC, PS4, and Xbox One. 2K Game provided hotel accommodations for this event.