Developer: Gearbox Software
Publisher: 2K Games
Release Date: May 3, 2016
Platform: PC via Steam
Disclaimer: The following review was conducted on PC via Steam. The game was purchased for this review.
Battleborn has attempted to combine two titanic genres: Multiplayer Online Battle Arena games (MOBA) and first-person shooters (FPS). This formula isn’t a new one by any means. It also happens to be releasing in the same time frame as another gigantic title in a seemingly similar genre in particular. Many would argue that this was due to its poor marketing strategy, but that doesn’t always dictate the future success of a game. That game being Overwatch, and the hype train is chugging right along with it. It still begs the question: Can Battleborn stand up to its competition?
Battleborn was developed by Gearbox Software, the team who has most notably created the Borderlands series. That alone will most likely pique the interest of some people due to the development team creating an almost cult-like following behind them. It seems you either end up loving or hating the games from their camp, without having much room for middle. And, with that being said, there are noticeable similarities in what you will play with Gearbox Software’s latest release.
Borrowed from the Borderlands
The reason most fans may find comfort in games developed by a particular studio can simply be found in the way the game plays. In the case of Battleborn, it feels almost like it has been stripped out of Borderlands and given a bit of a modern touch. There is a single player side, but sticking to the Borderlands formula, you are going to get the best experience from the game in the multiplayer co-op mode.
Similar to the role-playing elements found in the Borderlands series of games, there is a lot of emphasis on numbered indications of the hits taken on an enemy. Shooting enemies will radiate damage counts around their heads; each character has a shield which is also recharged when not in combat that will let you soak up a bit of damage before you start to turn into a bullet sponge. Every character within the game has their own set of attributes, which is something different about Battleborn’s formula for its multiplayer format.
At this time, Battleborn currently has 25 playable characters. As your journey starts, you have seven characters accessible for the fights that lay ahead. You level up each character within a multiplayer game. Increasing stats will grant you a talent point to spend in the Helix (the game’s talent and skill upgrade system). These talents will upgrade your characters’ main abilities, along with passive skills, such as movement speed increases.
Even though there are two different legs to the talent tree that focus on two different perspectives of a character, you can blend what would be considered offensive and defensive attributes in response to how the match is going. This is important because each unique character has a talent: a secondary attack, a regular passive ability and an ultimate attack, offering variety on the fly. Instead of pausing the game to open up your Helix menu you simply hold down your bounded key and make your selection.
It still begs the question: Can Battleborn stand up to its competition?
The system is based around speed and ease of use. If you level up in the middle of a fight, you are still able to quickly assign your talent points into a skill to help. Along with the styles of benefits above, you can also get different talents which increase the height and distance of your character’s jump, whilst others can reduce the cool down on some abilities. Each character’s Helix tree has their own distinctive feeling to them. The system can be compared to the likes of Heroes of the Store in a way in that your don’t level up your characters individually, you only level them up in the matches themselves. You level up your overall account behind the scenes.
Battleborn continues its focus on uniqueness and variety in the many ways you can unlock characters. The longest way is by leveling up your command rank, which is your overall account level. Completing multiplayer matches and story mode missions will grant you experience points that you can use to purchase new heroes as well. Additionally, you can complete certain challenges, ranging from the seemingly unobtainable to the mind-numbingly simple like, “Kill 50 enemy players”. These challenges do require you to be a certain level, though.
Out of the handful of characters I have played thus far, all are different enough to deliver a sense of roles that each character fills. Unfortunately, you will still run into one issue that tends to plague games in the genre, which comes in the form of having a limited number of healers. This means the team without the healer usually ends up just being trampled on. Battleborn does well to include all of the usual roles: DPS, ranged, support, tanks and melee classes. Whatever flavor you are in the mood for playing, there is a character for that.
Multiplayer with multi-layers
The multiplayer versus battles are where players will more than likely find a lot of their time being spent. You will no doubt find familiarity with most of the MOBA-style game modes included. In Battleborn they come in the form of Incursion, where you must destroy two of the enemies’ main sentry bots in their base, Meltdown, where you have to escort your creeps to a pit of doom where, oddly enough, it gives you points, and Capture, a domination style match. You can’t really go wrong with these game modes because they are pretty much set in stone as being core gameplay elements for this genre.
