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Feature Article

New Features In Borderlands 3 Create A Rewarding Loot Shooter Experience For Solo Players

Your Vault Hunter, your way.

Below, you'll find our impressions of the many changes to the Borderlands formula that have been implemented into Borderlands 3, specifically in how they relate to those who prefer to play their games by themselves. If you're looking for our impressions of the changes in terms of a broader experience, check out the video above. For more, check out our breakdown of the new gameplay features and an explanation of who its villains, the Calypso twins, are.

Every one of the mainline Borderlands games can be played solo or with a team, but Borderlands 3 is the first to actually make the former playstyle worthwhile. The newest entry to the Borderlands franchise gives you more agency over how your Vault Hunter evolves than ever before, allowing you to better construct a character for a solo run through the campaign.

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Like in Borderlands, Borderlands 2, and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, each playable Vault Hunter in Borderlands 3 has three skill trees, each of which contains distinct abilities and perks. That's really where the similarities end, though. In the first three games, every Vault Hunter unlocked a unique ability first, and then all three skill trees built upon this ability. In Borderlands 2, for example, Maya the Siren unlocks Phase Lock which allows her to trap an enemy in place for several seconds. This skill can be used for defensive crowd control by unlocking her Motion skill tree, supportive healing by going for her Harmony tree, or offensive elemental damage with her Cataclysm tree.

Despite these three differences, though, it doesn't fundamentally change how Maya plays. Because she always has to unlock Phase Lock first, and since all her skills build on this one ability, Maya is mostly a support character. Her Phase Lock can be used as a powerful damage dealer, but it doesn't change that Maya's purpose on the battlefield is to always disrupt the movements of the most powerful enemy so that she and her teammates can focus on the small fry or more easily pool their resources into taking down one central threat. Mordecai, Zer0, Lilith, and all the other Vault Hunters from every Borderlands game we've gotten so far fall into this same trap. With all of their trees focused on one particular ability, they all end up in one class and always carry the strengths and weaknesses that such a class entails. This is great for when you're playing as part of a team where everyone needs a role and squadmates can account for any weaknesses you might have, but it also makes certain Vault Hunters much harder to play with if you're going it alone.

Borderlands 3 abandons this format, and it's for the better. Instead of having one unique ability that all three skill trees build upon, Borderlands 3's Vault Hunters have three distinct abilities--one for each of their three trees--and then one unique trait that separates them from the other characters. So the three skill trees of each Vault Hunter in Borderlands 3 are built around different abilities, allowing each one to have three distinct playstyles.

"I'm really proud [of] the four [Vault Hunters'] trees--the way you configure them and what you do--are very, very different than what we were able to do in Borderlands 2, which was even a big leap on what we did in Borderlands 1," Gearbox managing producer of narrative Randy Varnell said. "[Before] it was mostly one action skill with just some numerical changes."

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Amara, the playable Siren in Borderlands 3, for example, can unlock Phasegrasp as her action skill in the Fist of the Elemental skill tree, which allows her to lock enemies in place like Borderlands 2's Maya. The tree is also filled with many of the supportive powers that Maya has. However, Amara can unlock Phaseslam in her Brawler skill tree if you prefer, which sends her careening down on enemies with deadly force and leads her down a path of close-quarters combat. Finally, Amara can unlock Phasecast in her Mystical Assassin skill tree, which transforms her into a long-range fighter that can fire immense elemental blasts from a distance.

Because each of Borderlands 3's Vault Hunter's skill trees are so distinct, it's actually beneficial to unlock passive abilities in each one. Borderlands 3 allows you to create custom loadouts and switch between which active skill you have equipped on the fly. So if you're playing with Amara and you have Phasegrasp equipped, but you're about to enter an enclosed enemy base, you can switch over to Phaseslam if you have both skills unlocked. Having multiple active skills unlocked also motivates you to earn the abilities in their respective trees, which encourages you to create your very own Vault Hunter. For example, you might want the destructive powers of Amara's Phasecast, but you don't want to be a glass cannon so you can unlock some of the supportive and close-combat passives in her other two trees. And since you can create your Vault Hunter to fill whatever role you want, choosing a character does not lock you into one specific playstyle, which in turn makes it much easier to play by yourself if you want to.

