Developer: Gearbox Software / 2K Studios
Genre: FPS / MOBA / PvP
Platform: PlayStation 4 / Xbox One / PC
Release Date: May 2016
With its worldwide May 3rd launch, Battleborn is dropping into the hands of eager players that have awaited the Gearbox Software FPS MOBA for months. Because of the release proximity to another hotly anticipated PvP, Overwatch, plenty of players are finding themselves standing on one of two sides: Battleborn or Overwatch. So, if you’re not sure which camp you’re in, let me first clarify that, while they’re both player versus player, class mix & match team play, the two games aren’t entirely alike. Battleborn, which also has a full story mode, as well as PvP, has all the ingredients to be a true MOBA, including escorting AI-controlled minions through various matches. While at a first glance these two games may appear to be similar, the comparisons end as soon as you scratch the surface of what these games really are.
Battleborn is a 5v5 multiplayer online battle arena with 25 playable characters, spanning five factions. These 25 characters come together to protect the universe’s last star from “a mysterious evil”, however, unlike other Gearbox past releases, I don’t know how relevant the story line is to the multiplayer match aspect of the game. Five factions separate out this game roster, which are:
- The Last Light Consortium, aka the robot moneybag weapons manufacturers
- The Eldrid, aka the ancient naturalists
- The Jennerit Imperium, aka the scary looking red guys/ military force faction
- The United Peacekeeping Republics, aka the optimistic underdogs
- The Rogues, aka the individuals that don’t really fit anywhere else
Each faction, for the most part, has a fairly obvious look to them. If you see shiny robotics with a Victorian sense of style, you’re looking at an LLC member. Creepy looking red characters are part of the Jennerit Imperium. Each faction has strengths and weaknesses, however, I wouldn’t rest a character’s laurels on faction alone.
There are multiple playable classes within each faction, and based upon your team’s composition and your own personal play style, you can easily find a character to fit your interests for each match. These are:
The five factions have a mix of the classes, some with shields, some without. For those characters without shields, especially attacker classes (like Thorn [Eldrid faction]), having a supporter/ healer on the team is essential. Even after leveling completely through the Helix system over the course of a match, the most skilled shieldless attackers will still need support.
The Helix system is arguably one of the most visually confusing leveling systems in a game (at least, initially). You start a match with your teammates as a level one, and as you slay enemies and assist your team, your level progresses, through level ten. When this happens, you can open the Helix, a paired down skill tree, to choose one of two options for whatever level your character has just reached. Over time, your selections shape your character’s attacks, cooldowns, and abilities. This is one of the unique aspects of Battleborn: even if you play every match with the same character, you have the choice to play it differently time after time.
I’ll be honest with you. My first experiences surrounding Battleborn were underwhelming. I saw some screenshots, watched a few short videos, and wasn’t immediately captivated. I thought the game play looked slow and blocky. But, when I first logged into the open beta, I was so, so pleasantly surprised. The graphics are fluid, the controls are intuitive and recognizable (much like other first person shooters), and the gameplay is surprisingly fast paced. That being said, my first few matches felt frantic. I had very little time to really pour over the faction/ class choices, and if I took more than a few seconds to choose a skill in the Helix system for leveling, I caused some detriment to my team by being unavailable for too long. That is my only true complaint about the entire game. You almost have to instinctively know how each option in the Helix leveling system will affect your character over the course of the match because there is so little time to make a thoughtful decision mid-battle.
There really is someone for every player in this game, as should be expected with a MOBA of this scale. If playing support or healer class is more your style, Miko (Eldrid faction) is a great entry level character in terms of ease of use. More of a tank personality? Boldur’s (Eldrid) your guy. I’m a Gearbox fangirl to the extreme (I’ve logged hundreds of hours in the Borderlands series), and their pet class characters are my favorite. So far Shayne, with her intimidating djinn Aurox (Rogue faction), has been my go- to character. My point: Battleborn has 25 playable characters, across the Melee, Range, Tank, Pet, and Healer classes, as well as five different factions into which these characters are sorted. Mix that in with the 5v5 platform each map has, and you are in for a different game every single time you play. Don’t forget that the Helix system for leveling up during each match gives you the opportunity to play one character in a variety of ways. Add in the optional loadout you choose before a match starts, available for activation during the match, and you have the potential to play a character in a way that no one else does.
Gearbox has a reputation for humor, and you’ll get a laugh every time you hear someone on the battlefield sing a happy death song as an opponent is slaughtered.You may even hear the incinerator in “Meltdown” encourage the dying minions, “Be reborn as… a shopping cart!” In fact, I feel the need to regale you with some funny character quotes from the beta.
–Benedict (falcon-man?, Peacekeeper): “Print ‘Tried My Best’ on that guy’s tombstone. In crappy font! With glitter and —!”
–Marquis (robot butler, LLC): “Ah, it’s the financially destitute.”
–Spider Sentry (very large bad guy): “All right, anime convention! Oh. Oh…no. It’s just Rath.”
And it’s not just the Gearbox humor you’ll love. If you’ve played a Borderlands title in the past, the art will have a familiar feel to it. While not cell shading, compared to Borderlands titles, Battleborn has a purposely cartoon look about it. This only further features the fact that the game doesn’t take itself too seriously, while also reminding you that this game is genuinely fun. It’s challenging, but not once did I feel like hurling my controller across the room (can’t tell you how many times I’ve done that playing Battlefield…). Your senses will be delighted, truly, between the spot-on voice acting, the bold coloring, and stylized characterization.
Each multiplayer mode, each on beautifully designed maps, feels familiar with one another, but the objectives make the gameplay between each one unique. In the “Capture” matches, you are ultimately playing a combined version of team deathmatch and capture the flag, coupled with various objectives during the match itself. “Incursion” features AI- controlled minions on both sides, which teams must simultaneously work with their own friendly minions to protect their base while battling enemy minions and ultimately destroying the opponent’s base. Finally, “Meltdown”, which was my favorite during the beta, teams must escort their own minions to an incinerator while keeping opponents from doing the same. The team with the highest points wins, and as silly as it may seem to encourage your own minions to launch themselves into an incinerator, it’s incredibly fun, and in the middle is where the fight goes down as both teams meet while escorting their own respective minions.
The release date on Battleborn was pushed back on more than one occasion, and I remember finding myself frustrated with the Gearbox dev team around Christmas 2015, wondering why this game hadn’t yet been released. Now? I get it. The creators at Gearbox put in vast amounts of time giving every faction and class a unique feel, and every single character has substantially different features about them compared to others. I cannot wait to get my hands on this game. Until their next release hits the shelves, I’ll be hard pressed to want to play anything else.