This page will explain the mechanics of elemental damage, both the basics for newer players and some number-crunching details for everyone who wants to know them.
To avoid confusion, in this post I will use the terms:
- Impact: damage dealt by the projectile on hit
- DOT: Damage over time/status effects is the separate effect of burning etc. that continually damages an enemy over a few seconds.
The Basics / Damage Multipliers
In Borderlands 3, every attack or damage source is either Physical (sometimes also called Kinetic — the most common “non-elemental” damage source) or one of 5 elements: Incendiary/Fire, Shock, Corrosive, Radiation, Cryo.
Each does different damage to different enemy types that can be identified by the color of their hit point bars, and in TVHM most of these effects are increased.
Note that Mayhem modes use the TVHM multipliers, no matter if you play Mayhem in normal or TVHM. (I believe there is actually no such thing as “normal Mayhem mode” — Mayhem is generally TVHM + Mayhem modifiers, even if you start it in normal mode.)
So for example, if your Kinetic weapon does 1000 damage to flesh, it does 1000 × 80% = 800 damage to armour.
The item card of an elemental weapon states the base damage (100%) _before_ it is multiplied. For example, the damage numbers on the card of a Fire weapon don’t state the damage they deal to flesh enemies — multiply them by 150% (normal) or 175% (TVHM/Mayhem) and you know what they will do to flesh enemies. A fire weapon with 1000 gun damage will deal 1500 damage to flesh targets on normal and 1750 on TVHM.
Some enemies are resistant to certain types of elements, e.g. Firebrands (those burning Psychos) will take drastically reduced damage from fire weapons even though they’re flesh enemies, and those shock Maliwan Heavies will take little damage from shock. Resistant enemies are immune to DOT from the respective element.
Fire, Shock, Corrosive and Radiation have a chance to trigger DOT, with both DOT chance and DOT damage stated on the card. Maliwan weapons and alien-barrel weapons tend to have higher DOT stats.
Radiation has a few additional effects:
- Irradiated enemies (= suffering from Radiation DOT) damage nearby enemies.
- When an irradiated enemy dies, they explode, dealing Radiation damage to nearby enemies, with a chance to trigger Radiation DOT on them too.
Cryo does not have DOT damage. Instead, it slows down an enemy on hit, the slowing effect increasing if you hit them more. Eventually, it may freeze the enemy solid for about 5 seconds. In Borderlands 3, a frozen enemy will take 300% damage from melee strikes.
More details on Radiation and Cryo are in the dedicated sections.
Elemental damage increase from class mods, skills, etc. affects both Impact and DOT.
Base gun damage:
Independent from elemental multipliers, a gun’s base damage (the gun damage stated on the card) is reduced on elemental weapons — for example, if a kinetic weapon has 1000 base gun damage, a shock version that has the same parts otherwise will have 800. This is not mentioned in the description of the gun part that converts it to elemental. You don’t really have to worry about this because this is already accounted for in the gun damage number stated on the card, but still it’s worth mentioning that the elemental gun part decreases gun damage.
The modifiers are:
- Fire, Shock, Corrosive: -20%
- Radiation: -25%
- Cryo: -15%
Status Effects / DOT
DOT chance and effect are stated on the item card. The game applies it by 3 “ticks” per second, so if a gun does 900 damage/s, the game divides it by 3 and deals 300 damage every 1/3 second. Actually, it does a little more because it randomly modifies the damage of each tick by up to +5% or so, so you’ll see some variation in the numbers popping up.
An enemy can suffer from several DOT effects of _different elements_ at the same time, but not from several of the _same element_ at the same time. Whenever several DOTs of the same element are applied to an enemy, it seems that the game always uses the one with the highest damage. They do not stack.