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"[Skill trees are] a little bit more tweaky than Borderlands 2 wise--you can do more with it," Varnell said. "I would say that Amara is a great example of the fairly straight forward, I mean she's a Siren. She likes to get close to the fight... So she's a really great one to start with."

Which isn't to say that your choice of Vault Hunter is arbitrary. Far from it. Each characters' unique trait means you get very different experiences with each one. "If you look at Amara, Amara has an extra skill for her elements," Borderlands 3 game director Paul Sage said. "And so [with her] you can decide what elements are going to be modified. So each character kind of has that, that very special, unique thing. So Amara has her action skills she can equip, she has augments she can put in them, and then she has an elemental change she [can apply]. But, [the others] like Zane are very different.

"For Zane, you can [equip] a second action skill but you actually give up your grenade to do that," Varnell said. "So you have to think about how your action skills can work together and how you augment them and how you spec them out and really to get the most of that if you're going to give up grenade play. What we found in our playtesting is that Zane really, really, really appeals to the min-max type of people who want to get that advanced game play…. [He's] really a numbers play at the end while Amara, she's just about energy and fun."

When I was playing with Zane, for example, I equipped both his Digi-Clone (a holographic decoy that shoots enemies and that Zane can switch places with) and SNTNL (an automated drone that tracks down and kills enemies) to make a character that survived by constantly teleporting around the battlefield and bamboozling his targets by hitting them from multiple directions at once.

"I think we're gonna see a lot of cool builds and build comparisons and play styles," Varnell continued. "I think [Borderlands 3] is the coolest Borderlands we've done so far in regards to what you can do with the build and what you can do to find a different type of play style. And once you start interweaving that with co-op play, it gets crazy."

Once you do decide to pick up co-op play, Borderlands 3 doesn't punish you and your friends for being vastly different levels like previous Borderlands games do. Both enemies and loot scale when you are playing in a party, so you no longer have to wait for your friends to catch up to your level or grind to keep up with them. You'll each find loot appropriate to your respective levels and both damage received and dealt will scale. High-level players don't dominate and low-level players don't get squashed.

All in all, from what we've seen, Borderlands 3 feels like the first in its franchise to truly give solo players a chance at enjoying the game how they want to and at whatever pace they desire. You're not punished for playing by yourself and possibly out-leveling your friends, and you have greater control over how your chosen Vault Hunter's abilities evolve. We still have to wait and see the skill trees for Moze the Gunner and FL4K the Beastmaster before signing off on all of Borderlands 3's Vault Hunters, but the first two have already confirmed that Gearbox's upcoming game changes the series' skill tree feature for the better.

Borderlands 3 is scheduled to release for Xbox One, PS4, and PC on September 13.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

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GameSpot has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to toxic conduct in comments. Any abusive, racist, sexist, threatening, bullying, vulgar, and otherwise objectionable behavior will result in moderation and/or account termination. Please keep your discussion civil.

Avatar image for nikon133
nikon133

I am ashamed to admit - I seem to be one ov very few that just didn't catch Borderland virus.

I wanted to like it - purchased and played B1 and B2 a bit on PC - but just couldn't. I was never big fan of visuals (very subjective) but more than that, it just didn't feel right to me - movement, shooting mechanics, the whole package was somehow off-putting for my taste.

Will probably try Borderlands 3, though. You never know.

Avatar image for Jimbowesker
Jimbowesker

@nikon133:

No not at all. I was just about to comment on how guilty I felt for never getting into the series. I tried the earlier games and just didn't feel like the style of gameplay was my cup of tea. Although to be fair, I didn't give em much of a chance before moving on to other games. With all the praise and hype I have been hearing for Borderlands 3, I'm starting to think I should gve em another try. So, don't feel bad you are not alone. Borderlands 3 will be on my watchlist for the upcoming months for sure...

