Despite all of the success that developer Gearbox Software has had with their incredibly crazy FPS/RPG hybrid series Borderlands, they have nevertheless decided to make the honorable decision and try something new. The game they came up with is Battleborn, and while it does feature a lot of things that are different when compared to the developer’s previous series, there are just as many things where they are actually very similar. Unfortunately, not all of Gearbox’s best qualities shine through quite as well as they could have with this game, though they were still able to come up with a game that is very fun, at least in bursts.
The premise of Battleborn is pretty simple: you have a cast of 25 characters that you can take into either single/multiplayer story modes or single/multiplayer versus modes. The game is heavily multiplayer-focused, with the idea being that you get a team and work together in order to overcome the game’s varied list of challenges. There are 3 versus modes that each come packed with just two maps apiece currently, though there’s more depth to be found in some of their accompanying modes than you would find in your standard shooter. Incursion is where the game’s MOBA influences are most apparent as you guide minions across the map to help you destroy the other teams sentinel, whereas Meltdown strips this formula down and just has you escort the minions across the map in order to score points. The final mode is your standard control 3 points mode called Capture, which is great for when you want something a little more basic and can just focus more on duking it out with other players.
While Battleborn certainly isn’t overflowing with versus modes, its deep and varied cast of characters keeps them from ever getting stale. You may learn each map quickly and the rules of how each mode plays out, but each character brings something new to the table for you to try out that really shakes things up. There’s everything from monstrous melee fighters to smaller healing/stat-boosting characters, and all kinds of ranged shooters in between that all have their own strengths and weaknesses. Having the game’s heroes face off against each other results in some of the most satisfying combat available in gaming today, with the quick flurries of chaotic combat being a blast. These characters also come with their own sets of moves and helix leveling systems that go up to 10, which actually have more than one option per level allowing you to tailor your character’s specs to your liking. Your special abilities recharge and you unlock new abilities/stat-buffs regularly just like in a standard MOBA, but that is where the MOBA comparisons come to an end.
At its very core, Battleborn is an action-packed FPS just like Borderlands. Where Gearbox Software took the FPS framework and added RPG elements to it with Borderlands, they have taken that same FPS framework and added MOBA elements to it this time. Characters move quickly and each enemy encounter is hectic and intense, allowing very little room for any kind of downtime. If you’ve played Borderlands then you definitely know what to expect when it comes to the moment-to-moment gameplay of Battleborn, as everything here is just as incredibly over-the-top as it was there. The game’s world and hero designs feel cut from the same cloth as Borderlands, with the cast of characters having a lot of personality and unique elements that set them apart from the rest.
At its very core, Battleborn is an action-packed FPS just like Borderlands.
Unfortunately, this is where Battleborn gets taken down a couple of notches. One of Borderlands’ biggest strengths was its roster of characters and the insane stories they were involved in, but here they have been diluted down to a much smaller level. The game’s story mode isn’t very satisfying at all, with there being currently 8 episodes that play out like strikes in Destiny. You and your team of up to 5 players make their way through a large area where they take on waves of enemies and bosses while occasionally defending certain objects/beings, all in an attempt to get to the end and come out victorious. While being able to place buildables around certain areas adds a bit of depth with turrets, traps, and drones, it doesn’t stop many of these battles from becoming repetitive. Wave after wave of these monsters show up, with some of them being absolute bullet sponges that are more tests of endurance than they are of skill. While it’s fun at first, after a while these sometimes 30+ minute missions overstay their welcome and just become mindless.
I do have to give credit to Gearbox for incorporating a singleplayer component into the game, as this doesn’t leave those who would rather play alone completely out in the cold. However, it’s one of those things where it almost detracts more from the game than it adds to it. The already repetitive levels are even more so when you take them on alone, regardless of the enemy scaling the game brings to account for less players. The story that is told within these missions is passable with its tales of zany characters from across the universe uniting to protect the last star, but there just isn’t enough of it here to really get you invested in it. The humor itself is also very hit-and-miss, which is also due to the fact that Gearbox has much less room to work with here to get their humor across than they did within the vast worlds of Borderlands. There are some laugh-out-loud moments to be sure, but sometimes it really feels forced as characters do a lot of shouting to try and eek out a cheap laugh. Most of the laughs come from the light banter that characters make mid-combat, with the minigun-wielding Montana’s constantly-dumb dialogue being a highlight.
There is a good sense of player progression that makes this flawed game very addicting, nonetheless. As you complete any versus or story mode match you will gain experience that will increase your character rank and overall rank, which goes towards things like unlocking new characters, skins and even new ability unlocks for each character’s helix. There are also lore unlocks for each character, which has you accomplishing a variety of challenges in order to learn more about each of their backstories. Credits are accumulated to acquire more gear, which can be used in any mode to permanently boost your character’s stats once you’ve activated them during the match, though you need to decide what’s more important to you as the shards used to activate them can also be used to place buildables. It’s the constant sense of making progress towards something that makes each and every match feel rewarding, even if the match in question wasn’t the most exhilarating in its own right.
What it comes down to with Battleborn is whether or not you have the right group of people to play it with, as it can be a little inconsistent otherwise. While matchmaking is quick and there are no issues with the servers, if you end up with a team that isn’t pulling their weight then it’s not going to be much fun in either the story or versus modes. I ended up in several random teams that all just wanted to go off and do their own thing, while the opposing team clearly had their act together and crushed us easily. While playing in this fashion can still work in many competitive FPS games out now, in a game like Battleborn that requires more strategy it just isn’t going to fly. When you do have a team where everyone knows their roles and works together, then it can be a lot of fun. Battleborn is a well-oiled machine with the potential for some great times to be had, but sometimes getting to those great times can take some patience.
- Available On: PS4, Xbox One, PC
- Published By: 2K Games
- Developed By: Gearbox Software
- Genre: FPS/MOBA
- US Release Date: May 3rd, 2016
- Reviewed On: PS4
- Quote: "Battleborn is a well-oiled machine with the potential for some great times to be had, but sometimes getting to those great times can take some patience."
- deep and varied cast of characters
- great sense of character progression
- versus mode is chaotic fun
- story mode is lacking
- going solo is a grind