Borderlands 3 hands-on preview: Loot for all

Fresh off the reveal for Borderlands 3, here's our full hands-on preview, as Shacknews ventured beyond the scarred world of Pandora.

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Vault hunting on Pandora has been a long-standing pastime for the Borderlands franchise and it's one that fans are anxious to continue. However, 2K and Gearbox would like to think a little bigger with Borderlands 3. While vault hunting, exploration, and extreme violence continue to be the name of the game in the series' third installment, players are about to expand their horizons with a full-blown story that takes the vault hunting action beyond the scarred planet of Pandora.

Borderlands 3 is an adventure that branches out to a number of other planets, with a story that introduces new characters and a lot of familiar faces. Players will meet some bad folks, like primary antagonists the Calypso Twins, two powerful siblings with unique abilities and a YouTube influencer-like following. They'll also meet up with a lot characters from the Borderlands universe and Shacknews got to say hello to them as we wants hands-on for the first time.

Borderlands 3 preview
Zane is someone you'll want if you like mechs and trickery

To start, there were two playable characters for this demo. Amara is a new Siren character, with abilities similar to that of Lilith in the first Borderlands. There's also Zane, a trigger-happy warrior with an Irish accent and a bad attitude. Each has their own distinct abilities and action skills, the latter of which can be built through the game's skill tree. Zane is the only character so far who can equip two of them in exchange for going without grenades. Let's look at those action skills:

Amara

  • Phasecast: Amara sends out an astral projection of herself, which deals damage to any targets in its path
  • Phasegrasp: Amara can call forth a giant fist from the ground, sticking any targets in place for a few seconds. This will not work on all enemies.
  • Phaseslam: Amara delivers a powerful ground pound, causing area of effect damage to all nearby enemies.

Zane

  • SNTNL: This is an automatic drone that attacks any nearby enemies with twin machine guns. Zane can select specific targets for SNTNL, if desired.
  • Digi-Clone: Zane will create a clone of himself, which stays in place and fires at enemies. The clone will often distract enemies. Zane has the ability to swap places with the clone, if desired.
  • Barrier: Zane deploys a shield barrier that blocks enemy fire. Meanwhile, Zane and any allies can fire through the Barrier for extra damage.

To push forward the idea of new settings, the hands-on demo did not take place on Pandora. It was set on a new world called Promethea. It's here that the Atlas Corporation looks to have returned to prominence. But this being the Borderlands universe, there's a rival corporation looking to engage in a hostile takeover. The Maliwan Corporation has brought armed forces to Promethea in an effort to overthrow Atlas' leadership. New character Lorelei acts as a guide, walking players through vehicle deployment and traveling the world. As one might expect, the planet is filled with hostiles, many of which are riding their own vehicles.

The central mission objective is to loot a nearby weapons depot to secure certain Maliwan Corporation goodies. To get started, players meet up with the head of the Atlas Corporation. It's old friend from Tales from the Boderlands, Rhys, notably not voiced by Troy Baker. Rhys tasks players with rendezvousing with another old friend, Borderlands 2 vault hunter Zer0.

Borderlands 3 preview

Borderlands combat feels as smooth as ever, with heavy firepower, crisp firing rates, and low recoil across most of the weapons I used. This is where my own personal hangup with the Borderlands series started to surface and that's that sometimes there are too many guns, as it becomes hard to determine which is most effective, most powerful, or even which is the coolest. For the purposes of this demo, I largely stuck with a rare Tediore SMG, which not only delivered fire damage, but any discarded clips would become their own turrets. Yes, it's guns on top of guns. But even if you're the type to use just one or two weapons, there's more ways to use them than ever. Nearly every gun in Borderlands 3 now has an alt-fire, giving every weapon greater versatility.

Versatility and firepower are a great help when taking on some of the badder forces of Borderlands 3. While I had my hands full with badass pyro soldiers, things quickly got more intense with the demo's lone boss battle. An AI called Gigamind held the key to helping Atlas, but Gigamind was no mere computer. It was a living brain, which would attack with bursts of fire rounds and homing brain missiles. The key to victory was avoiding the rapid fire, while also warding off the growing number of reinforcements that sought to protect Gigamind.

As is the case in the previous Borderlands games, there appear to be an ample number of side quests, as well. One such side mission saw a girl ask me to hunt down the man who killed her family. The problem is, she's not exactly sure who killed them and it doesn't help that there are two abrasive bandits each fighting over who gets to claim responsibility. There's an investigation and along the way, the family's corpses are found, with both bandits continuing to fight over who actually did it, despite the evidence starting to point to the Maliwan Corporation. It was a good indicator that Borderlands 3 is hanging on to the irreverent tone that's made the previous games such a hit.

Outside of our own hands-on time, there was plenty to see with the developers and their own hands-on demonstrations. The devs showed off the early portions of the game, where players were reunited with beloved (?) Borderlands mascot Claptrap. Beyond introducing the various Borderlands mechanics, Claptrap explains that there's a new cult on Pandora and the goal is to put an end to their uprising. Of course, Claptrap looks to do it in his own Claptrap way and gets himself in a lot of trouble, leading to some firefights against bandits, badasses, and a cult leader named Shiv. Yes, Borderlands will be filled with its fair share of colorful villains. One such baddie came in the tail end of the developer demo in the form of Mouthpiece, a brute wielding a shield with an audio equalizer. He would take on players in his chamber filled with giant speakers, which would frequently explode and make the fight a little more difficult.

Borderlands 3 preview

Gearbox is stating that Borderlands 3 will feature more boss fights than any previous game in the franchise and that certainly means more opportunities for rewards. Loot is everywhere, from the various containers on the ground, to the lowly enemies, to the fountains of goodies that spill out of defeated bosses. There will be no shortage of cool stuff to find, things to earn, or enemies to beat up.

There will also be a place to store a lot of that stuff, as players will get a special hub location called Sanctuary 3. The new Sancutary is a space vessel, able to take players from Pandora to entirely new worlds. Beyond customizing their home base, players can purchase upgrades and even find loot they might have lost over the course of the game. Sanctuary 3 will also act as a home to numerous characters, including Sir Hammerlock, Marcus, and Claptrap.

As much as this is to do solo, the opportunity to work with a team will be available. But online co-op in Borderlands 3 will have a bit of a twist. Everything will be scaled to each individual player. That means that while one player may be at level 1 and see enemies suited to a bigger player, their level 20 online co-op parner will see enemies scaled at level 20. Loot will work the same way. The new loot instancing system will reward each player with their own set of loot, suited to their level. If none of that sounds like your cup of team, these options can be turned off in favor of the classic Borderlands experience.

This is only the beginning for what looks to be a massive Borderlands experience. It's not far away, either. Borderlands 3 is set to arrive on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on September 13. We'll have gameplay footage and video interiews coming shortly, so stay tuned to Shacknews for everything Borderlands in the weeks and months ahead.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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