23 ways Borderlands 3 is reinventing the Borderlands formula

Borderlands 3 might have the same trademark cartoonish outlines, tongue-in-cheek dialogue, and sheer disregard for common sense when it comes to guns and what they can and can’t do, but trust me: a lot has changed since Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. I’ve had three hours of hands-on gameplay with Gearbox’s next instalment in their legendary looter-shooter franchise, and from the way you use your skills to the microtransactions, when it comes to what Borderlands 3 is doing differently there’s a lot to keep track of. So what are you waiting for? Look below to find out how many surprises await in your next trip to Pandora (and beyond). 

1.  Most guns have alternate firing modes 

Borderlands 3 certainly isn’t shy about giving you a metric ton of guns to fire at whim, but they’ve pushed it one step further this time. Most guns have an alternate firing mode which you access by pressing down on the D-pad. That means that your rifle can turn into a grenade launcher, or your shotgun can switch between fire or shock bullets. These nifty alternate firing modes really help in a pinch when you come across a foe that resists a certain elemental damage, when you need some extra firepower, or just want to make things more deader more quickly. 

2. Loot instancing is an optional feature

As Borderlands 3 can be played entirely in co-op, to stop loot ninjas from taking all the good stuff and leaving other players with mediocre guns, the game has loot instancing. This feature means that players of different levels each have their own loot which appear simultaneously, so even if you take the super good gun, it still appears in your buddy’s game. This feature is completely optional though, so if you enjoy battling for the best gun - in a completely friendly way, of course - you can disable it. 

3. Action Skills can be customised with augments 

Unlike in previous Borderlands games, Action Skills in Borderlands 3 can be augmented, turning them into stronger, more devastating attacks. That means that if you unlock, say, Amara’s Phaseslam Action Skill (i.e. punching the ground with six massive blue arms), you can then use your points to buy the Blight Tiger Augment which turns its damage into corrosive. Other augments add extra damage when an action skill is used, change how enemies react to the attack, or give you helpful buffs like regenerating health. Useful, huh?

4. Cover is now destructible  

In hindsight cover in previous Borderlands games must have been made of adamantium or some other virtually indestructible material, as it didn’t budge an inch even under intense fire. However, that’s all changed in Borderlands 3, as you can now destroy cover as long as you continue unloading bullets into it, making it easier to get to stubborn enemies who refuse to come out into the open. Of course, that applies to you too… 

5. You can chuck elemental barrels around

Other games in the franchise featured barrels that were seemingly rooted to the ground, as they didn’t move around at all. Now you can punch them directly into enemies, as one well-aimed melee strike will send those barrels flying, letting you catapult them directly into the faces of your foes. It’s mighty handy when you’re not quite able to draw your enemy close enough to an elemental barrel, or when you’re running out of bullets and just need to kickstart some progressive damage to give you some breathing space.

6. Radiation damage replaces slag damage

Bye bye, strange purple slag that I never really got the hang of using: radiation damage is taking its place in Borderlands 3. The orangey-yellow barrels spout unmistakable bubbles, and when an enemy gets irradiated it can pass on the damage to other nearby enemies, causing a pleasantly deadly chain reaction. 

7. Both major and background NPCs revive you in battle

During the game you’ll find yourself fighting alongside major NPCs like Lilith and minor ones too, and this time around they’re much more useful. If you go down and aren’t able to get a second wind, NPCs will automatically revive you just like co-op players could in previous games - just make sure you’re close enough to them to trigger this helpful little feature. 

8. Vault Hunters have much more customisation

As well as being able to change your head, outfit, and colour, there’s a lot more to making your Vault Hunter truly feel like they’re yours in Borderlands 3. Now you can also add an emote (we got to see a chicken dance, heart, and wave options), as well as their respawn animation and their echo theme. Ok, so I’m not entirely sure what an echo theme is or when it would be used, but perhaps it’s a little musical tune? Your guess is as good as mine. 

9. Guns have item scores to help you pick the best quickly

Item scores can be found in the top left hand corner of any guns you find, which let you quickly see which is the better weapon and prevents you wasting your precious time. 

10. Prepare for a ton more bosses 

Bosses are a much bigger focus in Borderlands 3, with the Gearbox team even having their very own Boss Designer. Expect many more mini-bosses and full-blown bosses to test yourself against, and after talking to Boss Designer Matt Cox it sounds like there’s going to be an endgame challenge similar to Terramorphus the Destroyer. If being beaten to a bloody pulp is your kind of thing. 

11. Crew challenges are like quest collectibles

These are mini-tasks you’ll do, some for characters like finding pieces for Claptrap’s stair-climbing research, or helping Moxxi by stopping the Children of the Vault’s broadcasts from going out, and some just flesh out the backstory (like deciphering Eridian writing). After doing a couple in the demo I can safely say they’re quick, and are roughly the same kind of difficulty you’d expect from collectibles. 