EDIT: actually they do stack if they’re from different sources: e.g. if burning is caused by a gun and a grenade, they deal fire DOT independent of each other. But if it’s from the same source, e.g. a fire gun with fire Infusion and Forceful Expression, they do not. Duration:
- Fire: 5 seconds / 15 ticks
- Shock: 3 seconds / 9 ticks
- Corrosive: 7 seconds / 21 ticks
- Radiation: 8 seconds / 24 ticks
It seems that the DOT chance stated on the card applies to every pellet, so the more pellets hit, the higher the chance to trigger DOT. However, they do not increase DOT _damage_. No matter how many pellets hit the enemy: if DOT is triggered, the actual DOT damage of one shotgun shot will always be that stated on the card.
An irradiated enemy has an invisible Radiation Aura around them, with a radius of roughly 2 metres/6-8 feet, that damages nearby enemies. It will _not_ irradiate other enemies, just do damage to them as long as they’re close. Damage dealt by the aura is roughly the same as the DOT the irradiated enemy is suffering — however, with an item that increases Aura Damage, it can be even higher than that.
If an irradiated enemy dies, they explode, the damage being 3 × damage per second: >RadiationExplosionDMG = 3 × DamagePerSecond
Unlike the Aura, this explosion has a chance to irradiate enemies hit. In this case, the DOT is multiplied by 3/8: >SecondaryRadiationDOT = OriginalRadiationDOT × 0.375
The same formulas apply to their explosion then, and to the enemies hit by that etc.
If an enemy is frozen, they take 300% damage from melee strikes. Unlike in TPS, they do not take increased damage from critical hits. Also no increased damage from any elements or splash damage or anything else I’ve tested. Only melee.
To freeze an enemy you’ll have to continually hit them while they’re still suffering from cryo slowdown. After a few seconds of not being hit, the slowdown disappears, and the progress toward freezing seems to be lost too.
The game states that “at 100% cryo efficiency, enemies freeze at 20% health” — this works against pure flesh enemies with no shields, and only if the enemy didn’t recover from the slowdown because you took too long to hit them again with your cryo weapon.
The way this SEEMS to work is that at 100% Cryo Efficiency, you’ll need to inflict 80% of the enemy’s health on them to freeze them — e.g. if they have 1000 health, 800 damage to them freezes them. It SEEMS that at 200% Efficiency, you’ll need to inflict 40% of their health, so 400 damage in this case. The formula I have in mind is this (again, it SEEMS to work, no guarantee): >DamageNeededForFreeze = EnemyHealth × 80% × 1 / CryoEfficiency
Where EnemyHealth is only their actual health, without shields. What counts is damage taken overall, not damage taken to the health bar, so with high cryo efficiency an enemy may freeze while their shield is still up.
I used this formula in different situations and it seemed to work. When it predicted an enemy would freeze at roughly 30% health, they did. When it predicted it wouldn’t freeze at all, or would freeze at shield break, or at 50% shields, they did. I believe this is how it works, but again no guarantee.
It meant that with a 76% cryo efficiency weapon, a pure flesh enemy wouldn’t freeze at all because they’d need to take more damage than they have hit points.
It appears that a cryo efficiency bonus e.g. from an artifact is simply added to the weapon’s one. So if the weapon has 126% and the artifact has +50%, it’s 176%.
One Shot Damaging Two Bars
If you hit an enemy in such a way that one shot reduces two different bars (most commonly, reducing shield to 0 and then damaging flesh), the respective portions of the damage will be affected by the respective multipliers:
Let’s say you’re in normal mode and the enemy has 400 health (flesh) and 200 shield, and you’ve got a 500 dmg shock weapon.
Shock vs. shield is 200%, so 100 dmg from your shot will be taken away to remove 200 shield. That leaves 400 gun dmg for the flesh part. Shock vs. flesh is 80%, so the shot deals another 320 dmg to the flesh part, leaving the enemy with 80 health. “520” will pop up.
If the weapon does fire damage instead, 286 of the damage will be consumed to remove the shield (286 × 70% = 200), and the remaining 214 damage will deal 214 × 150% = 321 damage to the flesh part, leaving the enemy with 79 health. “521” will pop up.