Avatar image for KiriharaZro
KiriharaZro

I made solo borderlands 1, 2 and prequel, so wats the big deal on this annoucement?

Avatar image for fbplayer1064
fbplayer1064

I solo'ed all the previous Borderlands with the sniper characters. Even did NG+ on 1 and 2. It's always been viable.

Avatar image for baral-o
baral-o

I played 1 & 2 and all DLC (ps3) split screen with my brother, and can not wait to do the same with 3, but yes, even solo can be a lot of fun thanks to the nonsensical story, I played 2 solo (ps4) with Gaige the mechromancer (my favored character in 2) her robot makes thing a lot easier

Avatar image for dynamotnt
dynamotnt

looter shooters have evolved nowadays. They're always online, with matchmaking for friends, areas are designed to be replayed with revamped difficulty, areas are specifically made for endgame progression..

this shit is just level ater level, rinse repeat playing some boring story 100x until you get items. that and terrible dialogue, characters, and every other thing except weapons.

I think I died of cringe about 16 times before finishing borderlands 2, Never again.

Avatar image for infernoxas
Infernoxas

@dynamotnt: you're already making assumptions from a game you hardly know about? I'm also assuming from your comment that you didnt give the 1 hour livestream gameplay a chance.

Avatar image for Atzenkiller
Atzenkiller

What is this? I've played through all the games solo and Maya was probably by far the most viable solo character. Together with the soldier. The sniper guy not so much, but with Maya's abilities you can become very powerful and easily deal with crowds.

But good to see that they add more varied abilities. Some of the other characters were definitely lacking.

Avatar image for lorddaggeroff
lorddaggeroff

The game looks underwelming when comparing the vast non improvements that were added. Yeah it's still a 2d style game but I can get that from old school mace Griffen bounty hunter(just add in borderlands gun loot and you have mace Griffen 2.

Anyways the games to safe, especially with th amount of people who were working on it, oddly the amount of people who worked on days gone were far more, with far less.

Same could be said here.

Todd Howard and randy pitchford are great politicians hardly great developers.

Avatar image for deviltaz35
DEVILTAZ35

@lorddaggeroff: They had a great game in Bulletstorm it just never got the praise it deserved. That could have had a great sequel.

Avatar image for lorddaggeroff
lorddaggeroff

@deviltaz35: I was going to mention bullet storm, add rage and bulletstorm and you have a game doom would struggle to compete with(given doom and rage are hand in hand.)

I dunno when rage 2 arrives borderlands 3 will be randy pitchfords returning boomerang (as aliens colonial marines is gearbox studios skeleton they will not have let gone.) Karma a bitch randy and you will reap the painful message called saturation.

Cliffy B learnt the hard way with that thing he made, he learnt he's lesson too but a dark horse will be looming over randy not as dark as Julian assanges horse but one randy will not be able to decide.

Avatar image for cabbage01
Cabbage01

"like" is the new "um"

Avatar image for deviltaz35
DEVILTAZ35

@cabbage01: It is the most fk'n annoying thing yet. i switch off any video where they keep doing it. Just to test it i did a 'like' count on an IGN video one time and an IGN staffer said 'like' over 50 times. 50 times or more in one discussion video on a game. A complete unprofessional joke.

I did consider a complaint to management but then decided that seeing management did the hiring of said staffer it says enough about the IQ of the ones doing the hiring to just leave it at that.

Avatar image for Atzenkiller
Atzenkiller

@deviltaz35: That's what happens if you replace journalists with random folks. But I thougt that's what people want today anyway. Or why else are Youtubers so popular while I see people hating on any big sites and their reviews everywhere? "I'd rather trust some random dude than a professional review from someone who makes a living off it."

