After more than five years, with only a remastered collection released in the interim, a new Borderlands game is on the horizon. And, after two gameplay sessions with it so far, including a playthrough of the first four-to-five hours, we can safely say that fans will not be disappointed.

Both familiar and suitably enhanced in equal measure, Borderlands 3 is a "much bigger game" that the first, second or Pre-sequel outings. It adds extra layers of customisation that enable players to craft personalised experiences depending on their game styles. And, it takes the action to multiple planets and systems for the first time, changing the enemies and scenery accordingly.

In short, Borderlands 3 has the potential to offer everything a fan of the franchise has ever wanted. 

World beater

During our first play session with the game, at a community event in Los Angeles, Gearbox told us that there are many planets to explore in the game going forward, each with their own challenges, enemies and landscapes.

The game starts on Pandora - as its predecessors - so we've spent more time there than any other, although we also got to play a mission or two on Promethea in LA, plus newly revealed planet Eden-6 during our extended gameplay preview in London more recently.

Pandora is naturally covered in rock-filled canyons, wastelands and bandit camps, as before. But, our visit took us to the highways and skyways of a futuristic metropolitan city, Meridian, packed with foes that were more high-tech, while Eden-6 was a jungle-like planet with much more verticality in the play as you jump up and across gantries.

We also got a brief taste of the new Sanctuary, which not only serves as your homebase, but helps you travel from planet to planet. That's because, this time around, it is an enormous spaceship, with different, customised quarters for your character and NPCs, plus many interactive elements that enable you to fully prepare before heading planetside.

We haven't been able to use any of its functionality yet, but it looks like a nice tool to help transition between major story missions and a vehicle for comedy asides, to boot.

Gearbox / 2K GamesBorderlands 3 leads image 2

Game on

While tweaked, the core gameplay is mostly untouched. The Borderlands series has always thrived on its vast selection of weaponry and loot crates and both look and feel very similar in style to previous episodes. There are some additions, however. There is a new elemental type - radiation - that joins fire, shock, corrosive, slag and explosive for addition damage effects.

To be honest, it is too soon to say how different this will prove to be and we didn't really meet any enemy types particularly susceptible to it during either of our demo sessions. But, we did enjoy seeing glowing bad guys dotted around when we unleashed a radiated volley towards them.

Other weaponry improvements include a greater variety of Tediore gun types, which perform different actions when you run out of ammo. Instead of reloading, Tediore-made blasters are thrown at an enemy and, while they also appeared in Borderlands 2, there are more spectacular effects on offer this time.

We particularly liked the weapon gained after dispatching the Gigamind boss on Promethea - a brain in a jar, essentially. His weapon turns into a Gigamind Spider once depleted, which scuttles towards enemies and explodes.

There are others with equally comedic moves.

Some weapons also have secondary abilities this time around. One might fire normal bullets usually, but also offer tiny missiles after a quick tap of the down direction key on the gamepad. This gives a large degree of customisation to match your gameplay style and, if nothing else, adds extra mayhem and tomfoolery during battles. Swapping during weapon types was one of our favourite practices during the preview test, for sure.

What we found during the first few hours of the actual game is that, while weapons seem weak and underpowered at early levels, you soon find much better guns. Indeed, about two hours in, we were already firing off volleys of micro-missiles and sniping bandits from a distance with a single headshot.

We were told that there are more than a billion weapons and combinations to discover, so you will never get tired of finding new loot.

Character test

As well as the guns themselves, customisation for playable characters is greatly enhanced. Indeed, while previous Borderlands games have felt like RPGs over the years, this is the closest to a true role-player yet.

That's thanks to am extended skill tree system, where each of the playable avatars get their own unique abilities to unlock across three different menu pages.

Skill points are awarded each time you level up and can be assigned across three different categories for each of the various characters. In addition, each character has an assignable main power-up that can also be chosen or swapped at any time.

For example, Fl4k, the robotic vault hunter, comes with the choice of three different pets that can be hot-swapped throughout the game. They are AI controlled and will attack enemies in unique ways and can also be ordered to perform specific powers themselves.

Another hunter, Moze, comes with a mech - an exosuit that will give you extra protection and superb firepower (itself customisable through the skill tree).

The other two are Zane the Operative and Amara the Siren, each with their own interesting special abilities.

Zane can send an autonomous, heavily-armed drone to take out designated targets or, instead, throw down a time-limited shield from bullets. Another option is to create a clone of himself that can both fire at enemies and draw their shots.

And he is unique in that he can have two abilities active in his load-out at the same time.

These differences ensure a game that is tuned to your own style and, in our opinion, raise Borderlands in general and the third specifically, above many other, more limited shooters out there.

By just tweaking your skill trees, you can create a character that suits you perfectly and, from our experience so far, helps you get immersed in the game very quickly indeed.

Playing together

The skill tree can also be used to ensure your character is unique during co-operative play.

You can play co-operatively with a friend throughout the entire game (or as a single-player, if you prefer) and that can be done in split-screen or online. By offering a wide array of customisable skills, you could therefore both play as the same in-game character yet have very different talents and ability sets.

Your Amara could be radically different to your mate's, for example. In look too, as there are many aesthetic customisation features available too.

Another new feature designed to improve co-operative play is what Gearbox calls Loot Instancing. This is an optional mode that, when activated, balances the game for each player. That means, even while they play at the same time, on the same game world, players will get a tuned experience just for their character level.

For example, if one player is level 10 and the other level 25, the former will find loot of level 10 and below, while the same loot will seem to be level 25 for the other. Enemies will be tuned suitably too.

It means both players will get an equal challenge, no matter how much time they have invested in the game separately.

The mode can also be turned off and co-op set to work normally, but we can see this being a real ground-breaking step in the right direction for action games going forward.

1/7Gearbox / 2K Games

Picture perfect

We played the more extensive demo on PC hardware that was more capable than even the One X or PS4 Pro.

However, we were informed that graphical fidelity will be similar, as they will also run the game in 4K HDR (albeit likely checkerboard for the Pro). We can't say for certain for now, but if either gets anywhere close to the image quality we've experienced, we're all in for a treat.

The PC version we played in LA and London looked stunning. Typically Borderlands, with its cell-shaded graphical effects, but sharp and detailed too. Some might bemoan the fact that the visual style hasn't changed much in a decade, but not us. We loved the unique quality to the series and the third chapter continues the trend with aplomb.

First Impressions

Based on both of our gameplay sessions so far, including the five hour marathon in a secret London location, Borderlands 3 is looking every bit the sequel we'd hoped for. It is undeniably a Borderlands game - with the same humour, madcap weaponry and play mechanics we have loved for years - but with, sometimes subtle, additions that bring it kicking and screaming up to date.

Some might be critical that it looks and feels so much like its predecessors, but we feel that could be a massive positive rather than negative; it is so easy to pick up and play for series veterans that you will be sucked into its charms immediately.

We're currently making our way through the full release, to see what's beyond the point where we left off. We'll bring you our full in-depth review very soon.