Review in Progress: Battleborn

Ready to Die

Battleborn is a strange one, even for Gearbox. It’s clearly a natural progression of their own Borderlands formula, but kicked up a notch, which isn’t necessarily a good thing when every notch is kicked.

Geared more towards a competitive element than a lengthy campaign, it has the potential for long legs, but I don’t feel as hooked as I did with the Borderlands gang on Pandora.

Battleborn (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])
Developer: Gearbox Software
Publisher: 2K Games
Released: May 3, 2016
MSRP: $59.99

Battleborn isn’t nearly as complicated as Randy Pitchford makes it seem. It’s a character-driven shooter with several gametypes and a campaign — that’s basically it. Any other description is overselling it.

Kicking off with a brief prologue that serves as a tutorial, players are sent into battle with one of the many heroes available, learning the basics while fighting off an evil vampire’s robot horde before it can seize control of the last star in the galaxy. This whole bloody affair takes place across eight episodes, and let me say, split-screen helps. It’s just…not as compelling as Gearbox’s past work, with linear stages, simple objectives, and bosses that are more bark (most feel very spongy and have wave-based enemy additions) than bite. It is more of a concerted effort than a lot of other shooters that don’t even have a story mode though, and I still haven’t finished it yet, so it could improve — I’ll report more on my findings in the full review.

Incursion, on the other hand, is the separate MOBA-like competitive mode. It’s the core of the game. As is the case since the original DOTA over ten years ago, you’ll lead minions to a base to destroy it while defending your own. It’s fun mostly because of how diverse the cast is, inside and out. With 25 characters, learning the ins and outs of everyone (both playing and countering) will take some time, and even after some beta and retail sessions it still feels fresh. The rest of the gametypes are akin to a sideshow in a typical MOBA — or in the case of League of Legends, a Dominion to a core Summoner’s Rift, if you will. Capture is siege the point, and Meltdown mixes things up a bit in that it’s a remixed Incursion, forcing players to lead robots into an end goal. Like Incursion, the characters and their multitude of abilities will string you along.

Speaking of the cast, Battleborn tries very hard to be interesting — almost desperately so. There are vampires, elves, and everything in-between, and almost every character, even the soft-spoken ones, yell a lot. Those screams are almost always reflected by a strong voiceover choice, mind, but they’re loud all the same. While I’m impressed with how different everyone feels, aesthetically, I only found myself gravitating towards several of them. Like Marquis, the gentleman steampunk robot, and Kelvin, a giant crystal-like collective of microorganisms. 

The rest feel like tropes, particularly Montana, a walking manifestation of Parks and Recreation‘s Ron Swanson character, and Oscar Mike, a “mysterious soldier.” But this game has hooks, indeed, as there’s lots of unlock. I really dig the ability to not only earn new characters and the like by ranking up, but also by way of alternate goals, like “win five matches with a certain faction.” It helps give players something to work toward without feeling like a grind or endless treadmill.

I’m undecided on Battleborn at the moment. Though the action is roughly as reliable as Borderlands, the cast and world aren’t quite as interesting, mostly because it tries to throw so much at a wall that only some of it sticks. Stay tuned for a full verdict after I’ve ranked up and completed the story.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher. Aaron Linde, employed at Gearbox, previously wrote for Destructoid. As always, no relationships are factored into this assessment. In this case, the reviewer didn’t work at the publication at the same time as Linde. We also did not attend the review event as per policy.]

Chris Carter
Reviews Director, Co-EIC - Chris has been enjoying Destructoid avidly since 2008. He finally decided to take the next step, make an account, and start blogging in January of 2009. Now, he's staff!