Riding on the back of the ever increasing popular MOBA genre (albeit that genre definition is questionable in itself), Battleborn brings with it another attempt at changing the formula of the genre and giving it its own pedigree.
Leading up to Battleborn’s launch, it has been incessantly compared to Overwatch like they were both rivals since birth. I just want to put this firmly to rest by stating that the two games are as different as chalk and cheese; they’re so different in fact that Overwatch is actually more akin to Team Fortress 2, while Battleborn is more of a League of Legends or DOTA.
Typically, MOBAs have a single mode which is PvPvE (Player vs Player vs Environment). The premise of this mode is to get your minions to the enemy base and destroy it. As the player farms on minions to get money, they spend this money on items to make them stronger. This will allow the player to use their character to clear minions faster, destroy sentries easier, and harass the enemy. Over time the game becomes a swinging match between players as the death penalty becomes much larger every minute of gameplay.
Battleborn’s equivalent mode is called Incursion. Here, you’re also required to push your minions to destroy sentries, build up your money, and harass other players. However, this is where things differ slightly in regards to money. Instead of a shop, the player enters the fray with a loadout of up to 3 items. These items are graded on a color scale, ranging from grey, green, blue, to purple, and then gold. The higher the grade of the item then the more money it costs to “activate” them. Thankfully these items are not consumable so you can continue to enter battles with the same items you have stored throughout playing the game.
Unlike other MOBAs, Battleborn gives the option of allowing players to spend their money on building objects, which includes turrets, super minions, and healing towers, all of which are upgradeable. You can play a lot of tactical warfare against the enemy by luring them into an area where they can be both slowed and in range of a turret, making it easier to finish them off. It’s a welcomed feature for a MOBA and surprising that it’s not been added before, especially for strategic purposes.
Meltdown is a similar game mode but instead of trying to destroy sentries, you need to send your minions to their death by freeing their path to the enemy’s “door,” of which there are a few of them that require to be destroyed – but only minions can do this. The pace of the game is much slower due to the minions being the only ones able to force a progression. Each team is required to get 500 points, and the match ends once this has been achieved.
In both Meltdown and Incursion, the main objective is to stop the enemy minions from progressing further. There have been many times where players don’t seem to understand this concept, and instead play the game like a PvP match. This leaves some players wondering why they have 4x the kill count of the other team, yet still lose the match. If all you want to do is PvP then thankfully that mode is available to you but it too has an objective-based system. Much like Unreal Tournament’s original “Domination” mode, it is called “Capture” in Battleborn and requires the player to capture three areas to start earning points. The more areas that your team owns then the faster your points are amassed. Once you have reached 1000 points, the match ends.
What makes this mode interesting is that having these capture areas forces a team to know where their opponents are. For example, do you abandon your capture attempt and go towards the capture area where you see the enemy currently capturing it? Or do you go solo and take the areas away from the enemy team? There are many ways to go about this but it all boils down to inevitable team fights.
Away from the deathmatches, Story mode is the final game mode, and it’s rather a haphazard affair. Before you can even play Battleborn you’re forced into playing the game’s single-player introductory story, which is a hefty 40 minutes in length. It goes over the controls, the upgrade system, and how to use items and more, but being forced into it seems a bit unfair for those that don’t care for the story.
Regardless, Story mode feels somewhat tacked on. There are only eight missions to choose from, each with their own difficulty setting, but at most these tales are played in any order and they feel disjointed, with no specific order in which to complete them. The story does bring out the humour of Battleborn’s characters the most, but effectively the mode is nothing but going to point A, killing lots of AI, then off to the next area, rinse and repeat. If you’re looking for something engaging, then you won’t find it here. However, you can play this in both single player or co-op, so if you have a group of friends then it will be a good laugh at least.
Joining any mode requires an internet connection, including the solo-based Story mode. Each time you enter a mode, you have to wait for a server instance to be created for you. Matchmaking between players certainly gets unfair at times and it can make it very difficult for a team with low levels to go up against those at high levels. The higher level players are guaranteed to have better gear; stack that up against newer players, and you’re asking for a massacre. Maybe this is a cause of the game just being released, so hopefully this will be sorted out as time goes by.