So what if you use a much stronger weapon that will easily kill the enemy? All damage dealt beyond the enemy’s death will be multiplied by the last multiplier used (in this case, fire vs. flesh = 150% or shock vs. flesh = 80%). Why care? Well if you’ve got Overkill, this actually does matter because all excess damage is added to the next shot, and it makes quite a difference if the remaining gun damage is multiplied by 80% or by 150%. The same example but the gun does 1000 damage:
- Shock: 100 dmg used for the shield (100 × 200% = 200), 500 used for health (500 × 80% = 400), 400 gun damage left. 400 × 80% = 320 excess damage. “920” will pop up.
- Fire: 286 dmg used for the shield (286 × 70% = 200), 267 used for health (267 × 150% = 400), 447 gun damage left. 447 × 150% = 671 excess damage. “1271” will pop up.
Even more gun damage/Overkill damage will further increase the difference, as will the jump to TVHM.
I have only tested this with flesh+shield enemies, but I assume it works the same for any combination. Please object if you’ve found something else.
Interactions with Other Mechanics
Crits multiply the entire Impact Damage, so if regular damage is multiplied by x150%, crit damage will be x150% too. However, crits do not increase DOT.
The Overkill Guardian reward adds excess damage from the last kill to the next shot. The elemental multiplier is applied to all damage, so excess damage is e.g. multiplied by 150% along with gun damage.
Overkill also affects DOT: If Impact damage of the Overkill shot is 3x that of a regular hit, DOT is multiplied by 3x too.
Damage-multiplying Maliwan weapons
Melter and Proton Rifle can be charged up for up to 2x damage. This affects _all_ damage dealt, including elemental damage and DOT. The Antimatter Rifle does an instant 2x damage like a fully charged Proton Rifle, again to both Impact and DOT.
Applies both Impact and DOT to enemies hit. However, an enemy only hit by splash damage (not the projectile itself) receives no DOT bonuses from Overkill or a charged Proton Rifle/Melter. It’s always the base DOT instead.
Only a small selection of Amara’s skills so far here that I’ve really tested. There may be more in the future but no promises. iirc Moze’s incendiary bonuses do just what they suggest.
+4% elemental DOT, +8% action skill element DOT and +20% DOT duration per rank. This means that Radiation lasts _16 seconds_ on 5/5. What it doesn’t tell you: if your action skill element is on shock (default), it increases shock DOT duration _again_ by +8% per rank: with 5/5, it’s 3 seconds × (1 + 5 × 20%) × (1 + 5 × 8%) = 8.4 seconds. This only works with shock.
Increases elemental damage by +6% and shock damage by an additional +2% per rank. The description says shock is an additional +4%, but it’s actually +2% — so with 5/5, you get +40% shock damage, not +50% as the description suggests.
Ties That Bind
Damage dealt to linked enemies is multiplied by the elemental modifier of Amara’s action skill element, so it’s important to choose your action skill element wisely. If you’re up against flesh enemies in TVHM, damage to linked enemies is 35% × 65% = 22.75% on shock and 35% × 175% = 61.25% on fire. _With some modifiers, this can deal more damage to linked enemies than to the enemy hit:_ for example, TVHM, shock against shielded enemies, 5/5 in Tempest: 35% × 250% × 140% = 122.5%.
When triggered, converts melee damage to action skill element. There’s a little glitch(?): Blitz doesn’t change element after selecting a new element in the menu, only after first using the action skill with the new element. If you pick Soulfire in the menu but your tattoos are still blue, Blitz is still on “blue” too. Use your action skill once and your tattoos become red, and now Blitz will be fire.
Amara can increase cryo efficiency considerably with Violent Tapestry. Maxing out Tapestry and Awakening in combination with Avatar and Phasezerker can increase cryo efficiency to pretty extreme levels. It seems to be multiplicative with the gun’s efficiency, not additive, but I find it difficult to test as all I’ve tried is within the margin of error.
Note that Anima and Tempest do not increase cryo efficiency. Tempest increases your cryo performance simply because it increases damage of cryo weapons, not because of an increase in cryo _efficiency_. Anima however does not affect cryo at all.