May 10, 2016
Battleborn is an odd beast. A game that's seemingly attempting to be several different things to as many people as humanly possible, Battleborn combines elements from real-time strategy games, tower defence, and MOBAs, then wraps it all up in a colourful, and visually appealing first-person shooter package. It looks nice, plays well, but I'm not sure that it does any of the things it sets out to achieve in a particularly new or exciting way, even if Battleborn proves to be a solid and entertaining experience, albeit only if you're prepared to put the time in getting to know its various characters and modes.
Comprising a Story Mode and three multiplayer modes, Battleborn is also a little light on content, especially when you consider that each of its three competitive game-types come only with two - admittedly large - maps apiece. Its eight story missions are also a thankless slog when played solo, only really coming into their own if you round up a bunch of willing friends for co-op. You can also play the story with randoms, if you're so inclined.
Set amid a war for Solus, the last star in existence, Battleborn's narrative brings together a motley crew of heroes from five different factions, joining forces to face the evil legions of nefarious despot, Lothar Rendain. By and large, the story is entirely dispensable bobbins, but the way in which it's presented is decent enough, with a brilliant, action-packed animated intro sequence, and a hefty dose of Gearbox's trademark humour, though it's not quite as sharp and gleefully anarchic as Borderlands' funny bits.
Nor is it anywhere near as enjoyable as Borderlands, with repetitious tasks including horrid wave-based defence objectives that instantly result in a 'mission failed' screen should you screw up. Hours of gameplay can go up in smoke in just a few seconds, as you're forced to start the mission over from scratch. Annoying doesn't even begin to describe this.
Where Gearbox's loot and shooter was a big hit, Battleborn takes a stab at pushing similar buttons with the way in which its colourful yarn is presented and the comic beats it attempts to hit. Superficially, Battleborn is very similar, but rather than focusing on acquiring bigger and better firepower, you'll find shards for building turrets, drones, and stations that aid you in defending against Rendain's hordes, as well as activating the pieces of gear you'll obtain from opening packs.
Currency for purchasing these packs (and even the odd pack itself) come flying out of vanquished enemies and can be found nestled in chests next to temporary speed boosts, overshields or cooldown reduction orbs during the story mode. Despite the abundance of currency, however, it's a fair old grind to accumulate enough readies to buy a decent pack containing some worthwhile gear. Nonetheless, gear turns out to be a secondary concern in Battleborn, with the real strategy coming in the form of Helix levels during each match that level up to 10, offering a choice of abilities at each level you unlock.
For some characters, these abilities can reduce cooldowns, increase your damage, range, area-of-effect, or just add a bit of a twist to one of your skills. Play with your chosen characters enough, and you'll gain mutations for your skills, adding even more moves to your arsenal. Helix Augments are a neat way of injecting a little extra something into a Versus Match or a story mission, ensuring plenty of variation in addition to the different attributes and abilities unique to each of Battleborn's 25 heroes.
Unlocking all 25 of these heroes is what proves to be one of Battleborn's biggest grinds, making for what can appear to be a dauntingly high barrier to entry. The seven characters you get for completing the prologue are a good start, but you'll soon grow tired of them, and set your sights on more heroes to bring a little extra variety to the table. You'll have to put the time in to get the most out of the game then, especially with so much content locked away behind high command levels. Your command level is your overall player rank, and it takes a long, long time before you'll gain enough XP to get anywhere near to being able to purchase decent gear or unlock new characters.
And after being owned by overpowered heroes like Marquis and Galilea more than once, you'll be desperate to get your hands on more characters. Having to unlock Battleborn's heroes by carrying out various tasks or by attaining a certain rank seems like a misstep that reduces your options as a beginner, while the balance itself (at least in its current state) is all over the place. More than a few matches I played were dominated by certain heroes whose abilities gave them a major edge over the others, and you can't change your character mid-match. Battles are often lost before they've even begun, purely on character choice. It's a good job that Gearbox is planning weekly balancing hotfixes to address this.
In spite of it issues, Battleborn's multiplayer will still grow on you if you let it. And the more time you put in, the more you'll get out of it; if you can be bothered to put in the hours, that is. Initially, Battleborn can seem quite off-putting, but its MOBA-inspired Incursion mode can be incredibly rewarding, especially when you get a decent team together that knows what they're doing. Therein lies another issue: most players don't seem to know how to play Battleborn at present, with some treating it as a straight-up shooter when it isn't. It's less of an issue in the Capture and Meltdown modes, where the objectives are to take 'energy collectors' (hardpoints) and escort robot minions to be sacrificed to the whirring metal maw of 'Minrec'. These modes are a little more straightforward.
It's the strength of Battleborn's multiplayer that makes it all the more galling that there aren't more maps. The only real variety comes with the 25 characters on offer, but unlocking them all will prove too tall an order for some. Taking Ghalt as an example, you need to reach either Rank 40 or complete all story missions with silver medals at advanced difficulty to unlock him; something that will undoubtedly prove a huge headache for most players. Most simply won't bother trying.
Battleborn is in no way similar to Overwatch. It's not even all that similar to Borderlands, but it seems that these comparisons have already tainted the game somewhat. That and the open beta. It's worth noting that Battleborn can often be a fun and entertaining experience, especially with a group of buddies online or with a friend in split-screen. Played solo, it's boring as hell, and even with fellow players, it can still be enormously frustrating. Battleborn is a mish-mash of component parts that manages to form a coherent, if deeply flawed whole that's severely lacking in more than one department. But it's worth playing, even if it's something I can't heartily, confidently recommend. Approach with caution.
Rockin' electric guitar, some other music I can't really remember, and humorous voice work make for a satisfying, if fairly unremarkable soundtrack.
Pleasingly chunky, stylised visuals give the game a clean and sometimes gorgeous look. Battleborn's characters are an eclectic, interesting bunch, but the environments can get a bit samey.
With each character offering something different, playing Battleborn can be a blast as you discover what each hero is capable of. It actually plays remarkably well, but can wear thin after a while.
Battleborn's appeal quickly wears off as the story missions become dull and repetitive, while multiplayer will only hold your attention for so long. Multiplayer is really the only truly fun and replayable aspect in Battleborn, but it'll soon grate.
A terrible list, half of which is taken up by the pure grind of completing every character's lore tasks. The rest of the list is bland and uninspired: a missed opportunity, especially given the array of colourful characters and their unique skills. Shite.
Showing signs of early promise, Battleborn very quickly becomes a chore, its repetitive story and paltry selection of multiplayer content putting the nail in its coffin after about 10-15 hours or so. That's assuming you even have the perseverance to stick around for that long. Battleborn is a disappointment.