Battleborn is a multiplayer focused, MOBA style first person shooter. I really didn’t know much about Battleborn going in. In fact, I haven’t really seen or heard much about it at all. It seems a little overshadowed by Overwatch, although based on what I’ve seen and played, Battleborn offers quite a different experience.
But it’s not hard to see why comparisons will be made. Both are ‘hero’ based team games, with a variety of unique characters to play, combined with vibrant, cartoon style graphics. But though it’s primarily a multiplayer game, Battleborn does offer a fun, if somewhat limited single player and co-op campaign mode.
It’s essentially a series of missions strung together with a very loose narrative thread. It shares a style and humour similar to Borderlands in terms of characters and ‘story’. Although a welcome addition, these missions appear to be little more than linear corridors with multiple enemies to grind your way through.
The beta only included two missions, so I can’t say how the rest will pan out, but what was on offer was extremely basic. You can play these missions solo or in co-op, and I suspect co-op play is where you’ll find the most enjoyment in this mode. As you progress through the level you’ll face a handful of mini-bosses before eventually encountering the final end of mission boss.
The boss fights are a lot of fun, each featuring unique enemies with unique attack patterns. They make a welcome change of pace to the repetitive hordes of standard enemy grunts. The bosses are, without a doubt, the highlight of the single player/co-op mode, and they make grinding your way through the (admittedly very pretty) corridor worth it in the end.
That said, once I’d completed both of these missions, I had zero desire to replay them. The game does give you some incentive to do so – higher difficulty modes and the ability to unlock gear that can carry over into the MP – but there simply wasn’t enough variety or complexity to draw me back in.
A big part of the problem is how the hero characters play. Each character only has two types of attack combined with three special abilities, all of which you’ll be rather tired of by the time you’ve grinded your way through the mission. These limited weapons and abilities make perfect sense within the context of the competitive MP, but result in a repetitive SP/co-op experience.
I’d have liked this part of the game far more if there were periodic ‘character flip’ stations positioned throughout each mission, allowing you to switch to a new hero, thereby providing some much needed variety.
Which leads us onto the core part of Battleborn – the MP. Two modes were available in the beta, although I really only sunk any significant time into one of them – Incursion. There was another mode called Meltdown, but I didn’t find it as compelling or enjoyable as Incursion, so that’s pretty much what I stuck with and will be referring to in this post.
So as I said, Battleborn is a MOBA style first person shooter. The map is essentially one long corridor, along which there are four ‘objective’ NPCs – two on each team – that must either be protected or destroyed. As you advance through the map you can earn and collect shards that allow you to utilise equipped gear, build various automated turrets or spawn ally NPCs.
It’s a 5v5 game that requires a degree of coordination in order to win. Because although the hero characters you play as are certainly powerful, the match really is won or lost by which team better manages their NPC support. Your ‘minions’ are a key part to victory, particularly when facing the objective NPCs which take time and serious fire power to take down.
Playing Battleborn for the first time in MP is a little bit of a nightmare in terms of knowing exactly what the hell is going on or what you’re supposed to do. But the map is neatly designed and full of helpful icons and hints which push you in the right direction, and after a match or two you should be fully up to speed.
It’s also important to try to build a somewhat balanced team, with characters who fall into specific class groups – ranged, melee, heavy, light and healing. There’s a wide and varied selection of unique characters to choose, each with their own attack types and special abilities. I didn’t have time to play or unlock them all, but I found 2-3 I quite enjoyed, particularly the mushroom headed healer.
As you progress through a match your hero will level up, allowing you to unlock boosts to your existing abilities. You can also spend collected shards on unlocking gear (you can take 3 pieces into a match) which provide unique effects such as increased damage, shield strength, or a reduction in ability cooldown.
Matches are fast paced, colourful and hectic, lasting no more than 30 minutes, which is the match limit. And I have to say, I had quite a lot of fun playing it. For a game I knew little about and had little interest in, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with it. So will I picking it up on release? Well...
When both teams clash in a match, it’s often hard to know exactly what the hell is going on. I like how bright and colourful the game is, but when multiple AoE attacks are popping off, the combat becomes a total clusterf**k that’s nearly impossible to sort through, particularly if you’re playing as a melee focused hero.
Balance is something I can’t really comment on. With so many characters with so many varied abilities, it’s hard to get a sense of any that may prove more or less effective than others. What I can say is that some of the characters I played did feel more effective than others, but that may have been due to me favouring their style of play more than anything.
My main concern for Battleborn is really long term appeal. Sure, I had fun with it, but even with a variety of maps, there’s no getting around the fact that the game modes are essentially a repetitive grind from A to B. Also, because each hero only has a small number of attack types and abilities, playing as the same hero a couple of times in a row can get a little tedious. Thankfully, the hero selection is extensive and varied, so there’s always something new to play and mix things up.
Is there depth to the game? Is there scope to improve as an individual player? That’s hard to say. Once I’d played as the mushroom headed healer several times I think I got pretty damn good with them. In fact, I don’t think I lost a single match when playing as a healer. But had I ‘mastered’ this hero? Probably not, but I didn’t feel like I was that far from it either.
And maybe that’s by design. Because Battleborn is a team focused game, so maybe it’s not so much about individual skill, and more about working together to achieve your objectives. So although it may not take long to ‘master’ each hero, the real skill is more about supporting your team and playing to your strengths as part of a larger strategy.
Game performance is solid, with only a few noticeable frame drops when things get a little crazy. It’s a nice looking game and it already feels very polished and complete. And yeah, I had fun with it. But did it do enough to convince me to pick it up on release? No, not quite, especially when the game is shipping with a DLC Season Pass and from what I’ve read, will feature microtransactions.
The DLC may only be SP/co-op content, and the microtransactions may only be cosmetic in nature, but whenever microtransaction content features in a full price release, I can’t help but be wary. There’s also these things called ‘gear packs’ you can currently buy with in-game currency, but I do wonder if they may extend the microtransaction model to include them. Or maybe I’m just being paranoid. I’ve really got nothing against post-release content, I’m just concerned how it may pan out over time.
Oh, and there’s also the concern of if the game will attract a large enough player base to keep it going. As I said at the beginning of this post, it already feels overshadowed by other titles, and I do wonder if there’s enough depth and variety here to hook an audience in for the long haul. Overall though, I enjoyed my time with Battleborn, but not quite enough to convince me to pick it up, at least not on release. It’s a neat blend of genres, with a great selection of playable characters and some fast, colourful action. I’ll be keeping an eye on it.