Battleborn is the latest shooter from 2K and Gearbox, the creators of Borderlands (together with Aliens: Colonial Marines and Duke Nukem Forever, but those are best forgotten). Battleborn is Gearbox’s attempt at creating a living, dynamic shooter that will be take a longer-lasting place in our lives than their previous titles. But Battleborn faces stiff competition in creating a following. So, do I think it can? Let’s find out.
Battleborn is essentially two games. Both are online and while the campaign mode can be played in single player, just like Borderlands it is in fact best enjoyed with friends as a co-operative experience. In fact, the game, like Borderlands, can be brutally difficult if played alone. It’s also a bit boring. The critical paths you’re shoved along appear custom-designed for multiple players so walking around by yourself feels a little lonely and empty. Fortunately, there is matchmaking for the campaign.
Each mission, of which there are only eight, is designed to be replayed with different characters, which makes each play-through feel a bit different due to their diverse play styles. Trying to fit in 25 characters’ backstories, motivations and character development was always going to be a tough ask and I can’t say it’s too successful. Considering the purpose of the story though, as an introduction to the characters for use in the multiplayer or as window dressing for repeated campaign mission play-throughs, it doesn’t matter as much as you might think.
Before you start the campaign however, it’s worth noting that a fair chunk of the initial 25 characters are locked away. For a full priced title is annoying. You may become too familiar with a particular character to care about unlocking the rest, and even being able to trial the locked characters, or restricting them to the campaign would have been welcomed.
The multiplayer is a first person shooter MOBA style game. There are currently three game types: Capture, Incursion and Meltdown.
Capture is a control point style mode with the aim capture and hold areas to win at 1,000 points. It’s for the times when you don’t want to commit a minimum of 30 minutes and want a quick bite of shootey action. Each match can be over fairly quickly, especially when a team works together as a cohesive unit.
Secondly, Incursion is the first of the two MOBA style modes, where you defend two mobile turrets against the opposing team and waves of minions.
Lastly is Meltdown: If you’ve heard that Battleborn is a MOBA then this is the mode they were probably talking about. I found it a bit boring, being more of an extended escort mission style mode, where you have to defend convoys of minions as they move to certain areas on the map to be scarified. Once enough are scarified, the next area opens up and you move on.
The two MOBA style modes do provide however the opportunity for all the characters to display their individual personality.
Matches are long in both Incursion and Meltdown. Like a traditional MOBA, you will be spending extended amounts of time in a back and forth tug of war. While newer MOBAs such as Heroes of the Storm have been shortening game lengths, Battleborn bucks the trend. Whether this time investment is worth it to you is entirely an individual’s preference. Personally I found the matches too long, but I’m not accustomed to MOBA length sessions.
Both the multiplayer and campaign modes are linked. The “Persistent Progression System” allows you to level up your characters and “commander” (meta) level by doing either PvE or PvP content. So no matter what you are doing, you will be levelling up and feeling like you’ve progressed. Think Destiny.
Attached to the main course is the Battleborn Tap tie-in mobile game. Unfortunately, it’s a rather puerile and meaningless affair in which the only mechanic is to tap on the screen as quickly and often as possible. The game repeatedly crashed and I regularly ran into serious bugs.
The best that can be said of it is that it unlocks skins in the full game. However, if you want the skins don’t start it until you’ve logged into the “Shift” online service on your PC or console, otherwise you might not get the rewards! There’s no real value to be added by playing Battleborn Tap, so unless you’re a completionist it’s best avoided.
A number of design elements are ripped off almost wholesale from Borderlands. For example, the boss introductions are strikingly alike. While they weren’t bad, they were designed to fit in with a game that has a whole different attitude, and contributes to the rather flat, contrived feeling Battleborn engenders. Respawns also work in the same limited way as Borderlands, though I never died enough to know what would happen if I didn’t have any more.
