Battleborn PC Review
There has been multiple times where similar concepts in video games have been released within a very close time frame. Does anyone remember Second Sight and Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy? Or Infamous and Prototype? Even the 3D brawler space had it when Urban Reign and Beatdown: Fists of Vengeance released within the same month. The reason why I mention this is because there has been a lot of talk about Gearbox Software’s Battleborn and the upcoming Blizzard shooter Overwatch. Both feature a wide range of stylised characters with very unique personalities that fit specific roles in the “hero shooter” concept, where each hero has special powers (think skill moves in League of Legends, Heroes of the Storm, etc.), and both feature a heavy focus on online play. But despite the collective conscious about these two games, their main objective for what they want to offer the player differs – Overwatch is a team-based shooter similar to Team Fortress 2, while Battleborn blends multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) with the first-person shooter genre, so let’s see what Gearbox Software does when it steps away from its successfully Borderlands property and into this mixture of genres for its new IP.
Battleborn starts off promising with its flashy animated introduction that got me pumped for the prologue mission – the game’s tutorial that learns you the ins and outs of very basic character movement, how to use skills and what the Helix level up system is. The problem is, this cool animation style is long forgotten until the end of the game for its ending, as each of the game’s eight episodes (levels) features an extremely short edit from the introduction to simulate a TV show opening. As for the story, well, it’s rather lacklustre in terms of what it’s about and where it goes. A group of badass heroes from various factions around the universe have joint together to protect the very last star from being destroyed by an unknown force called the Varelsi. These heroes, the Battleborn, come together to go on these eight missions, but each one feels disjointed from each other, feeling more like random tasks that these warriors must accomplish to get to the goal. It’s disappointing that the story is a background decoration. This imminent danger doesn’t feel threatening, and the reward for ploughing through these missions is never felt, and with nothing to really grasp onto within its plot, I just did not care for what was going on in the world of Battleborn.
That said, while the story is throwaway, the character dialogue between the playable heroes and some of the encountered NPCs is often well written and amusingly entertaining when first heard. Gearbox Software did this with Borderlands, and the same style of humour is used in Battleborn, to the point where it does not feel far-fetched to confuse them being part of the same game. There are times where it tries too hard for a laugh, but most often the writing can genuinely put a smile on one’s face, be it the random one liners that heroes spew out due to situational actions or the scripted dialogue set within the campaign missions. There is enough audio dialogue for each of the heroes that it’s bearable to play the same hero for many hours, but the NPCs in the campaign will soon repeat the same dialogue, even within the same mission, that it becomes tiresome to hear the same jokes again and again, especially since the game’s campaign is made to be replayed many times over, to the point the dialogue will no longer be effective and go straight through one ear and out the other.
The Campaign levels are built around two objectives – the mission is either defence, where the player will move from different key points to defend them from waves of enemies, while the other is a raid, which are more like a standard level, as players progress forward through enemies, meeting mini-bosses, then finally finishing up with the end level boss. It’s a concept that tries to replicate raiding in an massively multiplayer online role-playing game. Most missions aren’t all that exciting, it’s more the content of the dialogue that makes it entertaining to play, as the missions boil down to going to this area, kill some things and then repeat.
There is nothing new and exciting here that elevates the campaign from being okay. I’m not saying it’s not fun, I did certainly enjoy some of the missions, as a couple have level designs good enough to standout, such as the raid in the tomb that is littered with disastrous Indian Jones traps to catch out players not paying attention, but a lot of the enjoyment comes thanks to the cooperative aspect. Five people can tackle a mission together, support each other with different class roles and spend cash to buy all the turrets that support defensive zones with healing, attack and buff variations. Trying to play the campaign in single player is rather boring and a bit of a slog, since deaths can come much easier, as no one is around to resurrect you before the death counter reaches zero, causing a respawn on the battlefield and taking a life from the total life pool for the team. It is ill-advised for anyone looking for a single-player game to pick up Battleborn, as I can’t see this game keeping the attention of solo players for long, plus, some of these missions feel like tackling a mountainous task, as playing some heroes on their own is suicide, thanks to their weak damage output or glass cannon approach to damage and health.
One frustrating aspect for the cooperative play is due to the online matchmaking. Instead of being able to pick the desired mission – maybe you need to unlock a character from this specific mission or that you want to improve a rating on an existing mission, or just be one of those insane people that has to get gold for every character on every mission – one simply cannot do that, as the game picks three random missions and the party votes for their selection. You cannot back out of the party without quitting the mission after it has started, which sucks for the party – no one likes a leaver. It’s an annoyance that does not need to be there. Surely there is no harm in letting someone pick the mission they like. It makes me wonder if Gearbox Software are afraid that some of the missions will not get any playtime compared to the others, because there is a case that some are more enjoyable than others. I bloody hate the The Saboteur mission, as the last defensive point seems to go down too easy, even if it’s going well for the team, it can take a quick ten seconds and that mission is over, failed, a restart to try again, which takes around 20 minutes to get to that same point in the mission. There are no checkpoints for failed mission attempts in Battleborn, and that can be frustrating when something like the above happens.
Moving to the competitive section, Battleborn includes three different game modes that all feature five vs five action. Capture is the most straightforward of them. It’s the standard capture point mode where three locations need to be taken over and held to earn points – the more control points in your favour, the faster the score counts to the goal target of 1,000. The other two are where the MOBA elements are brought into play. Incursion is where each team has two giant robotic defence spiders that need protecting against enemy hero attacks, but also from the minions that spawn and move towards your base. The idea is to push with your little robotic minions, while hiring mercenaries from spawn points to help push your side closer to the enemy’s and take down their robots. There is only one line, so battles become incredibly hectic, to the point it can be too crazy to understand exactly who or what is damaging you. A twist on Incursion is Meltdown, which removes the giant spiders and replaces the objective with defending your minions as they walk towards two incinerators, one on each lane, turning them into scrap metal and points. Once hitting 50%, the incinerators move further into enemy territory, making it harder for the minions to survive their walk to death. Each mode plays different enough that I can see people having a preferred game type.
