Three­quels are noto­ri­ous­ly hit-or-miss. While some series’ third insta­la­tions go beyond expec­ta­tions and breath new life into a fran­chise, oth­ers can fall seri­ous­ly short of the bar. It’s all about strik­ing that sweet bal­ance between fresh new con­tent and the for­mu­la that fans orig­i­nal­ly grav­i­tat­ed to — and it’s a bal­ance that Gear­box does beau­ti­ful­ly with Bor­der­lands 3.

It has been sev­en years since the release of the crit­i­cal­ly acclaimed Bor­der­lands 2, the sec­ond core game in Gear­box Software’s Bor­der­lands series, and fans are sali­vat­ing at the prospect of sink­ing their boots into Pandora’s soil once more. But with that antic­i­pa­tion, also comes appre­hen­sion. How can the devel­op­er build on what we’ve seen before? What if it changes too much?

“It’s actu­al­ly real­ly, real­ly hard to bal­ance that on any sequel,” Chris Brock, Bor­der­lands 3’s mul­ti­play­er pro­duc­er tells TechRadar. “The more suc­cess­ful the game is, the hard­er it is. And the longer you’ve been away, the hard­er it is.

“You don’t want to change too much because you don’t want it to devi­ate from the game they fell in love with but, at the same time it’s a num­bered sequel, it needs to be new enough to where there’s a rea­son for it hav­ing come out.” 

This is a val­ue that runs ram­pant through Bor­der­lands 3’s veins. Step­ping into Pan­do­ra once more feels like you’ve nev­er been away: old friends have returned, ban­dits still rule the waste­lands and you won’t be able to decide if you love or hate Clap­trap. 

Though, while famil­iar, there’s no deny­ing that things are aes­thet­i­cal­ly more pleas­ant and playa­bil­i­ty is gen­er­al­ly much smoother. It’s like final­ly get­ting that pair of glass­es you’ve need­ed for years, it’s just an extra bit of sharp­ness that ele­vates the expe­ri­ence to meet what you had remem­bered in your mind’s eye. 

Character assassination

While the chaot­ic heart of Bor­der­lands remains, there are plen­ty of new fea­tures in Bor­der­lands 3 that set it apart from its pre­de­ces­sors. For a start, we’ve got four new playable char­ac­ters to get to know: FL4K the Beast­mas­ter, Ama­ra the Siren, Zane the Oper­a­tive and Moze the Hunter. 

Per­haps our favorite char­ac­ter from the new ros­ter is FL4K the Beast­mas­ter, whose pet skills allow him to sum­mon a com­pan­ion in the form of a Jab­ber, Spi­der­ant or Guard Skag. FL4K can then select an abil­i­ty along­side this pet, allow­ing for a more dynam­ic playstyle that can see you com­bin­ing your own com­bat tech­niques with that of your (most­ly ugly) com­pan­ions. For exam­ple you could har­ness a tank pet while tak­ing a per­son­al­ly stealthy approach — almost like hav­ing a less cog­nizant play­er two. They’re also par­tic­u­lar­ly use­ful for earn­ing an easy sec­ond wind.

But if you’re not one for com­pan­ion­ship then you may grav­i­tate to the clas­sic, assault-style of Zane, the mech-wield­­ing tank­ish­ness of Moze or the famil­iar­i­ty of Ama­ra. 

While you be be lament­ing the char­ac­ters of Bor­der­lands past, don’t fret, as the likes of Zero and Axton will be mak­ing appear­ances in Bor­der­lands 3 — and there is appar­ent­ly a method to Gearbox’s ros­ter-chang­ing mad­ness.

“Mak­ing a suite of four new char­ac­ters, while that is dif­fi­cult, is not nec­es­sar­i­ly dif­fi­cult enough to not do it.”

Chris Brock — Mul­ti­play­er Pro­duc­er

“If we were to bring Zero, Axton, Maya and Sal­vadore into Bor­der­lands 3 — if we were to change them — then the fans of those char­ac­ters would be like ‘why did you change my char­ac­ter’,” Brock explains to TechRadar.  “If we don’t change them at all, then peo­ple ask why we did­n’t both­er. 

