Borderlands 3 Hands-on Impressions: The King of Loot Shooters Is Back

Looking for some hands-on first impressions of Borderlands 3? Check out our gameplay preview...

If there’s one thing that Borderlands has always offered those who love first-person shooters, it’s a wacky, often chaotic version of the genre that’s a far cry from its oh-so-serious peers. Den of Geek’s recent preview of two different Borderlands 3 demos held at 2K’s Windsor offices did much to reinforce this tact, depicting a return to the cell-shaded landscapes we first fell in love with 10 years ago, a new line-up of quirky Vault Hunters to explore them with, as well as enough guns to potentially sink a planet. 

The final version of Borderlands 3 won’t release until September, but from what we played in these two demos, it’s already clear that both longtime fans and series newcomers will be in for a wild ride.

The first demo set us off in a new region of Pandora, the series’ staple planet, known as the Ascension Bluff. It’s an incredibly atmospheric area, dimly lit in blue light – perfect for sneaking up on unsuspecting psychos before all hell breaks loose.

Borderlands 3 features four new Vault Hunters: Moze the Gunner, Zane the Operative, Amara the Siren, and FL4K the Beastmaster. For this 30-minute slice, we selected Moze, not least because her main action skill allows her to call down a mech-like tank called the “Iron Bear.” Each Vault Hunter boasts their own individual action skill whose availability is dictated by a cooldown timer, but the difference in Borderlands 3 is that you are able to use two at any one time rather than just one as in prior installments. 

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While playing as Moze, this translates to which two guns we want to equip her Iron Bear with. We get to choose from the Rail Gun, Rocket Launcher, or Mini-Gun; we opt for the first two. Before we even place a foot forward, we get to preview how expansive the customization options are this time around just from a look at Moze’s skill tree, which offers different tiers of abilities. A Tier 1 skill called “Deadlines,” for example, allows your Iron Bear to fire its weapons while draining less fuel or increase its fuel with every kill, while Tier 4 skill “Vampyr” restores a little bit of Moze’s health with every enemy hit by a grenade. Each character has six tiers of skills and it’s a ton of fun to mix and match stuff as you earn points to unlock them and level up your Vault Hunter. 

Jumping into the action, it isn’t long before we find ourselves in a shootout while en route to a building known as the Holy Broadcast Center. Waiting up there is an overly passionate dubstep enthusiast known as Mouth Piece. He is this area’s mini-boss working on behalf of Borderlands 3’s antagonists, The Calypso Twins, and it’s our job to take him down.

The gunplay feels much smoother than any other entry. The firing weapons feels responsive, (seeing damage numbers fly off enemies is more satisfying than ever), and you’re also now able to slide to cover and jump over barriers, giving firefights an incredibly fluid feel.

Borderlands 3 has also made some welcome improvements to the UI. The mini-map, for instance, now highlights pinged points of interest on the map in the upper right-hand corner of the screen, making it easier to traverse the world than ever before. Numerous times in Borderlands 2 and The Pre-Sequel, we found ourselves at a loss of where to go next, and with the scope unsurprisingly being expanded for the threequel, this quality of life adjustment helps a lot.

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Also appreciated is the inclusion of a damage arrow that appears just underneath your XP bar to indicate which direction you’re being shot from. Being the ultimate badass is hard when enemies can get the drop on you, but no longer!

Following the shootout, we gradually work our way up a cliffside and into Mouth Piece’s music-inspired lair. We unleash Moze’s Iron Bear skill a couple of times in the lead up to this demo’s final boss fight with Mouth Piece, ultimately culminating in a head-to-head tussle between both of us. This is all happening while Troy and Tyreen Calypso taunt us with their commentary. Borderlands 2 was lauded for Handsome Jack’s persistent goading throughout that game’s campaign, so it’s nice to see that this storytelling method has made it to the sequel.

The Mouth Piece fight takes place on a neon-lit dance floor surrounded by roaring amplifiers, and whenever we lay too much lead into Mouth Piece’s head, he’s quick to blast us backwards using the power of dubstep. We keep at it, however, eventually storing up enough of our action skill to unleash the Iron Bear one final time. As you might imagine, the Rail Gun and Rocker Launcher combo proves just a bit too much for him, and the sound master meets his own sonic doom.

From the tongue-in-cheek humor, to the creative weapons, to the cool locations – this first demo proved that everything we love about Borderlands remains in this long-awaited sequel. The mission statement is clearly, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

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Our second demo transported us to the new planet of Promethea, the same section previewed at the worldwide reveal event in May. This time around, we take the reins of Zane the Operative, whose three action skill choices boil down to a drone-like sentinel, digital clones of used to distract enemies, and a handy deployable barrier. While Moze is just as enjoyable, Zane adds quite a bit more humor to the experience, thanks to his witty Irish candor.

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Unfortunately, neither demo allowed us to play Borderlands 3 how it’s arguably meant to be played: in glorious four-player co-op. But we can, however, already see glimmers of the type of chaos that could ensue when searching for randomized loot and gunning down hordes of psychos with three friends. All this is to say that Borderlands is back to prove why it’s still the king of loot shooters, and we can’t wait to check out what other surprises what game has up its sleeve.

Borderlands 3 launches on Sept. 13 for Google Stadia, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.