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Borderlands 3: The total new player’s guide to getting started and picking your first character

Trust us, you’ll thank us later.

borderlands 3 box art
Image: Gearbox

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Borderlands 3 is a brand new first-person shooter from Gearbox Software coming out September 13th. It’s a huge game about shooting things, getting better guns, shooting more things with those better guns, and so on.

There’s a lot to cover, so I’m going to do my best to summarize so you can go from knowing nothing about this game to being ready to go on Day One. But before we dive in, why don’t you check out the cinematic launch trailer first?

Ready to get started? Alright, let’s get to it.

First off, there are four playable characters to choose from

There are dozens of characters in Borderlands 3, but only four you can play as. The very first thing you’ll do is pick a character. The characters in Borderlands 3 are:

  1. Amara the Siren: Sirens are extremely rare, ludicrously powerful masters of the elements who pretty much battle mages. If you like setting stuff on fire, melting things with acid, electrocuting enemies, and just all-around causing spectacular chaos, Amara is the character for you.
  2. Zane the Operative: Zane is a trickster. He can create an energy clone of himself, conjure an energy barrier, and summon a weaponized drone to help in battle. He also gets two active abilities, each of which getting two mods (more on that shortly). If you like a technical utility, Zane’s your guy.
  3. FL4K the Beastmaster: FL4K is the nonbinary robot with a menagerie of pets, including a Spiderant, a Skag, and a Jabber. Pick a pet – Which also gives you extra abilities – and work together to beat up enemies. If you want animal companions, they’ve got what you need. Yes, their name is in all caps, I know, it is what it is.
  4. Moze the Gunner: So, uh, Moze gets a giant mech called Iron Bear. I don’t know how that’s fair at all, but she literally summons and climbs into a giant robot and wreaks havoc. If you’re a D.Va main in Overwatch, there’s a 100% chance you’re starting with Moze in Borderlands 3.

Image: Gearbox Software

Secondly, every character has basic actions and three different skill trees

In Borderlands 3, there are some basic actions that everyone can do, then there are skill trees that you can invest in as you play the game and level up over time. The basic actions are pretty straightforward:

  • Shoot your gun: Honestly, this is a guide for beginners, but if you don’t know what shooting your gun is this might not be the game for you. Shooting your gun is the most fundamental way to deal damage and you can have four guns equipped at a time, swapping between them at will during combat.
  • Throw grenades: You can throw a limited number of grenades and you get one grenade mod that makes them do cool stuff. Want grenades that bounce? Done. Grenades that pull enemies into a vortex? Gotcha covered. Grenades that coat enemies in radioactive goo, making them explode when they die? We’ve got that too.
borderlands 3 skill tree

Image: Borderlands

  • Punch stuff: When enemies get too close (or when you choose to get close), you can punch enemies for a melee attack. This is usually less effective than guns or grenades, but some characters get skills that make melee attacks dramatically better.
  • Use your action skill: “Action skill” is a pretty broad term, but every character can equip at least one action skill (Zane gets two). These can do tons of different things, from shooting different guns on Moze’s mech to launching various energy attacks as Amara. Action skills are the main thing that separates one character from another.

So what do skill trees do?

Every time you level up in Borderlands 3 (by getting experience from killing enemies and completing missions), you get a skill point, up to 48 in total. You can apply skill points to your skill trees and each character has three, each tree specializing in something different.

For example, Amara’s Mystical Assault tree specializes in using her active skill more often and making it more powerful, while Moze’s Demolition Woman tree focuses on dealing splash damage and boosting the frequency and effectiveness of your grenades.

zane borderlands 3 skill tree

Image: Screenshot / KnowTechie

For every five points invested in a skill tree, you can invest points in the next tier of that tree, similar to World of Warcraft talent trees. This forces you to think carefully about what to unlock and in what order, because not every combination you want to try will be available to you.

Skill trees are also different from previous Borderlands titles because each tier unlocks passives, variations for that tree’s active skill, and active skill augments that passively modify any active skill for that character. I know that sounds confusing, so here’s an example:

  1. I pick Amara because she’s obviously the coolest. Her skill trees are Mystical Assault, Fist of the Elements, and Brawl.
  2. I start by investing in Mystical Assault. The first active skill associated with that tree is Phasecast, which launches an astral projection at enemies. Badass.
  3. After putting five points in skills within the Mystical Assault tree, I unlock tier 2 skills. No matter what skills I get, this also unlocks Soul Sap, my first augment, for free. I can equip Soul Sap as an augment to Phasecast, so now Phasecast steals health when it deals damage. Nice.
  4. Later I decided to put some points into the Fist of the Elements tree, which unlocks Phasegrab, a different active skill. Now I can freely equip either skill any time I want, but I can only have on equipped at a time. I can also use my augment, Soul Sap, on either skill.
  5. As I unlock more active skills and more augments, I can mix and match from any tree however I want.

Skill trees aren’t just about active skills and augments, either! There are lots of passive abilities that apply no matter what (like increased gun damage, faster movement speed, and more grenades) and some are super interesting (like replacing your melee with a long-distance dash or making status effects apply other status effects, just to name a few of Amara’s), so a large part of the game is mixing and matching the skills you want to try.

Your exact choice of skills is called a build and that’s what we’ll get into next time.

What else do I need to know?

borderlands 3 gearbox

Image: Gearbox

There’s a huge hodgepodge and we can’t get into everything here, but here are some quick bullet-point basics, all of which can be affected by character skills and the exact build you decide to work towards:

  • You have health and shields. When you get hit by enemy damage, you lose shields until they break, then you lose health. Shields regenerate after not taking damage for a certain charge delay, based on your character and which shield you have equipped. Health does not regenerate by default but can be replenished with pickups from defeated enemies and treasure chests.
  • If you lose all of your health, you enter Fight For Your Life for a few seconds, where you crawl around on the ground still able to move very, very slowly while shooting at things. If you kill an enemy in this state, you get a Second Wind and get back on your feet with some health and shields restored.
  • Guns have a magazine size for how many bullets they hold at once, a swap time on how long it takes to switch to that gun, and a reload speed for how long it takes to fill the magazine back up.
  • Your movement speed is how fast you walk or sprint.
  • Some guns and abilities apply status effects, which include Cryo, Burn, Corrosion, Shock, and Radiation.
  • Some abilities deal elemental damage, which comes in the same flavors as status effects.

Borderlands 3 is now available for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.

If you’re looking to dive in deeper, we have individual guides on each character in Borderlands 3 and how to get the most out of them:

If you have any questions, feel free to sound off in the comments. Have any other suggestions you want to share? Let us know down below in the comments or carry the discussion over to our Twitter or Facebook.

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Jake is a writer and game designer in the suburbs of Philadelphia. He loves action, exploration, building, filling bars, and turning numbers into bigger numbers. Someday he'll release a video game.

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