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YellowSublimaze

Good to hear. Will wait for the steam sale.

Avatar image for johnblaze911
Johnblaze911

Not on Steam = not buying.

Avatar image for infernoxas
Infernoxas

@johnblaze911: if epic holds to their roadmap, they'll have a good portion of what Steam offers by the BL3 release time. I'm not defending epic by any means, but all this nonsense of waiting for a steam release is just ****ing stupid.

Avatar image for deviltaz35
DEVILTAZ35

@johnblaze911: It is just a 6 month delay or so , that could mean it comes out during Steam Xmas or January sales anyway.

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spartanx169x

@johnblaze911: Your loss. I play on PC too , but I do not understand the love for steam.

Avatar image for snakebite6x6x6
snakebite6x6x6

@spartanx169x: For me it's not a love of Steam, but rather a hatred of anti-consumer practices. Exclusives, aside from original IPs (EA games on Origin, Valve games on Steam etc), have no place in PC gaming.

Everybody that I know who is holding off because of the timed exclusivity is doing so not because they have a hard-on for Steam...but because what Epic is doing is bullshit.

Even if the Epic launcher was equal to Steam in features (which it is not) this would still be bullshit.

On that note, if they hadn't made it an exclusive (timed or otherwise), I would have zero problem picking it up on the Epic store...even with the lack of features in the launcher.

To summarize, I don't care which launcher it is on...I have at least a dozen on my PC already from all the games I play...launcher doesn't dictate which games I buy and which games I don't. Shady practices, however, I stand firmly against...and will speak with the only voice most publishers care about any more...my wallet.

Avatar image for phili878
phili878

@spartanx169x: Same here. I played some guys that were both on steam and stand-alone (with their own .exe). Guess what, a lot of people that played it on steam had complaints and at one time bugs where it wouldn't even work. No idea why people opt for steam even if you can play it stand-alone.

Avatar image for deviltaz35
DEVILTAZ35

@spartanx169x: I don't think people realise you can run a non steam game from within the framework :)

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Primetime-PAA

@deviltaz35: I honestly can't believe people are still complaining about this.

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santinegrete

Good thing for people hating cheaters and loot gobblers.

Avatar image for bot101101
Bot101101

Loved Borderlands 2; but after 7 years this seems old and not that entertaining to me anymore. The jokes are also outdated. Guess i grew up a bit. So yeah, it really feels like Borderlands 2.5 to me despite the (imo small) changes.

Will probably pick up Rage 2 though (which should have had co-op btw!!!!!)

Avatar image for deviltaz35
DEVILTAZ35

@bot101101: Plus the Aussie studio that put together the pre sequel was shut down and that had some really funny moments in that game.

Avatar image for cejay0813
cejay0813

@bot101101: Yeah I can feel you on that. Felt that way about Borderlands 2 honestly but I appreciated the fact that it definitely didn't take itself too seriously as a shooter. Definitely looking forward to this and Rage 2 to cap the year off for me. My back log is already too big to handle

Avatar image for bdrtfm
BDRTFM

That's great news. I love Borderlands but I hate it how they made end game so much more difficult for solo play. You could do it but it was more tedious than fun. I like to jump into the game and casually play without having to worry about having 3 friends online ready and willing to stop whatever they are doing to play and then get annoyed when I inevitably have to drop out for business or a plethora of other reasons. I don't have time for 4+ hour long game sessions.

Avatar image for the_kfd_case
The_KFD_Case

Ever since I played 'Rage,' I've favored that post-apocalyptic game over the 'Borderlands' franchise; they are hugely similar, and while I have enjoyed some of the past 'Borderlands' outings, 'Rage's' art style and overall delivery suited my tastes better than 'Borderlands' did.

Recent controversies surrounding 'Borderlands 3', 2K, Randy Pitchford, and the imminent release of 'Rage 2' means I'll be passing on 'Borderlands 3' for the foreseeable future - possibly permanently.

