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The biggest changes coming to Borderlands 3

Two elements on one gun will be a reality

Ryan Gilliam (he/him) has worked at Polygon for nearly seven years. He primarily spends his time writing guides for massively popular games like Diablo 4 & Destiny 2.

Borderlands 3 is still a few months away, but players already have a good idea of the major changes coming to the game. In its gameplay reveal stream earlier this month, Gearbox showed off a few new features for players to try out in the series’ third entry.

Some changes are slightly altered takes on previous features in Borderlands, while others bring something completely new to the table.

1. Multiple active abilities per character

In Borderlands 3, every character has three different active abilities. Depending on the character, they may also have augments to those abilities or an element associated with them. The Action Skills are also available at level one, so players don’t need to plow through a group of quests first.

2. Slag is replaced with radiation

The Slag element from Borderlands 2 — which increased damage to affected targets — won’t be coming back in Borderlands 3. Instead, Randy Pitchford confirmed on Twitter that Radiation will be the new element type.

Update (May 16): After some inconsistent messaging, Gearbox clarified exactly how Radiation works in an email to Polygon.

If an enemy dies from Radiation, it will explode into an Area-of-Effect and any enemies in proximity have a chance to contract the Radiation Damage-Over-Time. Regardless, the explosion itself will still cause some radiation impact damage to nearby enemies.

The main use of Radiation damage is to deal with groups since an irradiated enemy emits the constant DoT cloud to damage other nearby enemies, triggers the AoE damage explosion on death, and potentially keep spreading the Radiation DoT. It is the only elemental DoT that naturally damages other nearby enemies (i.e. without the use of skills).

However, Radiation is not specifically effective versus any health type.

3. No Additional Vault Hunters Post Launch

When Borderlands 2 came out, players already knew the Mechromancer class was on the way. Borderlands 3 is moving in a different direction. The studio has said it currently has no plans for new Vault Hunters post-release.

4. Mantling and movement

At the gameplay reveal event, characters were climbing up boxes and buildings, as well as sliding around. These changes are significant upgrades to the movement system in the older Borderlands games and should help players navigate the environments better.

5. Space and other planetary travel

Borderlands 3 will finally see players leave Pandora’s orbit. Sanctuary 3 is a new spaceship that acts as the player’s hub location. It’s also an intergalactic ferry to new and exciting worlds. Players will spend time on multiple planets with their own, unique aesthetic.

6. A new voice for Claptrap

Previous Gearbox employee David Eddings originally voiced Claptrap — the beloved robot mascot of Borderlands. Eddings no longer works at the company, citing an incident where studio head Randy Pitchford physically assaulted him in a Marriott. Eddings was subsequently fired after informing Gearbox’s HR department. Eddings has made it clear on Twitter that he won’t be returning to the roll.

7. Guardian Ranks replace Badass Ranks

Borderlands 2 had a Badass Rank system, where players could earn points by completing challenges. After completing so many challenges, players could trade in points for an increase in stats. The Guardian Ranks in Borderlands 3 look more elaborate, and don’t open up until players have beaten the main story — making it more of an endgame pursuit.

8. Loot instancing and scaling

At its gameplay reveal event, Gearbox revealed Borderlands 3 new instanced loot and loot scaling. The idea is that players of all levels can join up and play together without ruining the experience. And with loot instancing, players can earn their own guns unique to them, instead of fighting their allies for a perfect role. For players who want to do things the old way, Borderlands 3 will offer a Classic Mode.

9. Player housing

On Sanctuary 3, players have their own quarters. They can decorate the walls with their favorite guns and pull them down any time. Based on the gameplay reveal stream, some of these personalizations will change depending on the player character.

10. An interactive environment (burning oil, kicking barrels, etc)

At the gameplay reveal event, Gearbox showed off the ability to interact with the environment. Players can electrocute water puddles or light oil on fire. Melee attacking a elemental barrel in the environment will send it flying in the targeted direction, making it easier to set up explosive elemental combinations.

11. Secondary fire toggles

Some weapons have alternative firing modes in Borderlands 3. The gameplay reveal event showed off a pistol that could shoot rockets, and explained that certain elemental weapons can change elements on the fly. Some guns have new effects too, like weapons that players can throw on the ground to make walking turrets.

12. Universal ground pound for all classes

The ground pound from Borderlands: The Presequel is a new default ability in Borderlands 3. Amara has a specific Action Skill that’s a powerful area smash attack, but the ground pound is universal for all players.

13. New enemy names

Borderlands is an older franchise, and many things haven’t aged well over 10 years. One of the problems is a common enemy type called “Midgets.” According to an interview from PCGamesN, Gearbox won’t move forward with the enemy name. Smaller versions of enemies in Borderlands 3 are now called “Tinks” instead — which isn’t a great alternative either. As Ali Jones from PCGamesN mentions, other problematic terms like “Psycho” still remain.