Another issue with matchmaking is with Story mode. You’re given a selection of two or three maps that everyone votes on. For the PvPvE modes then you’re limited to two maps, but in story mode, as there’s challenges and titles to be had, with character unlocks associated with a certain level. As such, it can become an annoyance not being able to get on a single map because others don’t want to play it.
The meat of Battleborn is certainly in its PvP and its progression system. As most things are locked behind bars, including the characters, and you need to continuously play through the game to earn Command Points. When reaching a set amount of points, you earn a Command Rank. These ranks represent what is being unlocked to you, this includes extra loadout slots and loot packs. You also earn Character Points after each round too. These, just like Commander Points, allow the player to rank up their used character to allow them to unlock skins to use.
Every character feels like they belong in Battleborn—they all have a purpose, even Toby the puffin. Getting to know any of the characters however requires grinding for character challenges. Once finishing the challenges for a required character, you fully understand their lore. It’s a shame that it’s locked off this way, but I can understand that they want players to play as all of the characters. Not that there aren’t enough challenges in the game to tackle anyway.
These challenges earn you titles and there’s loads—186 to be precise. But that’s not all; in order to earn these, you also need to complete other challenges, each of which have their own ranks. It’s one massive grind to grab them all but if you love the game and you are one to play frequently, then most of these will come naturally without you realising it. With all of these command points you need to spend them on something, and once available, you can start purchasing loadouts, item slots, and loot.
These items have different effects on the player’s character. Some allow for better healing power while others offer a faster recharge of your shields, increasing of health, health regen, faster movement speed, and many other boosts. You will, however, need to make sure you go into battle with the correct setup before hand. For example, If you go into battle with Miko and have a shield regen item, then that would be quite the waste considering that Miko is a healer and does not have a shield.
Creating loadouts is as simple as selecting the three items you want and putting them in your loadout, however at the start of the game there is only one loadout available to you. As you progress through the game you start unlocking more loadouts, each with three slots. This way you don’t need to swap out items in the slots if you want to play a different character. Acquiring items for the loadouts is as simple as going to the in-game shop and purchasing them with the credit that you amass playing the game. You can use this credit on additional item slots and loadout slots too.
You will not have to go far to see that Gearbox Software has put a lot of effort into their characters. They all have their own unique humour, style, and they truly feel like they belong in the same universe—even if one of them is a puffin or a mushroom. Characters also unique fighting styles, which range from melee to ranged, with a couple of them even able to fly.
The aesthetics of Battleborn are lovely. They’re pleasing to the eye, colourful, and while it removes the cell shading approach of Borderlands, just by looking at the game you will still get that as similar vibe from its graphical showcase. One major issue however is when you initiate a battle, which causes the visuals to turn into nothing but a giant cluster or bright colours flashing before your eyes. If you are epileptic then I strongly attest to installing this game, but even if you aren’t, it’s a massive assault on your retinas.
If you see a large array of rainbows spewing its colours in all directions, then it’s a safe bet to know there’s many others vying for points in that area. Just point your reticule at the aforementioned, spray, then pray you get a hit in. As the game is so fast paced, being a melee character can be notoriously difficult at times. Being in the centre of all of those Skittles will surely blind you from what’s happening in your peripheral vision, and with having such a small field of view, you are needing to constantly turn the camera around to get your bearings.
Trying to get away is horrible too. Having to wait for the character to rotate 180°, even with maximum sensitivity, can hinder you, as it takes so long with a controller. This is inherent with all first-person games, but as Battleborn is so fast, you end up instead running into a wall and being finished off immediately. I think this is the one time where I wished that the console version truly had mouse and keyboard support. Unreal Tournament 3 on PS3 had it, so I can’t see why Battleborn can’t. Despite that the default controls are well set up so there is very little need to change them.
There is one major gripe with how Battleborn deals with the usual console autoaim: once someone passes by while you’re taking a long-ranged shot at another person, it locks onto them instead and your character suddenly spins around to them as you fire. This has happened on numerous occasions and it has led to much frustration. If you don’t want this happening to you then make sure to turn off “Ironsight Aim Assist” in the options menu.
There’s a few niggles that have caused Battleborn to falter in places, as well as a lack of a league based system, but as a genre that is reliant on more characters being added to the roster and game balancing, Battleborn can only get better.