Battleborn E3 Hands-on Preview: A bigger, better Borderlands

Battleborn is a futuristic, science-fantasy adventure that cranks it up to 11. The universe is on the brink of extinction, and only a single star remains. For unknown reasons, Rendain and his army of evil hope to accelerate the star’s death. Our only salvation is for the strongest Battleborn—elite warriors from across the universe—to join forces and put an end to the terrible tyrant. Prepare yourself for Gearbox’s most ambitious game yet.

Boasting a cast of 25 playable and highly unique characters, Battleborn has a playstyle that fits everyone. The fast-paced, cooperative shooter builds upon the gameplay, charm, and wit of the Borderlands titles, and adds even more diversity and options. The folks at Gearbox set out to make a game that had everything that they loved in it. Sci-fi, fantasy, steampunk, comics, anime, mushroom people; you name it and it’s probably in Battleborn one way or another.

Ten characters were revealed and usable during the demo at 2K’s E3 booth. I played as Rath, a warrior belonging to the Jennerit Empire and former personal guard to Empress Lenore. Wielding three phasic energy blades, Rath is a master bladesmith and swordsman. His combat focuses on close-quarters melee attacks that slice his opponents into pieces. He has very little health, but also has a passive ability that allows him to siphon health from his enemies with each attack, similar to Krieg in Borderlands 2. Considering the striking superficial similarities, I tried to use Rath like Krieg—running headfirst into groups of enemies and swinging wildly. A couple of deaths later, I realized that was a complete mistake.

Battleborn PS4

Rath is his own beast entirely, and needs to be treated as such. To be great at Battleborn, you have to learn how to play as each unique character, not just how to play the game. After I learned that, I was able to start really having fun and challenge myself to be more creative in defeating the enemies. Each character has their own special moves or abilities mapped to the shoulder buttons and the Triangle button, which is a character’s ultimate attack. For Rath, L1 is Crossblade, an attack that throws his blades a short distance, R1 is Catalytic Smash, a powerful forward shockwave, and Triangle is Deadwind, a 4-second attack that turns Rath into a whirlwind of spinning blades. Each ability also has a cooldown period, which is longer or shorter depending on how powerful the ability is, forcing players to use them wisely.

Teamwork also has more of a focus than ever before, and the greater emphasized character roles has Battleborn’s gameplay falling closer to true MMORPGs than the Borderlands games. Separating yourself from the team can spell disaster for you, and even cause the rest of your teammates to needlessly die. However, dying in Battleborn is fairly forgiving, so if mistakes were made and your team dies, it’s not the end of the world. It’s a good thing, too, because I expect players will end up dying quite a lot if they aren’t careful.

The mission that we played would have been impossible for a character like Rath to beat on his own. Our team had to infiltrate one of Rendain’s military bases, defeat its inhabitants, and escort a giant automated, quadrupedal tank to a large metal door so it could open it for us. Along the way we encountered several different enemy types and species, as well as sneering remarks from Rendain himself. We even got flipped off by a pair of giant mechanical hands. After a couple of mini-bosses, our escorted tank just about had the door open when a giant monster punched through the wall, ready to crush us all. The tank prepared to fire, our characters readied for the fight of their lives, and then the screen went black.

Battleborn map

While it has a clear emphasis on working together, Battleborn is able to be played alone or cooperatively with up to four other people. It will be interesting to find out if the entire game is beatable solo—and enemies dynamically level depending on how many players are working together, like in Borderlands—or if certain instances encourage cooperative play in order to progress. I also wasn’t told if Battleborn could be played completely offline, or if it will be following the trend of so many other games and require a constant online connection. It’s hard to imagine Gearbox doing that after its success with the Borderlands franchise, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

As a huge fan of the Borderlands games, Battleborn felt like going home… and finding out your parents put a new addition on the house with a full arcade and a pizza parlor inside. It’s got a character for everyone, and there are still 15 more yet to be revealed. Whatever Battleborn ends up being, I want to know more about the survivors of this decaying universe and why Rendain wants to help it die. I want to explore each character’s strengths and weaknesses while fighting off the forces of evil. Gearbox has put an even bigger twist on the genre of RPG-Shooter with their latest project and I’m totally on board. I had a blast playing Battleborn and I can’t wait to see more.

Are you excited for Battleborn? Are you a fan of Borderlands and want more of that action? Let us know in the comments below!

Battleborn is coming this winter to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.