Avatar image for deviltaz35
DEVILTAZ35

@the_kfd_case: Biggest issue is nothing is as good as Doom 2016 no matter how hard they try.Maybe the next Doom? It has to be the best game on console bar none.

Avatar image for phili878
phili878

@deviltaz35: The last Doom was overrated. It was a good game, sure, but there it is. Good, that is all it was, surely nothing more than that.

Avatar image for Abdulrahman1981
Abdulrahman1981

Surprised it’s not coming on Nintendo Switch!

Avatar image for deviltaz35
DEVILTAZ35

@Abdulrahman1981: It probably will it's just they have to dedicate a lot of time to optimise for Switch so it makes sense to get it out on other platforms first , work out any bugs in the code then port a more complete version a little down the track.

It's not where i would play it personally as i like fast paced shooters on the big screen but for anyone more looking for portable experiences it would be good on the go. Personally i think they should have made the Switch portable only and just a bit more powerful in portable mode. I never use my switch plugged into a tv as even upscaled games don't tend to look good on a 4k screen but in miniature they hold up surprisingly well they just often need to be a bit smoother though.

Avatar image for siarhei
siarhei

@Abdulrahman1981: why would a proper AAA game come to an underpowered handheld?

Avatar image for ticktockman1979
ticktockman1979

@siarhei: You mean like MK11 just did?

Avatar image for primetime-paa
Primetime-PAA

@ticktockman1979: OHHHHHH, GOT EM

Avatar image for siarhei
siarhei

@ticktockman1979: And it has fps issues...

Avatar image for spartanx169x
spartanx169x

@siarhei: Please just accept the fact that people that play on the switch do not care about having the best graphics and 60FPS or whatever you prefer. AAA games are coming to Switch because there is a customer base for them. Its simple business.

Avatar image for siarhei
siarhei

@spartanx169x: and nothing wrong with that. a handheld can't compete with proper consoles by definition. So Idk why would anyone expect brand new games that push hardware limits to release there.

Avatar image for deviltaz35
DEVILTAZ35

@spartanx169x: Plus most play it in portable mode. I have a switch and most games on it looks horrible on a large 4k tv but for point and click adventures that i prefer the switch touch screen is awesome. I have an Xbox one X and a decent PC otherwise so not fussed about AAA versions of games anyway.

I do get a bit sick and tired of Digital foundry spending so much time on Switch ports of old games available elsewhere though. Just a quick 5 mins of whether it is good or not will do.

Avatar image for Bread_or_Decide
Bread_or_Decide

@ticktockman1979: Check and mate. Not to mention, Doom, Wolfenstein II, Warframe, Diablo III, Southpark TFBW, and many others.

Avatar image for deviltaz35
DEVILTAZ35

@Bread_or_Decide: lol Southpark would run on a calculator.

Avatar image for Abdulrahman1981
Abdulrahman1981

@siarhei: if Switch can run Dark Souls, it’s more than capable of running this game

Avatar image for deviltaz35
DEVILTAZ35

@Abdulrahman1981: lol This is Unreal Engine 4 not a 10 year old game written for the 360 and PS3 lol. I think it will come out on Switch and will be dramatically downgraded but that might not matter if it runs well enough in handheld mode where i expect most would play it.

To say this engine is comparable to Dark souls is funny though sorry.

One thing From Software sadly suck at is Engine optimisation though.

Sekiro runs so poorly and jerky on every console that it is embarrassment in 2019. It also has the worst looking shadows of any high profile studio in quite some time.

The PC version is better but hardly anything to write home about.

Avatar image for lorddaggeroff
lorddaggeroff

Border lands battle royale 3.

Avatar image for Litchie
Litchie

We haven't played it. But it's great.

/GameSpot

Avatar image for loveblanket
Loveblanket

I hope it's a good game and if it is I'll gladly buy it when it comes to Steam. Randy Pitchford and Epic can rot.

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