Battleborn has had an awfully hard time on the run up to its launch. What with having to contend with Overwatch for attention, thanks to its release coinciding with Overwatch‘s open beta, and most of the gaming audience seeing it as nothing more than a quick attempt to rival Overwatch, due to some of its surface similarities. However, that presumption held by most gamers laying their eyes upon the game and it’s promotional materials could not be any more wrong.
Battleborn is a very hard game to describe, thanks to it being an amalgamation of several genres. It definitely encompasses some traits also held by Overwatch, in that it is a first person shooter, has the player choose to play with a pre-made character and their weaponry and skills, and has a lot of focus on online play. However, it also encompasses traits that are similar to MOBAs, thanks to it’s PvE elements within multiplayer. So I personally like to refer to it as a “FPS MOBA-lite,” a horrible term for a formula that works very well!
The main allure to Battleborn is definitely its multiplayer. As of release, Battleborn has three multiplayer modes, namely: Incursion, Meltdown and Capture. Each of these have some elements of PvE and PvP. Incursion is the most akin to a MOBA, with the towers being sentries, giant robots who actively attack you and your robot creeps. This mode feels an awful lot like Smite‘s game modes, with the main sentries moving and attacking actively, similarly to Smite‘s equivalent of League of Legend‘s Nexus. The mode also has camps around the maps with A.I. enemies. Similar to Heroes of the Storm, clearing these camps have them act as mercenaries, helping you to push a lane of the map. The MOBA feel of this mode really does make it incredibly enjoyable.
Meltdown is somewhat similar to Smite‘s arena mode. You are to feed your minions to an incinerator for points, and to satisfy the incinerator, who will constantly shout about its hunger, feeling it is a kind of god. Whilst doing this, you need to balance pressure between the enemy team, who will be taking out your minions to prevent you from gaining points, and their minions, who you in turn will want to kill to prevent the increase of points. As a fan of Smite‘s arena mode, I also find myself enjoying this mode too.
Finally is Capture. This is the closest to your typical FPS game mode. It is functionally, at its very core, Domination from Call of Duty. This isn’t a bad thing, thanks to some twists across all game modes, which I will explain momentarily. All in all, this isn’t a bad mode either, since you also find yourself not constantly pressuring capture points, so that you can kill A.I. controlled mobs to gain shards, a currency used in missions and matches to activate your equipped items and build buildables.
The game also has a story mode. You’re forced into the prologue before you can do anything else, but this is not strictly bad. The mission itself is pretty fun, you play as a character named Mellka, giving you a preview of the character which you can unlock after completing the story, whilst receiving support from another unlockable character, Deande. However, this isn’t the real highlight of the prologue, but its animated opening, with a backing rap by Del the Funky Homosapien, well known for his guest appearances in early Gorillaz songs and his participation in Deltron 3030. This also opens up a problem I really hold with this story mode, and that these animated scenes are very rare. You get an opening sequence before each mission, giving you the vibe you’d expect from a cheesy 90’s cartoon, and there is an animated ending sequence, but these animated sequences still feel rare, which is very unfortunate. The story also feels like performing your standard FPS objectives, such as escorts, whilst blasting down hordes of enemies. Some of these encounters are interesting, original and fun, especially boss fights, which can take a classic World of Warcraft raid boss style.
Items are a very important part of your characters. Throughout the story mode, you can find items or loot packs, which can be opened to give you items. Every mode can also give you credits, which are used to buy loot packs (I also think it’s worth mentioning that, at the time of writing, you cannot buy loot packs with real money). Three of these items can be equipped to a loadout, but they do not give their statistical benefits until they are activated by paying shards in a match. Their activation costs differ depending on negative statistic effects, and their rarity (your standard common, uncommon, rare, epic and legendary system). Loot packs don’t only grant items though, some can provide skins for the Battleborn, which grants the system some kind of similarity to Overwatch‘s loot boxes.
Each map also has several buildables scattered throughout. These buildables can provide some means of defense, support and attack. These can be built using, again, shards. Because of this, you have to balance using your shards for personal buffs, or for using them to build defences, support utilities and attacking super minions. Not only that, but contributing to buildables can grant you XP for the match (treated similarly as you would expect in a MOBA). This balance is an important one to strike, since you’re not only trying to support yourself, but your team.
Levelling up is treated similarly to Heroes of the Storm. You get a choice of two to three mutations, similar to Heroes of the Storm‘s trait system, but there are also other levels outside of matches that you can gain XP for after completing story missions and multiplayer matches. The first of which is a character level. Each character can be levelled up to 15, each level unlocking new mutations, skins and taunts. You also have a command rank, which doesn’t really do much, other than unlocking new Battleborn, which you can also do through secondary challenges, and granting you more loadouts and pages to store your loot, these can also be unlocked earlier by paying for them with in-game credits (these loadouts and pages also cannot be bought with real money at the time of writing).
The characters are all very diverse, and each have their own ploy to them, along with lore that you can unlock by completing character specific missions. I don’t think I’ve had a problem with any of the characters I’ve seen yet. Some of my personal favourites include Orendi, an insane little witch with four shadowy arms that sling fireballs, Rath, a swordsman who has a focus on lifesteal, but claims to be “not a vampire,” Marquis, a posh voiced robot butler, who seems to have a few screws loose, as well as a cane that doubles as a sniper rifle, and pistol, and finally, Attikus, a bird man with a severely damaged wing, which has been replaced by a robot wing, and totes a rocket launcher.
These characters all seem to follow suit with the cast of Borderlands. All of the cast seem to have a quirky sense of humour, which I find can work at places, such as its humorous use by Rath, who looks incredibly edgy, which I didn’t expect from him at all, or can be jarring and a bit of a put-off, such as some subtle references to memes, some of which are incredibly outdated. A robot who thinks he is a spider lord, named Arachnis is constantly reminded that his name is Geoff, which feels to me like a reference to the meme that derived from the movie: 22 Jump Street, so much that it doesn’t feel like a coincidence.
The final issue that I have, and I can see many others having, are the aesthetics. The screen can get very, very busy. The levels are very colourful and beautiful, especially when some of them have beautifully hand animated skyboxes, using the same style as the opening animation. However, particle effects, and the intensity of the colours are very off-putting. I’m unsure if these can be changed on PC, but whilst playing on the PS4, I was able to mostly look past it and soldier on, and as you get more time with the game, you can also build the focus to do as such too. However, for some, this may be an obstacle that’s too hard to get over.
So, overall, Battleborn is an extremely satisfying multiplayer experience, with a story mode that consists of mindless shoot-’em-up padding that leads up to some incredibly interesting and fun phased boss fights, tied together with a cast of memorable characters and that Gearbox sense of humour that so many love from Borderlands. Whilst many will not give this a second look in favour of Overwatch, I believe it is worth a check thanks to it’s actually drastic differences.
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