But a problem lies with the actual content of these multiplayer modes, it’s all lacklustre with two maps per game type, equalling six in total, which is one of the lowest I can remember for a first-person shooter for quite some time. More are coming down the line, but currently the limited amount is awful for Capture, a mode that is often finished under 15 minutes and relies on a good list of maps to keep it refreshed. The other two modes can often last double the length, and their focus of pushing against the opposition usually means the map doesn’t become as much as a crucial point to enjoying the game mode compared to Capture. Still, the depth of Battleborn is shallow compared to a full MOBA game like DOTA 2, and the maps feel simple in their design, and the lack of environments on offer does hurt the variety, which is weird when the campaign has a better selection of them. Overall, I was beginning to feel a little tired with the selection on offer, making me excited for the new ones to drop, hopefully, very soon in the future.
The playable heroes are what helps alleviate some of the repetitive problems, there is certainly no shortness of variety with the 25 heroes on offer, each with a distinct style and set of skills that makes playing them for the first time a surprising discovery. The scale ranges from the generic Oscar Mike, who is a soldier with a rife, to a big dude called Montana that walks around with a minigun, but then you have bizarre creations (I miss that company!), such as the mushroom healing Miko, or Orendi, a magic user with four arms that launches purple blasts of energy, she’s also basically the Tiny Tina of the game – very hyper and crazy – as the voice actress is the same person who voiced Tiny Tina in Borderlands 2. There is a character for everyone, be it melee-focused, range bow and arrow, guns, healing, buff with shields, each character is built to fit within a role for a team of five and having a mixture can be devastating when done right, abusing each hero’s power to the fullest as a working unit.
Individuality of the characters shines through their moves. Every hero has attacks on both mouse buttons and cooldown skills, initially two, with a third skill, their ultimate, unlocking once they hit level five. The game’s Helix system, a level up progression that offers two – or three if you unlock them through constant use of the same character – perks that permanently change an ability of the hero for the rest of the match. There is a choice for each level (1-10). A good example is the duo hero of Shayne and Aurox, Her and her demon brawler have a skill that can pull an enemy towards them, but at level four, there is an option to change this pull to be a stun on impact, freezing the enemy on the spot for a few seconds, leaving them open to free damage. Not all perks change moves drastically, some are more simple, such as reducing cooldown on moves or increasing their damage, but there is enough change to each hero that people can play them in different ways.
When all the heroes come clashing together with their abilities in full force, Battleborn is a hectic piece of action, explosions, neon blades and bullets, and can sometimes feel overwhelming to find the bearings on what the hell is going on. It’s not a bad thing, just people who want a little control might get frustrated, but eventually, you just go with it and get sucked into the anarchy of the multi coloured battlefield of hyper action. As long as you understand the role of the hero – I’ll be honest, the game doesn’t do a good job explaining with its limited tutorials – when to go in, pull out and give support, then there should be no problem with at least surviving enough to feel like you are progressing somewhere.
Battleborn lavishes the idea of progression with a permanent experience system for the overall player and for each of the characters that gives it an addictive draw. Levelling up characters unlocks more skin variations and skills in their helix system, while overall rank will unlock more features, such as gear load outs and random loot drops. Oh yeah, taking a page from Borderlands, Battleborn has loot drops from successful campaigns or currency earned from playing online that can unlock loot boxes based on various loot grades (common, uncommon, rare, etc.). Up to three pieces of gear can be added to a loadout, and similar to the shop in a MOBA game, these three items can be activated from earned shards (cash) gained from smashing crystals or killing people. Stats play a huge role in MOBA games, and it’s a similar concept here. While 9% attack speed increase or 130 extra HP might not seem impressive, every little helps a ton when it comes to staying alive or taking down opposition.
One thing I truly hate about the progression system is that not all the heroes are unlocked at the start. Around eight are available at first, with more unlocked for doing campaign missions, hitting specific player levels or accomplishing a certain feat (play as a rogue for five matches, get 1000 assists, etc.). In a game that thrives on the importance of character variety and their roles, I hate the fact that I have to bend to the game’s demands to unlock them. It’s understandable in a free-to-play game, as the lure of unlocking a new character from playing is a great reward, but when spending £40, I’d like to be able to take all the heroes for a spin and find the ones I feel comfortable with and build on them to help my team mates, rather than grinding to unlock them.
A game like Battleborn is going to live or die based on its community. The future sounds positive for the game, with free content coming in forms of five new heroes and free multiplayer maps, skins and taunts. A season pass for £15.99 does splash itself on the front screen offering five new campaign missions, instant unlock of the five new heroes and unique skins and taunts, but thankfully, the key stuff is free to keep the community together rather than separating them due to map packs.
Battleborn isn’t quite the innovative blend of MOBA and first-person shooter that it could have been, but that does not stop the game from delivering fun with a group of friends or random people online. Battleborn does have heart, it has a great cast of distinct heroes, it’s hyperactive action is overly frantic and tense, and the cast can sprout genuinely funny one-liners, but the lack of content and its feeling of being out a little earlier than intended hurts the overall quality of the game. Anyone looking for a single-player campaign shouldn’t bother with Battleborn, but anyone who isn’t afraid to play with others and wants a shooter with a difference might find Battleborn’s solid gameplay to bring a good time, and with the future looking bright in terms of support, Battleborn might grow from being a good, fun title into a genuinely great game.