At the moment, the community mood in-game is pleasant, not resembling the, let’s call it colorful, nature that other MOBA communities tend to develop.
If you spend all of your time in the multiplayer arena, you will find yourself getting a bit left behind in terms of your character’s progression. Yes, you will be levelling up your commander rank quicker, but by taking part in the single-player missions (or co-op); you are able to acquire extra character gear. The majority of all gear drops come with some sort of passive improvement, such as additional healing amounts received, where as some items will also come with an activated ability, which costs a certain amount of in-game currency to use. Personally, I found the passive abilities to be more of a bonus because you will often find yourself needing to spend your currency on other thing, such as repairing turrets or building new defenses.
The story continues…
There are only eight missions in the story mode, so it is on the short side, but you do get a substantial amount of cut-scenes and dialogue between characters, fleshing them out a bit more. I found the story mode to akin to the Call of Duty ones. If people are expecting a long story like Borderlands 2 then they will be disappointed. You can still expect a nine-hour story mode experience, though. This is important because there really are only two modes that feel specifically created with sustainability in mind. Whether it is replaying them on a higher difficulty, replaying them for gear, or even completing challenges to let you unlock new Battleborn heroes, there is enough to replay through more than once. And of course, the co-op is really the centerpiece of Battleborn, making the experience instantly better when playing with friends.
Future DLC releases will allow access to single-player story missions but depending on how quick it takes for them to be turned around will determine how people view the story mode aspect of Battleborn. As mentioned earlier, the fruitful experience in Battleborn stems from what it borrowed from the Borderlands series of games. Along with that, there seems to be flashes of inspiration that can be found in the art style.
Visuals on visuals
Visually, Battleborn looks spectacular. It totes the cel-shaded-esque cartoon style that Borderlands had, being colorful and vibrant. Honestly, it’s a rarity to see this art style nowadays in this genre of game. It’s definitely a nice change from the realistic browns and greys that we’ve grown accustomed to. I applaud the developers for not taking themselves too seriously, the art style being a direct representation of that. Some characters have over-exaggerated physical attributes, again, reflecting that artistic impression. In a way, it almost eases you into how the game is played, offering its visuals as comfort.
The game does start out with a small tutorial, but nothing that really teaches you the controls and how to play the game to a standard you’d expect from an online shooter in the same vein. That being said, it didn’t take me long before I was smashing up opponents left, right, and center, even topping my K/D ratio chart. There isn’t a huge learning curve and you can quite easily master a couple of classes without much trouble. It does, of course, help to have some experience in this genre, easily paying off if you have played any amount of time in the Borderlands series.
After reading initial social media outcries, it seems that an unlucky few AMD users appear to be having performance issues. There have been a couple of workarounds released, clearing up a lot of issues. We can anticipate that AMD will deliver driver updates to squash these issues for many out there just wanting to join in on the fun. I didn’t encounter any noticeable issues with my NVIDIA setup. Not having any performance issues whatsoever, frame rate dips or crashes–which is actually a revelation when it comes to AAA releases nowadays. (You can check a work in progress list of fixes/workarounds for any technical issues you have here.)
Battleborn is a game you can expect to be spending hours upon hours on if you get into it. I’ve been playing the game through the beta as well as on launch, and I am already finding myself coming up with excuses for just one more match. The replayability factor is what keeps the game pulling you back for more. There is a season pass available, meaning we are due to be getting new multiplayer modes and maps over the next few months, which is always a good thing. It would be nice if we get some additional heroes in the future as well.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Battleborn finds itself in an awkward place. If it had come out even just three months ago, or fast-forward a few months, it would definitely be in a better position than it is right now. The game itself is brilliant, but I fear that it will go unnoticed due to a lack of marketing, and just get swept under the rug. But I would strongly urge anyone with an interest in the MOBA or FPS genre to pick this up and find yourself a group of friends to play with, and honestly it’s enough to deter you from buying a new game for a while because you will be having so much fun with it to even think about any other title.
Battleborn’s overall game play is absolutely stellar. If you enjoyed the Borderlands feeling and style, you’ll get much more mileage out of this title than others. I know a lot of people are going to be comparing Battleborn to Overwatch, but please don’t. The only thing different is that they are both hero shooters. Unfortunately the marketing and general consciousness of the internet will ultimately determine how well this game does.