The feeling of a game overly contrived continues with the 25 heroes you have access to at the start, with five more are promised for post-launch content. While there are a lot they generally fall into stereotypical buckets. You have your big shooty one, your stealthy one etc. If you were looking for innovation in MOBA or FPS character spaces, unfortunately you won’t find it here.
The characters: in their bid to creative innovative and unique characters, Gearbox has tried a little too hard to make them “cool” and “unique.” I have a new rule for games. If they call themselves “badass” then they blew it (to butcher Steve Jobs). The game should show how they are badass, not shove it in our faces time and again. The next time a character in Battleborn smirks because they’ve not heard too-cool-for-school ended in 1994 I might just Alt+F4 my way out of the game.
The dialogue feels like it’s been turned up to 12 over Borderlands. But this isn’t an exuberant guitar solo, it’s more akin to blowing out the speakers. Perhaps others will enjoy it, but almost every line to come out of a character’s mouth made me roll my eyes. Perhaps I was spoilt with Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel’s distinctive turn to Australian humour, but the back and forth between characters and the main dialogue wasn’t witty, but was at the level schoolboy humour.
The whole narrative element of the game feels incredibly forced, and it was painfully obvious that they’d created these “badass” characters first and the story to wrap around (and if I’m wrong and they didn’t well, that speaks even worse of their narrative chops).
In my opinion, with the large amount of wasted investment in a new world and lore they should have just gone with a Borderlands MOBA. Gearbox and 2K have carefully created a complete world with complex lore and history, but nobody can tell me why.
There were also a number of issues I found playing Battleborn. I experienced connection issues, even when playing single-player. I found it rather disconcerting to feel the effects of lag when playing alone. This is because even playing alone loads you into an instance, rather than being played on the local machine. With the dismal state Australian internet connection issues and interruptions may be a real concern for players here. I know that it occasionally severely interrupted my play. I also wonder what my match-made teammates thought I was doing as I ran into the stairs for the umpteenth time. It’s important to note that games such as Destiny play fine on the same internet connection.
In addition, although having a PC that is above the recommended requirements I found I had to turn down quite a few options to maintain 1080p/60FPS. Hopefully this will be addressed in future updates as maintaining a solid frame rate is essential in competitive play. On the other hand, I was pleased to see a multiplicity of graphics options available to tweak.
Battleborn needs to compete with a range of new competitive shooters this year, a genre with which we are currently being inundated: Doom, Overwatch, Lawbreakers and Paragon are all being released close to Battleborn. Not to mention the shooter stalwarts it hopes to steal players from: Team Fortress 2, CS:Go and many others.
So the task in front of Battleborn is immense. All these games share certain similarities and affinities to largely the same gamer audience. A challenge not just for Battleborn but for all is not only to draw players away from the games they are already playing (and have invested hundreds of hours and dollars into) but to increase the total market size. Only by increasing the number of players interested in this genre can they all hope to survive. The pie needs to get bigger.
And that’s not the only consideration. There remains the question of whether Battleborn will have the longevity to ensure its survival. With games such as EA’s Star Wars Battlefront bleeding players almost immediately after its massive opening, providing long term support, updates and enhancements will be hugely important to whether Battleborn is something we will remember even by year’s end. It’s a harsh reality of what is increasingly becoming an oversaturated market.
In my opinion Battleborn is too much of a mishmash of diverse flavours to make anything particularly appetising. Imagine mushing together chocolate, avocado and turmeric. Each good on their own but together a bland grey mush.
That’s not to belittle the craftsmanship put into the game by the developers. It just doesn’t feel there enough to warrant. Still, sitting underneath everything is a competent shooter that plays generally well. If I’ve been harsh on this game it’s because its competition, present and future, is so good. Gearbox needed to do something special, and well, they haven’t. It’s not that Battleborn is bad, it’s just that it’s drearily mediocre.
I may be proven wrong. There may be a massive audience for Battleborn. It might just not be for me. But if there is, I would be surprised.
Released: May 2016
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC (Windows 7 or higher)
Genre: Action, MOBA
Developer: 2K Games
Publisher: 2K Games