Ready to Die
Last time we checked in with Battleborn, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. On one hand, it was a loud, busy game that tried desperately to get me to like it. On the other, beneath the facade, it presented a decent shooter experience that Gearbox is typically known for.
Having played through the story and a heap of games online, I’m a little less fuzzy on how I stand.
Battleborn (PC, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One)
Developer: Gearbox Software
Publisher: 2K Games
Released: May 3, 2016
With a hyperactive cartoon rap intro, Battleborn starts off on the right foot. The prologue is fierce, the stakes are high and the story isn’t convoluted, and the actual starter mission itself is pretty fun. Then the campaign starts.
If I wasn’t playing it online or by way of split-screen, it would have felt like a complete slog. The narrative pretty much plays out exactly how you’d expect, and the levels are too linear for their own good. It’s mostly a series of “go here, do this,” objectives, with unsatisfying, bullet spongey bosses (with sufficiently annoying and pace-killing intermittent invincible shields) at the end of the tunnel.
After playing through the prologue and expecting more, I was let down by reality. It also doesn’t help that the missions themselves don’t do a good job of showcasing the personality of the characters — that’s actually done fairly well in-game anyway in the other modes with a robust and talented vocal cast. Though the dialogue is way too hyper for its own good (and sometimes cringe-worthy), this stable of misfits did grow on me after a while.
But what you need to realize is that while the campaign for Battleborn could have been better, this is not a single player-driven game. If you’re in it for that reason, I suggest picking it up at a discount or going in with a friend. Because really, this is a competitive joint at heart, and the story is merely a primer, a taste of what the real thing has in store. As is the case with many shooters, solid gameplay carries the three main game types.
Featured as the main mode, Incursion is decidedly MOBA-focused, with the traditional minion wave and base mechanics. But the sheer number of heroes involved, combined with a choice of two skills at intermittent level-ups and character synergy, make each round feel different every time This is because most abilities are often multi-faceted. Take Miko for example — its Biosynthesis power is a five second heal over time that boosts the caster’s own health, but it also buffs their healing beam for the duration. This not only makes it a viable option for self-restoration, but for split-second decisions like saving teammates from death.
The MOBA influences go beyond the minion inclusion though, with powers like Rath’s melee sword pop-up, which can set up combos for other teammates. Lone wolf damage dealers have just as much depth — like Orendi, who can take multiple abilities that lower or reset the cooldown of her Shadowfire Pillar attack, which is a great area of effect waveclearing tool. As I hinted at above, each character’s personality shines through while you’re playing, whether it’s banter between enemies or through their mannerisms, which is impressive for a first-person title. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about Incursion itself, which, after around 10 matches or so, started to get more and more stale due to the distinct lack of maps. Meltdown is so similar to Incursion (you’re leading minions down a path to be sacrificed to a grinder) that it may as well not exist.
Because of this fatigue, I found myself gravitating towards Capture, the Unreal Tournament-esque Domination game type. Here you can basically let loose and just brawl with enemies, without the need to necessarily hang back with creep waves or initiate perfectly executed team fights. It helps that unlike the typical 30-minute Incursion battles, Capture can be over in as little as 10 minutes. Plus, there are plenty of other things to do, like create turrets and supply stations — though the neutral AI on each battleground, much like Titanfall, is freakishly bad and pointless.
That pair of adjectives can often describe the glitches I encountered while playing online, mostly resulting in my character getting stuck in the environment somewhere, or not colliding correctly with an object. Since Gearbox is typically known for its lack of polish it makes sense, but give the amount of effort that went into Battleborn in general and the major focus on competitive play, it’s disappointing. The 30fps limit on consoles doesn’t make things better.
That said, I am addicted to the leveling system. Taunts, skins (which are sadly mostly just palette swaps), and even bits of lore are unlocked by playing or completing certain parameters, and detailed stats help keep track of win rates with individual characters. There’s even alternate unlock methods for new characters, like “reach level 14,” or “win five matches with a certain faction.”
Battleborn also has an engaging loadout gimmick complete with stat-altering items and loot packages, which for a 2K game are astonishingly not linked to microtransactions [yet], but rather in-game currency. The game does try to sell you the Season Pass immediately with a huge pop-up, which includes cosmetic bits to peddle.
I’m not sold on Battleborn‘s commitment to the MOBA genre but there’s something fun there underneath all of it. I’ll probably hop on occasionally to play Capture throughout its lifetime while the bulk of my efforts are spent on more polished shooters.