Borderlands 3 preview: the king of looter-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 with a fetish for first-person shooters, it’s that of a wacky, often chaotic rendition which operates as a far cry from the oh-so-serious nature of its 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 some 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.

So, after being served an ice-cold beer within a crazily faithful recreation of Mad Moxxi’s famous Pandora bar (who knew they served Peroni?), we settled into the glitz-themed gameplay booth to immerse ourselves back into the franchise that originally coined the term “looter-shooter”.

The final version of Borderlands 3 won’t release until 13 September, but from what we played in these two demos, it’s already clear that both long-time fans and series newcomers will be in for a wild ride.

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The first demo set us off within a new region of series staple planet Pandora known as the Ascension Bluff. It immediately hit us as an incredibly atmospheric area due to its dimly lit blue light – perfect for gaining the jump on any unsuspecting psychos before all hell breaks loose.

Borderlands 3 will feature four new Vault Hunter classes for players to pick from in 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 sees her able to call down a mech-like tank called the ‘Iron Bear’.

Each vault hunter boasts their own individual action skill that’s availability is dictated by a cooldown timer, but the difference here in Borderlands 3 is that you are able to use two at any one time rather than just one as in prior Borderlands entries.

While playing as Moze this translates to which two guns we want to equip her Iron Bear with out of the Rail Gun, Rocket Launcher, or Mini-Gun. We opt for the first two.

And before we even place a foot forward, we’ve already seen just how expanded the customisation options are this time around by opening up Moze’s skill tree menu and pouring in a happy helping of points. We’re ready to go to work!

Into the action proper and it isn’t long until we find ourselves in a shootout while en route to a building known as the Holy Broadcast Centre. Held up there is an overly passionate dubstep enthusiast known as Mouth Piece; he is this area’s choice of mini boss working on behalf of Borderlands 3’s fresh protagonists The Calypso Twins and it’s our job to take him down.

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Back to the shootout and it’s immediately made clear that this threequel already plays much smoother. The core firing of weapons feels responsive, seeing damage numbers fly off enemies is more satisfying than ever, but the abilities to now slide to cover and mantle over it gives gameplay an incredibly fluid feel.

Even from a pure UI standpoint Borderlands 3 aims to improve and impress with some slight alterations. The mini-map, for instance, now paints whatever path you’ve chosen to take in the upper right-hand corner of the screen.

Numerous times in Borderlands 2 and The Pre-Sequel did we find ourselves at a loss of where to go next, and with the scope unsurprisingly being expanded for Borderlands 3, this quality of life adjustment now helps a lot. Also appreciated is the inclusion of a damage arrow that appears just underneath your XP bar to indicate which direction you’re being shot at. 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. All while this is happening are we constantly being taunted with in-ear commentary from Troy and Tyreen Calypso.

Borderlands 2 was lauded for Handsome Jack’s persistent goading throughout that game’s campaign, so it’s nice to see that this ethos is successfully being continued here. 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.

The fight takes place upon 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 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 thus the sound master eventually gets to meet his own sonic doom.

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From the tongue-in-cheek humour, the creative weapons and cool locations – this first demo proved that everything we love about Borderlands remains for this long-awaited sequel. It’s clear that the mission statement here has been, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” and that’s not a bad tactic for a brand this beloved.

Unlike, say, Star Wars Battlefront 2, every piece of loot you find here will be entirely for your taking – no real money required. Developer Gearbox Software has said that paid content will be on its way in the form of traditional paid DLC, but you can usually rely on Borderlands for it being worth it most of the time.

Our second demo transports us to the new planet of Promethea; the same section that was used to originally debut gameplay during the worldwide reveal event back in May.

This time around we take on the reigns of Zane the Operative, whose three action skill choices boil down to a drone-like sentinel, digital clones of himself used for distraction, as well as a handy deployable barrier. All the excitement we experienced as Moze previously stays intact, albeit, we admit, with a lot more humour thanks to Zane’s witty Irish candour.

Unfortunately, not at any point during either demo were we able to play Borderlands 3 arguably how it is 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 randomised loot and gunning down hordes of psychos with three friends. All this is to say that Borderlands is back to prove itself as the granddaddy of looter-shooters, and we can’t wait to check out what else new lies in store.

Borderlands 3 launches on 13 September for Google Stadia, Microsoft Windows, PS4 and Xbox One.

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