Proving Grounds is going to keep you playing Borderlands 3 hours after the campaign

Something Gearbox really want you to do is stick with Borderlands 3 even after the credits roll.

As you know, returning Horde mode favourite, Circle of Slaughter is back for more, casting you into an environment where you take on legions of foes.

And we know the game has multiple DLC packs coming, thousands of gun types and a ton of side missions. You’re definitely going to be kept busy.

But as cool as all that is, it’s Proving Grounds that has me most interested in Borderlands end game content.

I spent about half hour at Gamescom with the newly announced mode, a sort of run the gauntlet, multi-arena based challenge where you have to defeat every enemy to move on.

At the end of it, you’ll take on a boss character who’s hard as nails. Defeat it, though, and you’ll be richly rewarded.

It all sounds simple enough, but the catch is that you’re on a timer of thirty minutes and the quicker you beat the challenge, the better rewards you get.

Going a bit further, if you manage to beat the Proving Ground without dying, or killing a certain enemy before it escapes, you can also get other new and interesting things.

This is all gathered in a big loot chest right at the end of the gauntlet, though you can open various other chests along the way to refill ammo and pick up different weapons.

It all sounds quite familiar, admittedly, but it’s structured in such a way that it managed to feel quite fresh, even if a little overwhelming at first.

Gearbox explained to us that Proving Grounds are scattered around the in-game map – so can be played during your main playthrough – as portals highlighted by Eridian alien script markers.

Once you jump in, you’ll have to confirm with the guarding Master that you’re ready for the challenge and then the timer begins.

Proving Grounds are split up into three arenas before you reach the boss section. Each arena features increasingly more difficult foes that also manage to increase in number. And they are aggressive. Like, I’d barely started the challenge and I had spider creatures throwing projectile vomit at me and leaping over my head to attack from behind.

This is proper, end-game standard stuff and seems reflected in its difficulty.

Proving Grounds can be played co-op, of course, 2 player splitscreen and four player online. And that’s probably where the game will be at its best, because in solo I was getting trounced. To the point where I had about a minute to spare before I opened the chest and completed my run. Proper touch and go stuff.

Because of the short time I had, obviously I could max out my skill tree and had access to some awesome weaponry tailored to the experience, but dependent on your playthrough and what weapons and armor you have, your performance in these gauntlets will obviously vary.

It all plays as you’d expect, typical run and gun Borderlands gameplay, making good use of your special moves, lobbing grenades. But the difference for me is just how slick Borderlands 3 feels.

The user interface seems much more polished now, everything that’s on the screen has its role and place, and the weapons really are varied, in that you’ll have to mix between fire, electric, and water guns, using them on the correct foe, otherwise they’ll be ineffective.

Even down to the sound effects which really suit the action on the screen and the feel of movement which strikes a nice balance between weighted tank and astronaut floating on the moon. Which is also tied to the individuality of the characters.

Because of the limited time, I only got to try Moze and Amara, but both definitely felt different in their approach, with Moze’s long-range power and Amara’s excellent crowd control.

Speaking of, I am in love with one of Amara the Siren’s special moves – the Phasegrasp – which summons a giant hand out of the ground and holds an enemy in place. Genuinely super cool that still felt satisfying after the first ten times of doing it.

Assigning my skill points gave me decent pause for thought a few times as each character has three talent trees and each one has something unique and different to offer, massively influencing your playstyle.

Did I favour Zane’s increased gun damage while moving, over increased Action Skill Duration, and which action skill was most effective in this battle? Was increased magazine size the most appropriate thing in this situation, or should I go all in on DPS?

I decided to max out the Hitman tree in the end – using an automated drone to attack with machine guns – but there’s certainly plenty to think about.

As you can probably tell, I actually hated having to rush through the talent tree and quickly spend Skill Points as that’s one of the parts of Borderlands I love the most. There is a ton of customisation and options there.

On the whole, though, I’m happy. Borderlands 3 is exactly what I expected, and somehow a bit more than what I hoped. I haven’t touched the single player campaign yet, so I can’t speak for that, but as side content goes, there seems like a lot to enjoy here. More than before.

Proving Grounds feels like a very worthy, sensible addition, a mode I would want to play in this universe in addition to the central campaign. And the positive is that I can definitely see it adding a whole new dimension to teamwork.

This is a series that’s been guilty of not really penalising lone wolf action despite being in a team-based unit, and while I’m sure some of that still translates, you can’t really do that in Proving Grounds if you’re in co-op. You will have to work together to beat the timer, especially since spawns and difficulty increase.

I still find it hard to believe Borderlands 3 is just around the corner, but the good news is that after this quick run of the gauntlet, I’m more hyped than I was before. I feel satisfied that I have a game with hours worth of entertainment to enjoy and can’t wait to explore further.

From the little slice of gameplay I’ve tried, Borderlands 3 feels like Borderlands at its absolute best.