Battleborn is the latest game to come out of Gearbox Studios, the creators of the Borderlands series.
The mere mention of Borderlands could already be enough to sell Battleborn to a lot of fans of the series that don’t really know what it is because it wears those roots on its brightly coloured sleeves. The environments are pretty, utilising a stylised, almost cartoonish visual style that wouldn’t feel out of place on Pandora. The characters look wacky, which is good because so are their personalities. Varying from tall elven rangers to particularly ‘bro’ soldiers to rogue AI’s given physical form. There is a lot of variety here, each with their own special skills, attacks and quirks, everyone is sure to find a favourite. The game is also filled with comedy, a very goofy style of comedy straight out of Borderlands or something like Adventure Time or The Regular Show.
I’m not sure if I like it.
There may be a story in Battleborn, but don’t expect any open-world, loot-raiding, quest-completing action. This is purely a “select mission from menu, load up mission, fail or succeed, be returned to menu” sort of game. This may come as a surprise or even as a disappointment for those expecting more of the sort of action seen in the Handsome Jack collection. Objective-based multiplayer is the dish of the day with this title, and it is clearly where the developers want you to spend the most time.
The action of the game itself is a cross between a first-person shooter (which would be familiar to fans of Gearbox’s previous efforts) and a MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) such as DOTA 2 or League of Legends. If you’ve played Smite you should already have a rough idea of what to expect. Like Smite, you don’t earn permanent level ups, at least not in the way that you can carry over between matches. You can raise your profile level by completing challenges in matches and gaining experience, but any character traits that you improved whether they be your health pool, attack strength or whatever are all reset to the base stats when you start a new match. This gives players the opportunity to mix-up their tactics every match, choosing different power-ups when a new level is reached or even just choosing a new character without risking being a lower level then the guy who spent 200 hours levelling up his main. Everyone starts every match on the same level, the lowest one.
Special skills are earned as you level up mid-match which automatically allocate themselves to a button on your controller, each with a cooldown associated with it so you can’t just spam the awesome attacks. This may feel confining to those that are new to this sort of thing, but eventually you learn not to use your ultimate attack the moment it cools down, employing a larger sense of awareness of the battle and being more tactful with your shots.
Either that, or you’ll just end up get killed a bunch.
Another piece of design this title shares with MOBAs is the inclusion of mobs, or minions. Small, low-level, AI controlled fodder that spawn periodically from the two opposing teams bases. They’re not particularly strong but if you get caught in the middle of a bunch of them alongside a player- controlled character or two you’re as good as dead. It discourages people from lone-wolfing it and pushing forward into enemy territory without help, or a plan. Teamwork is the key to success here, or at the very least sticking together. Strength in numbers and all that.
Whilst I’m told there will be multiple multiplayer modes upon the games full release, the two I have sampled are Meltdown and Incursion.
Meltdown is the more interesting of the two. You and your teammates must defend your periodically spawning minions as they march forever onward into enemy territory, delve deep enough and eventually you’ll come up to large, mouth-shaped grinders, which they will happily jump into to destroy the opposing forces machines and ultimately win the match. The only problem is that the other team is trying to do exactly the same to you, causing teams to split up, some keeping the offensive with a couple re-directing themselves to another side of the map to repel an enemy wave. This is a great mode to play with a group of friends or even well-meaning strangers with headsets.
Incursion is a little more standard, two opposing teams are both trying to fight toward and destroy the other’s base, with the ability to set up turrets and hire some tough AI muscle. This mode often contains 30 minutes of stalemate in the centre of the arena where the two teams constantly converge and blast each other until the survivors are eventually taken out by recently re-spawned players before they can do any real damage to the base’s main super-turret defence. Every match I played here either ended in a draw or was determined by damage taken to the base. A flat-out defeat never occurred.
Whilst that is an issue it is one that could easily be fixed in balance changes between now and when the game eventually launches in early May.
Beyond little problems like that however, Battleborn feels like a very solid game. It may not be to my tastes when the full package is eventually on shelves but anyone with a group of friends looking for that next competitive online game to play together should definitely consider this.