12. Troy and Tyreen are based off social media influencers 

We’ve had Handsome Jack, but now we have a pair of villains that are made for the era of social media, as Randy Pitchford said that Tyreen and Troy are meant to be the "douchiest kind of livestreamers". They certainly talk like streamers, calling the Bandits who join the Children of the Vault cult their ‘followers’, and they use the Holy Broadcast station to show streams and let’s plays, with them even liking the fact that you kill their ‘meat sacks’, or bandits, as it gets them more views. Wow. No, I’m not making that up. 

13. Sanctuary 3 is a spaceship

Borderlands 2 had Sanctuary float into the air like a proto-spaceship, but now the life-saving city has gone fully extra-terrestrial and is a floating spaceship you use as a base. Filled with the usual vendors and NPCs, like Marcus, Moxxi, and Ellie, Sanctuary 3 is where you’ll go in between missions and will take you to different planets. You didn’t think you could get there by Outrunner, did you?

14. The beasts you kill get mounted on Hammerlock’s wall

Inside Sanctuary 3 is the monocled Sir Hammerlock, but his cabin is looking a little bare. Luckily you’re going to help to fill all those empty plaques, as there’s a chance that the heads of the monsters you kill will start to appear on his walls as trophies as a kind of record of the places you’ve been and the blood you’ve shed. With the more customisable Vault Hunter options Borderlands 3 is really trying to make the world feel like it’s your own, and there’s plenty more where that came from… 

15. You have your own customisable quarters

At last us Vault Hunters have our own space to decorate (almost) as we wish. Sanctuary 3 provides you with your very own room, with a different decor for each Vault Hunter. No word yet on whether the the bed and objects in it can be changed, but at the moment we do know that you can change the guns that are displayed on your wall, which is a start. 

16. Sanctuary 3 has a ‘lost loot’ machine that stores the guns you lose

Like Destiny’s postmaster, in Borderlands 3 Sanctuary 3 has a ‘lost loot’ machine, which stores all the guns you might have missed or forgotten to pick up in your adventures. Exceedingly useful. 

17. Tannis is your doctor in Sanctuary 3, not Dr Zed 

I have no idea where the masked Dr Zed is, but he’s not in Sanctuary 3. Instead the infirmary is being run by Dr Patricia Tannis, the eccentric and erratic genius. 

18. Vehicles are way, way more customisable 

Just like the new level of customisation for Vault Hunters, you can also tweak how your vehicles look. As well as changing its colour and weaponry, there’s also options to alter the material it’s made out of and its armor, plus on the Cyclone bike (a motorbike powered by one giant wheel) you can alter what the wheel itself looks like. 

19. You can steal enemy vehicles and take them to Ellie to scan into Catch-A-Ride

Gone are the days of envying foes’ vehicles, as in Borderlands 3 you can steal enemy cars, then take them to Ellie, who will scan them into Catch-A-Ride so you can use them yourself. After playing the demo there’s already a new Maliwan hovercar that you can steal for yourself, so expect plenty more vehicle options hidden elsewhere in the game. 

20. Zane can have two different abilities active at once 

The demo only gave me the option of playing as either Zane or Amara, but at the moment Zane is the only Vault Hunter who can use two Action Skills simultaneously. As well as creating a hologram that can shoot bullets as well as distract enemies (plus you can swap locations with it at the press of a button), Zane can also summon a robot sentinel that attacks nearby enemies. You’ll have to give up your grenades to have the sentinel active, but after trying it out it’s definitely worth it. 

21. At vending machines you can hit one button to instantly refill your ammo 

Sometimes we’re pressed for time and don’t have the spare seconds to go into vending machines, so now you can approach a machine and just press one button to instantly refill all your ammo. 

22. There’s a Fifth Element gun with tracking bullets

Gearbox’s presentation showed off a gun that feels like it’s been taken directly from The Fifth element, as it can fire bullets that track a tagged enemy. These bullets go around corners, other enemies, redirect if you’re just firing straight in the air - as long as there’s one person you want to kill, this gun is a godsend. 

23. There is offline play and no “free-to-play junk”

Confirmed by Randy Pitchford in the Borderlands 3 presentation, there will be offline play, so you don’t need to be permanently connected to the internet to enjoy Borderlands 3. Plus in the same breath Pitchford said there’s no in-game microtransactions (so it sounds like we can safely rely on Borderlands shift codes for cosmetics) or any free-to-play elements. He was being a little over-eager there because Gearbox confirmed to PC Gamer that Borderlands 3 will in fact have microtransactions, however they'll largely be for cosmetic items.

That’s the biggest things that have changed in Borderlands 3! If you’re after something to keep you busy until September 13, here’s the best open world games to play right now, or look below to see what’s going on this week in the world of games, TV, and movies!

Zoe Delahunty-Light

While here at GamesRadar, Zoe was a features writer and video presenter for us. She's since flown the coop and gone on to work at Eurogamer where she's a video producer, and also runs her own Twitch and YouTube channels. She specialises in huge open-world games, true crime, and lore deep-dives.