“We real­ly pre­ferred to start fresh with new vault hunters, and then we want to keep the old char­ac­ters around. We keep them around in NPC capac­i­ty, but that way they’re present but not tak­ing over the while fran­chise.

“Mak­ing a suite of four new char­ac­ters, while that is dif­fi­cult, is not nec­es­sar­i­ly dif­fi­cult enough to not do it. “

What’s more, these new char­ac­ters actu­al­ly have per­son­al­i­ties. Rather than the occa­sion­al word here and there, your char­ac­ter has a voice and will engage with oth­er char­ac­ters rather than stand­ing there smoul­der­ing with nobil­i­ty. Playable char­ac­ters quip as good as any comedic-action hero, but the real show­case of this is in co-op when all the char­ac­ters are bounc­ing off each oth­er. But it’s nev­er done in a way that’s annoy­ing, it’s just enough for comedic val­ue and effect.

Not only do char­ac­ters in co-op bounce off each oth­er through voice inter­ac­tions but you can now com­bine dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters’ com­bat abil­i­ties to your advan­tage. For exam­ple, when we played co-op as Zane, we teamed up with some­one play­ing as Moze. Moze has an abil­i­ty that allows her to spawn a big ol’ mech (a bit like Overwatch’s D.Va), and atop this mech is a tur­ret gun. As Zane, I was able to clam­ber onto the tur­ret gun and mow down ban­dits while Moze con­trolled the mechs full body. Team­work makes the dream­work.

It’s the little things

While there are some notable big changes, the dev­il is in the details when it comes to Bor­der­lands 3 and the game’s true crown and glo­ry is its new qual­i­­ty-of-life fea­tures. It can be hard to notice how many small fea­tures have been imple­ment­ed in Bor­der­lands 3, as most are the kind of things you wouldn’t notice until they weren’t there. For exam­ple, you can now sim­ply hit one but­ton at a vend­ing machine to refill all your ammo or you can see the item of the day with­out ever hav­ing to go into the store.

While some of these fea­tures were feed­back-dri­ven, Gear­box is not afraid to admit that oth­ers were a result of tak­ing a leaf out the play­books of oth­er stu­dios. 

“Some­times some­one does some­thing, and they do it so well, that’s just the way you do it.”

Chris Brock — Mul­ti­play­er Pro­duc­er

Per­haps the most obvi­ous sim­i­lar­i­ties have been drawn between Bor­der­lands 3 and BioWare’s Apex Leg­ends. It’s not par­tic­u­lar­ly sur­pris­ing con­sid­er­ing Gear­box has imple­ment­ed mantling and slid­ing in Bor­der­lands 3, along­side a handy new ping sys­tem.

“We’ve been see­ing the evo­lu­tion of shoot­ers over the past five years or so and play­er move­ment is a thing that’s become much more robust — we start to expect it now,” Brock tells TechRadar. “I think Apex and Titan­fall have kind of done that.”

“So it’s fun­ny, because with Apex, when that came out we were as sur­prised as any­one. By that point we already had slid­ing and mantling in the game but with the play­er ping we were like ‘man that is ele­gant’. That’s a sim­ple ele­gant sys­tem that works so well. Some­times some­one does some­thing, and they do it so well, that’s just the way you do it. I think ping­ing was like that for us.”

Formula for funny

Bor­der­lands 3 some­how man­ages to take every­thing that made its pre­de­ces­sors spec­tac­u­lar and amp it up. The lit­tle tweaks and addi­tions are care­ful­ly delib­er­ate, with every change argu­ing its pur­pose and earn­ing its spot. 

How­ev­er the lifeblood of Bor­der­lands 3 is its tongue-in-cheek humor which majes­ti­cal­ly walks the line between dark satire and utter silli­ness — self dep­re­cat­ing jokes and burg­er launch­ers.  It’s some­thing that could eas­i­ly grow old but there’s no wor­ry of that in the lat­est addi­tion to the series — in fact, we found it fun­nier than ever.

“Inter­nal­ly the mantra is ‘it’s fun­ny but it’s not a joke’,” Brock explains. “There are jokes but there’s also that very seri­ous thread. The tone is weird but, with­in the uni­verse, it all kind of makes sense.” 

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