Borderlands 3 is a loot-driven first-person shooter. Players, either playing alone or in parties up to four people, make a character from one of four classes available, and take on various missions given out by non-playable characters (NPCs) and at bounty boards to gain experience, in-game monetary rewards, and reward items. Players can also gain these items by defeating enemies throughout the game. As the player gains level, they gain skills points to allocate across a skill tree. The game introduces four new playable characters: Amara, a "Siren" who summons ethereal fists; Moze, a young "Gunner" who rides the mecha Iron Bear; Zane, an "Operative" with a variety of gadgets; and FL4K, a robot "Beastmaster" who summons creatures to aid in fights. Unlike previous Borderlands games where each character had only one unique skill that operates on a cooldown, each character in the new game can unlock three unique skills, though only one (or in Zane's case, two) can be equipped at a time, greatly expanding the number of potential character builds a player can make.
Borderlands 3 shares the same core loop with previous games around taking on missions, defeating enemies, and obtaining loot from fallen foes or special chests, most often in the form of procedurally generated weapons to vary in damage, range, ammo capacity, and other special perks, giving the game "over one billion guns". Perks can include elemental effects, such as damaging the foes with fire, ice, or electricity, or may possess alternative firing behavior, among other visual differences. In Borderlands 2, some weapons had "slag" elemental, which coated the enemy for a short period and made them extremely vulnerable to a subsequent elemental attack from a different element. Slag weapons have been replaced with radiation; the coating and subsequent vulnerability remains the same as slag, but radiation damage will also hurt enemies over time on its own and can potentially spread to other enemies. The in-game manufacture of the guns also plays a larger role in the type of perks a weapon can have. Tediore guns can be thrown when empty and create additional effects, while Hyperion can have shields that absorb damage and use that for other purposes such as healing. Other randomly-generated items include class modifiers, grenade modifiers, and shield kits. When playing with others, Borderlands 3's loot can be generated on a per-server basis, meaning that players must split the loot, but new to the series, players can also have loot generated on a per-player basis so that each player gains the same loot, scaled for their character level. This option also exists for the enemies seen in game; by default enemies only scale with the player-character's level that is operating the server, but when enabled, each player sees enemies that match their individual levels.
Besides character skills and weapons, player-characters have new combat maneuvers and abilities, such as crouch-sliding influenced by the mechanic in Titanfall and Apex Legends, and wall-mounting to climb up over short heights. Players can take cover behind short barriers which can be destroyed after continued weapon onslaught.
While the game starts on the planet Pandora, the player early on gains access to a spacecraft, Sanctuary III, which serves as a central hub between missions, and is used to set destinations for new planets where possible Vaults have been identified. While aboard Sanctuary III, players can manage their inventory, recover guns they had left on the field, purchase new guns and upgrades, and take on optional missions. Borderlands 3 will have integration with Twitch streams; viewers will be able to explore the streamer's inventory and skill tree, and special chests in game will offer the opportunity for viewers to receive the same gun/item that the stream finds via way of a Shift Code they can enter into their own game, scaled appropriately for their character's level.
Gearbox creative director Paul Sage estimated that players will spend about 35 hours through the main quest line along with some side missions. True Vault Hunter Mode, a type of New Game Plus, allows players to replay the campaign after finishing it with their leveled-up character, fighting more difficult enemies for a chance of better loot. The Badass Rank system from Borderlands 2 will be replaced with a Guardian Rank system, which, by finishing smaller challenges throughout the game, allows players to gain buffs that persist across all their characters. Borderlands 3 will include new post-game challenges. "Circles of Slaughter" found on various planets have players attempt to fight through difficult waves of enemies for higher quality of loot. While downed players can be revived by teammates, if all player-characters die, the match is over and any potential rewards are lost. "Proving Grounds" are a type of raid that must be first discovered by finding hidden markings across the game's worlds. Once discovered, players attempt to defeat all enemies across three areas within 30 minutes to complete the challenge and earn their rewards. A further "Mayhem Mode" randomizes several of the game's campaign elements to further increase the challenge to the player.
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