An eagle touting a rocket launcher and a Hillbilly accent. An over-zealous and not so smart soldier clone. A…creature that can morph her body and wield Chaos magic to devastating effect. And that’s just three of the heroes that Gearbox Software’s Battleborn, an unorthodox MOBA/FPS hybrid, touts.
There’s plenty to unpack since the open beta concluded but it offered an answer to all the Overwatch comparisons at least. By providing to be so radically different and embracing its MOBA infrastructure, Battleborn could prove to be your second team-based shooter purchase when it arrives on consoles and PC next month.
"To be fair, the huge roster of characters and versatile Helix Tree, not to mention custom load-outs, allow you to mold multiple builds."
“Could” is the key word here. As noted above, this is a MOBA/FPS with an enormous roster of 25 characters. The open beta featured two story “episodes” – Void’s Edge and The Algorithm – along with two multiplayer modes – Incursion and Meltdown – and their respective maps. The story missions can be handled co-operatively with up to five players, the mission scaling dynamically in difficult as a result, or handled solo. Throughout the mission you’ll be scavenging for credits, discovering gear, battling waves of enemies and experiencing much of the trademark Gearbox humour.
Get comfortable with those story episodes because there are eight of them (not including the prologue) and you’ll be replaying them often for the sake of loot and experience. Said loot allows you to customize load-outs which offer different buffs to health and shields, ability cool downs, melee damage and attack speeds, and much more. Loot drops are colour coded to indicate their overall effectiveness and potency with the standard Purple and Orange drops being the best. Character-specific drops also exist to further tailor your hero the way you see fit. As you gain EXP, you level up your Command Rank, gaining access to other Battleborn, and your Character Rank for unlocking skins and taunts. A neat little touch is the various challenges that can be completed in order to unlock lore for the character in question. Ranking up your character also offers you a third choice at specific Helix Tree levels.
The story episodes are fun, make no mistake. In The Algorithm, you’ll battle rogue robots while traversing deeper and deeper to the rogue Magnus ISIC, running through frozen catacombs and ancient structures in the process and battling the sentry tank Geoff (who seems to believe he’s a spider) in the process. Void’s Edge sees you securing a Varelsi outpost and escorting a sentry tank Wolf to disrupt a Varelsi portal, thus stopping an invasion of sorts. You’ll have to babysit Wolf significantly while dealing with a deadly Conservator. Shards can be acquired during missions to activate different power-ups in your load-out and even to build turrets to further enhance defenses. In terms of multi-part narratives, these missions are excellent.
The problem will eventually be the number of missions at launch. Battleborn tasks you with repeating these missions in order to gain new loot (with options for higher difficulty). To be fair, the huge roster of characters and versatile Helix Tree, not to mention custom load-outs, allow you to mold multiple builds. Throw in some co-op play and you have the potential for countless hours of PvE fun, theoretically.
"The PvP feels like an entirely different game unto itself without divorcing its fundamentals from PvE. That’s quite the feat when you think about it."
In reality, players may enjoy the characters and dialogue – with multiple sets of lines recorded to infuse some freshness into mission narrative – but they can only experience the same narrative so many times. It doesn’t help that some of the best loot comes from the story episodes.
Again, this isn’t to say the campaign isn’t fun. It’s simply a joy to annihilate entire groups of enemies with Orendi’s Shadowfire Pillar, then activating Nullify to recharge your shields and acquire another Shadowfire Pillar instantly. Oscar Mike’s running and gunning is your atypical FPS character complete with sprinting and ADS but it works incredibly well within Battleborn‘s framework. Then there are the truly bizarre characters like Galilea, a melee hero with a shield that can absorb damage and who accrues Corruption overtime to damage nearby enemies when she’s not throwing her shield like Captain America. Or Marquis with his sniping skills, robotic bird companion and passive ability which allows for every third headshot to deal increased damage. There’s a deceptive amount of variety in how you choose to experience Battleborn and each character’s abilities require a different play-style even across the same attack type. Rushing in with Phoebe is significantly different from rushing with Rath or Galilea, and you’ll note this the more you play.
With limited story episodes, Battleborn will inevitably fall back on its MOBA-esque PvP modes to keep players enthralled. And though the loot drops are nowhere near as plentiful as the campaign, there are still plenty of credits to earn (which can be spent to acquire different types of Gear Boxes containing loot, taunts, skins and other items). More importantly, the PvP feels like an entirely different game unto itself without divorcing its fundamentals from PvE. That’s quite the feat when you think about it.
When playing Incursion, you’ll be tasked with destroying the enemy’s sentry tanks (or ideally dealing the most damage and winning on time). The tanks are armed to the teeth though so attacking from the front isn’t the best idea. Leading your minions to the tank and having them draw fire is the ideal strategy though you have to deal with enemy Battleborn and minions in the meantime. Building turrets to fortify positions along with hiring rogue NPCs to assist you, soaking up damage and weakening sentry shields, are essential in Incursion.
"Even if for a handful of hours, the game serves up a fun dosage of PvE and PvP action that will hopefully help it survive beyond the initial hype."
Then there’s Meltdown wherein you escort minions to grinders and sacrifice them to a rogue Magnus for achieving victory. If you’re familiar with typical three-lane MOBA matches and ganking then Meltdown will easily appeal to you. Compared to Incursion, it felt more geared towards hardcore MOBA players than Incursion.
Some Battleborn have their pros and cons depending on who they’re facing, like any MOBA. During the open beta, abilities like Ambra’s default attack proved to be overwhelmingly powerful and faced justified nerfs. As it stands, no MOBA is ever truly balanced but I never found any one unit to be useless in the grand scheme of things. Even running around as Reyna, marking targets and shielding allies, and not firing a single shot proved extremely viable for the team.
The open beta had its share of issues. Matchmaking was a bit problematic, placing higher ranked players against relative newbies. I’ve seen my fair share of matches where one team completely and utterly dismantled the other team (along with a good portion of close calls as well). Disconnecting from story missions wasn’t rampant – and could have just been the effect of players quitting out – but it did happen it’s fair share of times. There was also some pretty uneven performance on Xbox One. Nothing too drastic in terms of frame drops but it certainly felt like performance should improve when the full game releases.
Battleborn in its current state is pretty much the definition of “wait and see” when it comes to its actual sales numbers. However, even if for a handful of hours, the game serves up a fun dosage of PvE and PvP action that will hopefully help it survive beyond the initial hype. Time will tell as to whether it’s replayed years down the line like the Borderlands series.
This game was previewed on Xbox One.